Okewa Rainwear - "Together, they may well be the power couple of Wellington drizzle and downpour in the windy capital"
Nevada and Nick founded Okewa Rainwear. Okewa Rainwear makes water-proof, stylish coats, fit for Wellington weather. They may also be Wellington’s most lovely couple. And it’s not just me who thinks it. When we conduct our interview, the only quiet space available is my parents place in the Hannah’s Factory building. As we go up Nick voices his praise of the architecture (Nick’s background is architecture). Inside, Nevada admires mum’s taste in interior’s. The pair also are very patient, something that comes in handy when growing a small business. That day, I am simultaneously dog-sitting a chocolate coloured spoodle, called Cinnamon. Despite Cinnamon’s occasional barking, Nick and Nevada are un-flappable, rolling with the dog. An when my parents unexpectedly show up, bringing our family dog, Timmy who starts barking madly, they keep their cool. Nick even shakes my dad’s hand. “What a lovely young couple” my usually gruff dad admits later on, looking misty eyed.
"I met Nevada Leckie while browsing for Wellington raw food support groups online"
This is, however, not news. I met Nevada Leckie in this most unlikely of circumstances 3 years ago, while browsing for Wellington raw food support groups online (don’t ask). I asked on a forum whether there were any raw-food groups in Wellington. A voice popped up in Cyberspace. It was Nevada. We went on a blind raw food vegan girl-date to a flat in the depths of Aro Valley, and spent an evening learning about tamarind, food combining and Vita-Mix blenders. Luckily, it appears we have both moved past from such fetishes. We did, however, stay in touch. Together, they may well be the power couple of Wellington drizzle and downpour in the windy capital.
“What a lovely young couple” my usually gruff dad admits later on, looking misty eyed.
Last year when I saw Nick and Nevada were doing a kick-starter for their new label, I was super excited. At the time, I couldn’t afford to jump on the bandwagon. But in October I saw a mens coat, while visiting their pop-up store on the last day it opened. Nick kindly agreed to let me put it on a very generous lay-by, even though it was a sample item. Happily, the present went down well, which I wrote about in my post about Christmas presents. But I wanted to know more about Okewa Rainwear, and how a married couple also work together on a small business and live to tell the tale.
Tauranga Girl meets Southland Boy - “Everyone was from different places”
Nick and Nevada aren’t from Wellington. Nevada grew up in Tauranga, and decided to come to Wellington to study a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria. Nick was from Southland. He too came to study. They met in Weir House, Victoria University of Wellington’s oldest hostel. The pair look almost sheepish when they admit this “it’s a bit of a cliche” Nick groans, jokingly. Nick admits that when they met he was a bit more eager than Nevada at first. “I guess I was intrigued by her quiet ‘mysterious’ qualities” says Nick. Together, they embraced the Wellington experience. They admit their whole friend group from the hostel were ready to start life in Wellington. “Everyone was from different places” says Nevada.
After studying for 5 years (where Nevada took a break from her BA to do a fashion design diploma at Massey, and then back to finished her BA), they ended up moving together into a little one-bedroom flat in Oriental Parade. Nick was at an architecture firm, and Nevada worked a few different jobs, including working for a fashion brand run by a friend called “Two Worlds”. During this time, Nevada travelled to Bali, buying fabrics. While working here, Nevada decided that she wanted to take control of her own brand. “I wanted full control. For myself.” she laughs.
“I guess I was intrigued by her quiet ‘mysterious’ qualities” says Nick.
Inspiration from Wellington - “This looked like a great opportunity for us, together”
The idea for Okewa Rainwear came from Wellington itself. “I’d had a Caroline Sills, light raincoat for a while - and it just never worked well enough” Nevada remembers “At the time, I was working at Statistics New Zealand and I had to walk each morning around the waterfront, like 40 minute walk, from Oriental Bay. I would get soaked.” Nevada was determined that she could make something better, that fitted the Wellington climate. Nick was also immediately keen to be involved - the seed of the idea for the business appealed to his interest in entrepreneurism and technology. “This looked like a great opportunity for us, together”, he says.
The two do make a great double act. Nevada does the design and manages all of the production of Okewa. Nick does “everything else” - shielding her from the social media, the press and the logistics of their pop-up store and banking. “At the end of the day we both get our hands into everything” says Nick. “It’s pretty full on” says Nick, “We don’t really get away from one another”. The two still work part time jobs to make ends meet. As far as not taking work home with them, it doesn’t really exist. “We are doing all the work at home as well. “We don’t really know anything different” admits Nevada.
“It’s pretty full on” says Nick, “We don’t really get away from one another”
Okewa was born from Nevada Googling waterproof fabric (she found the best cloth was woven in Japan, which they now use). However, it really came into being through crowdfunding in August 2014. The kick-starter helped the couple take it from being an idea to reality, raising the capital needed. For Nick, Kick-starter was the obvious choice, because of it’s international reach. The pair had seen a kick-starter campaign called ‘Wool runners’, woollen shoes for running in started by Tim Brown, a Wellingtonian. “We got the idea to do a kick-starter - because we needed a whole lot of capital to make these coats” says Nevada. “But the Wool Runners - that set the standard”.
The pair were very methodical in how they prepared for the campaign. Nevada had been making samples from Calico fabric, so they knew the coats looked good, and would work. But they needed fabric to make samples, a manufacturer, models to shoot, and a high quality video. Okewa needed to raise $40,000 to go to market with their full range. A lot of money - but their plan worked. The pair may look stressed and lacking sleep in the video appeal, but their authenticity shines through. “The kick-starter raised $50,000, so we got the first line manufactured” Nick says. The line went unexpectedly global, so the pair had to ship out around the world to meet orders. Sorting out customs and taxes for the first time proved an interesting experience “but now we know what to do” says Nevada.
In it together - Factories, coats, pop-up stores and the city
The company that manufactures the Okewa Rainwear coats are in a family business in Auckland. They make some tough outerwear for the Defence Force, and also do some fashion wear. The company appealed to Nevada because they were able to do seam sealing for the coats - only a handful companies in New Zealand who can do this. “We couldn’t go to any manufacturer - we wanted it all done under one roof” says Nevada. She also works with a pattern maker in Hamilton that digitises the patterns and sends it to the manufacturers. Nick and Nevada admit that finding such specialised people often came about through connections, and searching through google to find solutions.
The next run sold out online, and the next one. Earlier in the 2015 year, Nevada began to think of a new line for slightly more business focused stylish customers. And next came the pop-up store, off Victoria Street in September - October, which was established in an old curry restaurant. Through sheer hard work, they turned a building site into a fashion-store, working evenings and weekends. When the store opened, Nevada said she was surprised by how many people already knew who they were “I would go to approach people and tell them our story, and they would say, “Oh I already know who you are”. “It’s funny it hasn’t happened before” observes Nick “no one has started a raincoat company in Wellington”.
“We couldn’t go to any manufacturer - we wanted it all done under one roof” says Nevada.
Why Wellington? The answer is easy. Nick and Nevada admit, their idea came because of Wellington - it fits because it came from Wellington, of its “lovely climate”. “The business has been helped because of Wellington’s size, maybe more than Auckland - everyone knows one another and is willing to help” says Nevada.
Okewa Rainwear are currently looking for more stockists in Australia, New Zealand and beyond with the brand showing in at a Milan trade show this coming weekend. They are also contemplating more pop-ups stores in other cities. “It’s going to be a good year” says Nevada, “I’m excited”. And if this couple are indeed the Wellington fashion power couple, its only just begun. Bad weather may have met it’s match.