The early years - Paul Zarifeh
Back in 1985 a friend, Geoff White asked me if I'd have a go at making him a few wetsuits. At that time wetsuits were a new item in their product line - initially they were imported from the United States and then they starting making them in Auckland. He'd tell me how they would sell out as soon as they came in and that they were always delivered late (not to mention other problems with supply). Geoff knew there was a gap in the market, and that demand would only increase as kiwi water sport enthusiasts cottoned on to the wetsuit revolution.
I had been in the backpack manufacturing business since 1975, starting TAZ Backpacks. We made small Uni-style backpacks - not exactly wetsuits. But being a doer type of person who loves 'making stuff', when Geoff asked me about wetsuits I thought, 'let's give this a go.' I sold the business and then in June 1987 we started the Canterbury Wetsuit Company.
Feeling nervous but excited about our new project, we got ready to start figuring out how to actually make make wetsuits. And then BANG: a few months later the 1987 share market crash hit New Zealand. Wetsuits were still relatively new - not many people had them as they'd only been in New Zealand stores since about 1985 - and we were worried. But things picked up and so did the fun bit, making wetsuits.
Geoff & Paul, 1988 - Umm, wetsuits?
At first we simply didn't know what to do. We had to work everything out from scratch: neoprene, patterns, machines, processes and all the bits in between. We’d heard how good Yamamoto limestone neoprene from Japan was so we took the punt and ordered a shipment direct in to Lyttelton. We also ordered another lot from Sheico in Taiwan.
Having neoprene meant we could actually face our first order: 300 kid's spring suits for R&R Sports. We found a factory; we took on staff; we bought sewing machines (an overlocker, Zig Zag and a straight sewer); and we made patterns and samples. Then we made the order for summer delivery.
Next we tackled adult models and styles, learning and experimenting with designs as we went. At this stage our range of wetsuits were all sewn together using breatheable seams. We soon exhausted the Yamamoto neoprene so we got more, sewing a relationship that has continued until the present.
During these first few years we also started receiving torn and damaged wetsuits from shops and customers all over New Zealand. So we worked out how to repair wetsuits - easier than it sounds but believe me, it took time.
Here, there & everywhere…
Geoff's first sales trip of the South Island came back with orders from most of the retailers. Feeling stoked, we supplied all the orders and waited for reorders. Nothing happened. On the next sales trip we found out why. All our wetsuits had sold out but the retailers had previously indented other stock, and now that they'd arrived they didn't want to get any more until these sold. At this time the main opposition brands in New Zealand were Rip Curl and O'Neill. And RipCurl followers were very dedicated. They simply believed everything that RipCurl told them and would not listen to the new kids on their block.
However we soon found our niche. Surfers and other water sport punters in New Zealand wanted super warm wetsuits. And although our first models were relatively easy to make and great for the summer months they, like other brands, were simply not warm enough for the winter waters of the South Island. People wanted to score the uncrowded, optimum swells of the winter wearing the warmest models available... so we developed our glued and blindstitched (G&S) range, the 4/3 and the 5/3. We also developed a dive suit: the OffShore 7mm. This sold well and, thanks to our construction methods and limestone neoprene, our winter models became recognized as exceptionally warm and very hard wearing suits.
By the mid-90s we'd not only developed our own models (like the Viper 3/3 Titanium ZB Steamer which back then had a velcro neck-entry closure) but were producing wetsuits for other brands. Apollo dive suits for the Australian market were followed by Bodyglove in 1992 (this was before Warehouse stocked them). Over 20 years later, these suits sometimes come back to us, not only in one piece, but in great condition.
Ferrymead Shop, 1996-2010 - Custom-fit, name changes, and adventures in Auckland
Around this time we were supplying wetsuits wholesale to approximately 30-40 shops across New Zealand. We were also getting swamped with requests to make custom-fit wetsuits - wetsuits that actually fit more than just the standard sizes. These were difficult to do, especially as people's measurements were coming from an often-busy retailer not practiced in the fitting process.
Racks of slightly-off customs caused by not having direct contact with the customer was the catalyst to a major change in direction. As a result we decided to cut back on wholesale, take charge of the custom-fitting process and deal directly with the customer, and try and build a loyal customer base of our own. The business changed its name and Seventhwave Wetsuits was born.
Distribution became the key, so in July 1996 Seventhwave moved to its home for the next 14 years: Ferrymead. We finally had a shop of our own, complete with wetsuits, surf accessories, and real people to talk with. In fact, the development of the detachable hood system on our neck entry models was thanks to a customer suggestion written on the back of a banking slip!
By the new millennium Seventhwave had grown. We had a full range of breathable and glued suits, were making customs for a larger number of customers, and even developed a snowboarding range (as you can see by our current website, it didn't last long). In 1999 I left Geoff to watch over Christchurch operations, packed my bags (and family) and made the trip north to Auckland, opening stores in Takapuna (2000) and Montego (2002).
Having survived Y2K, Seventhwave jumped online with the rest of the world, launching a basic website in November 2000 complete with tiny images, haphazard fonts and no online sales capabilities (e-commerce came to us a bit later). Also around this time Geoff left Seventhwave to work for Trade Aid.
The end of the beginning…
I was really enjoying dealing directly with the public, so in the mid-2000s Seventhwave made the decision to focus on great customer service, custom-fittings, and making the warmest wetsuits possible. The building of a new website (with online shopping) and an extensive custom chart library at the Ferrymead store coincided with the closure of our Auckland stores and my move back to Christchurch.
The focus on directly meeting customer needs saw our custom-fit service streamlined into the easy process we offer today. A massive factor was the development of a better website that could provide our custom-fit option to people all around the world. This was done in late 2008, and finally launched in April 2009. We soon joined the social media craze and started a Facebook page, making videos for YouTube, and Tweets became a normal part of our vocabulary. We also said goodbye to our Ferrymead store, moving to the Dyers Road shop on 3 September 2010.
One day after moving to our new location, Christchurch was rocked by a massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake causing extensive damage to buildings and infastructure but without any loss of life. Thankfully our shop and staff escaped major damage, and we got on with settling in to our new home. Then the February 2011 earthquake stuck. Sadly, it was far more deadly than September - killing 185 people and leaving the city in ruins. Again Seventhwave was lucky, a few scary moments and cracks in the pavement being the main extent of damage. However our local livelyhood - the ocean - was polluted and deemed unsafe for close to a year, causing a marked decline in local action so it was time to increase our presence in the online world.
Written by Paul Zarifeh.
Carrying on a Legacy…
In 2015 Paul was diagnosed with Cancer and lost his battle in 2017. A great man and a great inspiration to us to follow our dreams and stand up for what we believe in. As a visionary and a pioneer in the NZ surf industry Paul created a wetsuit brand still unparalleled here in NZ for warmth and quality. Paul's passion and love for the industry, customer service and his passion to create something of the highest quality here in NZ has built not only a solid 35 year old NZ brand, but has meant his staff have been with him for a combined duration of over 120 years.
Paul did an amazing job of creating a brand that has stood strong against cheap imported items. He stood strong in his belief in NZ made, the quality of the neoprene and wetsuit, the importance of our customers, the value of his amazing team, staff and the value of his customers.
Paul was so passionate about his baby and would only sell Seventhwave to someone he trusted would love and foster it as much he did. In 2015 Paul sold his baby to Sarah (aka Puff), a passionate local surfer. Puff vowed to continue the legacy, grow the brand further, and most importantly follow Paul’s footsteps in keeping Seventhwave locally made in NZ and with only the highest quality being acceptable. To satisfy her own curiosity, Puff samples and tests different neoprene suppliers and has sampled many different wetsuits/neoprenes, but nothing compares to the Yamamoto Limestone Neoprene which we continue to use today. Seventhwave is owned and run by a group of incredibly talented women with a skill set that is second none. We still have the same incredibly talented wetsuit makers that have over 120 years combined experience in designing and making wetsuits. Between our expert staff and Puff's passion to create the warmest/lightest wetsuits possible (so she and her mates can surf for a ridiculously long time in our local winter 8 degree water to tropical excursions) we continue to innovate and grow. Seventhwave moved back to its home grounds in Ferrymead in 2018.
"While owning a small niche wetsuit company has its challenges, particularly being a small country at the bottom of the world, there is nothing I would rather do or could imagine doing. Even though I had no manufacturing skill set or any degrees, my passion for surfing, for our environment and keeping our foot print minimal, for top quality long lasting products and for providing a great working environment for my team while growing a brand they can be super proud of, has lead to our growth and success. My heart bursts with happiness and gratitude every time I paddle out anywhere in NZ and see all the support our company has, knowing my team made those wetsuits with love and passion. I love paddling out full of pride and confidence knowing how good our gear is and knowing that anyone in our wetsuits will be out for ages. I love sending a wetsuit from NZ to the otherside of the world. I love being able to make wetsuits for people with disabilities or non standard body shapes so they can get in the water to. I love and am so grateful for my amazing team that are like my family and having their kids come and work with us as they grow. I am that boss that comes in late in my wet wetsuit full of ideas and questions and after the eye rolls the team play along and listen and see if any of them are viable. (I'm hitting a 75% success rate, which increases if I bring coffee or espresso martini afternoon teas). So a big thank you to whoever may be reading this for taking the time to learn about us and support us. We do it with love, gratitude and pride."
Seventhwave gear has made people happy all ovver the world. Our custom-fit service and Yamamoto limestone neoprene is a unique difference to most other wetsuit manufacturers. At home in New Zealand, people continue to turn to a company which is 100% locally owned and operated, and as long as water sport enthusiasts need wetsuits with maximum warmth and flexibility, and the best custom fit and durability to match, Seventhwave will continue to please.