I caught up with Jon Penn, one of the co-founders of the newly launched startup - Goodfibres which launched last year August. Goodfibres is an ethical fashion brand that provides a platform for artists and up and coming artists to upload and submit graphic designs.
In the full interview below, Jon talks me through his journey so far running the company, how the idea for Goodfibres came about and what Goodfibres is all about.
Who are you?
Goodfibres is an ethical fashion brand that provides a platform for artists and up and coming artists to upload and submit graphic designs. Once the designs have been uploaded other artists within the Goodfibres community will rate the designs and will give feedback as to how the design could be improved if at all. Every week we look at the most popular designs and then turn them into funky t-shirts paying the artist a 10% royalty on every sale.
How did you start?
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and find myself consistently evaluating companies that I admire and wondering how they can be done differently and better. I find that I have to reign myself in at times as I continuously come up with new business ideas that I want to pursue. Due to the routine constraints of life, I try to put the blinders on and think about the big picture; you need to focus on one big goal at a time. I originally started out in the tech sector working for the big banks and realised very quickly that it just wasn't for me. My business partner Damon Bonser has a similar mindset- he has a creative spirit and likes to do things in a manner that blazes new trails rather than following existing ones.
It was about a year ago that we were looking online for a site that offered a good selection of t-shirts that had great designs and something a little different from the high street. During our research we came across a few sites in the US but found that although they had some good designs the quality was quite poor and you had to pay a lot to get them shipped over.
It was at this point we thought there might be an opportunity but rather than build the traditional model of employing in-house designers we thought it would be a great idea to build an online community of artists. One thing we noticed whilst building Spinning Hat, our product design company, was we were finding that there are so many talented artists out there but many of them were never really taught on how to promote themselves in a big way so we thought by building a platform we could do this for them.
Before setting up Goodfibres Damon and I were already successfully selling products to the same demographic through Spinning Hat. Fashion apparel and Funky T-Shirts are always popular items for this target audience and are often sold into existing retailers that Spinning Hat supplies. The plan was to create a complimentary brand able to draft on Spinning Hat's success whilst also helping us to enter new markets and leverage additional retail accounts. The plan was to create a sexy retail product that had a bigger purpose and story beyond the actual tangible item.
What do you offer?
Goodfibres designs are curated and created by artists, so by wearing a Goodfibres t-shirt you're actually wearing a piece of original artwork. Goodfibres works hard to champion the contributing artists, so in addition to placing their names on every creation, the designer keeps the rights to their artwork, and receives 10% of the proceeds on every sale.
When we saw the competition begin to adopt attributes that we were using to differentiate ourselves I knew they were keeping their eyes on us and that we were on the right track. We will continue to be agile and to focus on serving our customer base. If we do this we will just go from strength to strength.
The two biggest challenges with Goodfibres from day one was going to be how do you grow an online community from scratch and the second challenge was how are we going to find artists to submit artwork for the initial collection when we didn't have a brand/site just an idea. We also needed to make sure as part of the launch we had a great collection of cool t-shirts to sell so we could drive sales from day one.
I think a lot of the success of this was probably due to the fact that we have already built a successful business so when we started to actively contact the artists they could see that we had potential to take the idea forward and implement it.
After a few months of contacting various artists we soon found ourselves getting inundated with artists contacting us and expressing their interest and wanting to be involved. After a few months we had close to 300 submissions of artwork for t-shirts which was really amazing. We then spent the next few weeks going through all the artwork to filter it down to a collection of 45 T-Shirts that were designed by a mixture of artists from all over the world and had different artistic styles as we didn't want to create a genre that stopped certain artists from submitting their artwork.
Once we had built this collection of artists we then started to actively contact other artists offline and online and were introduced to friends of friends and it kind of snow balled from there. Within a few weeks of launching we had over 1,500+ artists sign up which was really amazing.
Pointers for others?
- -Check what is already in the market place?
- -Identify who is going to buy your product?
- -Is the product design realistic?
- -Can you achieve the right price point with the chosen design?
- -Is the volume you are expecting to achieve worth the effort of even designing the product?
- -Surround yourself with talented people as you cant do it all on your own.
I would like to think that in 5 years from now Spinning Hat is a well established, recognised high street brand with its products being sold all over the world. Within that time we should have built an experienced, talented design team that could allow us to move into other industries or areas within design. As long as I am surrounded by talented and creative individuals who continue to challenge me, I will be happy. Goodfibres will continue to grow and will service more and more people but at the end of the day the game will still be the same. If it continues to be fun I won't need an exit plan.