Hey Oscar, tell me a little bit about yourself and what Collective Canvas is all about?
Sure, so I'm 32, based here in Auckland, born here effectively. I started Collective Canvas 2 years ago. Throughout my 20's I worked in the footwear industry in marketing roles and then in a brand management role. I learned a lot about what I do like about the industry and what I don't like. I've got a family background that goes back two generations in footwear as well. My grandfather, he started one of the biggest factories in New Zealand which is based down in Te Kuiti. Then my Dad started a footwear chain which has kind of expanded around the country.
Is that still going? Or is this in the past?
Oh, amazing! That must be helpful to have those insights!
Yeah, it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about all of the different aspects of the industry and it definitely gave me the opportunity to get stuck in the position that the average person probably wouldn't. So yeah, I did that for a lot of my twenties, ended up managing a sneaker brand within their company for a few years. They gave me the opportunity to work with some great people and learn a lot more about footwear development and I spent a lot of time up in Asia as well, in some factories and with suppliers and stuff like that.
Cool, so you went in with some really great background experience and first-hand insights then!
I felt like I got a bit burnt out with what I was doing and then I did a bit of travelling in my mid-late twenties and started tossing around the idea of starting something that was a bit more in line with my own values.
Did you have a strong passion for the sustainability side?
I did, yeah. I think I had realised a lot of what I didn't enjoy about being more involved in a more fashion/trend-based industry was the fast-pace nature, a lot of waste and chasing after things that were very short-term. It seemed like a big giant treadmill that you step onto and once you get going you can't stop.
And what's it like working within the same industry as your family business, I guess almost being in competition?
I mean I think I have intentionally gone on a slightly different route. They're more sort of mainstream fashion and trend-based and I'm a bit more off to the side in my own sort of thing. Definitely, I mean the way the industry is sort of going, where sustainability is becoming a bigger thing, it's probable that we will end up competing a bit more, but that's alright, we'll find our different niches.
If you were to describe 'Collective Canvas’' main brand mantra, or the values that drive the brand, what would those be?
I would say we are a small business that make simple sneakers from natural and sustainable materials. When I started the brand I kind of set out three core pillars I wanted the brand to be and that was slow, simple, and transparent. We base every decision around those three pillars, whether that is design, or sourcing, or how we run the business directly to the consumer rather than traditional wholesale.
Awesome, so what's your current team at the moment? Are you guys quite a small team, or?
It's just me. Just me doing everything.
Amazing! No wonder you're busy!
It can be stressful at times for sure but it's nice, at this stage anyway, to get the chance to try my hand at everything and learn on the job as I'm going.
Yeah, that's awesome! Is your family involved at all?
Not really, no. But I will say I am lucky I get to use a few of their resources, like their photography studio and there are always people I can talk to when I need help, say if I'm stuck on developing something.
What made you decide to break away from the norm?
I think it was definitely the sort of first-hand knowledge of realising what I didn't enjoy about the footwear industry, and I guess the fashion industry as a whole. It felt to me like it was continually speeding up and fast-fashion was becoming a bigger and bigger thing. Inherent in that is a lot of waste and it almost felt a bit like throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. There's a lot of waste that falls to the ground and in order to be that fast-paced and competitive you've got to be outdoing your competitors, you've got to be getting things from concept to market as fast as possible, and often that involves not doing your homework to a huge extent and sourcing becomes less of an important thing - where you're getting the ingredients from and how things are getting made.
Was it a situation where a switch flicked overnight? Or was it something that you'd been thinking about venturing into for a while?
It was a growing dissatisfaction and realising that there were elements of what I was doing that I really enjoyed doing, that I loved, but I wanted to do something that felt a bit more in line with my own values. I think for a while I was tossing up doing something in the space and then I think sustainability became more and more important to me as I started looking at what I might do. I was sort of just being guided by my own heart in a way, which sounds cheesy!
No, you've got to have that passion, don't you!
Exactly. So yeah, just kind of defining what my values were, what was important to me, and then using those to base my decisions going forward.
Amazing, and yeah it’s cool that many of those values are increasingly being shared by the wider population.
Particularly younger generations I think, which is nice.
Yeah, it's really cool to see.
It makes me really hopeful that things are going to continue to change as they grow up and start having the opportunity to create things and bring them into the market.
Yeah and people like yourself are a big help in that too!
So what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
I think with any sustainable brand, sourcing, to begin with, is a big thing. Finding suppliers that you can trust and share similar values to your own - kind of responsible creation, ethical workplace situations...
And have you managed to build these strong supplier relationships?
Yeah, it took a little bit of time, a few trips, but it's all part of the fun. Then I think, it's just hard getting started and building awareness, it takes time. You start from almost nothing, you build a website and then an Instagram with zero followers, and then you start to get interest.
You've got to be grateful for social media amidst all of this as well right! Do you find a lot of your awareness comes from word-of-mouth?
I think social media and word-of-mouth to an extent. Social Media is definitely our main advertising channel.
Yeah, it seems to be the way forward doesn't it!
Cool, and what would you say has been your biggest success so far?
I think just growing to the stage that we're at and surviving that first couple of years. It’s definitely lean at times and you have to go into it knowing that you're probably not going to make much money for a few years. To get started you'll have to try and use every opportunity that comes your way and use every little resource that you can lean on. We do wholesale a little bit, so it’s been cool having brands that approach us, as long as they share our values. We're stocked in Superette a little bit and Well-made Clothes approached us last year to be a part of their site which is cool.
When you're looking for stockists, are you quite particular with who you choose, ensuring that they represent the same values as Collective Canvas?
Ideally, yes. At this stage, our main concentration is sales through our own site, direct to the consumer because our cost structure is set up to keep our retail price reasonably affordable and in line with other canvas sneakers on the market. But at the same time, if a company approaches us and says "Hey we wanna stock your product!”, then, as long as their values are similar to ours and I can see the potential to gain a decent amount of consumer awareness by being stocked with them, then we'll definitely go for it knowing we probably won't make much money. But if it gets more people interested in the brand, then that's great.
Awesome, so what is the ultimate goal at the end of all this?
I think at the moment it's just to continue growing throughout Australia and New Zealand, to be competitive with other sneaker brands on the market that don't really take a sustainable point of view, to be kind of seen as an alternative to the status quo to a decent number of people is the ideal.
Cool, and what are your personal goals within this venture?
Personally, I think just to make sure my business remains sustainable from a whole lot of viewpoints including financially, how we make our products, how we distribute them. Ideally, I want to get into exploring other natural fibres. We're working on a few things at the moment, as well as paying more attention to the end-of-life of our products. That's something we're looking into implementing soon, a return service where people can return their sneakers at the end of their life and we will effectively compost what can be composted and break down the rubber and reuse it in some way.
Do you reckon there would be an opportunity to repurpose them into new products that you could sell on again?
Potentially, circularity is important.
Do you have any notable regrets along the way?
I think probably just that it took me this long to start and it took me quite a while to work out what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. I can't think of the name of the paradox but you know they say, any job will stretch to the amount of time you allocate to it, and in starting out I gave myself quite a lot of time and I took all of that.
It sounds like you've come in with some really great experience though and knowledge that I'm sure has helped you more so than if you'd rushed into it!
Definitely, and I think a lot of it for me is looking at things and trying things and figuring out what works and what doesn't work, what feels right.
Awesome, and do you have any advice for anyone ready to do the same?
Yeah, someone asked me this recently as well. I think it's important to realise there's never going to be a perfect time to start anything. To start, you've really just got to realise the intention and start making decisions. Taking small steps forward and breaking each job down into as small of a step as you can.
Yeah, that's awesome! I look forward to following your journey as well! Do you have any exciting plans in the near future?
We've got something in hemp, which I think will be quite cool. We're looking forward to getting that out at the end of summer. A few collaborations with other brands, which I probably can't talk about yet but hopefully that will go ahead, and yeah, just improving that circularity (as I talked about).
Cool, that all sounds very exciting! And you're enjoying it all along the way too, amidst all the stress?
Yeah, for sure! I mean it has its moments, but overall it's pretty satisfying.
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