Value driven bikes

Wishbone - Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor

Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor are the passion behind Wishbone Design Studio. And that passion has created a successful international business firmly embedded in sustainability and quality.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

Talking points

Wishbone is a family business, we’re located in Newtown in Wellington, and we design and manufacture for a global market high quality childrens products – ride-on toys, most of our products have wheels – and we’re making them with sustainability as a background principle.

(Rich) I wanted to make stuff…industrial design

I don’t want to make rubbish, so from that perspective if you’re making quality product you’ve inherently got a sustainable ethic to it.

There are a lot of cheap Chinese toys in the world, and we didn’t want to make cheap Chinese toys. We manufacture in Asia but we focus on quality, we focus on guaranteeing that the bits and pieces that we put in the box are worthy.

(Jen) I studied law, I wanted to find way I could practice law that would pursue a passion. And I discovered environmental law and international law…(eventually) I became a diplomat.

Sustainability has been a key principle for me, I wouldn’t describe myself as a greenie. I’m interested in policy around environmental issues.

Starting a business was an exciting opportunity to pursue sustainability through the private sector.

(Jen) I’ve always had a love of natural world, I love the outdoors, I derive a lot of energy from it, and I thought if I’m going to be a lawyer, I thought how am I going to connect those dots? (and The Lorax, adds Rich)

I was making stuff for my children in our New York bathroom.

My supply chain (during the initial design) was Home Depot – what I could work with. When we came to production we could address those things – we looked at the glues, the materials themselves so we could be sure they weren’t going to corrode or rust,

Wishbone Design Studios started with three principles – simple, smart, and sustainable. The first two referred to the functionality of the product and how it transformed, and the sustainability was the manufacturing ethos.

There is no plastic in our packaging, it’s all recycled board. Even the packaging itself, we realised that we had to have a box to put the product in, but what happens when it gets home? So we printed an image on the inside of the box so it becomes a play space and a cut-out mobile.

These sustainability things are adding value.

(Is it harder not to make rubbish?) In a competitive marketplace your product is more expensive. People make cheap rubbish because they are trying to hit a price point, we have never really been driven to look at that. It is a factor in business, obviously there’s no point making world’s best widget if no one is going to buy it – so we’ve tried to navigate the fine line between being commercially viable and making the best product we can.

We launched just as the 2008 crisis hit. So we were very aware that the world was encountering a major financial crisis, and money was suddenly not what it was, and consumption patterns were not what they were. At that very moment we were working on our brand, what are our core values we want to instil into everything we do? Our product design but also our employment strategy, our partners choices – fundamentally Richard and I are not major consumers of material goods…

At the time the world was suffering this financial crisis, it would be a fair assumption we thought that there’s a good market of consumers tat would revert to traditional values rather than speedy consumption of goods from discount sources. They would go looking for the one item that might indeed cost a little more but would last longer.

We thought that there was this old school value that would enjoy a renaissance, and it was coincidence that these are the values that we live by, and so that was the brand, and we might have an opportunity to start a new brand right in the thick of a global financial crisis.

The product could suit a child as young as one, and we intended for them to still be riding it when they were five. So that put the pressure on to make sure it would last four years – in the life of a children’s toy that’s quite a long time. And we would hope that they would pass it on to a younger sibling.

The back page of the instruction manual, we printed a car-ownership style registration page

Another principle is 100% repairable product. We wanted to make products that would never end up in the landfill.

That our bikes hold their value for second-hand resale is a matter of intense pride.

It’s a conscious strategy to promote the second-hand market.

It’s counter-intuitive to business where the more stuff you make the more stuff you sell, we say, no, we’ve got this product that we like to see being resold amongst a community of user, we can service it and keep it usable. An endearing quality we’re building, the value set of our brand.

We’d love our bikes to be second generation products…passed on to their own children…that for us is an inspiration, that we can produce something so well that it will be there not only for a family and its siblings, but potentially for a second generation of those children.

We use the phrase that we’re designing a new generation of classic children’s toys. Modern design together with old school value.

The limited edition bikes…started out as cosmetic seconds bikes, we took the frames out of the skip, added artwork to them and increased the value. That is part of our DNA, seeing an opportunity, taking something that was rubbish and making good out of it.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

The last thing you want is to be culprit of green-washing. So we adopted policy early on of stating what we do do. We describe the steps we have taken in areas of sustainability, corporate social responsibility – this is what we do do, and here’s the truth about everything else, and here are our aspirations for the next 12 months.

This bike is made from carpet.

Communicating the values of the business through product.

A matrix of new ideas coming together. Theoretically the world’s a better place because produced this product that sets a benchmark – it can be done, you can take recycled residential carpet and produce a children’s bike.

So now we’re asking how far can this go? How can we take the product learnings…this is just the beginning of the path..

We have to deliver a product that delivers functionally something better than everything else, the fact that it’s made from recycled carpet is a secondary point. It’s just inherently in the product.

Sell more stuff not our business model. We made a decision one year, our business plan was to be sure that the following financial year we didn’t sell an additional unit. The hardest thing we do is manufacture well. We will make and sell to those who want it, and we will do a good job of that. Our goal is not to just sell more.

We are a model of a family owned creative business.

(Success) Global consumers are looking to get the products that they need from brands that represent who they want to be…people want a cleaner

(Activists?) Futherist thing from activist…trailblazer. Fine line. Never going to beat chest and try and preach, but I would like to think we care doing things in a interesting and creative way – which other people can get some inspiration from.

(Motivation?) Five core values, the first: get close. It’s about the human element.

We both get out of bed in the morning, not to sell bikes, but to have the joy of the interaction with people

There’s a hook to it, now other people are dependent on us to sell bikes. There is a responsibility there that we’re coming to terms with.

We’ve never driven to make 1000s and 1000s more of what we already make, we’ve never been driven to have major staff numbers

(Challenges?) Growth, learning discovery…maturing…knowledge base…scope…technology strategy.

Maintaining values as we scale…trying to find people who understand our value sets…culture within our business internationally.

(Miracle?) Not having to work so late at night.

(Advice?) Have stamina…so many times we’re looked each other and asked are we idiots? Confidence – there is a bigger picture here, and we’re on a path to achieving it. Knowing we’re doing the right thing.

(How will you know when you’re there?) (Jen) We’ll never get there. (Rich) When I sold the first bike, I thought was there…

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Author: Samuel Mann

An Associate Professor with a background in both IT and land management, Sam has developed applied IT for regional government, crown research institutes and large organisations. He has taught computing since 1994, at Otago Polytechnic Information Technology since 1997, including five years as Head of Department. Sam has published over 150 conference and journal papers in the fields of augmented experiences; sustainability; and computer education. Sam is responsible for the development of Education for Sustainability at Otago Polytechnic where we are committed to every graduate thinking and acting as a sustainable practitioner

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