I was inspired while driving home from my day job the other week as to the topic of this blog post. We often hear of overnight success stories and rarely get to see the inner workings of the journey itself. So today, let me share with you how we ended up here.
While this is also a retrospective post, we are still far from successful. That may sound negative but by no means is this supposed to be sad or depressing, it’s actually an opportunity to share my gratitude for all that we have created thus far and laugh at some of the things that we have learnt in the last two and a half years. Hence, I’d like to take this moment to thank you for reading, thank Jeff for our partnership and thank those who have supported us with Volant Wear.
Volant was in its infancy in early 2016 when Jeff and his doubles partner Joel first decided to create a badminton brand that was simple and different from what was available. They were looking into Manufacturers on Alibaba to get ready-made clothing designs to place their brand name onto (at the time, this was called Elevate). Shortly after beginning this journey they ran into a complication. Another start-up brand were using the same ready-made designs they were considering and were already in the process of selling. As a result, they decided not to continue with their journey and shelf the Elevate brand.
Jeff and I had been chatting over 2015-2016 about whether or not our medical professions were what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. For both of us, it wasn't. But we both weren't sure what else we could do at the time. We spent a lot of time pursuing different avenues through self discovery, reading and attending events. I had started creating a home veterinary consultation service named Vets on Call (an uber for vets service) with a friend of a friend and Jeff had recently bought into his practice at the time. It's funny now that I think about it because we had both decided that our medical professions weren't what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives, yet we both became more involved!
In late 2016, Jeff, myself and my girlfriend Renee were walking around Emporium (a shopping centre in Melbourne) as Renee was looking for some shoes. I can remember this quite clearly - We were at the bottom floor of Emporium in Sketchers (the shoe store). While Renee was looking at some shoes, Jeff and I were talking about the things we could potentially do together. Jeff mentioned the venture that him and Joel started earlier that year and how the idea had fizzled out. I had always found that badminton fashion was unsightly and complicated, so thought that his venture with Joel was still worthwhile. So right there and then, Jeff and I decided that we would continue this journey they started together.
We quickly created a brand named Elevate A (As Elevate was already taken and the letter A looks like a shuttlecock) when trying to keep the original company name, Elevate. To this day, Volant Wear is run under the entity Elevate A Pty Ltd. We knew that if this was going to work, we needed to do this properly and settle in for the long-term and so we did.
For us, 2017 was a roller coaster of trying to learn the fundamentals of business and start-ups as well as getting our company up and running. A lot of this process was via back and forth communication with companies from China through email (see below for an example email chain).
This period was difficult and a testing time as due to the the lead times involved, it took a long time before we would receive samples from potential manufacturers. Unfortunately, we couldn't persist with most of the companies that we chose to partner with.
Let me share with you two of the stumbling blocks Jeff and I had to overcome to provide some context and so you can laugh with us as we look backwards.
1. Jeff & I both come from a strong scientific foundation; both of us became medical professionals, him in Dentistry and myself in Veterinary Medicine. So when we decided to launch our own apparel business, we threw ourselves into a very steep learning curve. Luckily for us, we had a friend in fashion design who helped us sketch out some basic designs for Elevate. We scanned the sketches and spent hours annotating them to create a “design” to send to potential manufacturers (see below for one of our original designs!). I remember we looked back at this design a couple of months ago and laughed hysterically because we actually thought that it was super professional!
It was certainly very detailed though! (Thanks to Jeff for his hard work).
2. Finding manufacturers was tedious and determining whether they were worthwhile working with was also very challenging. What made things difficult was that we were funding this with our day jobs (and still are) so we had to start small and there were very few suppliers who would take us seriously. While looking into the various geographical locations to source a manufacturer, I stumbled upon a list of Pakistani companies. I had read quite a lot regarding Pakistan being a great place to source suppliers. I managed to create what seemed to be a great relationship with a manufacturer and set out to create some samples of the following sketched design (see below):
I was so confident and optimistic that we had found the right supplier. What we hoped for was a meshed grey Tee with a navy blue panel as per the design. What we received instead created one of the funniest moments in my life:
Not only was the main colour of the tee light blue and the panel purple, what can't be appreciated from the image is that the material was so stiff we both couldn’t fit our heads through it! Trying to put this tee shirt on was just too funny to be upset by.
Fast forward to mid-late 2017, we managed to make our first bulk order with a supplier and were hopeful to finally start building our brand. The bad news is that the quality of the products we had ordered hundreds of was just not the quality of clothes that we were comfortable with and they were all one size too small...
So despite all the time & effort spent, we were back at square one with clothes we weren't happy with (dead stock) and a dwindling amount of funds.
So we did what we thought was best, we started again. We didn't just start looking for suppliers again, we started everything again. We had to gain clarity on what we hoped to achieve with our humble little startup and get a better understanding of ourselves by starting with the buzzword in this space, why?
We needed to take ownership of it and breathe life into it with our different partnership instead. Our vision wasn't clear and we had set out to continue with the original plan to sell better clothes than what was available in our beloved sport. Clothes that players and fans could wear both on and off the court but in reality, it was so much more. We knew one thing, that we both loved the sport, the people who play it and that it didn't get the recognition we believe it deserved.
So that was it, we set out to show the world how incredible badminton is!
By February 2018 we met Clyde Cayateno, a young marketer who had recently started his own branding agency. We met him through Jeff's friend and were very excited after our first meeting with him. We were adamant that the person we asked to help us needed to be excited for our vision and was not simply looking to take us from point A to B. Clyde seemed like our guy and with his help we created Volant Wear.
Our company name and logo have both historic and symbolic ties to the sport: Volant was drawn from 16th century France where the game was known as Jeu de Volant, meaning 'The Game of Flight'. Today, Volant is defined as “the ability to fly or characterised by flight” and is in direct correlation to how we feel as players when we take to the court. Volant is also known to the French as the shuttlecock itself.
Our brand logo was secretly derived from the negative space between a shuttlecock’s feathers, tying it back to our sport and representing the subtlety behind our brand’s look and feel. These unique details that form our brand allow badminton players to wear our clothes proudly everywhere they go, knowing that there is a larger vision and deeper meaning as to why they’re wearing it. The name Volant and the design of our logo also allows for the non-badminton player to comfortably and confidently wear their Volant apparel as everyday wear even if they haven’t yet been exposed to the sport.
We're so much more than just clothing and our mission has evolved significantly over the last two and a half years. It's to empower badminton players and fans to grow and share their love for the sport. We are hoping to educate, entertain and change the way badminton looks.
That brings me to today (at the time of writing). We have finally made a batch of clothes that we are happy with and have received great feedback from our customers so far. Our plans are to continue bringing out freshly designed clothes that make you look and feel great anywhere. In addition to our blogs, we have also started to produce videos and podcasts for entertainment and to help you grow as a player and a person. They may or may not be available when this post reaches you so if they don't, they're coming soon!
There are so many things we've learnt so far in our journey and so many things we still don't know but I hope this gives you a bit of insight as to what goes on in the background of building our clothing brand.
As always, please leave any comments, questions or topics you would like us to post about next time :)
Last year in August, I was lucky enough to travel to Basel, Switzerland to coach the Australian Team at the 2019 World Championships.
Being a former player that has competed at such tournaments such as the World Championships, I found that the experience was vastly different as a coach compared to an athlete.