THE SEVENTH WAVE
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.