February 08, 2018
Made by, not made in
Meet Terry Marshall of Circle M Brand
Late last year we made an unusual request to Terry Marshall to help us construct a Kōkako Brew Bag. Terry is the owner-operator (pattern maker-sewist-cleaner-email answerer etc etc) of Circle M Brand and his workroom is only a few steps from his home just outside Ōtorohanga.
Terry in his workroom.
Mike, our Managing Director, first met Terry when visiting Hamilton’s Fieldays and was impressed by his simple stand and high quality products. Circle M Brand’s core business is heavy duty oilskin jackets and beautiful horse saddles. His attention to detail stood out in all the Fieldays noise! Luckily for us Terry accepted the challenge to work on the project so sooner after we first contacted him about it we were sending off the brew gear it needed to be able to hold along with an curious reference image — of a sneaker bag.
Thanks to all the years behind him mastering his skills Terry hit the nail on the head and we had barely any edit request to his first prototype - much to his relief! You can find the final Brew Bag result here.
We visited Terry just before the Christmas break to catch him in action and to talk about home Circle M brand came to be.
One of Circle M Brand’s Oilskin Parkas.
On a typical day what goes on at Circle M headquarters?
A typical day here is from 8.30 to 5.30 Monday to Friday. Working through orders that have come in mostly by phone and online. I cut out mostly in the mornings and get work set up for Paula, my contract sewer, who comes in when there’s garment orders to get out. Paula just sews garments for me, I do everything else, all the leather work and canvas and a fair bit of the clothing as well. A lot of the time we are pushed to get parcels on the courier at 2.00pm as we don’t like to have customers waiting for weeks to get their order.
Saddles are a different kettle of fish though as they take months from go to wo. The building of the saddle really doesn’t take forever, it’s the waiting for the tree to be built (everything begins with the saddle tree) and slotting it into our work schedule.
Above: Out the front of the Circle M Brand headquarters. Below: At work on our Brew Bags.
When was Circle M Brand born and how? And is there a story behind the name?
I circle the M when I sign my name so thats how it happened and it sounded western and cowboy, so that was a bit of me! When I was a kid my friends and I were all into our horses and westerns were big on TV back in the 60’s and 70’s. We were always playing cowboys and as we got older that progressed into the real thing, we followed the Rodeo circuit for 20 years. I won 2 NZ titles in Saddle Bronc riding and calf roping back in the day and that’s where my leather work started from. I used to carve belts and make all kinds of gear for other cowboys on the circuit to help pay my way and as things progressed a hobby turned into a business.
What’s the biggest challenge running the business?
The biggest challenge in running a business is getting paid on time for what you have done so you can do the same. I bet all small business owners like me are in the same boat, always worried about cashflow.
And your fondest memory working with what you love?
My fondest memory, I really don’t know but I do get a great deal of satisfaction out of finishing off a saddle and it comes out just how you wanted it too. The look on the customers face when it exceeds their expectations is priceless.
Is there anything you can share about Circle M Brand, or your processes, that might surprise your customers (and us!)?
The thing that might surprise is I taught myself everything I do by pulling things apart and putting them back together. Like everything, the first few things I made were pretty rough, a friend once told me “if it’s perfect, it ain’t hand made”, but the more you do the better you get and after a while you can sew a straight line. All our clothing we make are all our own designs.
It was interesting in the early days of Circle M making patterns as we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, it was only help from my wife and others who did home sewing that we figured things out.
My brother in law, who worked with me in those early days with the business was also farming at the time and he used to field test our prototypes and work out where we needed to alter the cut or style to suit all the jobs it was designed for. I think we do over engineer a lot of our stuff but it has worked well for us as our gear seems to outlast our competitors.
Can you describe for us the best customer you've had in all the years of Circle M Brand?
No one customer stands out as the best one we have ever had . Any customer who is happy with the product he got off us and tells his friends how great it is is our best customer right?
Favourite/secret spot in your neighbourhood?
I don’t really have a favourite spot in the neighbourhood. I am quite happy driving around in my jeep! That’s my happy place.
Terry’s vintage jeep that keeps him busy outside of Circle M Brand hours.
The Complaints Department in the Circle M Brand workroom store. ‘Please leave name and phone number with brief description of complaint. Name. Phone No. Now removing locking pin. Thank you!’
When did you starting growing corn 'on the side'?
We have been growing sweetcorn for about 10 years now. We have ½ an acre of land that is too small to have animals on so just for fun we decided to grow some corn to see what would happen. Every year is different with growing a crop, so you never know what sort of a crop to expect. We sell it in our gate on a trailer and it usually lasts about 3 to 4 weeks and pays for our groceries for February.
Terry’s corn crops.
If you could drop everything this minute and teleport some place else, where would you be heading?
I love travelling around the western states in the US looking at all the old cowboy stuff, old saddles, guns and history etc.
and lastly, how do you have your coffee?
Long black, no sugar.
The Kōkako Brew Bag. Whether you brew on a V60 or an Aeropress or just need a bag to hold your beans and a few mugs together whilst tripping around - there’s enough space for the lot. It's understated Kōkako grey outer is made of a sturdy waterproof canvas and it has a comfortable handle to carry it where ever you may go. Proudly made by Terry Marshall in Ōtorohanga.
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