If you’ve ever been to the site of a six-year-old, London-based direct-to-consumer clothing company entire houseYou marvel at the exuberant details of the clothing it sells, including a jacket “designed for a megastorm world where ‘waterproof’ isn’t enough,” a hoodie that can withstand rain, wind, snow, and fire. promises to repel; and an “Ice Age” fleece “designed to recreate the feel and performance of the soft hides worn by prehistoric man.”
That marketing talent comes directly from CEO Steve Tidball, who co-founded the organization with his twin, Nick Tidball—both have previously worked in advertising and are both active outsiders, though his family and Wolbach’s growth have brought him closer to home. kept in recent years. Steve Tidball writes the copy himself, he revealed last week in an interview about Wolbach, a brand that prides itself on creating “clothing for the future.” During that chat, he answered our questions about how much technology is actually involved in his production. He also told us that Volback has raised about $10 million in external funding so far, including a Series A round led by the London-based venture firm about to close. venrex, Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia, and Headspace CFO Sean Brecker, among others. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.
TC: You started this company with your twin, Nick. There seems to be a lot of genius in how your clothing is marketed. Tell us a little bit how it came together.
ST: We launched the company five years ago. Before that, we had been working together in advertising for 15 years, so I think one of the reasons marketing might be more fun is that it was our job.
We’ve driven by an incredibly simple rule from a marketing perspective, which is basically: spend as little money as humanly possible. So, for example, a few years ago, we created our first piece of clothing for the space, which was a cocoon of deep sleep. And in marketing, you always [asking] who is your audience, and really, our audience here was a person who was Elon [Musk], so we found there was a billboard [space] Unlike SpaceX, and we put out a poster there, and it said, “Our jackets are ready. How’s your rocket doing?” It doesn’t cost much money, but it was actually a lot of fun, and NASA called next week, and then we got [to] chatting with them.
Your clothes are a reflection of the stuff you think is going to happen to people in the next century, from space travel to sustainability. For example, you have a Solar Charge Jacket, which you say can glow like a firefly in the dark. You have a “black squid” jacket that you say recreates the squid’s adaptive camouflage, one of nature’s most spectacular solutions for high visibility. How much technology is actually involved here?
In the last five years, the only technology we have focused on is physics. That’s one thing that, as a startup, we have, because if you’re going to see a lot [complex] You need a really big amount of money to deal with technologies like AI or exoskeletons, whereas any startup can really go and look at physics. So that’s the angle we’re really fascinated by. ,[because] It is not commonly explored how much physics can go into a product.
One of the most interesting things we’ve ever launched was the world’s first graphene jacket. Even the scientists who first isolated graphene can’t really tell you what graphene is going to do. , , ,[So] We said, well, one side has graphene and the other side isn’t. Why don’t you go out and test it 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 how much heat it can store. What came back were two particularly astonishing stories, one of an American doctor who was freezing at night in the Gobi Desert and who had wrapped his graphene jacket around a camel, trying to absorb the camel’s heat. After, he put his jacket back on and stayed warm all night.
Another friend of ours, a Russian man who was out in the Nepalese mountains and in danger of freezing, used a graphene jacket to absorb the last rays of the sun. It got hot, and he put it on as his inner layer and credits it with keeping it warm throughout the night.
How do you make a graphene shirt or ceramic shirt? Do you have a special loom? Do you make it with a 3D printer? what is the procedure?
You make it with great difficulty, the answer is, that is why our goods cost more than ordinary clothes. You end up with really very specialist factories, usually in Europe, with really high tech machinery that very few people have access to.
Do you usually run a low production run for your business?
Yes, and in the beginning, it was really just a function of capital, meaning we didn’t have a lot, so the clothes we made sold out really quickly, and we tried to make some more. Business has grown. There’s definitely stuff out there where it’s so complicated or so experimental, making 10,000 of them would be reckless. So yeah, we’ve done short runs of some of our most experimental stuff, just to see: Does it work? Can it be improved?
One of those experimental new products is the Mars Jacket and Pants. Where does anyone wear it?
The irony of the fun things about building anything for Mars is that, of course, you get to test it on Earth. But the reality of going to Mars or any space travel is that the number of people going there and the number of jobs they’ll have to work there is going to grow exponentially. You will need scientists, biologists, builders, engineers, architects, they have to wear something. And so the reality is, we want to start working on it early, so what we’re doing is we’re starting to think about some of the work that needs to be done, whether it’s on the Moon or Mars. But or be in a lower class. stuff, and about: what are jobs? What are some of the challenges we are going to face? This is why the jacket comes with vomit pockets, because your vestibular system tends to disengage as it encounters the lack of gravity.
How do you know about the vestibular system? You are a marketing genius. Are you a scientist too?
i’m a pretend scientist [laughs], But there are so many interesting people around us, whether it is people thinking about the future of war, or people thinking about the future of space travel, we often jokingly say that our business runs on WhatsApp .
Where do you get most of that feedback from? CThere are some D2C brands that are very active on social and Instagram and have Slack channels. How do things work there?
I had this really early thought that if you could combine really cool innovative technology with really friendly people at the end of the email, that could be a really good thing.
You sell directly through the Volleyback site only. Will it ever change?
Not in the near future, one of the things that has been absolutely central to the brand is getting feedback, and I’m really worried about losing that connection to customers. Let’s say someone has a good experience with one of our shirts or jackets, and they bought it at a wholesale store, and they have no real relationship with us. I think there is lost information.
We’ll be doing more work in the metaverse space 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 currently building some really crazy things in that space. We’re currently looking for some supercomputers that can process some of the stuff we’re working on. But still basically, whatever we think is going to define the future, we’ll put a lot of effort into it.
(You can listen to this conversation in its entirety, including Wolbach’s plans to eventually launch a women’s line and its funding status, here) Here,