From blank sheet of paper to early sales of off-road running and cycling apparel in the space of two years. Aussie Grit Apparel CEO Mark Thewlis shares his views on the company’s second birthday milestone.
You and Mark Webber started with a focus on product rather than marketing when creating the business. Why did you do that?
This business started because MW wanted to make awesome sports apparel. All our early discussions were about how we could do it better; how we could be more innovative and stand out in an already crowded market.
MW is often offered endorsement opportunities. An easy road would have been to put his name to some else’s hard work. That isn’t what Aussie Grit Apparel is all about.
We chose the hard road. We chose to develop every garment from scratch because we believed we could do it better. Our philosophy was that we held our focus on building truly functional products that let people get outdoors and enjoy connecting with nature, then the marketing would take care of itself.
What were the key steps in the leadup to launching the flint range in early 2018
It’s easy to under estimate the challenge of creating a sports apparel business from scratch. It’s a highly competitive industry and we were very aware we needed to treat our development phase with respect.
We started by being very clear about what products our first range would include and what we thought was different and better than what existed in the market.
We then created the designs so we could pitch our ideas to the best global factories (who wouldn’t normally work with a start-up business). This was an important step because the construction techniques and ability to work with high end fabrics isn’t available in the smaller, low cost factories. We clocked up plenty of frequent flyer miles getting this right.
Once we had our first proto-types we started the long process of testing different fabrics and refining our patterns and fit. This was our focus on function phase and to be honest it took longer than we expected.
It was at this stage we really benefited from MW’s relentless push for perfection.
Mark has a great ability to break the problem down into its components and work through the issues one by one. Having MW in the factory to explain his vision helped enormously.
I’m really pleased we didn’t short-cut this phase as really focussing on getting it right is no doubt a reason why we’ve received lots of very positive reviews in the media and from customers.
What stands out to you about the flint range of garments?
Our development process started with a list of functional requirements for each product. It didn’t start with a price point and work backwards. As a result we have something different. You see it as soon as people touch and feel our products. You can feel the fabric has been selected with purpose be that to keep you warm, dry or comfortable. You can feel that it will be robust and take whatever you and mother nature can throw at it.
To see hard core endurance athletes want to wear our gear in events they have trained all year for – to trust that gear in the moment when they can’t be let down – is very rewarding.
The confidence it will do the job is what makes our gear different.
When you set out to create the first range of garments, what were the mandatories that had to be there in off-road garments?
Comfort, function, durability and temperature control are the attributes that are always on the checklist.
You describe the garments as having been created with an ‘absence of negatives’ in mind. What does that mean?
An ‘absence of negatives’ is a phrase we use not only for our apparel but really it is an approach to the whole business. From an apparel point of view we want to create gear that will let you get outdoors and challenge yourself in whatever way you choose. Our gear just works, you don’t give it another thought once you have put it on.
Have you been impressed by the reviews in the trade press?
Yes. It’s a nerve racking experience waiting for reviews of your first range but I am extremely proud of the way our products have been received by industry experts and our customers. It’s great to see the hard work of the whole team over the past two years received so well.
What does the next two years hold for Aussie Grit Apparel?
We want to be known as an innovator and leader, and you will see more of that over the next couple of years. We will extend our Focus on Function approach to all areas of the business especially our customers experience. We also have ambitious market expansion plans which we will be working on in the near future. Lots to do.