Francis Frost with Lucy Wildman and their children Iggy, 9, (left) and the original inspiration for the horror, Frankie, 7.

A fibre fit for littlies

Exporting merino clothing designed for young children and babies has involved doing the rounds of international trade shows. Jo Cuttance reports.

Knowing what the retailer likes about your brand means you can tailor how you will sell your product to them.

Lucy Wildman co-owner of Little Flock of Horrors, an Auckland-based baby and children’s merino clothing company whose range is sold worldwide, says she knows every retailer is different, and looking for different things.

Along with Little Flock of Horrors, Lucy and husband Francis Frost also own export marketing business Module Marketing. This business helps take New Zealand-based brands into global markets.

Since creating the Little Flock of Horrors in 2010 Lucy has travelled to trade shows around the world promoting the label.

Each retailer had different touch points and a skill Lucy learnt was asking what it was about her brand they liked. With this knowledge she could give the story they were after.

Early on she learnt not to use the word ‘wool’ because buyers immediately thought scratchy and would turn away. On her trade booth she would have “merino” in decals on the wall and found most Americans did not know what merino was and often assumed it was an Italian surname. When told it was a fabric, they would ask if it was pima cotton, which she replied no, it is wool. At this point there was a clear split in buyers who were interested and those who left.

Of those who stayed some were attracted to the style of photos, others the name, or the design style and many buyers were not really interested in hearing about the renewable and sustainable aspects of the product, which is manufactured in Fiji from NZ-grown merino wool.

Each retailer had different touch points and a skill Lucy learnt was asking what it was about her brand they liked. With this knowledge she could give the story they were after.

Little Flock of Horrors’ big break into the New York market came after the clothing was featured in DailyCandy, an online newsletter which has since closed. This newsletter provided readers with information about hip and trendy events and businesses.

After this was published they experienced a big spike in international sales. While interest was hot Lucy used the opportunity to contact major stores around the United States and the United Kingdom, A buyer from Barneys New York contacted her asking which trade shows she would be at. Lucy suggested a one-on-one meeting however the buyer told her this was not how things were done.

Lucy knew this was an opportunity not to be missed and said she would be at an upcoming trade show in New York, where she met the buyer and secured her clothing range into Barneys NY flagship Madison Ave store.

When first launched she contacted some of the major marketing and business organisations in NZ, including those within the wool industry, seeking grants or advice, she says. However, none wanted to hear about Little Flock of Horrors as they were not big enough.

With an annual turnover of $600,000, Lucy doubts the business would even be considered big enough now. They just wanted business and financial plans, and five-year projections. Lucy says in fashion retail you cannot forecast a growth plan on a piece of paper. Lucy never dwelt on not receiving help and learnt by going out there and doing it herself.

She now feels many of those national organisations are quite outdated in their methods and probably quite out of touch with what retailers want.

Merino for little monsters

Little Flock of Horrors, merino for little monsters, was created by Lucy Wildman, who is passionate about creating cool merino clothing for babies and children.

She co-owns the company with husband Francis Frost, who she met while travelling on the east coast of the United States.

She ended up living in Stowe, Vermont, for more than a decade. She says the couple lived and breathed action sports in the freezing cold, noticing how the sports industry there focused on performance fabrics, the different characteristics of the fabric and how it functioned, something which was not common with fashion fabrics.

Back in New Zealand and expecting her first baby in the middle of winter in 2009, Lucy had gathered an ensemble of outfits for her son, Iggy, which turned out not to be practical for the changeable NZ climate.

She discovered merino wool was perfect for her son’s clothing and he was warm and comfortable when wearing it, although she did not like the style and colours available.

Lucy, who has an MBA, started creating and sewing her own designs in merino clothing for Iggy. When daughter Frankie was born 18 months later she began designing for little girls.

Francis suggested the name “Little Flock”, while Frankie inspired the addition of “horror” because of her constant crying.

The first collection was launched at the ABC Tradeshow in Las Vegas in October 2011. The brand has since evolved as Lucy has realised she had to stop trying to be everything for everyone.

When designing for the North American and UK markets, if a company did not like the colours she had, she would offer the product in a different colour. Now the base colour is black and if they do not like it, then perhaps the design is not for them, she says.