They survived the recession, kept a foothold in the market while other retail brands fell down around them, and faked it till they made it. Now, in their tenth year of business, the founders of ilabb are pleased to announce that the brand is in its strongest position yet.
"We've had some gnarly years and learning curves but we are in good stead for the next decade," says co-founder and Creative Director Matt Saunders. "We're steadily expanding into Australia, have just opened a new store in Queenstown and have a strong family of world-class athletes representing the brand - we feel like we've hit our stride and will make some big gains in this next chapter."
When ilabb became an official business 10 years ago, founders Saunders and Seadon Baker were in no way living the high life their action sports brand portrayed. They were working ridiculous hours, often hunkering down in the office overnight because there was no point in returning home at such a late hour. They learnt to live on Weetbix for breakfast, lunch and dinner - any extra money they made went straight back into the development of their action sports streetwear brand. The first time they picked up a major account was cause for celebration - followed by a mad scramble to find the cash necessary to produce the stock for this first major deal. "The company started in a recession so we learnt how to operate in lean times," recounts Saunders.
But Saunders and Baker's commitment and vision paid off. It's grown from its humble beginnings as a motorbike decal business to become one of the biggest action sports lifestyle brands in NZ with over 250 SKUs, three retail stores, 90 stockists throughout New Zealand and Australia, customers around the world and ambassadors from sports including drifting, freestyle skiing, motocross and mountain biking. ilabb is constantly in the top 3 of its category sales-wise and is proud to be one of the only top-to-toe label of their type, offering their customer everything they need from shoes to underwear to sunglasses and hats.
What hasn't changed is that distinctive upside-down logo, which still has people talking
"We're really excited with what we have achieved over the years, even though at times it hasn't felt like we've been making much progress at all! For us, our biggest achievement is the family of people that we work with: our ilabb team, fans and customers, suppliers and collab partners. It's wicked that we've found people who "get" what we do and are willing to get on board with it. Our mantra has always been "We're in this together" and that will never change," says Saunders.
The ilabb crew will celebrate their first 10 years in business in typical ilabb style: with an epic party. They also have limited edition t-shirts for sale commemorating their first 10 years, featuring reprints of their most popular graphics over the last decade. See them on ilabb.com.
Co-founder Matt Saunders recounts some of ilabb's milestones and highlights over their first decade in business:
• Working with incredible athletes from around the world - most of them at the top of their game in their sport, like drifter Mad Mike. In an innovative move, ilabb partners with action sports heroes, who have their own following, and offers them collab opportunities. "It was pretty surreal to sign some of the heroes that we looked up to when we were young – and who we still look up to now," says Saunders. "We're still blown away by the talent we're lucky enough to partner with."
• Pop-up stores at the massive X Games in Texas, Rhythm & Vines, Farm Jam and Shapeshifter gigs.
• A successful motocross ride day at a bike track for customers and suppliers - "We wanted to introduce people to the sport we love (dirt biking) by putting them on bikes. It was always our mission to make action sports cooler and more approachable and we had such an awesome day out with this idea," says Saunders.
• The launch of Syndicate, their athletic-wear line which is the fastest growing line in the ilabb business. The range came about as a response to the athletes ilabb work with, who said they wanted technical sportswear that would withstand their gruelling workouts - but also looked good.
• Running collabs with brands like Etnies, Burger Fuel, Mazda and Red Bull - companies Saunders and Baker have always admired. "To now be doing collaborations and working with them is just huge for us," says Saunders.