Up and down the West Coast, in offices and warehouses, home offices and kitchen tables, small businesses are flourishing. Development West Coast runs a nine-week programme called Co.Starters to equip aspiring entrepreneurs so they can turn ideas into action. Many of the businesses do not have a traditional store front, so in this series of Open for Business, the Greymouth Star and Development West Coast sample some of the emerging small enterprises that are helping shape the future.
Co.Starters graduate Jan Fraser has turned her passion into a business. Through her business Lomah Felt, she turns raw wool and silk into high-end felted woollen garments, boots and accessories.
“I grew up on a farm in the King Country, so I guess that is where my appreciation for wool started,” she says.
Jan was surrounded by a love of art while she was growing up. Her grandmother was an artist and her mother and aunt were involved with arts and crafts around New Zealand. After leaving school Jan went on to study craft design at Waikato Polytech.
“I then spent the rest of my life raising children and doing work I didn’t really enjoy,” she says.
“Around 20 years ago I had a dream of owning a piece of land and calling it LOMAH – Land of Milk and Honey – from the story of Moses and the Israelites waiting in the wilderness to enter their promised land. It hasn’t quite been their forty years, but I now have my own slice of paradise at Barrytown.”
Jan has fallen in love with the West Coast and the inspiration its untamed natural wilderness provides.
“To express myself as an artist it is important I am somewhere that harmonises with my senses. The Coast is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth. From mist rising off the forest after the rain to glistening snowy mountains, comfortably hot late summer days, native birdsong at the break of day and the smell of the sea - what more could you want?” she says.
“Apart from briefly dabbling with felt-making at Polytech, I only really got into it about two years ago. I made some booties for my grandchildren and it just took off from there. I have done a couple of training workshops with world-class felt-makers in the past year and decided this is what I want to do for work.
“I was still mulling over the idea - ‘could I turn my hobby into an income’. I wanted to give it a go but had zero experience or knowledge about how to make it a reality.”
To help progress her ideas, Jan signed up for DWC’s Co.Starters business start-up and development programme being run by WestREAP in Greymouth.
“This was a great course for me and at the right time. I had the ideas for my business but didn’t know how to develop it. Co.Starters ran me through the whole process from market research to the legal stuff. I left feeling confident with an ‘I can do this’ attitude and was able to figure out the next steps in developing my business.
“I want to take growing Lomah Felt quite slowly. Of more value to me, and my business, is that I gain a name as a felt-maker and artist who produces high quality items. This is not something you can fake. You can’t launch yourself to the world and say - ‘here I am, I am a world class felt-maker’. You have to work to get that recognition. That is my goal.
“The Coast is not a region known for its wool, but I have found some excellent wool grown right here that is perfect for boot making. Others import the right kind of wool from Europe, but this is better. NZ’s merino growing zone is right on our doorstep. This means I can keep my ‘footprint’ low by purchasing one of my principle raw materials locally.
“For other materials I use the internet. I can live in this beautiful quiet place and still have access to the world market. The price of real estate here on the Coast means that my dream of owning a small lifestyle block and running a business from home can be a reality. I couldn’t afford to do this anywhere else.”