5 Things I Did to Start My Own Sustainable Clothing Business, Living and Surfing Out of a Van
Five years ago I made the decision I wouldn’t be joining the real world. I quit school and went on a five year surf trip. I funded it with generally shitty dead end jobs, so after a while I figured I needed to work less and surf more. And I wanted to do it on my terms. One of those jobs was working in a surf retail store, showing me what I saw as a huge gap in the clothing market. Anything with the word “sustainable” on it was selling for twice the cost. Meanwhile, the only people buying it were the top 1%. They were the weekend warriors bringing their custom shapes down to the beach in Range Rovers. The rest of us can’t afford a $60 t-shirt we’re just gonna stuff into a board bag anyways. This is bullshit because all of us care about the environment, yet the price point for most sustainable products doesn’t fit into our budget. Meanwhile, the biggest piece of that environment, the ocean, is our playground. If given the choice I’d buy something more sustainable but not for twice the dough.
And there it was, the business that would bring me my surfing freedom. I set out to create a sustainable clothing brand that is affordable and has some rad mellow style. Moreover, I’d run the entire thing from a converted surf camper van, allowing me to go wherever the hell I want and surf every single day. Fast forward two years later, I’ve been running Lifestyle Over Luxury Co. out of my van and for the past two months I’ve been cruising the California coast, getting dirty looks from suburbanites who payed 100 times what I did for the same ocean view.
Here’s how you can do it too.
There are plenty of ways to work remotely without ever selling a product. Become a widely followed influencer, Youtuber, blogger, vlogger, writer, photographer – the possibilities are endless. We all know and follow many of these people on social media. It’s a tough game and not for everyone, but here’s how to do it with a product. Pro tip: you don’t need to be IG famous, although that always helps.
1. Pick a Product
First, don’t pick sustainable clothing. It’s a nightmare to source/produce and the margins suck ass unless you’re joining that $50 tee club. Plus, don’t compete with me. Pick something you love. Seriously, by no means will this be easy. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re selling you don’t have a shot. Pick something you’re already passionate about, whether that’s surfing, skating, photography, art, sunglasses, clothing or biodegradable dildos – it doesn’t matter. If you already love it chances are you can speak confidently about it and product knowledge is key.
2. Pick a Platform.
How are you going to sell your product? Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, your own website or all of the above? I say the more the merrier, maximizing your sales channels while staying true to your brand. I suggest having your own website no matter what. It’s pretty paramount if you’re trying to avoid looking like you’re slinging junk out of Grandma’s basement. Personally, we used Shopify to build a site. You can choose from a probably a million templates and from there it’s basically drag and drop to create a website that will look like you learned to code working at Google. If photography and design aren’t your thing, curate images on Istock photo or Shutterstock. You can hire a graphic/web designer on Upwork for super reasonable rates. Both cost a little cash but way less than a DSLR camera and Adobe Creative Suite.
3. Sort Out Your Supply Chain
How are you getting your products to your customers? They bought something on the site but you’re busy, slotted deep in a Mexican barrel. You aren’t shipping Mrs. Tucker her brand new Christmas sweater, are you? There are three ways to solve this issue. The first and the easiest option is called “drop shipping.” This is basically where you never ever touch the product. Search for drop shippers and you’ll find an assortment of companies that will customize products for your brand and ship your shiny new product without you ever touching it. This may be a good way to find what you want to sell. They even do this for clothing, just not high quality bamboo and organic cotton blends unfortunately, or I would be all over this. Your second option is a fulfillment warehouse. This is where you create a product or manufacture with a third party and then ship it to a big warehouse. They handle shipping for a ton of companies so the shipping rates are lower. They’ll handle all your shipping and you just manage inventory and send them more when you’re low.
The third and final option is get your Mom to ship it for you.
4. Automate Everything
Working on the road isn’t always easy. Wifi is tough to find sometimes, you’re busy with van life stuff that takes ten times longer to complete than if you had a house. Even taking a crap can sometimes be a half hour ordeal if every restaurant hangs that dreaded, “restrooms for customers only” sign. You’ll want to take as much work away from yourself as you can. Integrate your store with your shipping warehouse and make sure orders are automatically filled. Spend time setting up inventory management. Create email flows to automatically send out emails based on certain events on your site. Create generic ads that can be rotated to different demographics as you figure out your customers. If you’re doing this right, you want to work as little as possible and surf as much as possible. The more time you spend setting it up beforehand the more free time you’ll have on the road. If this section was like reading Chinese to you, get Googling my friend, you have a lot to learn.
5. Buy a VanBoom. You’re selling sweaters for chihuahuas on your super sexy online store and Mom is slinging them out via USPS to middle aged women in full pink track suits. Pack your shit and hit the road. You’re going to want to get an unlimited data plan and hotspot off your cell phone so you can crack your back doors in between sessions and see how business is going.
Obviously there’s a lot more that goes into running a successful business; advertising, accounting, taxes, management, legal, etc. If you love what you’re selling you’ll figure that all out though. Create content you think is cool, get it out there, engage influencers and watch your passion grow.
Overall, be patient. It’s a long process, not an overnight thing. But good things do take time. It took me a year to solidify the contract that ensured with every sale L/L makes, an entire bag of trash is cleaned up off West Coast beaches. I still haven’t seen a dime from the business in the form of pay but I’m doing what I love every day and getting by. And that’s what it’s all about.