Our story started over 15 years ago when my husband Simon and I were working as photographers on cruise ships. But the story of Me and the Brave is a much younger one. For the short business related version please feel free to click here otherwise if you want to know the entire adventure you can read on below...
If you've ever done an OE or spent any time living overseas you'll understand the incredible sense of adventure you feel everyday, regardless of where you are or whether or not you're working. It's more than being on holiday or in a new country, it's a deep and fulfilling freedom that only a transient life can give you. It feels rebellious and exciting, scary and liberating all at the same time.
It was those feelings that kept my hubby Simon on ships for over 14 years and me....well...commitments brought me home to New Zealand after a year but I had the bug! Fast forward 6 years and thanks to the power of social media and a simple 'I think we should get married' instant message from Simon, we reconnected and a long distance romance blossomed.
Simon spent another 8 months on ships while I travelled back and forth cruising with him at every opportunity and focusing on building my wedding photography business back home. A trip to Bali at the end of Simons contract sealed the deal for both of us and after a few too many bintangs and late night swims we decided it was love and there was no going back to being apart!
Unfortunately though we had to go our seperate ways again after Bali. Simon went home to Spain and resigned from P&O and I went home to New Zealand to carry on trying to build a photography business. The separation lasted 3 weeks and in April 2013 I was on a plane to Spain to meet Simons family and bring my man home! In between the fiestas, siesta's and cocktails at Royal Beach bar we applied for visas, wrote a business plan and brought a bright yellow 1972 VW Kombi van, sight unseen, off Trademe.
Our plan was to turn this yellow bucket of rust into New Zealand's first mobile photobooth in a kombi van which we'd hire out for the weddings we were photographing. It was our point of difference in a crowded industry and the only way Simon would let me fulfil my life long dream of owning a VW Kombi! We named her Florence, poured our life savings into the restoration and launch and just like that, in October 2013 Photokombi was in business!
Two weeks after we launched we found out we were pregnant with Charlie. Looking back it didn't really seem to phase either of us, we were fully booked for the wedding season and we figured by the time the next wedding season came around Charlie would be 6 months old and we'd jump straight back into it. We travelled all over the place with Florence, weddings from Matakana to the Bay of Plenty and everywhere in between. It brought back that feeling of adventure and sparked the travel bug in me once again. Charlie basically spent the first 2 years of his life in that van, coming with us to commercial gigs, festivals and even the odd corporate event!
In September 2016 our second son Grayson came along and we made the heartbreaking decision to let someone else carry on the Photokombi legacy. We sold the business and started making plans to get out of Auckland. We tossed up many options, including Spain and Australia but with 2 young boys and 3 years worth of investment into expensive and painful visas (for Simon) we decided it was best to stay in New Zealand and finally make the sunny Bay of Plenty home.
Our one non-negotiable for moving was that we had to be within walking distance to the beach. I wanted to spend our afternoons on the sand and in the sea! We settled in Papamoa and although we initially wanted to be in the Mount we are so so happy we landed where we did. Having sold our business and moved to a new town we knew one of us would have to get a 'real job' and that one, I decided, would be me. I was feeling like I wanted back into the corporate world. I missed the buzz of marketing and the social side of work life and I also knew how much the boys would love having Simon at home!
Going back to work full time, as a mum, was a big shock! I completely threw myself into my role. I was passionate, I worked my ass off, over committed my time and energy and put a huge amount of pressure on myself to achieve a lot! I loved it for a while and then the wheels started falling off. I was exhausted, felt unappreciated, stressed out and guilty for not being there for my boys. The balance I hoped I would have was non existent and the afternoons in the sand and sea, well, they never happened!
In the end the stress and anxiety made me sick and I just said this isn't good enough, this isn't the life I want, so after 10 months I resigned. I had no idea what we were going to do but given our history I knew we'd figure it out. Simon was amazing and jumped into a job straight away so we could make sure we covered our expenses while we figured out what was next. I was loving being at home with the boys again and we finally got our afternoons at the beach but I was confronted with the realisation that the full time mum gig wasn't for me either. I needed something else, something small I could do around the boys, that made me feel good!
I came up with the name 'Me and the brave' before I even knew what products I wanted to sell. I've always thought of Simon and the boys as my crew of brave men, they've supported my crazy business ideas, my obsession with reorganising and tidying our home and my constant chasing of the 'dream life'. I've always had this dream of living on the road in a caravan and having all these scruffy, bare chested boys running around outside. I'm a bit of a gypsy although Simon says I'd need to be a cashed up one because I want my caravan fully renovated and towed behind a Land Rover Defender (haha) but I guess there's this part of me that just wants the adventure and doesn't want to conform or 'keep up with the Joneses'
I decided to design beautiful products that inspired people, myself included, to live a life of adventure and wanderlust. I wanted to create products that they could take with them on the road, that made travelling with kids easy and stylish. I personally love hats, I love my boys in hats and I love the way they allow you to take on a persona. Plus I thought they were something I could design with no knowledge or clothing design skills whatsoever.
In April 2018 I purchased a URL and drew my first hat on a piece of A4 paper. It looked bloody awful, in fact Charlie told me it looked like an upside down bucket not a stylish wide brim fedora I could sell for $89! I sent that drawing to 7 different manufacturers in Indonesia, Cambodia and the US plus the only milliner still operating in New Zealand. Not one of them replied.
Not to be defeated I spent hours researching all my favourite brands, from clothing to homewares to accessories, trying to find one clue about where they got their products made. All I needed was a name and no one was openly sharing that information with their customers (or competitors obviously!) Amongst my frustration it also sparked a question around why this information wasn't readily available. As a consumer we should know where the products we buy come from so I started googling manufacturing supply chain and supply chain transparency to see what brands and businesses openly shared this information with their customers.
I was delighted to find a handful of companies who made it their mission to be open and upfront about their supply chain and were proud of the factories and partners they worked with. They were meeting high standards of ethical practise, producing sustainable products and educating their customers on the manufacturing process of their quality products. And they were all working with Chinese factories.
I decided not to send my terrible drawing to GShow Textiles and instead emailed them telling them my dream of producing ethically made wide brim fedoras for kids and adults and asked if they could send me some samples of what they could do. After about 4 months and hours and hours of back and forth emails, weird skype calls to China in the middle of the night and mass amounts of anxiety I spent $3000 of our personal savings on my first order.
MATB launched in October 2018 to an email database of 55 and about 200 followers on Instagram. When my first shipment arrived I was too scared to open the boxes. I had this fear that they wouldn't be anything like the samples i'd signed off and I'd have to quit before I'd even started. I meticulously went through every box and inspected every single hat. I set so many aside because I just didn't think they were good enough to go out to my customers!
On launch night Simon and I stayed up late and packed 20 orders, every one with a hand written note. I thought we'd sell 1 or 2 hats, so to pack 20 orders and for most of them have 2 hats in them was beyond anything I had hoped for! That dream of living on the road and driving a Defender suddenly felt a little closer! But it wasn't until those orders were delivered and the emails and comments on social media started coming in that I realised this was about more than just cool hats for kids and adults.
In the 5 months since we launched we've placed a total of 3 orders with GShow Textiles. We've welcomed over 300 loyal subscribers to our email list and over 1200 more followers to our social media channels but for me it isn't about the numbers. It's about the people. I'm realising more and more that I'm not alone when it comes to my dream of living on the road or my yearning for a life of adventure. I'm not the only one who loves my kids in hats, who loves the way they make me feel or the persona they allow me to embody. And I'm not alone when it comes to wanting to own products that inspire me to live a life of wanderlust.
You want that too, it's why you're here, committing to read this bloody long journal post about some woman you've (potentially) never met! We'll I hear you and I'm hoping that through my products, emails, interviews and posts I can help you realise those dreams for yourself and your crew too!
So here's to the adventure, whatever that may look like for all of us