Two Kiwi Guys and a Chic Niche /
From rugby playing and building to selling homewares, the tale of NED Collections
A shared flair for homewares and home décor persuaded former professional rugby player Brett Mather and designer Daniel Webb to join forces in 2015 and launch NED Collections, a Christchurch-based wholesale homewares business. Their hand-selected stock, sourced globally, is now sought after by clients throughout New Zealand.
We are standing in NED Collections’ warehouse in Durham Street, where company founders Brett Mather and Dan Webb are proudly showing off their latest finds from around the world, including gorgeous earthy ceramics from Vietnam and rounded planters from China. Rather than keeping everything stored away in boxes, the duo have created an open showcase room furnished with tables and shelves to make it very easy for clients to visualise ‘the fit’ of various pieces. ‘We can unpack and dismantle this space and take it to trade shows to give people that same context; the feedback we’ve had is that’s really valuable,’ Dan says.
The story of how this business came into being is genuinely fascinating. Before finding his way into homewares, Brett spent the best part of a decade playing his heart out on the rugby field. Highlights for the mid-fielder included selection for the Highlanders in 2008, spending a season playing in Japan in 2011, then making the cut to play for his hometown team Canterbury towards the end of his career, followed by a five-month contract playing in France in 2015.
Inevitably, along with the highs there are career lows. For Brett, one of these came while on contract for the Bay of Plenty Steamers. ‘I broke my leg and was out for a year.’
Rather than waste the time-out, Brett was advised to find something productive to do. He’d earlier started a degree in physical education but instead decided to try something new. ‘In Japan I’d become intrigued by small spaces and how people could make tiny spaces look so cool. I wanted to learn more about it so I ended up doing an interior design course and found I really enjoyed it. Outside of rugby, I’d also been investing in some property and doing some renovations and just loved the whole process of furnishing places.
‘I started talking to Dan about what I was up to and how there was this demand for furnished short-term accommodation. The conversation soon progressed into how we could source accessibly priced homewares to fit places out.’
Born and raised in Palmerston North to entrepreneurial parents, Dan moved to Christchurch after finishing high school. He initially studied business before moving into jobs in retailing and merchandising and then gaining experience in the building industry for several years. Alongside that, he had an interest in art and design. All of this paved the way to him studying architecture in Christchurch and Auckland.
‘Architectural design is perfect for me, combining that creative side with a profession I really enjoy,’ says Dan, who
In hindsight, they shudder at their naivety and how easily things could have gone wrong. Fortunately though, most retailers were open to giving the newbies a shot.
launched Christchurch practice Threefold Architecture six years ago. His design team is today based upstairs from NED Collections on Durham Street.
What really kick-started NED Collections for Brett and Dan was when Brett got an opportunity through a family friend to travel to a big trade show in China in 2015. ‘I told Dan about it and he wanted in – he was keen to be involved,’ explains Brett. ‘With his background in retail and business and my ability to source product, we realised we were a good combo. I went off to China, came back with three or four containers of product and we borrowed garages wherever we could to store everything. I had a truck and so then went around the South Island with samples trying to get clients on board to stock our goods!’
In hindsight, they shudder at their naivety and how easily things could have gone wrong. Fortunately though, most retailers were open to giving the newbies a shot. ‘We kept chipping away, making contacts and then in 2016 went to a trade show in Auckland,’ says Dan. ‘That was very successful; the growth we got from that was phenomenal. We were introducing affordably priced product that was new to the market at that time.’ Being a couple of fresh faces with an unrehearsed yet direct sales style probably counted in their favour too.
As well as China, NED Collections sources stock from as far as Vietnam, Bali, India and Africa. The key word here is ‘collections’. Rather than focusing on products in isolation, considerable care goes into selecting items that will work well together in a home context. ‘That’s what we’re trying to replicate in our warehouse space,’ says Dan. ‘It shows people how they can use what we’ve sourced for them.’
There is certainly something very satisfying in the curated, LED-lit warehouse display in front of us today, ranging from willow bowls, seagrass baskets and hardy canvas bag luggage to handwoven woollen rugs, beautiful little vases, felt storage items and funky planters.
Trends in homewares move fast and there are always risks in trying to read where the market is going. Brett, who leads the sourcing and import logistics side of the business, tries not to get too hung up on passing fads. ‘Generally, we try to source products that use natural materials and we aim for a neutral colour palette. Often, our products have quite an earthy feel. There’s a real retro edge to our new spring range. Everything is going curvy, including the planters. Our mirrors are all circular too!’
The pair regularly attend overseas trade shows that may span an area 20 times the size of Horncastle Arena and yet, in Brett’s own words, ‘99.8 per cent of it is junk’. It takes a patient man with a discerning eye not to lose faith that something of value will eventually emerge from a sea of terracotta frogs, golden chairs and other bric-a-brac. ‘It takes days to get through these shows and you’re constantly
Rather than focusing on products in isolation, considerable care goes into selecting items that will
work well together in a home context.
walking, but I know our style and what we like.’
Their latest ceramic collection was spotted by Dan, a keen potter, at a boutique trade fair in Vietnam. ‘I could see these little pops of colour so went and explored it and today this range is one of our best sellers.’
When not away with Brett on a buying trip or busy working at Threefold, Dan can be found managing NED Collections’ inventory and pricing. Also supporting the growing business is warehouse wizard Kaleb, and three other staff taking care of photography, social media and IT. It’s not just retailers beating a path to their door but also home stagers, interior designers, florists, architects and architectural designers. Members of the public also access their wares through various stockists.
There are natural and growing synergies between the homewares and architectural design brands. Often Dan’s architectural clients gravitate to NED Collections’ warehouse. When Threefold Architecture was commissioned recently for an interior design project in Merivale, Brett and his brother were also called in to do the fit-out, right down to the carpets, drapes and tiles.
‘It’s an area we are moving into long-term; we are multifunctional and can deliver spaces that are different and cool and we think there’s value in that,’ says Brett.
Meanwhile, NED Collections is poised to grow a presence in Australia too and is currently working hard to establish a firm foothold there by Christmas.
ABOVE / NED Collections’ founders: Brett Mather and Daniel Webb. OPPOSITE TOP LEFT / A coherent and consistent vision drives Brett and Daniel’s design ethos. OPPOSITE TOP RIGHT / Round mirrors are in vogue right now, as are natural neutral tones. OPPOSITE BOTTOM RIGHT / Selected with care: a perfect ‘go-anywhere’ choice for people on the move.
ABOVE / Brett and Dan have learned to trust their instincts and good judgement. It is what defines the NED Collections difference.