Thailand visit helps
hat designer break into Asia

As a start-up founder, Adrien Taylor knows only too well how hard it can be to get initial traction and connected to the industry people who matter. Which is why he leapt at the chance to join the Foundation’s 2018 trip to Thailand designed for young fashion entrepreneurs like himself eager to break into the Asian market.
Adrien Taylor

Adrien Taylor: "I went thinking Thailand would be a great place to manufacture hats, but until that trip I hadn’t thought of it as a market." (Photo:@maliarosephotographer)

Adrien founded his online company Offcut in 2015 making street fashion caps from fabric offcuts otherwise destined for landfill. It was a decision inspired by a visit to his father’s curtain warehouse in Christchurch where he saw a roomful of discarded pieces of brand-new fabric. Repurposed into hats, those fabric scraps sold out online within days, and a new business grounded in sustainability and waste minimisation was born.

The Foundation trip to Thailand that caught Adrien's eye was part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, which aims to build networks between businesspeople in Southeast Asia and New Zealand. 

Adrien was no stranger to Asia before the Foundation’s fashion-focussed trip, but he had harboured reservations about how easy it would be to do business there. His initial thought was that Thailand might be a good place to manufacture. But would there be language and/or cultural barriers?  Even more worrisome, would there be quality issues?

“That trip really helped me see Asia as accessible,” Adrien says. “It dispelled those fears and put Asia on our radar. I went thinking Thailand would be a great place to manufacture hats, but until that trip I hadn’t thought of it as a market.”

Not only did Adrien make new contacts in Thailand, he also ended up buying bright fabric offcuts from the Thai fashion company Senada to make into caps and selling them as a limited release in collaboration with the popular Thai brand.

Adrien Taylor sitting at a loom being guided on its use by a man

In Thailand, Adrien and the other entrepreneurs visited a village in the silk producing area of Isaan where Adrien sat down at a loom and tried his hand at spinning silk

A lot has happened since that first heady introduction to doing business in Asia. That same year Adrien visited more than a dozen factories in Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam, finally settling on one in Vietnam just outside Ho Chi Minh city.

“The two most important factors were the wellbeing of the workers and the quality of work,” Adrien says.

“You don’t know what’s going on in a factory unless you make multiple visits.

“The factory we chose in Vietnam is modern and clean and has a total open-door policy. It’s been audited by the Fair Labor Association. The workers work from 8.30 to 4.30 and have a lunch break with a cooked meal. It’s nicer than some of the factories here in New Zealand.

“Our eventual goal is to have all our hats produced under Fair Trade certification.”

The company now employs an agent in Vietnam and in Guangzhou in China to source suitable fabric offcuts. “Asia is a very exciting part of the world and its fashion reflects that. It’s a great area in which to do business,” Adrien says.

His passion for waste minimisation is reflected in the beautifully designed Offcut website which urges member customers to join the fight for sustainability in the face of climate change. “Offcut is a platform we can use to amplify our voice and inspire others to rethink what we so needlessly call ‘waste’."

The business is growing every year and is now diversifying into leather offcuts for luggage labels and wallets.

“We’d been planning the launch of leather products for years because we’d known for a long time that, unfortunately, just like fabric, a lot of brand new leather gets thrown away as offcuts around the world,” Adrien says.

“We’d barely started looking before multiple suppliers gave or sold us leather offcuts that would otherwise go to landfill.”