Industry interviews: Independent British brands D4Seven and Funi

Posted on Tuesday 4th February, 2014 Times Viewed: 2215
Following the success of last season's British brand focus, we thought we'd delve into the depths of more UK independent clothing brands who are making their marks on the UK snowsports scene. This time, it's the words of D4Seven and Funi Wear.

Interviews: Kaz Willmer
British Brand Focus: D4Seven

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Kaz: What is D4Seven?
Mark: We are a Independent Clothing brand born out of our love for riding and fashion, making Tall Tees and Tall Hoodies along with normal fitting threads and Beanies.

Kaz: Where are you based?
Mark: We are now based in Oxfordshire, although when we first started we were slap bang in the middle of Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes. Perfect location for hitting either dome for a session.

Kaz: Who are the faces behind the brand?
Mark: There is myself (Mark Butler) and Israel Singer (Izzy) as the two guys who run D4seven. There are also lots of other people, which help out too. Our team riders for example are great for feedback and put in a lot of time getting the name out there (so much love for them). Then you got Adam Hinton, who is the website building master. Not only does he make amazing websites, but he is a brilliant rider too. Although he isn't technically apart of the company, we would be lost without him.

Kaz: When and where did you start up?
Mark: We set up in Jan 2012 based out of my house. Everything was stacked up in the garage, floor to ceiling high. We get all our gear custom made for us and I remember when the first ever lorry turned up. I didn't have a clue what size the shipment would be, as I had never ordered so much stuff before, so when a massive lorry pulled up, I was a little shocked, but also mega excited, that was such a epic day.

Kaz: How did the brand originate?
Mark: It was kind of off the cuff really. A few of my mates I ride with had been after some Tall Tees, but couldn't find any good ones anywhere, to the point where they were stitching other bits cut off from old tees onto the bottom of there normal tees to make them taller, so I looked into getting some made. I knew I wanted them to be really top quality so spent ages checking out different factories and getting sample after sample sent to me, which I didn't think was good enough, until eventually I found one which was spot on. We have kept that ethos ever since, "quality over profit". We pay more for our products than I think most brands do, but I really think its worth it as then you get something which you can be proud to wear and sell.

Kaz: Where did the name come from?
Mark: D4seven comes from the gene d47-alle which was a gene found a few years back which scientists believe is the risk-taking gene. They nick named it "the wanderlust gene", which we have used on some of our products too. Apparently this gene is one of the reasons some ancient civilisations went out and explored new lands and became adventurers, why some people take risks, why some people live life to its max. We felt that gene and its meaning really summed up how we felt about riding, going out, having fun, exploring and pushing yourself to your own limits. We had a think and decided to just use "D4SEVEN" rather than its full name.

Kaz: What are your top selling products?
Mark: Currently I would say the Grey Tall Pullover Hoodie and the White Icon Tall Tee along with the Grey Aqua Icon Women's Hoodie. The Pullover Tall Hoodies were a new addition for us and everyone seems to love them, so really stoked about that.

Kaz: How do you go about designing new products?
Mark: We don't really have a strict process as such. Both Izzy and myself are always bouncing new ideas off each other and trying out new designs, many of which never get to see the light of day. Once we get an idea locked down, we will then start playing around with the different possible colour options, seeing what works best. We also use customer feedback a lot. For example one rider sent us a message saying he would really love some sort of zip or buttons on the front pocket pouch of a hoody so he can actually keep stuff in it when riding. It was a great idea, so we spoke with our manufacturer and made sure the next batch of Tall Hoodies had invisible pop buttons on them.

Kaz: Are you wanting to add any other products to your range?
Mark: Loadswe really want to expand the women's range so it is a lot bigger. We are also looking to expand the standard fit gear this year. Over time we want to increase the product range so it covers a full ranging of clothing

Kaz: Where are your products made?
Mark: As a rule of thumb we try to have all products made within the EU, however for a few select items we have had to go further a field. The end game is to have everything made within the UK. We are currently looking into a few options to start this process, but it will take a little while to come into play. We feel really strongly about supporting local business wherever possible. All our items are screen printed here in the UK. Our stickers are made within the UK and as stated above, in time our clothes will be made in the UK too.

Kaz: What makes you different from other industry clothing brands?
Mark: That's a hard question to answer. There are loads of great upcoming Independent brands out there right now and the scene has a real good vibe to it. I would like to think something, which makes our clothing good, is the quality, and are interaction with customers and riders. Being a smaller Independent brand, we are lucky enough to be able to speak to the people who wear our gear. We always try to make sure they are happy with the service we give, be that from arranging the delivery so it turns up at your hotel for your first day of your holiday to save you luggage space or hand delivering the item if you are local to us and need it super fast.

Kaz: Run through a typical day with D4Seven...
Mark: I honestly don't think we have a typical day as such. It sounds really clich but no two days are the same. A lot of time goes into the social media side of things and chatting with customers. Then at some point during the day all orders received will be packaged and shipped out. Other than that though it varies massively from arranging photoshoots to building items for our stand ready for any new events coming up.

Kaz: Who is your main target market?
Mark: We ride, therefore that is who we make our stuff for. In the summer Izzy likes to skate so I guess we focus ourselves on the board sports scene, although mainly it's all about the snow. I love snow, it's that simple.

Kaz: Are involved in many snow sports events?
Mark: We try to get involved with and sponsor, as many of the smaller events as we can, be that on the dry slopes or in the domes. They always have a great buzz about them and make for a top day.

Kaz: What snow sports team athletes do you support and how do you support them?
Mark: We have a great team of sponsored riders with a nice mix of how and when they ride. Amber Cordingley, Chloe Szafranek and Gillian Finnerty all hit a lot of the comps and are doing really well, while Joe Grace, Ben Hinton and Neil Craig don't really do comps, but all have epic riding styles and shred a lot in the domes on park nights. In terms of support, we try to kit all our riders out with as much gear as possible, along with helping them gain exposure. We really are one Team, where we want them to do well, cause they are amazing.

Kaz: How do you go about choosing athletes to support?
Mark: It's all about personality and passion. When we look for new Team Riders, we look for people who love riding. We want people who push themselves, but also enjoy themselves. Riding first and foremost is about fun right. Currently we have a really nice mix of Team Riders. Some compete regularly, while others just hit the park nights.

Kaz: You work alongside several University snow sports clubs. How are you involved with them?
Mark: The Uni scene is so alive right now, its brilliant. We usually send them a few goodie bags throughout the season to use for prizes, along with a few other treats. We also offer the ability to make them a club kit for there freestyle team for example.

Kaz: Where do you hope to see the brand in the future?
Mark: I really want to take the brand into a few more select shops, along with opening our own. The latter will take some time, but I would love to have a D4seven shop, where the focus is on the experience when you go to it.

Kaz: What's the best thing about running a British clothing brand?
Mark: There are loads of great things actually. I love the community feeling of it. The Independent scene as a whole is really pretty cool right now, with so many sound people in it. I love being able to talk to the riders and actually meet them.

Kaz: What's the most challenging thing about running a British clothing brand?
Mark: Working on a small budget. It can be very hard getting people to know you exist when you don't have masses of money to spend on marketing like the mega giants do. I am sure this isn't just a British thing, but more universal, however it is still one of the most challenging things I think all Independents face.

Kaz: If there's one piece of advice you could have known before starting the brand, what would it be?
Mark: Be yourself. I think when I first started D4seven I was really worried people wouldn't respect the brand if they thought we were small so probably spent more than I could afford. Over time though I have become proud of the fact we are a small Independent Brand. I think that has loads of positives and I wouldn't ever want to lose that side of us.

Kaz: Do you ski or snowboard?
Mark: Snowboard. To be honest I think both are great though. As long as your having fun, it't all good.

Kaz: Which resorts do you like the most?
Mark: Avoriaz is pretty cool, along with anywhere in the 3 Valleys. I did my first ever-boarding holiday in Andorra, so that place always has a special place in my heart. I really want to go back there soon.

Kaz: What do you find yourself doing when you're not doing d4seven work?
Mark: Riding whenever I can. I also love doing obstacle races like Tough Mudder, the Spartan Race series and Men's Health Survival of the fittest. I also do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and have just started Thai Boxing, along with going to the gym. Basically anything energetic and makes me feel like I am pushing myself. Away from sport I love photography and films.

Kaz: Are you looking forward to the Sochi Olympics? If so, what are you most looking forward to?
Mark: Yes, Yes and Hell Yes. I so can't wait for Sochi. Slopestyle qualifiers start the day after my birthday so well hyped for them. I am really looking forward to seeing all the UK peeps representing. Massive amounts of luck to them all.

Kaz: Finish the sentence. D4Seven would be nothing without...
Mark: ...YOU! (sounds cheesy but it is so true).

For more on D4Seven....
Web: http://www.d4seven.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/D4SEVEN
Twitter: @D4SEVEN


British Brand Focus: Funi Wear

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With temperatures dropping, and snow blanketing the Alps right now, there's never been a better excuse to keep cosy and invest in some new beanies. So we were lucky enough to convince Funi's Jemma Harrison to put down her ever-busy knitting needles for a few minutes so we could find out more behind one one the most must-have British-run knitwear brands out there - born and bred on a season in Bourg St Maurice!

Kaz: What is FuniWear?
Jemma: Essentially we make cracking beanies and knitwear. We're a headwear brand with a heart - all our gear is made in the UK. Mostly hand-made by our crackteam of knitters, who have over 370 years collective experience behind the needles. We're big into snowsports, and our range reflects that.

Kaz: Where are you based?
Jemma: Once upon a time it was the French Alps, now I'm based in Bristol and our workers are in the knitting capital of the UK... which is Scunthorpe.

Kaz: Who are the faces behind Funi?
Jemma: There's me.. Jemma Harrison. I started the brand and run it from the top. We've got a couple of belting web designers - that's Ben and Rich. We have a UK factory that make all our wholesale goods. Then of course, there's our knitters... 9 of the best grannies you can find.

Kaz: When and where did you start up?
Jemma: We started in the French Alpine town of Bourg St Maurice in 2008 - that was home for me for 5 years. Classic story of being too skint to actually sustain a season living in a ski resort, so I started knitting to earn some cash. One thing led to another... and here we are!

Kaz: How did the brand originate?
Jemma: Every day to get to the snow you have to get on a funicular in Les Arcs - we affectionately called it "the funi". It's where you'd meet up with friends, get ready, laugh a lot, plan your routes if you were heading in to the back-country... and generally get excited about the day ahead. I have a lot of love for that funi.

Kaz: What are your top selling products?
Jemma: People are loving our new merino-blend beanies. Called The Forbes, they wick moisture away and have antibacterial properties and don't smell. Win-win-win really, if you're doing sport in them. Oh, and our reversible Macca beanie, which is custom made to order, has always been a fave.

Kaz: How do you go about designing new products?
Jemma: I do all the designing and I'm constantly playing about with my knitting machine, or looking up patterns and different knits. Bit of a wool geek really - I could bore on at you for paragraphs... But essentially everything that's new on the Funi site has been thought about for an age. I'm very keen to get a lot of bamboo and merino yarns in to the design process. Functional and stylish. Also we try not to do anything that's too similar to anyone else. Our designs are our own.

Kaz: Are you wanting to make any other knitwear company?
Jemma: nope - beanies and accessories are good enough for now!

Kaz: Run through a typical day with Funi...
Jemma: There's nothing typical. It's so varied as I am all over everything form the social media, designing, accounts, web store updates, post an packaging, working with factories, chatting to clients... it's essentially never ending!

Kaz: Why is it important to you to be an ethical company?
Jemma: I want to be proud of the products we make, and to have a positive impact on this little part of the world that Funi is part of. Whether that's making sure we pay our workers a good rate, manufacturing in Britain despite it being more expensive, or buying all our office furniture from youth charity schemes. It's essentially my outlook on life too. Why wouldn't you do things ethically? Essentially, it's nice to be nice!

Kaz: What ethical principles do you stick to?
Jemma: We try to make sure our money is spent locally (in the UK). Where possible we'll buy things from other ethical companies. Our charities are important to us so where possible we'll do as much as we can for them. For example, we do all the post and packaging for the homeless charity St Mungo's when they sell online - we're doing it anyway, so it doesn't take much effort for that. As a snowboarder who loves the mountains it's important for me personally that we have strong green principles.

Kaz: Is it difficult to remain ethical?
Jemma: Yes and no. I'd certainly earn a lot more if we lapsed on our principles! But it's part of the challenge - and I'm sure it's worth it in the long run.

Kaz: Who is your main target market?
Jemma: Currently we sell mostly to skiers and snowboarders - the kind of folk who are heading out to the mountains each year. Our new stuff is aimed at a more "general outdoorsy" and lifestyle market.

Kaz: Do you get involved in many snow sports events?
Jemma: Sure do! We've been one of the main sponsors of The British Ski and Snowboard Championships for the last 4 years - it's great to see some of the young talent coming up through the ranks. We sponsor some of the kids we've met there too. We also head to the Freeze festival most years.

Kaz: What makes you different from other industry brands?
Jemma: The market is pretty saturated with beanie brands - that's something I'm aware of. But anyone can stick a label on someone else's hat. There's no-one else around who's doing what we do - designing, sourcing raw materials and making hats here on a large scale in the UK. We offer a great wholesale price for shops as well as selling online. Sticking to our principles and ethical values really sets us apart too. We don't just make beanies and cracking knitwear - we also genuinely try to give something back to our "scene". We want like-minded people to wear our gear and thankfully our customers actually care. They like the fact that a good chunky of their cash goes to changing something for the better. Essentially there's always going to be someone who can make a hat cheaper than us - but our brand has a soul.

Kaz: You're involved with a lot of charities - what charities, and why are these charities important to you?
Jemma: At the moment we're heavily involved with St Mungo's the homeless charity - we're helping towards their annual "Woolly Hat Day". People can go online and buy one of the beanies that their volunteers have made (to our designs). It's a great charity who not only house some of societies most vulnerable people - but they also help to reintegrate them. Help with finding work, self-esteem... everything. I'm always very humbled when I see and hear what they do. There's a heap of very famous celebs involved too - which blows my mind - including Eric Clapton and Elton John.
Other than that, every pompom you buy on our custom hat designer we donate ?1 to The Belarus Fund with our "Chernobyl Bobble". Yep it's rhyming haberdashery. What's not to love? (The link isn't that tenuous though as a few of our knitters are involved with the charity). Oh, and we offset our carbon emissions by donating to The Converging World. Phew... that's quite a lot really.

Kaz: Why do you feel it's important to work with charities?
Jemma: It comes from me really. If I didn't have a hat brand I'd probably be working for a charity, or doing charity work somewhere, so I try and shoe-horn in as much of it as I can. I'm not a nun or anything... I just feel really strongly that you should try and make other people's lives better, and not worse.

Kaz: Where do you hope to see the brand in the future?
Jemma: Stocked in lots of shops and on the heads of lots of very cool people. I hope.

Kaz: Do you ski or snowboard?
Jemma: Both. Actually that's a massive lie. I snowboard well and ski terribly.

Kaz: Which resorts do you like the most?
Jemma: Les Arcs is the place I know like the back of my hand. The back-country over there is amazing. But I guess it's the friends I have out there that make it. When I'm away I get pretty homesick!

Kaz: Finish the sentence. Funi would be nothing without…
Jemma: ...9 cantankerous gin-swigging grannies.

For more on Funi....
Web: www.funiwear.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/funiwear
Twitter: @funiwear
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