A chat with Sarah Teensma, founder of NZ boutique business Lamington Socks
Welcome to the inaugural post in The Rising Tide blog series. I can’t think of a better story to start with than that of Lamington and its founder Sarah Teensma. Lamington’s boutique range of merino socks and tights are made right here in New Zealand from sustainable products and the company has earned a global reputation for producing products of the highest quality. In addition, everything from the packaging to the invoice is chosen with a view to limiting the impact the business has on our environment; something I believe sets Lamington out as a leader in the industry.
When I first arrived back in New Zealand and started hunting for companies to replace the clothing brands I missed buying for my children in London, Lamington was one of the first recommendations I received. It quickly became a favourite with our family and a brand I have recommended to many other mums.
In this blog Sarah tells me how she approached growing Lamington into the well known brand it is today.
Sarah was motivated to start a business to enable her to work from home and spend more time with her daughter, who was in pre-school at the time. Alongside a friend with similar aspirations she searched for a business concept that would allow them to work together but also achieve a good balance with family life. Sarah launched Lamington in 2005 as a kid's T-shirt brand while still working in her chosen profession as an instructional designer. The weekend they launched at the Auckland Gift Fair she discovered she was expecting her second daughter!
The transition to today’s successful sock business was somewhat of a happy accident. In 2008, socks were added as an extra product option for retailers. When stores began to request socks only, Sarah realised she had found her niche. She knew little about socks, she admits, but knew what she liked and wanted - socks that stay up, stay on, keep little feet warm and dry, and all available in timeless colours and designs.
Sarah aimed for a high-quality, made-to-last alternative to other socks, with a comfortable fit inspired by ski socks. She also wanted to ensure kids' socks wouldn't fall off and would keep their legs warm - hence knee-high designs which stay up. "The feedback we get time and time again is that once people have worn Lamington socks, that's it. They don't want to wear any others." Sarah says. "It's the fine knit, the warmth, the fit - it all adds up to a magic formula." While the range was initially designed for infants and children, Sarah found that women, who avidly bought socks for their kids, wanted their own Lamington socks. Once a women's range was launched, Sarah's husband borrowed her socks and became addicted, and a men's range was born.
Sarah recognises that managing a business and raising a family can be tough and credits her fantastic team of Abby, Channelle and Ash for making it all work. “We have lots of laughs, but we all take care of each other. Because we are Mum’s, we understand the juggle!” she says. Between them they have 9 children ranging in age from 6 to 19 plus a total of 7 cats, 2 dogs, 1 bunny and a whole lot of fish! Sarah loves coming to work and notes that her team has had a “massive influence on the brand”.
A hugely positive outcome of setting up the business has been the opportunity to role model to her daughters that you can create your own path and have a career that genuinely makes you happy.
This aligns beautifully to Sarah’s favourite inspirational quote “Strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. “Corny as it sounds”, Sarah says “as a woman with amazing friends, working as part of a female team, and as a mother of 2 daughters I find this inspiring every time I read it.”
Lamington, named after the quintessential Kiwi treat, is synonymous with quality and is stocked in high-end retailers around New Zealand and the world. Sarah is passionate about respecting the brand’s NZ made roots. As such, all of the socks and tights continue to be knitted in New Zealand. This is important to Sarah who sees the brand as “NZ made first and foremost” and ensures the brand's high-quality standards are met.
When pondering on what has contributed to Lamington’s success Sarah points to her fabulous team, beautiful photography, and customer loyalty. “There was also some luck” she adds, explaining that they were fortunate to find the sock that was designed originally for her own daughters was equally loved by other parents. Sarah also credits being lucky to find a couple of stockists that championed their brand very early on as “this certainly helped get our little snowball rolling.”
Sarah and her team are not resting on their laurels and are constantly striving to improve their products and customer experience; while conserving the features that customers have come to love and rely upon. They are also “very intentional about maintaining the essence of the brand” as they don’t want to disappoint their large number of loyal customers.
Sarah is often asked for ‘words of wisdom’ for anyone thinking about setting up a business and always answers in the same way, “do not rely on an income when starting a business”. She explains that it took nearly 6 years before she was able to leave her previous profession and it was another couple of years after that before she was able to take a regular income. “We have seen so many amazing businesses start but not survive because the financial pressure was too difficult”.
Sarah has also found it very rewarding to have created a brand that people recognise and have loyalty too. She also considers herself to be very fortunate to have a job that she genuinely loves, working with a team that she respects and admires – after all, how many people can say “it really is super fun at work, every day!”.
I am delighted to announce that Lamington is collaborating with us for the 2020 Christchurch Baby Expo and I am looking forward to introducing my clients to their amazing baby socks; which will be included in the fabulous gift bags we will be giving away at the expo.
Product photographs courtesy of Lamington.