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  • Writer's pictureSam MacKinnon

Knook #17: Finn Athleisure

Finn Athleisure makes stylish staples for adventurous men. Photo: Supplied

Ever been on a trip somewhere, wanting to jump in on a spontaneous adventure but worried you won’t be comfortable with your gear on hand?

That bothered Matt McNeill. His insight led him to start a clothing brand with a focus on “stylish staples for adventurous men who value looking sharp, feeling comfortable and being ready.”

His company, Finn Athleisure, takes pride in responsibly sourcing high quality, versatile kit cut from eco-friendly fabrics. Finn designs an ‘Always Ready’ range, including biodegradable merino tees and long sleeves, and recycled plastic everything shorts. They have also created one of the coolest lids on the market, ‘The Cool Lid’ - a breathable lightweight cap.

I asked Matt how Finn got started.

“I’ve had a pretty unusual path to get here. You probably wouldn’t expect a civil engineer, who went through business school and ran an e-scooter business to be starting up a clothing label!” laughs Matt.

“Truth is I was a fairly creative kid, and always had this self-indulgent dream to start up a men’s clothing line. In more recent years, the corporate structure hasn’t quite suited me, and I’ve developed a passion for entrepreneurship and building businesses. Learning more about e-commerce has been something I’ve been very keen on - it’s growing at a rapid pace with opportunities everywhere.

“So tying the dream together with a curiosity for e-commerce, I started to think about a men’s direct-to-consumer online clothing label. As most will appreciate, there are many businesses out there that are trying to sell clothes: some active wear, some leisure wear, etc.

“One thing has bugged me for years. In New Zealand, we are quite adventurous and love to travel. We have a great backyard for it. Quite often, I’d find myself packing multiple outfits for a weekend or travel mission. Something for swimming, something for exercising, something for hiking, something for dining out, and so on. But the trick in NZ and while travelling is that the best activities are often spontaneous - you don’t necessarily have the kit you packed with you when you need it. It really sucks being on the fence with that spontaneity, just because you aren't wearing the appropriate stuff. Or you end up just diving in, albeit uncomfortably.

“So Finn is about selling lifestyle staples, and is ‘for the adventurers’ who like to look sharp, whatever they’re doing. Everything we do is built around this.

“We source our fabrics from reputable fabric mills in China, using Tencel’s eco-friendly organic fibres for our tees, and Repreve certified recycled plastic fibres for our shorts.”

Finn founder, Matt McNeill. Photo: Supplied

I asked Matt what the motivation is behind the company.

“It’s great to have an idea, but you’ve got to have purpose. It was very important for us to get this straight before running aimlessly down the road trying to build a company,” Matt says.

“At Finn, we asked some simple but very important questions that would help us chart the course. What should guide our mission to serve up stylish staples for an adventurous man's lifestyle? Why are we doing this in the first place? Are there any other important things we want to take into account?

“This process allowed us to extract five key principles, which we coined “Finn’s Fashion Sherpas”, to guide our mission. These are: Quality always; Style with function; Versatile, but simple; Seek sustainability; and For the adventurers. When people buy our products, they are also buying into our mission and what we stand for.”

I asked Matt what challenges he’s come up against on the road to founding Finn.

“Well it’s not easy to launch a company in the middle of a pandemic,” Matt laughs.

“We haven’t been running for that long, but I’d have to say the challenges of getting used to dealing with suppliers off-shore, and undoubtedly COVID-19.

“On the former, I’ve learnt about delays associated with Chinese New Year, and different communication and negotiation styles. Also, the time zone difference is a challenge to get used to. It’s hard when you’ve been working all day but the time zone crossover is from like 3pm to 12am - you need to have that crossover so there can be a bit of back and forward on discussions. At the end of a long stressful day, this can be challenging.

“On the latter, I’ve learnt the impact of what a pandemic can do to a business through an additional lens. I am appreciating the hurt and pain some businesses are going through, without necessarily going through the same level of pain myself. Without being insensitive, starting a business in this climate is a real opportunity. Existing businesses are winding down and cutting costs, while we are already very lean and looking to wind up.

“That said, we haven’t been able to start as soon as we would have liked, and our growth may take some more time. You need to be very careful with marketing and comms in a climate like this. There’s a fine line. We are running on the basis of being empathetic and taking our time, but being fun and constructive. People can get bogged down in the negativity, so we want to be a good morale booster. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we have a great country to enjoy while things are tight.”

I asked Matt how innovation has shaped the way Finn has approached the way it goes about things.

“I look at innovation in two ways - the innovative tools and products you utilise and make, and the innovative processes you employ to continually improve and grow,” Matt says.

“In building this business and creating our product, I’m always on the lookout for the most innovative fabrics. I love the thought and innovation that’s gone on at both Tencel and Repreve in developing the fibres we use - as we add other things to our product line, we’re looking for other high quality, innovative fabrics that align with our values.

“Regarding innovative processes, I base a lot of my thinking around ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Lean Startup’. This process starts with an initial phase of learning and discovery from people’s thoughts, along with other data points available in the market.

“Then comes a perpetual phase of experimentation - to quickly iterate through a circular process of ideation to test, measure and learn. I think it’s important to think of your business plan as a living growing organism, not a static set-in-stone plan. It’s important to build a culture around this and think long term.”

I asked Matt what advice he’d give to an aspiring entrepreneur or business owner just getting started.

Says Matt, “A few things I think are worth noting to people looking to take the first step.

“I found it useful to understand the concept of delayed gratification - most businesses aren’t a profitable fairytale off the bat. They generally take a lot of time, blood, sweat, tears and money.

“I’ve learnt for myself that it’s important to understand the power of emotion and rational thinking - together they are brilliant, but alone, they aren’t that useful. This is particularly important in how you make assessments and decisions, and how you communicate.

“Another thing for me was doing my research and assessment before trying to run fast - so check if your idea is feasible and viable. Some of the questions I asked myself were: How big is the market we’re looking to play in? Is it growing? Are there other positive or negative external trends that are related to what we’re doing? Who’s our target customer, how many of them are there, and how can we get to them and sell them our product? Is this feasible and viable? Do we have a differentiated value proposition amongst other players in market? What are the barriers to enter and compete - regulations, licenses, CAPEX required, etc?

“Moreover, you’re not seeking popularity or positive opinions, you are seeking revenue - people are more than happy to say they like what you are doing and to be encouraging. However, the real validation of what you are doing is people laying cash down for your product. Without revenue, your company is not sustainable.

“And finally, if you don’t have the capabilities to do something properly, get help.”

I asked Matt what’s next for Finn.

“While we have launched our website and are receiving pre-orders, we are yet to fully launch our business and operation. This will happen around mid to late May.

“Right now, we have two main focuses - building brand awareness and our audience, and setting up our operating model for success and efficiency.

“Once launched, we will be testing, learning, and refining our product and operation to an optimal level that can be scaled. At that point, we will need to re-invest in product inventory and our operations. We are flirting with the possibility of running a crowdfunding campaign, so our early adopters can have a piece of the success and get behind a product and business that they love. There is a bit of work to do first, but watch this space!”

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