Vollebak, which manufactures “clothes for the future”, closes its A series
If you’ve ever visited the site of the six-year-old London direct-to-consumer clothing company Vollebak, you’ve probably been amazed by the exaggerated descriptions of the clothes he sells, including a jacket “designed for a mega-storm world, where ‘waterproof’ isn’t enough,” a hoodie that promises to repel the rain, the wind, snow and fire; and and an “Ice Age” fleece “designed to recreate the feel and performance of soft skin worn by prehistoric man”.
This marketing genius comes straight from CEO Steve Tidball, who co-founded the company with his twin, Nick Tidball – both of whom have worked in advertising before and who are both active outdoor enthusiasts, albeit their families and family. Vollebak’s growth have brought them closer to home in recent years. Indeed, Steve Tidball himself writes the copy, he revealed last week in an interview with Vollebak, a brand that prides itself on making “clothes for the future.”
During this conversation, he also answered our questions about how much technology is actually involved in the production of clothing. And he let us know that Vollebak has so far raised around $ 10 million in outside funding, most notably through a nearing-to-close Series A round led by the London-based venture capital firm. Venrex, with participation from Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia and Headspace CFO Sean Brecker, among others. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.
TC: You started this business with your twin, Nick. Much of its genius seems to lie in the way your clothes are marketed. Tell us a bit about how it happened.
ST: We started the business five years ago. Before that, we had worked together in advertising for 15 years, so I think one of the reasons marketing is more fun than it could be otherwise is because it was our job.
We’ve operated under an incredibly simple rule from a marketing standpoint, which is basically: spend as little money as possible. So, for example, a few years ago we created our first garment for space, which was a cocoon of deep sleep. And in marketing, you are always [asking] who is your audience, and really, our audience was one person here, who was Elon [Musk], so we found was a billboard [space] across from SpaceX, and we just put out a poster there, and it said, “Our jackets are ready. How’s your rocket doing?” It doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it was really a lot of fun, and NASA called the next week and then we had [to] chat with them.
Your clothes reflect what you think will happen to people over the next century, from space travel to sustainability. You have a solar charging jacket that you think can glow like a firefly in the dark, for example. You’ve got a ‘black squid’ jacket that you think recreates one of nature’s brightest solutions for high visibility, the adaptive squid camouflage. How much technology is really involved here?
Over the past five years, the angle of technology we have focused on is materials science. This is the only thing that we as a startup have had access to, because if you watch a lot [complex] technologies like AI or exoskeletons, you need really huge funding to tackle them, when any startup can really go into materials science. So it’s the angle that really fascinates us. ..[because] this has generally not been explored, how much material science could go into a product.
One of the coolest things we’ve ever released was the world’s first graphene jacket. Even the scientists who isolated graphene for the first time can’t really tell you what graphene will do. . . .[So] we said, well, one side has graphene and the other side doesn’t. Why not go test it out and tell us what it does? We had a theory that it could store and redistribute heat because graphene behaves in a very surprising way and there is no limit to the amount of heat it can store. What came back were two particularly amazing stories, one of an American doctor who had frozen overnight in the Gobi Desert and wrapped his graphene jacket around a camel, and after soaking up the heat from the camel, he put his jacket back on and stayed warm all night.
Another friend of ours, a Russian who was in the Nepalese mountains and was in danger of freezing to death, used the graphene jacket to soak up the last rays of the sun. credits him with keeping him warm all night.
How is a graphene shirt or a ceramic shirt made? Do you have a special loom? Are you doing it from a 3D printer? What’s the process?
You make it with great difficulty is the answer, which is why our things cost more than ordinary clothes. What you really get are very specialized factories, usually in Europe, with very high tech machinery that very few people have access to.
Do you generally do small production runs for your merchandise?
Yeah, and at first it was really just a function of capital, i.e. we didn’t have much, so we made as many clothes as we could, they sold out really quickly, and we tried to do more as the business grew. There are definitely some stuff where it’s so complicated or so experimental, it would be reckless to do 10,000 of it. So yeah, we did small prints of some of our more experimental stuff, just to see: is- what does it work? Could it be improved?
One of these new experimental products is the Mars jacket and pants. Where do we wear this?
The irony, of course, is that you have to test it on Earth. But the reality of going to Mars or any space travel is that there is going to be an exponential increase in the number of people going there and the number of jobs they have to do when. ‘they go there. You’re going to need scientists, biologists, builders, engineers, architects, they’re going to have to wear something. And so the reality is that we want to start working on it early on, so what we do is we start thinking about some of the tasks that need to be done, whether it’s on the moon or on Mars or in lower orbit. stuff, and about: what are the jobs? What are the challenges we are going to face? This is why the jacket comes with a vomit pocket, as your vestibular system is disorganized as soon as you experience a lack of gravity.
How do you know the vestibular system? You are a marketing genius. Are you a scientist too?
I am a fake scientist [laughs]. But we have a lot of really interesting people around us, whether it’s people thinking about the future of war, or people thinking about the future of space travel, we often joke that our business is run. on Whatsapp.
Where do you get most of this feedback? VSome D2C brands that are very active on social networks and Instagram and have Slack channels. How does it work there?
I thought early on that if you could combine some really cool innovative tech with some really nice people at the end of the email, that might be a really cool thing.
You only sell directly via the Vollebak site. Will that ever change?
Not in the near future, one of the things that’s been absolutely central to the brand is getting that feedback, and I’m really worried that I’m losing that connection with customers. Let’s say someone has a cool experience with one of our shirts or one of our jackets, and bought it at a wholesale store, and has no real connection to us . I have the impression that this is lost information.
We’re going to be doing more stuff in the metaverse space very, very soon, because I find it so exciting, the idea that there’s going to be this competition or integration between the virtual world and the real world. So we’re building some pretty crazy stuff in this space. We’re currently looking for supercomputers that are powerful enough to handle some of the things we’re working on. But yet fundamentally whatever we think is going to define the future, we’re going to put a lot of effort into it.
(You can hear this conversation in its entirety, including about Vollebak’s plans to possibly launch a women’s line and its fundraising situation, here.)