Building a product for purpose business

by Plum Turner, Co-Founder of Two Degrees

The City > ice cream > boat shoes

From working in the City, to ice cream, to boat shoes… not the most conventional career path even by Escape the City’s standards!

In October 2014, I took the leap of faith and left my job in the City without another role to go to. I think my boss thought I was completely mad! I had known for a while that ultimately the industry wasn’t where I wanted to be long term so I finally listened to my gut and plucked up the courage to stop talking and start doing.

I had volunteered for Escape the City alongside my job since leaving university and used to co-host the London events when they were at Adam Street. Escape is actually the reason I handed in my notice without a job to go to. Not because they tell you to do that. In fact, I think they tell you to do the complete opposite…but for me, after listening to so many inspiring stories, I felt it was far riskier to keep doing something for the wrong reasons. I had also recently read the line ‘live your life like an obituary’ in the Escape Manifesto. This line has really stuck with me. No one enjoys reading a boring obituary… so make sure it’s a damn good read!

My ultimate dream was always to start my own company but first I wanted to broaden my experience and work for a start-up. The day after leaving my City job I found myself knocking on Charlie and Harry’s door to help get Oppo ice cream off the ground.

After two-and-a-half awesome years at Oppo I have now swapped ice cream for shoes… boat shoes to be specific that protect endangered habitat around the world

 

Introducing Two Degrees

Boat shoes with a conscience

As I mentioned I had always wanted to start my own company and crucially a company which combined what I love (the outdoors) with a social good business model.

Luke (my co-founder) and I have grown up in a pair of boat shoes. It’s fair to say we love them. Why? Well they’re like humble travel companions…they’re reliable and will take you anywhere, on any adventure you want to take.

But they’ve barely evolved since 1935 and that’s why we felt it was time for a change. The idea for Two Degrees was born.

We knew we wanted to keep the classic look of a premium boat shoe but after a lifetime of wearing the shoes we had noticed that the quality had started to decline and we kept hearing the same problems again and again – blisters, bruised soles, rubbing…

So, we’ve set out to solve these issues through creating the world’s most comfortable boat shoes whilst putting the environment front and centre through both our Feet for Feet model – every pair of shoes sold protects 1,000 square feet of endangered habitat around the world – and our product lifecycle.

 

Picture of a pair of our Two’s in action

Product development 

My background may not have been in fashion but I had worked in a start-up so I had experienced first-hand the process of creating a brand from scratch. I think it is probably easy to get completely overwhelmed at the beginning, not knowing where to start. The most important thing, whether you’re starting a company or working for a start-up, (and I know it sounds cliché) is to hustle. You need to get stuff done and keep moving forward. Have a plan B, C, D and E in your back pocket because the reality is you’ll probably end up at plan F! Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Speak to similar brands in the marketplace. Everyone is willing to help and if they’re not able to help you then it is highly likely that they will know someone who will.

We always knew we wanted to make our shoes in Portugal because they are the absolute best when it comes to making boat shoes however there are still A LOT of people who make boat shoes in Portugal…so our journey began!

To start with we went to Lineapelle in Milan – the international material show – to speak to as many suppliers as possible. The show is absolutely huge so we did a large amount of preparation beforehand to make sure we knew exactly who we wanted to speak to when we were there and didn’t waste time walking around aimlessly.

Following this trip, we then went straight out to Portugal to visit suppliers and manufacturers we had sourced both through Lineapelle and our own research. For us it was always really important to understand every single stage of the production process…we wanted to know exactly how all the raw materials were processed across our supply chain. Without this knowledge, we wouldn’t have been able to challenge longstanding production processes which we knew we needed to do if we were going to make the most comfortable boat shoes on the market.

Throughout the product development process, we have personally visited over 78 different suppliers. It’s been fascinating and we’ve met some amazing people from all walks of life on the way. We are now working with a fantastic factory and have a brilliant team of partners in place.

Creating a ‘social good’ company

As consumers, we’ve all developed a disposable attitude towards goods; we buy and dispose. Brands are guilty of fuelling this throw-away mindset by incorporating planned obsolescence into the products they make.

Our mindset is slowly changing and people now want to buy good stuff that lasts. It’s not easy though.

On the whole, it is still very challenging for a consumer to work out exactly what a ‘good’ company is. People tend to isolate certain aspects that a company does well – ‘they do X thing really well’ or ‘they use X material’ – however the picture is bigger (and more complex) than this. The reality is that the environment is a huge topic and far more nuanced than people give it credit for.

That’s why we’ve developed our Feet for Feet model. People get it. It’s easy to understand and is traceable. We’re not just another boat shoe company. We genuinely care.

We have focused on habitat protection because our belief is that through protecting habitat you’ll have the knock-on effect of protecting multiple species (rather than just one) facing extinction due to wider habitat loss. We always knew we wanted to work with the World Land Trust to bring our Feet for Feet model to life because of their exceptional track record, experienced team and long-standing relationships with on-the-ground organisations in the habitats they protect.

Our big goal is to protect 25 million square feet of endangered habitat by 2020.

 

Two Degrees’ Feet for Feet model

Keep asking ‘why’

Our Feet for Feet model is actually a really small part of what we stand for and what we’re trying to do.

The biggest part is all around the product lifecycle, from the raw materials we use to the end of life solutions. We are trying to minimise causing unnecessary harm at every stage of the production process. It’s hard and we’re definitely not perfect but we’re trying to be environmentally progressive about what we’re doing. We are upfront about where we are good and where we need to improve.

We believe it’s important to always ask ‘why’. It’s amazing what it reveals. The answer isn’t always the one you want to hear but if you’re going to keep improving your processes then you need to know why or how you can change something.

 

Luke (far right) and I (second from left) with our bio-leather suppliers

Developing a product is a complex process. We always joke that it is like building a house. We certainly didn’t know at the start of our journey that there were 52 different stages involved in the tanning process for example.

We know we need to continue to improve but by being totally transparent we will always tell customers where we’re good, where we can do better and the areas we’re working on.

Testing, testing and more testing…

The reality is you never stop testing. You will always want to keep making improvements and that is fine. It’s good. It means you’re a perfectionist.

Testing is your best friend. When you are not sure what the right call is or what your target market actually wants then the easiest thing to do is ask. Bring your customers on the journey with you. You are creating a product for them so make sure you are creating something they really want. It sounds basic but it is so easy to get side-tracked.

We test all of our prototypes like mad and every time a new sample arrives from Portugal Luke puts them straight on and goes for a 10km run, with no socks. It probably sounds a bit bizarre but it’s a good way to get instant feedback on the comfort and breathability factor.

Kickstarting Two Degrees

We’re launching our Kickstarter campaign at the end of this month (30th May) which is exciting.

If you join our pre-launch list then you will automatically protect 10 square feet of endangered habitat for free. No strings attached. You sign-up and we’ll pay for the land. You can also earn limited edition pre-launch rewards. Check it out here.

I can honestly say that without Escape the City I would never have had the courage to hand in my notice without a role to go to back in 2014 and, as a result, my journey to launching Two Degrees may have been very different.

Thank you Escape. You’ve been awesome.

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