Turning a hobby into a thriving business

Suzanne Winterflood
Turning a hobby into a thriving business

According to the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, “For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, women’s hobbies tended to be those that contributed to the family economy, such as sewing and knitting.”

While today's women have broken the barriers to take up pretty much any hobby they choose, the remnants of history still mean many busy themselves with traditionally "female" hobbies. 

But what happens when you take one of these pastimes and combine it with an entrepreneurial spirit? 3 women who did just this explain.


Annie Oxborough, Botanical stylistAnnie Oxborough

Long regarded as one of Auckland’s most fashionable florists, Annie Oxborough is responsible for the botanical installations in many of the city's hippest shops and bars.

She and her team also create floral and plant concepts and styling for weddings, events, homes and offices, and magazine shoots.

“I’d dreamed of being a florist since I was a small child. I left school at 14 and worked in a flower shop for $35 a week. My first boss told me my designs were garish, but I've always enjoyed challenging boundaries and being unique!

SEE ALSO: Starting fresh: The rise of the radical career change

"I wanted to be a leader not a follower, so I opened my first flower shop in Herne Bay when I was 22. I developed a floral menu, like a restaurant, put in a couch, painted the shop in a riot of colours, and called it Daisy Chain Flower Lounge. We also won the SkyCity floristry contract.

"Managing the business side of things was super tough, especially juggling kids with full time work. The flower markets meant regular 4am starts, and I’d often clock up 80-hour weeks.

Pull out quote Annie O

"After having 6 flower shops, I set up a studio, by appointment only. Now I've moved into botanical design, and run a shop in The Department Store in Takapuna. I’m training in teaching and will be launching a coaching service for businesswomen.

"Being a florist is definitely a stereotyped female job. It’s getting a lot better, with people accepting you as a stylist, but back in the 80s and 90s you were often treated as just a shop girl. You still have to dig deep to prove yourself.”


Alice Shopland, Angel Food CEOAlice Shopland

Alice Shopland started importing dairy-free cheese from the UK in 2006. Since then, Angel Food has capitalised on the growing demand for vegan and dairy-free food products.

The brand is stocked in New World supermarkets and health food stores, and Hell Pizza uses Angel Food’s dairy-free mozzarella. They recently completed a successful PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign.

“I can't remember a time before I loved creating food. My mum is a very adventurous cook and has always been keen to cater for people’s different dietary needs, seeing it as a creative challenge. She passed that attitude on to her daughter (my sister Sue runs Cupboard Love bakery).

"I was a freelance writer and began importing dairy-free cheese more as a community service than a fledgling business. I wanted to help people who were cutting dairy out of their diets. Everyone loves cheese, so I knew a decent cheese alternative was crucial.

"3 years ago we decided to stop importing and develop our own vegan and dairy-free products, made in New Zealand, for the local and export markets. At the moment we're a very small team, with me as the only full-timer, so I do pretty much everything, from processing orders to product development to marketing.

Alice food pic3

"The most crucial change has been upping my game, taking myself seriously and regarding what I do as important. I've always had an entrepreneurial bent, but I've learned to take a longer-term approach and be really ambitious for the company.

"I've also learned to seek advice from a wide range of people, mull it over, then trust my own decisions.”


Debbie Green, Weebits founderDeb

After 20 years in the restaurant industry, Debbie Green’s knitting talents took her down an unexpected new career path. In 2008 she founded Weebits, selling locally made New Zealand merino knitwear for babies and toddlers.

By the end of that first year the brand had a distributor in the Netherlands, and is now stocked worldwide.

“I've always loved the idea of knitting, but never had the time. I only seemed to knit during pregnancy, although I have 4 kids so I guess that’s quite often!

"Most people have a plan when they set up a business: I had a poncho. Back in 2008 I was knitting a baby poncho and showed it to a friend, who insisted I take it to a Wellington design store. The owner loved it and that’s where everything started.

"There was a real gap in the market for hand knitted babywear using New Zealand merino wool and eco-friendly dyes. To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to have a business, but my first thought was: 'Aim high'.


"My husband set up a website and database, and my mother and I knitted some stock. After a few months I was introduced to a group of 6 lovely lady knitters in Geraldine, and they proved to be our salvation. I needed time away from the knitting needles if I was to grow the business.

"I'm now responsible for the designs, looking after stock levels, and the office side of things. I also personally pack and send out all the orders.

"A few years ago I found my son and his male flatmates sitting around trying out their knitting skills – it was lovely to see.”

SEE ALSO: Starting fresh: The rise of the radical career change


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