Lani and Mitch, Yuki Threads

How do you start your own successful fashion label?  It helps if you haven’t studied fashion, like Yuki Threads owners Lani and Mitch of Mansfield.

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Seasons at Mt Buller

As far away from fashion as you can get, Lani studied archaeology at uni and Mitch is a mechanic by trade.  They both started doing seasons at Mt Buller in 2008 and met doing a season in Japan in 2009/2010.

Discovering the hoodie market

In 2010 Lani started making hoodys at Buller for friends with a sewing machine that Mitch bought for her.  “I would literally have people around, and over a glass of wine measure them up.  They would choose the colours, and a week later I’d deliver a hoody” Lani explains.  Having a lot of orders left over after the season, Lani realised there was a market for what she was doing.

The conception of Yuki Threads

Returning to Japan to do another season, Lani and Mitch were getting to a point of having done several seasons back to back.  ” We started to think, how do we do this and also feel like we’re doing something for ourselves. Not just working for the man and getting caught up in season to season.  You see a lot of people in the ski industry having to drop out. Or not feeling like they’re going anywhere or doing anything, with the same jobs year after year” Lani explains.  So when they were back in Japan they had an official meeting and decided to start a company. Yuki Threads was conceived, yuki meaning snow in Japanese.

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The first range

Starting with five styles and a beanie, they designed their first range and sourced a manufacturer in China straight away.  “You can’t compete with the quality of the manufacturing in China.  It takes six machines to make one hoody” Mitch explains, showing me the stitching on Lani’s hoody.  “Also the quality of the fleece, you can’t get here” says Mitch.

Unplanned marketing genius

The initial order was for 300 hoods, spread over the five different styles.  When the order arrived, by a stroke of unplanned marketing genius, the beanies came first.  Soon, all their friends were wearing beanies around Mt Buller with a little yellow bird on them, and everyone was wondering what this little yellow bird was.  Then the hoodys arrived to all this hype that had been created by this little yellow bird.  “We couldn’t have planned it better” say’s Lani.  The first batch were pretty much bought solely by friends, much to the relief of Lani and Mitch.

Taking things seriously

Wanting to be taken seriously, after their first season they got a booth at the AAP ski trade show.  They had order forms ready and did their first catalogue, but didn’t get one order.  Proving that they were in it for the long haul, they attended their second trade show and did really well, getting orders and making connections.

The evolution of the bird

Over four seasons Yuki has evolved, each year branching out a bit further.  Still purely apparel they now have a bigger range including t-shirts, hoods, soft shell, beanies and neck tubes.  Some are specific for shredding, some for street and there’s the core range which they’ve had from the beginning.  “That’s what people love us for, and keep coming back for”, says Lani.

Yuki is still manufacturing small quantities.  “It’s nice for our customers because we’re still quite small with limited numbers, but that’s going to grow as the company grows” Mitch explains.  As well as their online store, Yuki Threads now retail at or nearby every major ski resort in Australia.  They’re in New Zealand, and they just opened a couple of accounts in Austria and one in Switzerland.  The plan is to branch out to Europe, starting with the European Snow Trade Show ISPO this summer.

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Becoming a full time gig

Up until recently, Yuki Threads has been a part time venture. But this past summer Mitch has taken on a full time role at Yuki, while Lani works at The Farmhouse in Mansfield managing the office.  “It’s pretty difficult.  At the start we were doing it all together, both working full time and doing a bit after work.  Then it got to the stage where you need one person to take a more active role in order to grow as a business and take it to the next level.  And as soon as that happens, the other person misses out,” Mitch explains.

Lani is still involved in the design side of things.  They always bounce colour and fabric choices and general business ideas off each other.  With Mitch now working full time on Yuki, they’re looking to get Lani more involved, hoping to phase out her other work eventually.

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An entrepreneur in the making

An entrepreneur in the making, Mitch is a guy with a finger in many pies.  As well as working full time for Yuki Threads, he works part time for Mansfield Mt Buller Bus Lines running the office, and as volunteer park crew one day a week.  “This is the first year I’ve lived off the hill, so it’s good to keep on the snow.  I didn’t want to move off the hill and totally lose touch with everything.  It was a hard choice to make, but it’s worked out well.

When I go to the hill now I enjoy it more,” he tells me.  On top of all that, in July Mitch started another business, ‘The Bus’, with his mate Nick Fergus of Powderpak Oz.  Running weekend bus services to Mt Buller from Frankston via Ringwood.  “The idea is to make it easy for the ‘ones and twos’  to get to the hill and meet a whole new crew of riders and boarders” says Mitch.

How do you start a successful fashion label?

So how do you start a successful fashion label?  Being naive, in a niche market. Loving what you’re doing and being passionate (about snowboarding) are all contributing factors.  “Because we’re in such a niche, the market research has already been done for us by our friends.  We know what our friends like, we know what we like, we know what we want in a product.  We’re making it for ourselves, and our mates” says Mitch.

“We’re selfish in a way” add’s Lani, “We make things that we like, that’s the way we design things.”   Because they haven’t studied fashion there are no preconceived ideas of what their product should and shouldn’t be.  “You’re learning something new, totally different and thinking about things you’ve never thought about before, that’s what makes it all fun” says Mitch.

Yuki Threads is a 100% Australian owned brand of practical quality clothing, with an Australian look and feel.  It’s about lifestyle and shredding with crew but most of all it’s about enjoying life. It also has a strong ethos of supporting local community and the industry.  On what the future holds for Yuki Threads, Mitch says “Yuki Threads exists so we can keep snowboarding.  It would be nice to make ends meet and be able to go snowboarding, that’ll do.”

For stockists check out the web site http://yukithreads.com/

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