We’re all well aware of the challenges of sustainability around the fashion industry. Whether it’s fast fashion, the manufacturing of materials or where our clothes end up when we’re done with them, as an industry it leaves a lot to be desired.
One Auckland company is looking to change that impact. Goodlids is a headwear brand looking to revolutionise the use of hemp as a material by being ‘nice for your head and good for the planet’.
“Hemp is an awesome material — from a performance perspective it wears really well, and is very breathable,” says founder Dane Watson.
“From an environmental perspective, the growth of hemp is carbon negative — for every tonne of hemp grown, it sequesters 1.63 tonnes of carbon. It also doesn’t need much water or pesticides to grow, and helps regenerate soil.
“Hemp’s issue historically has been its close cousin, marijuana — it has carried a negative social perception — but it’s a great product and we’re looking to help to continue to change that story.”
I asked Dane how he got started with Goodlids, and what triggered his insight that there might be a gap in the market.
“To be honest, I was a bit bored and wanted to give something new a go. I’ve always been a hat guy — I wanted to create headwear that was better than anything else on the market and combine that with a low environmental impact,” says Dane.
“I wanted our hats to be considered — will they maintain shape, how can we maintain quality across their lifecycle, how can we make sure they’re recyclable. I started searching around for a material that would fit these needs and I settled on hemp. Hemp is a great product but there wasn’t a lot of demand for it in the clothing industry.
“So I started taking a few steps forward at a time through trial and error to work out how I was going to build the company.
“I focused on getting hats fitting well, designed how they should look etcetera, and then I started googling for manufacturers to get some samples. (While the hats are designed in New Zealand, they’re manufactured in China.)
“I got the first few samples back and they were rubbish. They just didn’t look good, or fit well and it wasn’t what I was looking for. I bumped into a primary school friend in Auckland one day and it turned out he was living in China and only back in Auckland for a week. I told him what I was up to and he said he was dabbling in the agent space — finding manufacturers and stuff — and said he’d come back to me with a shortlist of reputable manufacturers. Sure enough the list came through a few weeks later.
“I got in touch with these manufacturers in late July, and had some samples by mid-September. I settled on one, got my first order in late September and we launched in November 2019.
“It was incredibly good timing — we had excellent sales heading into Christmas and as the cannabis debate was going on here, it was quite topical.
“So I had these orders arrive and I kicked straight into a launch of the brand. Up until then I had been quite insular in this process of forming the idea and building up to the launch — I hadn’t told many people so no one could tell me that Goodlids and hemp hats were a terrible idea.,” Dane laughs.
“For the launch, I put on a party with free food and alcohol and the admission fee was buying a hat. Looking back I’d say that was a key factor of our early success — a) having friends who were keen to jump on board, and b) making them pay — I wasn’t about to hand out freebies. The end result was 80 mates wearing the product and telling their mates.”
I asked Dane what challenges he’s faced in the Goodlids journey so far.
“When I kicked off the business, I based decisions around building blocks to mitigate risks. I was essentially planning to not cripple myself if this all fell over. But it meant I had no plans if it was successful.
“I was learning supply chains on the fly. I had only ordered 500 hats heading into summer, was running low after two weeks or so of sales and then I found out about Chinese New Year.
“I’m quite risk averse — I basically wasn’t ordering enough until someone sat me down and said, ‘Think of the number you think you’ll sell… then double it.’ I had no experience forecasting and ‘she’ll be right’ ain’t cutting it.
“But you also have to strike a balance between oversupply and scarcity. Part of our motivation is being kind to the planet so inciting scarcity consumerism or sitting on inventory we don’t need doesn’t sit well with me at all.”
Headwear — and fashion more broadly — is a pretty crowded category. I asked Dane what advice he’d give to someone pushing into a category with lots of competition.
Says Dane, “I think it’s about making better products. Look at what others are doing and work out how to do it better. Product is king — we’ve got some real strengths around using hemp and our sustainability story — but that doesn’t matter if we’re lacking quality, a good fit and good design.
“The second element is authenticity. For Goodlids, sustainability has been a big focus, but we can do better. We are working on an actionable plan to deliver everything we stand for around sustainability. Improving the quality of our dye for colour, considering how packaging can be 100% sustainable. Are compost bags useful or do most of our customers end up trashing them anyway? How can we find paper and water-based glue tapes for our postage? We need an actionable plan to make that happen to be as sustainable as we can in the long-term.”
I asked Dane what general advice he’d give to someone looking to kick off their own venture.
“Without a doubt, give it a crack. There’s no magic formula — there’s no point sitting at home on the fence — back yourself and give it a go.
“Even if you fail, you’ll be better off for the experience and you’ll learn something. Money shouldn’t be the motivation — there’s a lot of hard work that goes into companies now raking it in. But if learning is the goal then whatever the outcome, you’ll have some tools to grow.”
I asked Dane what’s next for Goodlids.
“First is getting our actionable plan on sustainability complete. We want a full suite of info and a gameplan to be able to measure ourselves against.
“Second is diversifying our product line. We’ve done a small release of t-shirts that were really popular, and working on our winter release so watch this space!
“And finally, I want to have a crack at going beyond New Zealand — looking primarily at the West Coast of the US and Canada. A launch without 80 mates to buy hats will be interesting but what a great challenge — I guess time will tell.
“I’m a massive believer in the strength of the NZ brand and definitely keen to make the most of that through Goodlids.”
Originally published at https://www.knooknz.com on January 26, 2021.