Lisa McWhirter is a former Oamaru woman who started her own small business, Antler NZ, in 2015, designing affordable accessories. She is now based in Lake Hawea, and her brand is sold by more than 100 stockists nationwide. She talks to Ashley Smyth about her business and life.
Q What are your ties to Oamaru?
I was born and bred in the countryside of Oamaru. We are lucky to have had such a great upbringing with lifelong family friends and so many memories. I have a really close family and a lot of good friends in Oamaru. I love coming home.
Q What is Antler NZ?
Antler NZ is a New Zealand brand, which is a proudly owned and operated small business, based in Lake Hawea. It focuses on an exciting range of scarves, jewellery and fashion accessories that can be enjoyed and worn every day, with pieces to suit everyone’s individual style and budget.
Q What made you start the brand? And when and how did it begin?
I’ve always been involved in retail. I am a florist by trade and used to own a gorgeous store, Bourbon Rose, in Christchurch. I was lucky to work for Jonell Johnson, at Jonell’s Florist, when I was back in Oamaru for a few years. From that, I knew how important it was to offer affordable accessories, and later saw a gap in the market to do that. We were on holiday in the United States in 2015 with family and I mentioned to my partner, Dave Munro, that it was what I had always wanted to do. He told me to stop thinking about it and just do it. So when we got home I got straight into planning. I wanted to create a business that I could run from home, while still being a stay-at-home mum.
Q What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned starting up and running your own business?
That it’s definitely not easy, but when you finally see what you envisaged from the start, there is a real sense of pride and satisfaction. Don’t give up.
Q How many stores do you supply?
Antler NZ is available in more than 100 fashion and gift stores nationwide. We don’t sell directly to the public, we choose to support our stockists as they support us, and encourage people to support local.
Q Are you hoping to get bigger?
Always room to get bigger. We might need a bigger storage facility, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Q Where to from here?
I guess we are always working towards the next best thing, but always continuing to supply great service and stock to our stockists – we love seeing that the product we offer is also helping our stores grow too.
Q What do you love about what you do?
I love all things fashion and being able to bring exciting new things to stores each season. I love that I have a great little team around me, we have a lot of fun. My New Zealand agent is a dear friend of mine and has been there with me from the start. I love our daily chats and laughs. It’s all about who you surround yourself with. It makes everything so much more enjoyable.
Q What are the challenges?
Obviously at the moment not being able to be hands-on with travel and sourcing. Covid hasn’t been easy for anyone I don’t think, has it? It’s just meant adapting how we usually do things, that’s for sure. I’m really lucky to have good agents and manufacturers overseas – it’s meant a lot of samples back and forth, but we’re getting there. Also, trying to be one step ahead of our competitors.
Q Tell me a bit about your family … How do you balance the whole working mum juggle?
I have two beautiful children, Georgia (12) and Archie (4), and a very supportive partner, Dave. We live in Lake Hawea and love making the most of our amazing backyard. Our friends here are our family, and we have a great time. I balance the working mum thing just like all the other clever working mums out there. We know it’s not always easy. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and I’m still not sure I’ve got the balance right. I definitely have to be organised and plan ahead. Family comes first. But with the support of Dave, and a great mum and mother-in-law, who will come over at the drop of a hat, we manage to make it work.