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Building a business one stitch at a time

Krystal Pires and daughter Valentina (3) in her Dunedin home and workroom
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When a young mum started making children’s clothing five years ago, she couldn’t thread or use a sewing machine.

Now Krystal Pires (24) has been through five sewing machines, expanded from working in her home’s smallest bedroom to master bedroom and runs a small business selling handmade pure linen clothes throughout New Zealand.

She’s created hundreds of garments and 139 in the past 12 weeks alone. Her photographs of her work have attracted 13,000 Instagram followers.

Linen pinafores are just some of the garments Krystal Pires has sewn in her Dunedin home. Photo: Krystal Pires

“There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Literally. The amount of times I’ve poked myself with a needle!”

The need for something more 

Five years ago living in Masterton, Krystal was a wife and mother and beyond that, didn’t feel like she had much purpose.

“I needed something more, something much more than just changing nappies and keeping a house clean,” she says.

“One day, I decided that I wanted to sew, I wanted to create clothing that not only my kids could wear, but other children could too.”

Her Mum’s Husqvarna sewing machine was on a desk, but Krystal didn’t know how to use it. She received three mini-lessons from her Mum and a friend, then taught herself.

When my sewing had reached a level of quality and my stitches were consistently straight, I opened my business.”

This business is called Pepi, a nickname her husband Felipe had given her. Unbeknown to them at that time, pēpi is a Māori word for baby.

Krystal moved from Masterton to Mount Maunganui and now lives in Dunedin with Felipe and their three daughters, who’ll turn 8, 6 and 3 in August and September.

She originally sewed for girls; now also for boys. The dresses, shirts, shorts, bloomers and rompers for newborns to size 10 are all made from New Zealand-milled linen.

Valentina (3) models a Pepi linen blouse. Photo: Krystal Pires

Learning by doing 

In addition to gaining sewing experience, Krystal has learned much about business. She runs all aspects of Pepi, including buying materials, sewing, accounting, advertising and taking promotional photos with her three daughters as models.

She sells her products by the internet throughout New Zealand, to Australia and one garment to the USA. She also sells wholesale to shops in Dunedin, Mosgiel and Whangarei.

She’s kept going even when she’s wanted to quit, such as during periods when she doesn’t sell any outfits, still spends money on advertising and her bank account dwindles.

While she isn’t yet making large profits, she says the business helps buy her family extras, such as when a daughter needed shoes they couldn’t afford.

Krystal is a strong proponent of buying New Zealand-made products and supporting ethical New Zealand businesses.

You’re actually supporting a real family with children,” she says of her and other locally-owned businesses.

“You’re not helping me buy a second or third house.”

She says the quality of New Zealand-made clothing should also be considered. After sewing each item, she inspects it, removing loose threads and ironing.

If her business grew to manufacturing, she says she would want to keep this in New Zealand. Pepi will reach the stage where she’ll need to employ someone else, possibly another mum.

Krystal sews when her daughters are at school and kindergarten, and organises social media advertising once they are home. It is important to her to be around for her children.

Where does she find the time and energy for Pepi?

“I’ve no idea! I guess it’s just the determination to be successful in something,” she replies.

“[And] Coffee, a lot of coffee!”

What does she gain from making the clothes?

“Satisfaction that I’ve created something from scratch. And that every time I make something, that’s something for my girls’ [future]. It’s an accomplishment.”

This legacy aspect of her business is important, building something eventually her three daughters can be involved in if they want to.

One of Krystal’s linen dresses, modelled by her daughter Luciana (7) at the Dunedin Railway Station. Photo: Krystal Pires

Asked what she’d say to others with a skill, or even no skill but a dream, she encourages them to step out.

“Go for it. Things will be tough, life is tough. You’re going to have hurdles but life is about overcoming those…take a break, then just keep on going.”

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For further information:

Pepi website, facebook or instagram.

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