The latest of our guest bloggers is Tom Redfern, from mountain bike clothing brand Broken Riders, with an inspiring blog about setting up his business. Over to Tom...
"Back in 2013 when I started Broken Riders, the dream was to build an apparel brand for those mountain bikers who (like me), couldn’t do a ten-metre gap jump or manual all the way from the end of the trail to my front door. I felt inferior looking at photos of talented pro-riders and felt like there was no acknowledgement of the fact that most of us will never get anywhere near that skill level.
I guess Broken Riders was an attempt to connect those of us who love to ride, but fail regularly. I wanted to encourage people to get on a mountain bike and have fun, without the fear of failing (and falling) at the first hurdle. I wanted to build a brand that could serve as a community, a hub for those learning the intricacies of mountain biking. I’d found my niche.
I love being out in nature and I’ve always been a big fan of Patagonia clothing. So, once I’d read ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, there was only one way that Broken Riders could be run: with care for the planet and its people at its heart. Sourcing sustainable products isn’t always easy, but it's always worth the effort. I found a company to supply t-shirts, and a brilliant screen-printing cooperative, called Fingerprints, who used water-based inks rather than the chemical-heavy plastisol typically used. It’s vital that we look after our planet.
The Broken Riders range features organic cotton tees and hoodies (which are made in a factory that only uses wind and solar power for its energy), quick-drying bamboo tees and merino socks (perfect for a riding trip to Spain!), hats and a few other accessories. The range is constantly being refined and perfected. Anything that doesn’t sell gets dropped after one ‘run’; no matter how attached I may be to the design!
Because it began as a hobby - a gateway to something bigger - having a ready supply of cash was always going to be challenging for the Broken Riders brand. It also limits the rate at which your brand can grow. So many great brands have struggled because they’ve grown too quickly. It’s so easy to think that you’ve got a winning product, order a large amount and then have to sell them at cost after a year, because anyone who wanted to buy one has already done so.
With growth come greater demands on your time. As I have a wife, children, another job and I like to ride my bike, the demands on my time can be enormous. There’s mostly only me handling everything (although my amazing wife does the bookkeeping and sews the red tags on the tees and hoodies), and I’m often up until midnight packing t-shirts into recycled paper envelopes, then taking them to the Post Office in my lunch hour the next day.
But one of the most wonderful things about running your own brand is that you get to make the decisions. I’m a creative director in my day job, and even though I have thirty years’ experience in design, I still have to answer to a client and meet their expectations. Broken Riders is an amazing creative outlet for me and there’s no finer feeling than when you see someone wearing something you’ve created, or when someone emails you to tell you how much they love your brand and what you’re doing. I still get a massive buzz when the sales bell notification pings on my Shopify app to let me know someone out there likes what I’m doing enough to part with their money and to join the Broken Riders community.
Without the budget for major advertising campaigns, social media has been crucial for the growth of Broken Riders. Without social media, very few people would’ve heard of the brand. But it is demanding being on social media. I’m constantly searching for the right content. You can’t just share anything to do with mountain biking, it has to be ‘curated’, so that it connects with your audience. And every post has to have the Broken Riders ‘voice’ attached to it with a little piece of copy.
I hope I’ve been able to share some insight into what it’s like to run your own micro-brand. It is demanding, but definitely satisfying and I’m not thinking of stopping any time soon. I still have the dream of this being my full-time occupation and maybe one day having a store here in Brighton and a bigger range of well-designed, eco-friendly, Broken Riders mountain biking clothing.
So, what are you waiting for? Follow your dream and start your own micro-brand!"