Māori entrepreneurs on the East Cape are selling their clothes and artwork to customers all around the world without the need to invest large amount of capital, buy stock or rent a warehouse.
Gisborne single mother of three Holly Maitai started a print-on-demand business to create a flexible job that could help her move out of her Kāinga Ora home in an area rife with gangs.
Print on demand was a low barrier to entry business model that let entrepreneurial hopefuls create custom designs on products that were printed only as orders came in, and only in the quantity that the order asked for.
While the business owner designed, marketed and sold the product, a print on demand company managed production and delivery.
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Maitai decided to start her print on demand clothing business, Dirty Mulle, in 2019 to financially support her three children, and motivate her eldest son who dropped out of school due to mental health issues.
But after being burgled twice by Black Power gang members in broad daylight last year and losing her laptop and stock, Maitai said she had to find a way to move her business completely online.
The print on demand business model is becoming a popular option for people looking to start a new business or add another income as because little money up front to buy stock
According to Canadian online shop platform Shopify, the global online market was expected to reach about US$6.5 trillion (NZ$9t) by 2023.
Maitai sells her designs through Shopify, and buys the garments and the printing service through Norwegian company Gelato.
Gelato licences its printing software with a select printing companies around the world that printed the products locally and enabled it to control quality.
Through Gelato, businesses could have their products printed in their country or one nearby, significantly reducing shipping costs, delays and carbon emissions.
Pricing depended on the cost of the item, shipping costs and what mark-up the business owner put on the product. For instance a $70 hoodie cost about $50 to produce and ship through Gelato.
In the three months that Maitai had been running her clothing store online, she sold about a dozen hoodies in New Zealand and Australia.
Maitai said while profit margins were thin, her business had been an easy way to get started and she hoped to grow her venture and become a recognisable brand.
“Being a solo mum we live in social housing, and after paying all my bills I don’t have much left over at the end of the week.
“I haven’t had any capital behind my business and haven’t been able to access funding so it’s a low-cost way to get my designs and artwork to the world.”
Maitai said marketing was key in standing out from the crowd.
The business had also been therapeutic for her, helping her face her fears and work towards overcoming her anxiety disorder, she said.
“I’m learning to fight anxiety with what it thrives on the most and that’s fear,” she said.
“I have two daughters and want them to be confident women, not timid or experience social anxiety.”
Maitai learnt about running a business through social enterprise, Te Whare Hukahuka, which offered Māori entrepreneurs a 12-week online e-commerce course on how to set up a website, market product and manage administrative work.
Tolaga Bay Inn owner Lily Stender also completed the course and set up her own online shop selling print on demand designs made by local Māori artists.
Lily Stender turned the historic hotel Tolaga Bay Inn into a Māori business innovation hub three years ago, for local entrepreneurs to “become masters of their own destiny”.
“The problems in our region are high unemployment, low wages and poverty. I believe entrepreneurship will help decrease the divide between the haves and the have-nots,” Stender said.
Gisborne’s unemployment rate was 5.8 per cent in March last year, According to Stats NZ,
A portion of the profits made from her print on demand Tolaga Bay Inn website went to local businesses.
Stender’s social enterprise was also funded by the Ministry of Social Development to stimulate regional economic activity through the Tolaga Bay Inn Charitable Trust.
Stender contacted Gelato founder Henrik Muller-Hansen and asked if the company would be interested in giving Tolaga Bay Inn’s businesses a crash course on how to run an e-commerce business.
Muller-Hansen said he was interested in working with Stender because he was taken aback by her passion for helping indigenous businesses.
“We both have the same goal. We want to empower people to become entrepreneurs,” Muller-Hansen said.
“She reached out to me from the other side of the world, I couldn’t say no.”
Teresa Tepania-Ashton, chief executive of business coaching service Māori Women’s Development, also did the Te Whare Hukahuka e-commerce course and Gelato’s seven-week course last year to help others who asked her for help.
But Tepania-Ashton was inspired to set up her own online business on Shopify.
Tepania-Ashton said she wanted to teach te reo Māori pronunciation through designs on t-shirts and mugs.
“It’s good to have options and diversify your income streams,” Tepania-Ashton said.
“You don’t have to carry much stock, it’s low cost to start and distribution is done for you. It was the easiest pathway to take as an option to getting started online.”
Tepania-Ashton’s Māori Christmas card designs were her best-sellers last year, and Gelato bought 100 of her $5 cards for its clients.
“I’m still learning as I go. I’ve decided to raise the price to $10 because they told me $5 was too low.”