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Vegan accessories maker has success in the bag Add to ...

Matt & Nat is an accessible brand for everyone, and that’s what we’ve gotten back to for fall, 2011. There’s no more having two brands and selling to high-end customers. Now it’s this is who we are and what we do. If you like it, great, thank you, and if you don’t, that’s okay, too.

Q: Why did you take on a partner in 2002?

A: When I first started, we did all our manufacturing in Montreal but, as we time went on, I realized we wouldn’t be able to compete so we had to go to Asia. I didn’t have any experience with that and, at the same time, I wanted a business partner who had financial backing so that we were a bit more secure in taking the business to the next level.

My partner, Manny Kohli, had a lot of experience being a trader overseas and in North America so it was a good fit. I take care of the design and marketing and he handles the accounting and back-end stuff. We’re equal partners.

Q: How do you handle decision-making?

A: If it a major decision, we bounce it off each other. We’ve worked with consultants and talk to people in the business, but ultimately those decisions have to come from you. You can get insights from others or help with connections but defining your path has got to come from your heart. That took me years to realize.

Q: Why is your staff so small?

A: We like to keep things small and tight. We’re just 12 people. It feels more family-oriented. We outsource a lot of things: all of our shipping, PR and web stuff.

Q: What do you look for when hiring?

A: What we’re looking for has nothing to do with animal rights. It’s more about an overall positive outlook on life. Positivity is contagious as is negativity.

Q: Do you interview candidates personally?

A: Yes. A lot of times, it’s both of us. When you want to compete on a global scale, your team is crucial. You can’t get to those levels without having the right people in place, and then giving them direction and clear expectations. I’m very big on details.

Q: Does your staff have to be vegan?

A: No. Only three or four of us are vegetarian. We have a policy that we don’t allow meat or fish at the office itself. Staff can eat it anywhere outside but it would feel odd if somebody was eating steak here, given what we stand for.

Q: How do you stay close to your customer?

A: We do focus groups and hang out at the stores of our retail partners, going from store to store, just speaking to the owners, managers and customers who may come in that are Matt & Nat fans. We’re doing that more and more. A lot of businesses miss out on that because you’re so busy designing that you forget to ask what the customer would like to see or what would be useful to them.

Q: What’s your strategy for next year?

A: Give people what they want at an accessible price point, be true to our values and what we stand for. Where we shine with the product is balancing the utility/practical sphere with fashion.

Q: What do you love about what you do?

A: I’m a product person. I love when we design something, get the product sample and everything is great. Or when a colour turns out right or when we develop new hardware – that really rocks my boat.

Q: What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs?

A: Be close to your customer. Know their business. Do they drive a car or a bike? What matters to them? It helps so much in terms of design if you know what they deal with every day.

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