The Socially Conscious Cashmere Startup (Founder Interview)

Giving back to a nomadic culture with a beautiful clothing startup…by Allie Gold

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 10.07.52 AMNaadam Co-founders Diederik Rijsemus & Matthew Scanlan (Left to Right)

Launched by a successfully executed Kickstarter campaign ($103,493 raised from a goal of $20,000), co-founders and friends Matthew Scanlan and Diederik Rijsemus created Naadam as a ‘socially conscious cashmere garment business.’ The idea for the company was formed when the co-founders lived with ‘the last truly nomadic people’ of Mongolia during their study abroad trip to Asia.  They began to understand the culture’s hardships caused by the demands of the cashmere industry combined with the dramatic shifts of weather in Mongolia.  As a result, Naadam was born as a company that would use a micro-investment strategy to give back to the Mongolian community while creating beautiful cashmere garments for the fashion-forward.  We spoke to Matt about his experiences building his ambitious endeavor:

TANR: How’d you come up with the idea that is Naadam Cashmere?

Diederik was traveling around Asia during a semester abroad studying economics in Beijing. He made his way to Mongolia where he met the motivating factor for creating Naadam Cashmere: The nomadic Mongolian herding population living in the Gobi herding goats. They harvested cashmere from the goats they were herding as means of supporting their families. The cashmere then went into making cashmere garments that he saw were being sold around the world at exorbitant mark ups. And the herders were suffering. Changing climate conditions were affecting the nomads drastically. Higher mortality rates were forcing nomads to abandon ancient traditions and values. We saw a way to help a population of people that were at the base of a supply chain and sell a good a more affordable price.

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How’d you make your first sale?

I walked into a store wearing a sweater and started a conversation then did the whole, “oh yeah this is from our company naadam cashmere” and I started pitching my ass off. It worked. We told 120 pieces to that store for this winter!

What’s the most exciting moment you’ve had while building the company?

Some press information is exciting. I am kind of an attention whore (diederik much less so)! But I think it would be hard to not highlight what we achieved with our Kickstarter campaign. We sold over $100,000 worth of cashmere, 700 pieces, in the spring, to 500 people around the world. When the campaign ended we were both totally in shock! We had been working so hard around the clock and then it was over and we were just like unable to do comprehend it all.

His/Hers: The Everyday Sweater from Nick Garnham Wright on Vimeo.

 What keeps you motivated (in life/as an entrepreneur/as founder of Naadam)?

New experiences. Learning constantly. I am an untraditional learner to say the least and diej is like a genius. He can learn anything but our job is to figure out new things everyday. How are we going to sell, to whom and when? What will we sell, how can we differentiate, what are the levers, what do we need to change and how do we get from point A to B? We both love thinking analytically like this. Diej is much more detailed oriented then me (as you can tell from all the spelling mistakes), so we balance each other out in that regard.

So do you have any mindsets, habits, or mantras that you know will set you up for success/keep you motivated?

Innovation…neither Diej nor myself want to ever be stuck in box about anything about this business. We come at it all from a totally fresh perspective so we foster creativity and crazy ideas because who knows!

If you had the option of never working again, would you choose not to work and why or why not?

Hahah not a chance! I can’t go 5 seconds without working. Plus when you love what you do, it’s not work! And I always want to do what I love. The passion isn’t there without the love….I think…

What are some of the measures of success that you have for Naadam and its products?

Well Sales and Revenue are pretty standard but there is more to it then that. PR is important, we are cultivating a lifestyle brand and we need to get some attention around the innovation and values of our brand. Capital is huge also. We love to romanticize entrepreneurial instincts in this country and we do that because its not easy. It takes discipline, creativity, a little insanity but a lot of motivation. The bottom line becomes a large burden on a small company, so raising money will be huge and you cant raise money if you don’t have all those pieces in place.

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 10.08.08 AMConsider running into someone who’s interested in starting a clothing businesses. If you could give that person one piece of advice, what would it be?

Just one piece of advice? Oy vay! There is so much they need to know haha. Id say you better love it! If you are passionate about it then other people will respond to that passion in a positive way. If you don’t believe it, no one else will.

In running this business, what’s something that you pride yourself in the most?

I love analyzing communication. How do we say things no only to our customer but as a team. Diederik is super creative and can pretty much teach himself anything. He is also great an looking at things from multiple perspectives. I am talker and he’s a thinker! hahaha

What’s something that makes you the most uncomfortable?

Great question. I thought about this one for a while! You have to be so patient when you are starting a business because it takes time. It take a lot of hard work which I love, a ton of preparation and due diligence, and then some luck. But it takes time and I am not a very patient person so sometimes I get a little antsy! But you have to stick in there. Not everything is going to go well all the time. There are ups and downs and its just part of the ride. It becomes increasingly to not go for this ride emotionally hahah.

What would you be doing right now if Naadam didn’t exist?

Working on starting a different company? I am not sure but I have learned a lot about the things I love. I love the analytical side of online and offline marketing. I love branding and discussing the psychology of consumer behavior. What sticks? What doesn’t? How do people respond to this versus that. Also management and communication is so much fun. How do you put a great team together and how do you get the most out of that team to drive results? So whatever I was doing…I’d hope to be involved in this type of learning experience some how.

Last question: when’s your women’s line coming out?

HAH! We are doing some unisex stuff right now but it is important to start with one thing and do it well before you brand out to multiple things. So we started with Men’s and as far as I can tell that’s what we are doing for now. Sorry girls! But we will get there eventually.

Check out Naadam’s beautiful clothing here: Naadam Cashmere

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