My professors always told me not to go after sales dollars, but to go after customer relationships and the dollars will come on their own. I like that approach. It’s not just about building a big business, it’s doing something you care about and putting a product out there that you’re happy to have your name behind.
Q: What were the biggest challenges for you at the beginning?
A: Convincing people that you could have a quality product that wasn’t made out of leather.
Q: How did you do that?
A: We tried to give the whole package of what we were about. Our approach is very soft. We don’t try to cram the whole animal rights thing down people’s throats.
Q: What was your strategy to break into the American market?
A: Back in 2004-2005, every retailer jumped on the green bandwagon, but people still want a great-looking product. If it’s green, it’s a bonus but that’s not going to sway them when making a purchase.
We’re in an industry where change happens very quickly and you have to be on top of what’s going on. That’s been our approach. We’re not ultra-trend[y] but the design is relatively clean, with a utilitarian feel to it. We actually have a celebrity vegan following in the [United] States – people that we send bags to.
Q: How did you get celebrities to endorse your products?
A: A lot of times, someone will just send us a picture of a celebrity wearing our product and we’ll send them stuff. Other times, we’ve just been lucky. I go to New York once a month and one of my favourite restaurants caters Paul McCartney’s events. I was fortunate enough to meet him so we’ve sent him stuff. Through PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals], people have also forwarded our stuff to celebrities like Eva Mendes and Charlize Theron.
There’s not one thing that makes or breaks your business. You need to have the whole package and everything has to come together with the right timing. If somebody sees a celebrity wearing your product, it has to be relatively easy for them to go out and get the same product, and it has to be accessible in terms of price points. Most people who buy our stuff don’t buy it because it’s vegan or environmentally conscious. It’s more because it’s a good product at an accessible price.
Q: How did you get Ellen DeGeneres to give away bags on her show?
That was through a PR firm we were working with at the time in New York. Also, the stylist for the show was already contacting us for products on a regular basis for Ellen’s wife [Portia de Rossi] who’s vegan.
Q: What’s key when you’re a small company with big competition?
Figuring out your unique selling point – your niche – and then capitalizing on it. You’re better off with a stronghold on 20 per cent of the market than going up against all kinds of competition with 80 per cent of the market. Being a big fish in a small pond can be very advantageous.
Q: Have you ever turned down an opportunity because you didn’t agree with someone else’s values?
A: Yep. We’ve walked away either because it was going to take away our focus from Matt & Nat or didn’t tie in with what the company stood for.
Q: Your revenue grew from $1-million in 2003 to $10-million in 2008. What are your current figures?
A: Around the same. Everyone was affected by the recession, especially our industry.
Q: What mistakes have you made?
A: We tried launching Samsara, a [lower-priced] diffusion brand, to hit different tiers of the market, but then we realized we have to be true to what we are. Part of the growing thing over the last two years is that we brought everything back to one brand.