Career

How Hayley Rhind built her million dollar clothing business White Chalk from her Marlborough farmhouse

"Initially, they were just clothes for me," she says.

By Hayley McLarin

As a child, Hayley Rhind was given an acre of onions in payment for doing chores around the house and at her parents' market garden. When it came time to harvest, she and her brother Nathan would profit from the sale of their produce.

"We would learn that if it was a bad season, we wouldn't get much," the 33-year-old Marlborough woman says.

"If it was a good season, we got good money and learnt a whole other side to business – reinvesting. It was a really good way to teach us business and our parents got great work out of us."

And those early-learned skills have paid off, with Hayley building a million-dollar clothing business in less than four years – all from her Blenheim farmhouse!

Hayley tells she wasn't fond of school and left to work for her parents. At 17, she moved to Australia, working in cafes and other low-level jobs.

"I found out that life is hard when you aren't earning great money," she says. "I came home and didn't really know what I wanted. I worked as a rep for a flaxseed oil company and then went travelling around Europe."

Once she was back home, she started dating an old friend, Matt, and they launched a possum-monitoring business. They were living in remote locations when Hayley's parents offered to partially fund their first farm.

"We needed a few years of managing farms under our belt, so we got a job on a station in Canterbury and worked our way up," Hayley recalls. "We got married and eventually we got this farm."

After having their first child, Millie, in 2011, Hayley felt stuck at home in the middle of nowhere, so she studied by correspondence and gained a Diploma in Agribusiness.

"I was one of the first in our group of friends to have a baby and the others were still on their OEs or working in professional jobs. I love being a mum, but I found it hard."

Hayley and Matt, 35, had their second child, Jed, in 2015. At home with two small children on a sheep and beef farm, Hayley often pined for her former social life and friends. Unable to afford the clothes they wore, she sketched some designs and asked her sister-in-law Ginny – who lived in Vietnam – if she could get the designs made.

It was the springboard into creating clothing brand White Chalk.

"Initially, they were just clothes for me," she says. "My friends were at the stage where they could afford nice clothing and I felt a bit left out. I couldn't spend that sort of money.

"My first designs arrived on December 24 and it was like Christmas had come early," Hayley laughs. "I showed my friends and they wanted to order some too.

"Ginny and I joked that we should go into business, but I'd just had Jed and didn't want to jump into a big business venture. But I did think it would be good to make some pocket money."

Hayley then went on "a little sales trip" and secured 20 stockists.

"I remember the first order – a lady from the West Coast was ticking all the boxes on the order form and I was trying to act calm," she says.

But those sales weren't so straight-forward as Ginny had to find a Vietnamese factory that could make all the orders and there were quality issues in those early stages.

As the business rapidly grew, Ginny and Hayley's brother Nathan returned to New Zealand to set up a factory in Blenheim.

"Nathan and I are like chalk and cheese," tells Hayley. "He looks after all the production; anything technical he is good at. He puts procedures in place and never gets flustered. I am quite the opposite!"

On the day of our interview, Hayley's preparing to fly to China to source fabrics.

"I don't like leaving the kids, but when I get there, the fabrics are amazing," she explains.

"Matt and I had a dream when we started farming that I would be on the farm. That has gone out the window now, which is a shame. White Chalk is taking up most of my time. But once we are more established, I'll be on the farm more."

Meanwhile, Hayley works mainly during school and childcare hours, and again when the children are in bed.

"I am teaching my kids that if you work hard when you are young, as you get older, your money will work hard for you."

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