New Zealand Surfing - - Exposure -

The Canterbury wet­suit com­pany, now known as Seven­th­wave was de­vel­oped back in 1987 by Paul Zar­ifeh and Ge­off White.

Af­ter 14 years to­gether Ge­off moved on and Paul took over and de­cided to take a smaller bou­tique cus­tom fit ap­proach. Paul was pas­sion­ate about a few things; keep­ing the brand NZ made, en­sur­ing he de­liv­ered a qual­ity prod­uct, the use of Ja­panese Ya­mamoto Lime­stone neo­prene and ex­cel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice, they were all non-ne­go­tiable. In Au­gust 2015 (af­ter Paul's rig­or­ous se­lec­tion process, his baby wasn't go­ing to be sold to just any­one) the busi­ness was sold to Leif and Sarah (AKA Puff) Park. What they bought to the fold was some new young (well younger) pas­sion and ideas and the ex­cite­ment of a new ven­ture, just like kids with their first brand new board. They were soon to learn that own­ing a NZ made wet­suit com­pany came with plenty of chal­lenges but for a while they were lucky to have Paul around to chew the fat with un­til his re­cent pass­ing. We caught up with the new own­ers of this iconic brand to see what makes Seven­th­wave unique.

As new own­ers of Seven­th­wave where do you see the brand go­ing mov­ing in to the fu­ture?

We have a new su­per ex­cit­ing cus­tom fit/ de­sign web­site in the mak­ing. This will be unique to Seven­th­wave, a cool kiwi in­no­va­tion. We are fo­cused on grow­ing here in NZ first by get­ting more of our gear up North and then to Aus­tralia. We do sell world­wide via on­line now and we hope to grow this, but ini­tially we plan to ed­u­cate more of our lo­cal NZ wa­ter ad­dicts about the dif­fer­ence wear­ing a suit that re­ally fits makes, the dif­fer­ence the neo­prene makes and hope that more peo­ple will want to sup­port a lo­cal NZ brand be­cause we they want gear that lasts. We don't need to be a big cor­po­rate brand, we love know­ing our cus­tomers, a lot of peo­ple have sug­gested we should move our man­u­fac­tur­ing off shore, but that would change who we are and then we are just the same as every­one else. We see the brand as hav­ing a higher pro­file in NZ and Aus­tralia, ideally some of our own shops and a lit­tle bit of mer­chan­dise would be cool.

Where do you see the ar­eas of real growth and what chal­lenges do you see at­tached to that?

On­line/Pop up shops out of CHCH/ Peo­ple think­ing about their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact and choices/cus­tom wet­suits. Our chal­lenge is we have 1% of the mar­ket­ing bud­get of the big play­ers, the cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing in NZ and the ner­vous­ness peo­ple have of buy­ing on­line.

The surf in­dus­try has un­der­gone ma­jor changes over re­cent years, what made you en­ter such a vo­latile mar­ket?

Pas­sion, we LOVE to surf, we love the smell of fresh neo­prene. We dream of what our next wet­suit will look like and func­tion like. We come back to work af­ter a surf in our wet­suits to ex­plain to the team our crazy ideas we had while surf­ing. I don't think we re­alised how vo­latile it was to be hon­est, the first time we walked into the fac­tory we were in love. So re­ally just pas­sion and big dreams. And I'm not go­ing to lie, we didn't re­ally know much about the brand and why they were so good, we just loved that they were ac­tu­ally hand cut/glued/ printed and sewn here. When we got our first suits we were ac­tu­ally blown away with how amaz­ing they were (thank good­ness) we re­cently put on our old suits just to see if we were be­ing one eyed, but no way, they were so heavy when they were wet and we got cold so quickly.

Not only has the surf in­dus­try been dev­as­tated so has Christchurch twice - how has that im­pact on your out­let and sales?

It has def­i­nitely been tough with many nail bit­ing mo­ments. We are con­stantly in a re­view phase. But we

have some amaz­ingly loyal cus­tomers a fan­tas­tic de­ter­mined team and have been over­whelmed by the sup­port for the brand from within the in­dus­try. Our on­line has also helped get us through some tough months, they aren't over yet, but we just have to look for new and in­no­va­tive ways and try to be dif­fer­ent. In fact, me and my 18-year-old daugh­ter jumped off the pier a while back be­cause the surf was big and man­aged to get some "in­ter­est­ing" me­dia at­ten­tion around that.

As a busi­ness up against some ma­jor brands how to you get a foothold – what makes you unique?

We know our cus­tomers, we build a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with them, so qual­ity is key, we have pas­sion and pride that we are not just NZ made we use a topqual­ity Neo­prene made from Lime­stone not petroleum which has a much lighter im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment as does our fac­tory. We make our suits to last and we don't the and we make them, so we can re­pair them and keep them out of the land­fills for as long as pos­si­ble. We have life­time stitch­ing war­ranty, it's that good (just fixed the stitch­ing on a 25 year old suit un­der war­ranty last week). Our small team have over 100 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in mak­ing wet­suits so I would call us ex­perts in what we do and ob­vi­ously we are the avid testers.

Big­gest chal­lenge to you as a com­pany?

Money and try­ing to stay strong to our roots which costs so much more. Man­u­fac­tur­ing in NZ is not cheap. It’s also a chal­lenge to ed­u­cate surfers that you get what you pay for.

Big­gest chal­lenge to your per­son­ally?

Run­ning a small NZ made busi­ness with staff and the over­heads I of­ten feel like I lack the skill set re­quired to do what we need to do to sur­vive, es­pe­cially in such a unique busi­ness, par­tic­u­larly in the mar­ket­ing world and while jug­gling a fam­ily and of course fit­ting in prod­uct test­ing. Even though Seven­th­wave is 30 years old I see us as a young in­no­va­tive NZ made wet­suit com­pany and I have a lot of work to do to, some­times it's hard to know where to start. Surfers, we talk dif­fer­ently, we come to work with wa­ter drip­ping out of our noses and sea­weed in our hair and our cus­tomers re­late to us dif­fer­ently, nav­i­gat­ing through the world of what busi­ness "should do."

What is the key aspect to mak­ing a great wet­suit for New Zealand con­di­tions?

The key is fit and the type of neo­prene used. Most of us can't surf all week, we jug­gle fam­i­lies and work, when you go surf­ing you want a re­li­able, qual­ity suit and you want one that you can surf for hours and hours in.

Big­gest mis­take peo­ple make when buy­ing a wet­suit?

Fo­cus on short term cost and not on qual­ity or fit.

Seven­th­wave own­ers, Leif and Sarah Park

Team rider Shawn Col­lier putting his finely crafted neo­prene through its paces.

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