Earlier this month, Ocean Minded co-hosted the Jordan River Cleanup with United By Blue in conjunction with the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Trade Show. Despite the long days and flurry of non-stop tradeshow festivities, 40 determined soles joined us after Day 3 of the show and journeyed to the West Side of Salt Lake City, Utah to do what we could to help clean one of the cities most polluted areas. Together we collected over 200 pounds of trash in just under 2 hours and successfully did our part to help keep Utah clean.
Amongst the 40 volunteers were Tom and Michael, the owners of Sunskis. These two individuals enlightened us with their story of starting a brand through the power of crowdfunding and their passionate drive of living an ocean minded lifestyle. Here to share their story is co-owner, Tom Stewart, so sit back and enjoy the ride… it’s a fun one!
OM: As a like-minded brand that cares for the environment, what inspires you to be ocean minded and launch a brand like, Sunskis?
Tom: When Michael and I started our product design company, we dreamed of setting our own schedules so we could lead a healthy life tailored specifically to the outdoors. We both love surfing, skiing, and sailing, and we know that mother nature and the conditions she offers happen on their schedule. When the surf is good, there’s nothing worse than being stuck inside, especially when you’d gladly work late that night after spending some time in the sun. Our biggest motivation is to get the best of both worlds: to be engaged young entrepreneurs that also spend time enjoying the outdoors when they are at their best.
OM: What do you guys do as a brand to give back to the environment?
Tom: When we launched the Sunskis, we were excited that this latest project of ours truly aligned with both of these interests of ours. They were the perfect fusion of product design and the outdoors. Given that we’re so heavily reliant on our environment for leisure and sustenance, we wanted to ensure that our small company gave back. We’re proud members of 1% for the Planet and we split our annual donation between the San Francisco Surfrider Chapter and Leave No Trance, an outdoor education program geared towards teaching young people about responsible ethics in nature. We also work with the San Francisco chapter of Save the Waves, a surf break conservation organization, to host events that support their important efforts to protect the world’s surf breaks and keep our beaches protected from natural and man-made threats.
OM: So where did your Sunski adventure begin?
Tom: I took a surf trip to Australia a few years back and while I was there and I stumbled across a handful of brightly colored vintage sunglass designs that I had never seen before. When I returned, I remained curious about whether or not some of those styles could work in a modern context. Michael and I created a few renderings, made some samples, and decided to test the idea of making the Sunskis on Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding website. Our goal was to infuse the brightly colored, vintage inspired frames with contemporary features like high quality polarized lenses, unique packaging, and flexible lightweight materials. Most importantly, we wanted to do it all at a price that people could afford. We think its ridiculous how much designer sunglasses cost, and as independent designers operating outside the corporate sunglasses apparatus, we knew that we could make Sunskis different. People seemed to like our idea and last summer we raised over $150,000 on Kickstarter.
OM: You make it sound so easy! What happened after you raised all of that money?
Tom: The next 6 months after that was insane; we basically encountered every issue possible. Michael and I literally sat in our warehouse and hand-stuffed every single pair of pre-sold Sunkis… until we were done. Ever since then and over the past six or so months, we’ve been working to and fine tune the sunglasses build up towards adding a new style to the sunglasses line. Just a few weeks ago, we launched our brand new, Sunski Walkabouts on Indiegogo, another crowdfunding site similar to Kickstarter. The Walkabouts feature the same high quality, mirror tinted polarized lenses, with the added style of matte-black frames. We thought this new look would be a great complement to the neon colors of the original Sunskis. In just about three weeks, we’ve done about $100,000 in presale for this limited production run of Walkabouts.
OM: Why Crowdfunding?
Tom: Crowdfunding has proven to be the best way for our small company to raise money for the projects we want to create. It is darn near impossible to borrow money from a bank for your small business these days. This is actually a blessing in disguise, because crowdfunding allows us to raise money in a much more creative way. It forces us to do all of the important work that goes into a new product before we spend any resources on making it. We design the packaging, test all of the lenses and materials, and prepare a ton of marketing materials, all before we spent a huge amount of money on production. All of this work is required to effectively pre-sell your product via crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, so if you are able to successfully reach your funding goal, you’re in a great position to head into the retail marketplace with a lot of momentum.
Discover their current campaign on Indiegogo by clicking here (hurry- it ends at 12midnight on Friday, 8/23), and support Tom and Michael in their Sunski venture. These guys are real, they have a product that’s really cool and we are excited to work with them in future Ocean Minded initiatives. Think global, act local… and remember that eventually, everything ends up in the ocean.