A wrap-up of 2019 seen from Lili's perspective. A lot has happened in our first year as a startup - so we apologize in advance for a quite lengthy (but hopefully insightful) post about all of Wair's beginnings in 2019.
The year started with a bang - in the beginning of January I joined Akademikernes A-kasse start-up programme with my start-up idea - Wair. This was a major push out of my comfort zone, since it meant that I could no longer just sit behind the computer and dream about all the things Wair could be. Through this programme, I was challenged to take my research and ideas and put them into actions. Some of the most “scary” moments were when I had to talk to complete strangers in order to get unbiased insights, and to show retailers my prototypes that I had sewn at home (which at that time looked more like slippers than sneakers). I did all of this in order to test my hypothesis – which was that there is a need for sustainable shoes that are affordable and modern.
Creating an amazing team
Venturing out has been very exciting though, and I have talked to so many interesting people due to this initial hypothesis testing phase. People have also been very positive about the idea, some have even believed in the idea to such an extent, that they wanted to be a part of the mission as well. I have had the priviledge of having Amrei and Felicia join the team as co-founders. Wair also started an advisory board consisting of Arta, Sujan and Peter. Running a start-up is basically like building a plane while you are flying it, and having these incredible people on the team has definitely been a huge help in keeping the plane from crashing. From choosing our strategy to helping out with the difficult decisions, these amazing people have been there every step of the way and I am incredibly grateful for that. In addition, Wair has also had it's very first intern - Craig and two new interns Magda and Olga are starting today. The fact that all these people have seen enough value in Wair so that they wanted to put their time into this is still quite surreal to me.
Testing out the workshop concept
In February, Wair conducted our first practice workshop. We had talked to our mentor at the start-up programme about the idea of also having workshops and he thought it sounded like a good idea. He said that we should test it - within that month. So suddenly we were super busy finding a place to host the workshop, plan the content of the workshop and invite people. It was quite chaotic and the shoes we made at the workshop were definitely not the prettiest, but the workshop was still such a success for us. There was this amazing creative buzz and the participants were having such a great time. We immediately knew that we had to continue with these workshops and now we had already learned so much! In September we hosted our first real workshops where people actually paid money to participate.
Putting Wair out there - and being awarded for it
2019 has also been the year of putting Wair out there and showing it to the world. We have been participating in quite a lot of events and competitions including CBS Entrepreneurial Day and Days of Impact. It has definitely been a bit scary sometimes. The first event we went to was IDA's Respond Festival where all the other start-ups had brought their roll-ups and lots of cool marketing material. We had just brought some business cards and one prototype and I clearly remember feeling very out of place. But it is okay not to be perfect from the beginning and we learned so much from this - for the next event we made sure to stand out (in the good way). Getting out there, meeting people and getting feedback on the idea has not just been crucial in developing a product that people actually want, it has also been one of the coolest experiences ever! The last two events/competitions that we attended, was Den Cirkulære Tekstil Challenge (The Circular Textile Challenge) and SPIR. The first one was judged by a panel of professionals within the field and at the second one, the attendees decided the winner by vote. The fact that we won both of these, has been really important to us, mainly because it means that we are doing something right with Wair. It is a huge validation in the sense that experts agree that the business model that we are proposing can indeed make upcycling of textile waste scalable and thereby make a meaningful impact. The fact that it also resonates with a broader audience is equally as important, because in the end it is the people who are going to buy our products.
Developing the product
One of the most important and comprehensive tasks of 2019 has been to develop the product – upcycled shoes from textile waste. From sewing the prototypes, finding suppliers, conducting the product validation and last but not least – finding a manufacturer. Since we want to make the shoes as sustainable as possible and none of us have experience with the world of shoe manufacturing, this has definitely not been easy and we have been spending so much time on every singe step. However, it has been such an interesting and fun experience and we have learned so much along the way. The fact that all the puzzle pieces somehow came together in the end and we now have a real product - is crazy!
You can read a more about the process of finding manufacturers in the Women4Climate article here.
So how will 2020 look for Wair?
For us 2019 has been a year of validating the idea and developing the product - 2020 will therefore hopefully be the year where we put the product to the real test – do people actually want to buy it? We will do this by first running a crowdfunding campaign - hopefully to be launched by the end of this month. We are doing this both to test the product and to raise the funds for the first batch of shoe production. If it proves successful, we will hereafter launch our first collection of upcycled shoes. Of course, we will also continue to host workshops, where we hope soon to be able to also offer the opportunity to make your own shoes from textile waste.
Apart from this, it is really difficult to predict what will happen. Most of the things that have happened in 2019 are things that I would have never expected to happen if you had asked me at the beginning of year. Me and the rest of the Wair team hope that you will join our adventure as we move forward in our goal of upcycling as much textile waste as possible and thereby preventing our valuable resources from being wasted.
We wish you all a fantastic (and sustainable) 2020! Written by Lili Dreyer and Craig Deaton