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Colourful Kiwi ingenuity down under

Caroline Munro with her company’s trademark undies, made from pieces of non-matching fabrics
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An “accidental product” using fabric off-cuts is how Munro Undies creator Caroline Munro describes her business.

She remains surprised it has become so successful, however it is meeting a distinct need in New Zealand and expanding overseas.

Its trademark remains sewing together multiple pieces of brightly-patterned fabrics and turning them into men’s and women’s underwear featuring horses, foxes, llamas, stripes, florals and even watermelons and strawberries.

Rural folks have taken a particular shine to the designs. And in the Wellington region, where the company is based and black is very in for outerwear, “they can feel their inner colour underneath,” Caroline says.

Women buy first

It’s usually women who buy their designs first, then the men in their lives catch on, Caroline says. The main age bracket for customers is 30 to 60 years.

Caroline’s creative journey began in India. She was working in Melbourne as a chef but dabbling in designing clothes for women. She travelled to Japan where she bought fabrics and then to India where she had people make up her designs in local fabrics.

Caroline returned to New Zealand and held a fashion show in a Hawke’s Bay café owned by a friend.

She moved to Wellington and decided to learn to sew at an aunt’s Porirua factory. This led to her experimenting with off-cuts, patching them together to make underwear and merino hoody creations for herself, her family and friends.

Everyone loved them and they were super comfortable,” she says.

 

The next move was to take her work to various markets. About this time she met her future partner, Chris Weaver, who is now the company’s national sales manager.

She made him underwear which he would wear to barbecues and other social events.

Daring marketing ploy

He would literally drop his pants to show off the underwear and return home with multiple orders.

In 2011 the couple opened a shop in Wellington’s Cuba Street. It sold men’s and women’s clothing, Caroline’s underwear designs plus merino hoodies lined with Japanese cotton prints.

It soon became obvious the prime earner was the underwear.

When Caroline became pregnant with the couple’s daughter, they closed the shop and took a break.

They were invited to join a pop-up shop before Christmas 2013 and later took their underwear lines to a trade show and began selling to wholesalers.

Until Covid-19 arrived most of their sales were to wholesalers.

Lockdown brought online direction

Just before the first 2020 lockdown they had begun to venture into online sales. They contracted a digital agency that runs the social media side and now most of their sales are online.

There were a lot of sales during the first lockdown, many for gifts, a significant part of the business.

Other products the business designs, makes and sells include leggings, bras, swimwear and a range of organic underwear. Caroline also designs merino socks which are made for the business in a Hawke’s Bay sock factory.

Buyers who dress in conservative outerwear can feel their inner colour underneath

Challenges have been combining their business with the arrival of more children although Caroline says a positive is being home with them. Caroline and Chris both work from home.

Caroline does all the fabric cutting and manages the workroom. At times she has had difficulty finding experienced machinists willing to do the often-repetitive work but is currently blessed with two workers she describes as “wonderful”.

Covid has meant the couple have been unable to travel overseas for face-to-face buying of fabrics. Fortunately the couple had established a relationship with a buyer based overseas who is able to help with fabric selection.

Caroline says no suitable fabrics are made in New Zealand.

The business still sells some items wholesale although it lost a lot of retail outlets in the South Island and Australia because of Covid.

Future hopes include expanding into the European and American markets and realising the existing potential in New Zealand and Australia.

They already courier overseas using DHL which Caroline says is extremely fast.

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For more information:

Munroclothing.com

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