In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed James Kelly, cofounder of Woolly Clothing, makers of affordable merino apparel. As inherently natural, biodegradable and renewable garments, Woolly Clothing is made with little to no plastic or synthetics, yet maintains the performance and comfort needed for an active lifestyle. Listen in and learn about Woolly Clothing’s product development journeys and the success it’s had on Kickstarter.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • The inspiration behind Woolly Clothing
    • The groundwork involved with starting an garment line
    • Why they used Kickstarter to launch the Woolly Clothing Longhaul Pant
    • How their crowdfunding strategy changed after launching their last campaign for the NatureDry Jacket
    • Why they choose to work with Enventys Partners over other crowdfunding agencies
    • What the future of Woolly Clothing Co looks like

Links

Sponsors

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 20% off!

Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full service turn key product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over 100 million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to the Art of the Kickstart. Today I am super excited to be speaking with James Kelly, co-founder of Woolly Clothing. James, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.
James Kelly:
Hey Roy, great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Roy Morejon:
So, I’m really excited to talk. I mean, I always love talking to multi-creators on Kickstarter. When you ran your first campaign back in 2018, I think, I believe, the long haul pant, which was a Merino performance style pant raised over $233,000. I myself was a backer and absolutely love those pants. And now you’re back again with a new project, the nature dred jacket, performance jacket without plastic. It’s now raised over 300 Ks. So you’ve raised over half a million dollars on Kickstarter. I’m really excited to kind of dive in and go back to the beginning on where did it all start and what inspired you to create Woolly Clothing?
James Kelly:
Yeah. Should I just take that cue and tell the story?
Roy Morejon:
That’s the one baby.
James Kelly:
Sure. Yeah. So Woolly’s been around, I think this is now going to be our eighth year officially. I think we launched in 2012. And it all started when… I actually worked at Amazon back then. I started there back in 2010 or so in the third party selling group and it was pretty common among the people that I learned ropes from there to have side hustles. And so I was always kind of looking for something to start up on Amazon and ended up starting up another clothing company first with a buddy from college and that one worked great and we just kind of kept looking for ideas and Woolley kind of came out of that. We both got Merino wool underwear for Christmas, wanted a lot more, saw that they cost $75 a pair, which seemed completely insane. And did all of our diligence and figured out we could make them for about half that and nobody else on Amazon was doing it at the time. And that’s where it all started.
James Kelly:
We started making a single pair of underwear and it’s grown to a whole lot more. So that’s the origin story. And then, yeah, about two years ago we started having bigger ideas and Kickstarter seemed to be the only way that we could afford to make them happen and so we took a crack with the pants and that worked great. And here we are back again with the coat, the nature dry jacket.
Roy Morejon:
So, when you were creating Woolly Clothing, let’s start at just what was the process like? How did you go about deciding what features to include? How to source it, manufacture it, make it, ship it? What were all the things that you went through just ground level site?
James Kelly:
We had a pretty big leg up in that. I worked at Amazon. I had ran a team. Our job was to get sellers up and running on Amazon. So my day job was just basically figuring out how to get companies up and running on Amazon and make them successful. So, I had this kind of rich and deep background of knowledge of just fulfillment and listing and product creation and all the sort of nuts and bolts of that. And we had to figure out where to go get product from, how to design clothes, what that even means. And so that was kind of our big focus was how do you create something? We had no idea. And so that was a lot of, first I think it was clothes. Anybody who designs clothes that you talked to, I think it’s kind of a dirty secret, but it all starts by shopping. You just go find stuff that you like and then you use that as the base model and make a bunch of modifications and you cut and you safety pin and you mark up and you draw and you tape and you kind of create something that is exactly what you want. And then you, in our case, go on Alibaba and you find someone that can make it. And that was kind of our process.
Roy Morejon:
So, what were some of those challenges that you encountered when designing the first product?
James Kelly:
We took it down, but for the last few years we’ve had, hanging above my desk, the first pair of underwear that came back, the first prototype, because they probably would not fit any human alive. They were three feet wide. A bedsheets worth of fabric. We were so excited our first prototype was coming and then when we pull these underwear out of the package and it was… it would fit on a redwood. And since then it’s been the same thing. It’s like your first prototype is pretty hit or miss. The prototypes can take a lot of time, sometimes can take money to work through, so I think that you always have that kind of excitement of seeing your idea come to life and then realizing that it’s never quite right or wasn’t quite right and now you’re another three month prototype window away from getting around to it. Hurry up and wait and small disappointments and just kind of keeping the faith and staying on it.
James Kelly:
And then once you get a product live, at least for the way we’ve done it, I think a lot of people that are like us do it, which is kind of bootstrapping it, you don’t want to raise money, maybe putting in your own money. Those first two or three years where you’re getting really small unit counts. If you have any success that usually means you’re selling out of your units, going quote, unquote, out of business for two to three months while you’re waiting for restocks to hit and having to restart everything. That kind of defined our first two to three years in business where you’re trying so hard to get sales, the second you get them you’re almost putting yourself out of business and then trying to find a way to manage that and all the while trying to manage your cash flow and reinvesting in new products and redesigning new products. And that’s a rough road. A lot of credit to anybody who makes it happen. I know it’s hard for us. I know it’s hard for a lot of people. So, that’s kind of how it really started.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. For sure. So give me an idea of back in 2018 when you guys were launching the pant line. How did the crowdfunding conversation come up and why did you ultimately choose Kickstarter to launch the pants?
James Kelly:
So, it’s kind of a funny side story. My business partner, Mike, he was at a wedding and seated at a table where this other entrepreneur, she had been doing startups in San Francisco and was telling her our story and she kind of got inspired and was like, “I’m going to start a product” and she went and Kickstarted her product, did over a million, went on Shark Tank and she basically just took her idea and crushed it and blew us out of the water. And so we sort of saw what she did and that got us inspired and I think it kind of got us thinking bigger too. Like I said, when you’re kind of bootstrapping and you’re reinvesting your own products it tends to be kind of a small, really incremental game. You can only throw so much money back into the business and we were thinking about a pant for a long time, but wool is a whole lot different than cotton, synthetic, stuff like that. It’s really expensive, just the raw cost. Wool shirt is anywhere from 10 to $15. Raw costs more than a cotton shirt.
James Kelly:
So, the startup [inaudible 00:07:51], especially something with as much fabric as a pant is going to cost us around a quarter million dollars to just even give it a try. So trying to finance that or build the capital over time or anything like that would have been really, really hard. So, Kickstarter seemed like a natural… we had been looking for something to Kickstart. That was kind of the idea that came up. It all just kind of came together, the idea and the opportunity kind of just happened organically and we decided to give it a go.
Roy Morejon:
So, now that you’ve run two successful crowdfunding campaigns what did the preparation look like leading up to the first campaign and then what changes have you made for this campaign?
James Kelly:
I think the first time around… your first rip at anything you’re just trying to, I guess, cover your bases. I think I looked up 20 or 30 other successful campaigns and took a bunch of notes on sort of how they structured things, what kind of customer messaging do they cover? How do they talk about things? It’s a very different… our background was selling on Amazon and selling Shopify. So the copy to put on a Kickstarter page was super different than the copy you would put on a Amazon listing for instance. So, it was a lot for us to learn just as far as how do you structure, build, talk about a product in the Kickstarter way. It’s very different audience, it’s international, so there was that to consider as well.
James Kelly:
There was just kind of that what are the table stakes? How do we build this thing with just the basics? And then it also took a whole lot of new capabilities for us. We never made a big professional multi-minute video. We really hadn’t up to that point made a lot of GIFs and we had to build out a really good photo studio and get a good camera and figure out how to do that and get some skills in the team to kind of make that happen.
James Kelly:
So, I think there’s a whole lot to just make a good looking successful Kickstarter campaign. It took a fair amount of expansion of our abilities and just capabilities. So I think that was kind of step one for us. Did you ask what the was difference between round one and round two?
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. What are some of the differences that you guys decided to do now in addition to what you were doing before or remove because it didn’t have the ROI that you hoped for?
James Kelly:
Right. Yeah. The first time around the second you launch a Kickstarter campaign and it gets any kind of success you just get completely inundated with marketing requests, cross posting opportunities and offers. You just get so much inbound contact and information and it’s a lot of overload. And I think the first time around I kind of tried to do everything. It felt like one of those do everything you can while you can and it ended up just kind of completely overwhelming me and I don’t think… looking back, kind of doing a post mortem, the things that really drove results were very few. It was a great example of Pareto effect. I think there was five marketing things that drove any kind of results instead of out of the 20 to 25 things we tried.
James Kelly:
Another example is with a pant we tried to offer every single size possible. You get everybody in the door and I think something like 89% of our units were 17% of the sizes that we offered. And so that ended up being a huge challenge and the production side of things to just hit all those sizing offers that we created.
James Kelly:
So, just in kind of the campaign this time around simplified everything. We really got disciplined about who we wanted to work with on a marketing side, what our strategy was, and it’s made it a much more manageable campaign this time around and kind of given us the opportunity to be thoughtful and take on new things as the campaign was running. And it’s been a lot more manageable. Been a lot more pleasant this time, the second time around.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. That’s good. You’ve been working with us here at Enventys Partners for a while now. I mean, what are some of those considerations that you looked at when choosing an agency to partner with?
James Kelly:
I think the biggest one was obviously results and the product hype. Enventys, some of the stuff you guys offer, it was pretty easy to see that you guys delivered the first time around. I think you’re one of, if not, the biggest contributor of third party sales, or not third party sales, but marketing driven sales. And so that was kind of an easy choice to make. I think we narrowed down our partners that we wanted to work with pretty easily based on that. And I think the other thing is just the ease of working with someone. There’s so much going on during a campaign. You got to respond to all the daily comments and messages and you’re trying to respond to this and that and having someone who’s just simple to work with who’s got a team that’s on top of stuff and being proactive and reminding you of what you need to do, that kind of stuff, that’s a big thing for me.
James Kelly:
I think there was one… I’m not going to say names, I don’t even remember who it was, but there was one marketing company I worked with who hit me up, I said, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” I paid for the campaign and then three weeks after our campaign ended they were like, “Hey. We’re ready to push your promotion live.” And I was like, “What? This campaigns been over for almost a month. Where were you?” So, I think having a team, people who are just really good to work with, is a huge attribute during a Kickstarter campaign… you just don’t have… or a small team. We don’t have enough cycles to kind of stay on top of everything yourself. So that’s a big factor as well.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I mean, you talked a little bit about the community that’s been built. Talk a little bit about the experience with your backers given that it’s been a couple years that you’ve been running campaigns now and built up thousands of people that are pre ordering your products. How are you going about managing feedback, as well as promoting a campaign, as well as going into manufacturing? How are you guys set up to be able to do that and has the feedback led to changes at your company or new product ideas that you guys are planning on rolling out?
James Kelly:
Yeah. I mean, luckily for us, we don’t really have to… we’re a really small company. We’re three and a half, four people depending on the day. So, the feedback loops are pretty tight. I will manage a lot of the messages and comments as they come in and I’ll just turn around and tell my co-founder, who is in charge of product design, what people are asking for and saying, and it’s like “Yeah, that’s possible. It’s not.” So, being small as nice in that way. We don’t have to create a big convoluted process or anything like that. And it’s great too… that’s one of the weird things is selling through places like Amazon and Shopify it’s really hard to get direct customer feedback and Kickstarter is pretty amazing because that’s literally all you get is people back your project, they’re super invested, they want that voice heard.
James Kelly:
So you’ll get great feedback, you’ll get some weird feedback. You don’t have to listen to all of it, but you definitely hear a lot of really diverse voices and opinions and there’s a lot of people who know a ton about product design. Sometimes we learn stuff from them. And so it’s been a really… been a lot of value in just the process of having that community developed and it’s great for a small company like that to get a lot of input because it’s sometimes really hard to get.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So what’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned throughout the whole process of launching a Kickstarter campaign?
James Kelly:
I think Kickstarter is an interesting world. I think it’s taught us a lot about marketing and marketing discipline. I think it’s Kickstarter, like any other sort of E-commerce online based product sale experience, it requires a lot of marketing finesse and crafting a brand and a voice and an idea around your product and how to get that out in the world in a way that makes sense and matches your economics. So I think doing Kickstarters both times has kind of done a lot of identity definition for us as a company. Things that you don’t have to think about launching your 15th variation on a shirt from Amazon, you really have to think through deeply when you’re crafting a 15 slide story of your company and a product for a Kickstarter campaign.
James Kelly:
So, it’s forced a lot of good sort of company and brand soul searching for us and I think it’s pushed us forward in a big way on that and how we think about our company and what we want it to be and how we even think about it ourselves. So I think that’s probably for the team been the biggest change that it’s driven. It makes you think about things at a much higher level. Gets you out of the trees a little.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. No. It absolutely can help obviously with the direction of the company and the focus on products, categories, niches, based on the consumers that are really attracted to your brand and your messaging and your quality of your product.
James Kelly:
Yeah. For sure.
Roy Morejon:
So where are you guys headed next after this campaign?
James Kelly:
I mean the nature dry jacket, we haven’t really talked about that, but the idea behind it is really Marina wool has been around forever. Everybody knows, not everybody, a lot of people know what it is. It would be a big stretch to say that Marina wool on its own is kind of an innovative fabric, but I think that there’s cool things going on in the world of fabric and textile research that are allowing natural fabrics like Merino to kind of replace some of the easy defaults that have been around forever. So nature dry is all about replacing nylon and poly based water resistant and weatherproof coats with natural fabrics like Merino. And there’s a lot of places in the world where that that relationship holds true.
James Kelly:
So, we’ve kind of taken it to looking at things like shoes, luggage, back packs. All these products that… there’s a lot of people who get really amped up about not using plastics when you go to the grocery store, not buying throw away water bottles, but every time they shop they’re using a plastic bag and their backpack that they’re putting it all in is made out of nylon and polyurethane. So we kind of want to take Merino and all these cool things that are going on in that world and kind of just keep going after replacing unnatural materials with natural materials in every part of people’s lives.
James Kelly:
So, we have a lot of clothing covered at this point, but we think there’s a lot of other stuff left to cover. So that’s probably going to be the direction we continue to go with our company in general and future Kickstarters.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, this is going to get us into our launch run, James, where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?
James Kelly:
Let’s do it.
Roy Morejon:
All right. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
James Kelly:
I got to say, other entrepreneurs. I think the second I got around people who were doing things like that it just kind of peaked my interest and the more I dipped my toes into it the more I got excited. I never really had a dream to be an entrepreneur growing up, but the second I sort of saw what it was and how it worked and the life it let you live and the possibilities of that world, it kind of just sparked my interest and that spark never went out.
Roy Morejon:
So, if you could go on a nature walk with any entrepreneur throughout history who would it be?
James Kelly:
Man. I think I’m interested in people like Nikola Tesla. He’d probably be near the top. People who just clearly had an insane brain and just that innate desire to create and invent and I think people like that are pretty fascinating.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. Indeed. What would have been your first question for him?
James Kelly:
I probably would have asked him the first question that you asked me, which is what made you want to do all this? Where did it come from? I think it’s always an interesting thing to learn about fellow entrepreneurs and helps you find and keep your own spark going.
Roy Morejon:
Any books that will be inspirational for our entrepreneurial startup guests that you would recommend today?
James Kelly:
Man. It’s probably kind of lame. But the book that gave me kind of my entrepreneurial spark way back in the day when I read it in college was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I don’t know if it would hold the same allure that it does now that it did back then, but certainly for a young mind it gives you some idea of uncompromising vision and going your own way. I think if I can trace it all back to something it might go back to that book.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. That’s a first one on the show. Last question. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
James Kelly:
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what the future of E-commerce looks like post Corona and Covid. So I think that that’s probably the biggest lever that’s changing things right now in probably all aspects of business. I think if I had to guess, I think businesses are going to have to really start thinking about what is a business idea and what is an identity that is compelling to people in the post Corona world. I think maybe for the last 10 years you could build a lot of momentum just by saying, “Hey, I want to start a business. I want to be an entrepreneur.” People were excited about that. I think for some reason, at least what I feel right now, what I see other people resinating, resinating with other people is having a brand and a vision and a product and an idea that’s a little bit beyond just making money. It’s got to be pointing towards something that’s good for everybody or good for more than just you and your customer.
James Kelly:
So, whether that’s social causes or global warming or 100% for the planet or something like that, I think hopefully business will go towards a bit more of a holistic, good for everybody kind of model. I think that will be good for everybody. So, hopefully we’ll see a little bit of that.
Roy Morejon:
I hope so too James. Well, this has been amazing honestly. I really appreciate it, but this is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go, and why they should check you out.
James Kelly:
Cool. Well, we have our Kickstarter campaign running. We’ll be on in demand when that’s done. So I don’t know when this will air, but you can check us out there most likely. If not our website, www.woolly.clothing, that’s where the rest of our product line sits, which is similar to our Kickstarter campaign. It’s all very high blend Merino stuff and we’re excited to kind of keep making a wool life possible and would love to have you join us on that mission. So, thanks for the time. Appreciate it Roy.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Yeah James. No, I appreciate you being on it. Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links for the campaign at whatever state it’s at and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and product hype. Mr. James Kelly, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
James Kelly:
Appreciate it Roy. It was fun.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.