A few weeks ago, we discovered MATTER, a socially conscious label of clothes for modern nomads.
Always curious to know more about the people behind successful and ethical ventures we got in touch with Ren and Yvonne, the duo behind the brand, to find out how they went from idea to launch.
Yvonne and Ren how did you meet and what were you doing before launching MATTER?
Yvonne is from Tenerife, Canary Islands and Ren is from Singapore – two islands, one from Europe and one from Asia, meeting on the continent of South America 7 years ago. We met in Mexico when we were both working for the same hospitality company at the time and lived together near the beach of Playa del Carmen, sharing an apartment near the beach and an old jeep called Sputnik.
Before launching MATTER Yvonne was working in the travel industry, and Ren was running a collaborative workspace in Singapore, as well as trying to set up a crowdfunding website called Ideasian for creatives. The coworking space closed after 3 years, and the crowdfunding site idea tanked after 6 months. The space for MATTER emerged after that, learning the important lesson that a good idea is never enough; you have to be the right person to execute it. And we are the right team to realise MATTER.
“The space for MATTER emerged after learning the important lesson that a good idea is never enough; you have to be the right person to execute it.”
How did you come up with the idea for MATTER?
The name MATTER is about going back to the basics that connect us. Stories, craft, values. We knew we wanted to be a collaborative label that could accommodate working with several different partners and so the name was something foundational enough yet evocative enough for that.
How long did it take to launch the company?
About 9 months? We were working on other stuff on the side and it just started as a series of conversations that became sourcing trips. The journey feels like it’s been a long one even though we are just getting started. I guess the main milestones would have been, ideation, brainstorming, interviewing potential customers to get their feedback, having a prototype pants party to put people in pants and test them out, initial sourcing and sampling, meeting with the artisans in India, developing partnerships on the ground, conceptualising the branding and message, getting the first website skeleton up, making sure it works, developing a zero-budget launch strategy with friends and social media, and there we are.
Do you have outside investors or was it totally self-founded? Can you give us an idea of your initial funding budget?
Totally self-funded, because we wanted to create it our own way, even if it meant starting small. We kicked off with only 3 styles of pants in 6 different fabrics. That was it. The startup budget was in the realm of $30k.
You have a very specific supply chain, how did you come up with it and how did you choose each partner?
It’s a combination of having the mission in mind, knocking on doors to learn what’s possible, and designing something that meets the mission but also the business constraints you place on yourself. So for example, our mission is mainstreaming artisan production and telling heritage stories through the product; constraints are around wanting to provide free shipping globally as well as a semi-affordable price points. Choosing partners in the end is about viability, but also more about gut feeling, and an alignment of mission.
You can read more on our lessons here
With so many partners in different locations, how do you stay organized? What are your productivity tricks?
Let’s just say Skype, Dropbox, Evernote, iCal and WhatsApp are our friends!
Here are som of our productivity hacks:
- Chat stuff on Evernote instead of email
- Using my calendar as a daily to-do list to sort out chunks of time;
- Having a physical notebook that charts weekly and daily priorities (check out bullet journal).
- Sleeping before 11.
- Getting heavy thinking stuff and strategic decisions done in the morning before 11.
- Here’s a day in our life.
How does the design process work?
It’s an iterative process and one around interpretation and translation. We source motifs and their meanings from the global online and offline libraries, as well as oral histories from the artisans. We then interpret them for modern relevance, changing things like white space, outline, details and so on. We then work with the artisans collaboratively back and forth to develop a design that is efficient for them as well as aesthetically positive for both.
“We source motifs and their meanings from the global online and offline libraries, as well as oral histories from the artisans.”
How do you promote your products internationally?
Social media is a big friend of ours mainly because it’s free, but we’ve been lucky enough to have been picked up by a few major publications in the beginning when we first launched which really helped. Short videos of the making process in social media has been a huge part of showing the provenance of craft and having people realise the work behind it.
Here’s some on the latest editions.
The Fieldtested initiative has also been great way of spreading the word to people that truly care about the brand and embody its values.
The Nomad Cart which pops up in various locations and which we organised in lieu of a launch party has also been great.
You had a large press coverage, how did you approach journalists?
Emailing! And being genuine about it.
What is your advice for somebody wanting to start an ethical business ?
The first thing is having a theory of change. What is the one thing that you would never compromise? And then build from there. What are the criteria to look for in a partner? What are the non-negotiables? I describe more here.
Could you get us through a week in your life as founders of MATTER?
Wow. It largely depends on the time of year but largely:
- Monday: big, important stuff to do with content and moving projects and getting in touch with people that I need answers for within the week.
- Tuesday: Meetings with others, potential partners, finance and admin stuff, and team yoga!
- Wednesday: Skype call with India, production reviews, print reviews and prototypes, working with designers and the artisans to get sampling going
- Thursday: Team huddle, group projects that involve everyone like photoshoots
- Friday: usually inspiration day, meeting people in or outside the industry, or having a Strengthsfinder workshop for the team.
What other entrepreneurs inspires you and why?
So many! I believe in being inspired by the little things and the everyday, and I also gain much inspiration from peers around me who are doing their own thing. I believe there is something to be learnt from everyone.
What are the future projects of MATTER?
We’re launching a project called Then&There in September which is a collaboration with 4 designers from Indonesia, India, Singapore and Philippines, which we’re very excited about. We’re also exploring artisan partners in Indonesia and Laos (where Yvonne is based). In 5 years we hope to be the leading collaborative platform for artisan-designer products in Asia, and serving a community of conscious global nomads who invest in responsible products that tell their own stories.