If you can cut past the gatekeepers to instasuccess you can unlock a new world and unchartered territory. Ash, Alpha and Matt, the team of 3 originators and innovators behind ADYN, unlocked something more than insta-success, their determination to learn quickly, strive to survive and adapt rather than perish, got them to new levels. Are they still striving or are they finally coasting?
“Definitely not coasting!” says Ash unequivocally as Alpha agrees, “Definitely still striving, cos it comes with new challenges, like maybe something good happens like you get into these stores, but then there’s new challenges that come with developing the wholesale of your website. This business is only 3 of us, so there’s only more workload and then it takes you away from doing the other things that you used to do.” When you’re growing something from nothing, you’re learning on the job and Matt unlocks the reality of it, “ we’re not really that experienced in business, so all of a sudden it becomes really serious.”
When business turns to serious business, the best of us can get intimidated by the dragons den, but when business got serious, as Ash’s tells us, that’s exactly what gave them the grit to survive,”We usually make a massive mistake and then you get a letter in the post saying ‘you owe this for tax’. We definitely do it the hard way but we somehow claw our way back.” Unlike typical tech start-ups, these guys are in the business of fashion, but they’ve learnt how to fail fast just like any other tech company, and keep it moving, “Everything we do is learned by making painful mistakes” Alpha tells me, and recovering from that is what’s taught them how to ‘adapt or perish’, as they all laugh Matt explains “That sums us up! I think it’s hard not to let it get on top of you sometimes, but like Ash said we seem to somehow claw our way back.”
The dynamic of a striver is clawing your way back and pushing your way forward by just getting stuff done even when you have days when you think, “‘we’re not gonna make it’, then somebody else will come and be like ‘nah we can do this’,” Alpha continues, “you can make money but it probably shouldn’t be your drive, obviously we didn’t get into this to make money, we wanted to make money of course, but it was more like lets do something cool. And then the money started coming and we were like this is cool, we can do something cool and get paid for it.”
So exactly where’s the major distinction between these guys and any other fashion designers or tech startups? ADYN are completely self-funded and financed, not to say that that won’t change moving forward but to get to this point, “All the money so far, we’ve put that into the business. It’s all been almost like “hey here’s £100 we’re going to make £200 and with the £200 we’re gonna make £400,” as Alpha explains the numbers to me.
Who Gon Stop Me
But when you’re talking about making it in London, you have to talk about affording to be in London and that means striving to survive in London. Ash, Matt and Alpha have literally created something from nothing in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and they’re making their clothes in London. You’d think doing business in London is a boost for business, but struggling to find space while dealing with rising rents, has driven out the best of ’em.
“Maybe cos we’ve already been established, cos we’ve already done it. But I do think, if you’re a young person coming up, it’s definitely harder, a struggle. Like you gotta pay your rent, that’s probably why a lot of people can’t do what they wanna do because they have to go to work.” Establishing their brand 3 years ago, I ask Alpha if things have really changed that much in such a short space of time, “I think we got lucky with the way our business was set up, cos like I said, most of it was funded from pre-orders, but everybody can’t do that. So if you’re gonna have to use your savings, than you’re gonna have to work, you still have to pay rent, so the whole cycle of it probably prevents you from taking that leap unless someone believes in you or you get a loan. I think we were more fortunate that we didn’t have to get a business loan.”
Biggie wasn’t wrong when he said ‘mo money mo problems’, as Ash reveals “The whole problem, I remember, the money was slowly building up and building up and I think we had like somehow £20K in paypal and we were like ‘we need a bank account’. But we went to a bank and they wouldn’t give us a bank account. We were like we don’t want any money from you, we want to put this money in a bank account.” Matt continues “But because we were like a new business, they made it very difficult for new businesses… it took us probably like a year to get a business account.”
So I had to ask just how much ended up in Paypal before they could get an account, “a stupid amount of money, a stupid amount” says Ash, “I mean I think we rolled into a bank, how hard can it be, and we walked in this office and we were all probably wearing like hoodies in black, it’s probably quite intimidating for a guy with a bunch of lads with a shit loads of cash saying ‘we’ve got all this money can you put it in an account please.’ We had everything legit going through paypal but..”
Our best recurring quote is ‘Oh we shoulda done this’
Eventually Matt tells me a bank obliged but it says a lot more about the real deal of setting up a business in the UK, in an age where you can start up a brand on Instagram, make your transactions on paypal, sit on a shit ton of money and still not be given a business bank account. “All our lesson’s had to be learned by paying a fine essentially. You make a mistake, next time now you know this… for most people starting a business, that’s how it’s gonna go, because nobodies gonna tell em, they’re not gonna know this, they’re not gonna know about taxes. They’re setting this up and setting that up and learning later what you should have done, and when you should have filed this or that,” says Alpha. With a touch of humour Ash laughs as he tells me, “Our best recurring quote is ‘Oh we shoulda done this’, like that is every week, ‘ we shoulda done that.” But that’s the great part about striving and grinding right, “you’re literally learning all the time and trying to move forward and trying to get to another level”, Ash says, “Problem solving everyday” Matt adds.
“Hopefully we’ve got over the bulk of the challenges,” says Alpha optimistically as Ash brings it back to what matters most in their business, “our team is only 3 of us, but our team and our network is a team, there’s us 3 and then there’s Kimmy who’s been doing patterns since we started, and than we’ve got the guys over at Concrete who are a team doing PR and sales.” Matt adds the creative to their team dynamic, and there’s an extended team there too, “Even with photography we work with Hamish, we work with Ricky we work with quite a small intimate group of people and that’s who we go to all the time.“
So we know where they are but where did it all start? These were 3 guys who just happened to work in the same shop in central London, and then “I guess it was Matt who had the idea, like the concept, cos you had it with one of your mates, didn’t you? Ash asks Matt “ you had the concept, you were doing it with a friend from back home and you needed some samples doing, and I was like “I can do that, can I do it” and then it kinda never went anywhere did it. It was like stagnant for ages.” Matt responds “yeah and than Alpha was talking about doing something and it was just kinda like, cos we never took it seriously, we were just like “lets just do it then” and then that’s when it started going wasn’t it?
“I think as soon as all three of us came together and we got Alpha involved then it was just within like a month. We literally didn’t put any money into it really, like nothing serious.” Ash recalls, “Well we didn’t even have a website at that point“, says Matt. This is where I’m really fascinated as Matt continues “cos that money normally from 10 t-shirts we could probably make like 30 t-shirts from it so we kept reinvesting the money to make more t-shirts” and Ash adds “None of us really took it serious, it was just a laugh weren’t it, like if you could make £50 quid or something, share it and whatever.” Alpha walks into the room after coming off the phone, “we had already started it, we already had the pre-orders and the sales and to some degree we had the start of a business, not enough to quit a job, but it was like there’s something there and then we got fired…but the good thing is it gave us like a full time, cos we only had the day or two to work on it in the week but now we had the whole week.”
So how were people finding them I ask again, “Instagram”, says Ash, “If it wasn’t for instagram it wouldn’t have been,” Matt says frankly. ADYN’s strategy on Instagram had no precedent to follow and just like the upstarts in music, they learnt how to get theirs in the clothing game independently, Ash recalls “I think it was just stuff we liked, what we wanted to see. It wasn’t like there was no template, “this is what we like to do, lets shoot it and people like it”, whereas now its like a hard balance now, because you’ve gotta do something quite serious cos you’re in stores like Harvey Nichols and stuff like that. I think that’s the hardest part getting the balance right. I don’t know if there is a balance, I don’t know if you can do it.”
First approached by Harvey Nichols to stock their collections, ADYN have recently added Selfridges into the mix and have been in Harrods for some time, Matt tells me what drew them in, “I think they need to see that they can sell it, and that comes from like followers, customers and fans.” But it’s not as straightforward as followers, Alpha expands how their own perspective was just as important as their followers, – “I think our timing was good, cos it’s weird there’s a lot of instabrands now, but we were probably the first at least in the U.K, the first to champion our aesthetic, our looks, whatever was happening in the current cultural climate, so we were the first people to kind of push that through, so our name was actually a good association.” Who you work with is key, Matt has advise for any new brands, “it’s also really important to choose wisely who you work with, with the stores as well, cos we’ve gone for the A line really. I think it damages the brand if you don’t.”
Made In England
Representing the epitome of the new grind of strivers, ADYN are influenced by global culture but they’re a very British brand in one respect, marking themselves out from their contemporaries, I’m surprised when I learn the process from Ash, “I mean I’ve studied 2 years at college fashion, 3 years at Uni, a year doing interning and so all of our patterns are done in house, its not just a matter of grabbing a t-shirt from Continental and then printing a graphic on it. Even down to our t-shirts it’s all pattern cut on the table behind me and it always has been, so it’s not just any T-shirt.” But it goes beyond process to manufacturing in England, Ash continues, “I mean at the moment everything’s made in London, that makes it British right, Made in England’s not a selling point, it just happened, its not easy to make it here, its not easier its not cheaper, there’s no reason, its just easy for us cos there’s a factory downstairs.”
That process alone separates them from any other Instabrand, Alpha takes me through the steps “So we’ll get an inspiration, and then we’ll come in here and then we’ll draw it up and then we’ll do a pattern for it and then we’ll sample it, and then we’ll fit it on the body and then we’ll sample it again and then we’ll be happy with it and then we’ll grade it and have like a size run of it. So our process probably to an Instabrand is completely different”.
With a renewed appreciation for homegrown talent, I ask Ash if their followers care about their process, “The intial customer didn’t care cos they only cared about the look but as we’re now into more stores, we kinda have to push that to the customer, that everything, I mean we tell them everything is handmade but I don’t know if people actually believe that everything is handmade.”
When the whole sales things got quite serious, they got serious and got themselves a sales agent, not only are they stocked in the U.K’s most famous department stores, but 60-70% of their sales are in international markets through US, Europe and Asia, getting an online website set up early meant they’d already locked their international game down. Made in England may not matter to some customers but in markets like Japan, it matters more than most, as Ash says, “they’re very particular about quality and design and I think they’re quite impressed when it’s made in England and it’s a good selling point.”
Choosing to keep that process in-house in the U.K comes with challenges, but Alpha tells me “It’s not because we have a problem with China, it’s just the way we came up making stuff, it’s just you have a control, you get to feel it, you get to be in the factory, it’s more the hands on approach which has always been how we started. So if were to move to China, we’d almost feel like we’re losing control over our product.”
Starting out unconventionally as a brand 3 years ago, ADYN are also treading the fine balance of following the conventions of the fashion industry today, while those conventions are being broken by unconventional fashion icons like Kanye, can everyone afford to be as unconventional as they want? ADYN have been ahead of the curve not only in strategy but in establishing their creative direction from the off, Matt brings it back to this, “I suppose its what goes for any brand is there’s a DNA, the brand DNA that runs through everything and I think its important that whatever we do it always remains running through it. I think it’s what we’ve touched on before, which is silhouettes, details, references and things like that, so a customer who’s shopping our brand next season will still be familiar with the fit and the shape, even maybe a couple seasons down the line they’ll still be able to tell its ours.”
So what is ADYN an abbreviation of, “It’s a stylised word for Androgyny”, I ask Matt to explain more how that came about, “The original concept was neither masculine or feminine it was going to sit in the middle, however it’s definitely gone down the more masculine route. I think that’s just happened cos we’re guys and we’re designing for ourselves essentially but we‘re trying to put that more into it now again with the womens collection.” Doing androgyny may be more the norm now, but 5 years ago it was Kanye who started donning leather skirts and long t-shirts, “I always remember that when Watch the Throne was popular that was the turning point“, says Ash.
Is there a gender role in ADYN? Alpha, tells it like it is, “well It’s definitely more masculine I would say, because like Matt said ideally most of the stuff we design we kinda design for ourselves“, Matt interjects, “also we’re more familiar with menswear, because we shop that…It’s more so not necessarily the design, we’ve talked about details, fabrics and stuff that would help with fitting with a unisex sort of product, however the androgyny part comes out mainly in the shoots and the styling.”
Gotta Have It
But what was that thing, that thing that took them beyond just being another brand across Instagram, Alpha’s explains the ‘thing’ as it was then and as it still is now, “Yeah it’s weird cos we were using the influencers then before there was a term called influencers. And a lot of the influencers were just customers at the time so we would just push the customers to post pictures of their looks after they bought something. They would hashtag it and they would push it but they weren’t really influencers,” he continues, “nowadays it’s like separated because now there’s actual influencers.”
Influencers have become a class of their own in the world of fashion, music and media, a collateral different from the social media mob, but even influencers are in a state of transition. Alpha’s noticed the changes, “well on instagram maybe there’s probably two types of influencers people who are actually doing something and then there’s people that are just are cool on instagram.”
On Instagram maybe there’s probably two types of influencers people who are actually doing something and then there’s people that are just cool on Instagram
Strivers, are the do-er’s, on a mission to make it happen and according to Ash “They’re the best kind of influencers.” Alpha tells me why “because they’re doing something, not that taking pictures on Instagram is nothing, but this is more, there’s more to it.” So with music icons shifting the levels in fashion, where do influencers fit in the whole mix? “I think they’re more important than celebrities/ bloggers,” says Matt but Ash goes further to explain “I think models are very important”, Alpha continues “I think that’s what the models are for, you’re dressing someone exactly how you see your brand, that’s like your vision. There is distinction of purpose with models and influencers, Ash maps it out, “The influencer thing is more like adapting your clothes to their style, if that make sense.”
So why start a collection for women, Ash believes “it’s as Matt says the brand has a kind of unisex feel behind it but we also know there’s a lot of women wearing mens clothing.” The guys are a living testament to their own ethos of adapt or die, “I think it’s also a test for us.” as Ash tells me, “I think its practical… I think its comfy, its still quite cool, and I don’t know if it’s the fact that they’re buying menswear or it’s just they think it looks cool enough to just be like womens wear.”
I’d already asked Parris about the idea of her self image at work and finding herself confident enough to walk into a boardroom wearing a tracksuit knowing she could still look good, looking at it practically Alpha adds, “I can imagine that a lot of the girls kinda like the idea that it’s not like lets say form fitting.” Ash continues “I think that was what was so interesting on the shoot, like we had 12 girls there that were all different, sizes, different shapes, heights and.. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the brand worn in so many different ways.” For Matt put simply “that was awesome.”
Alpha, Ash and Matt, have an almost calm confidence in just having that knowledge that women wear their clothes and the clothes don’t wear them, that self awareness carries through in the way that Ash talks about their clothes, “I think as well what we do is not offensive, it’s not like this is what you need to look like to wear this, or this is how skinny you should be. It is what it is – you can dress it up or you can dress it down.“
We Are the Future
How many people you know can take it this far? Ash, Alpha and Matt are super charged and super chilled with just the right combination of creative credibility. They get it in a way that’s true to most strivers, they have a vision and they follow it through. So they’ve already set the course for new futures, but if they were starting out today, would they go about it the same way knowing what they know now?
In the fashion world, where stacking up student loans come before stacking up that money money, I ask them all if Uni would still be in their mix? For Ash he’s aware of the trajectory it offers, “Yeah but the traditional way is you go to college, you go to Uni, you do a collection, you go.” Matt doesn’t pass off his time at Uni as a waste, “The only thing I’ve learned, the most valuable thing I got from Uni, was like the graphic design and the programs and things like that… which is what I use everyday.” But if uni just isn’t an option, skills are still essential, Alpha offers an alternate route, “I don’t know if today per say you have to go to Uni but you need some kind of training.” Ash adds, “I think interning you can get as much, but it’s a bit of a gamble though because sometimes people won’t look at your CV if you haven’t got x amount of grades.” If somebody came to them would you look for a University degree, I ask “I would ask for a portfolio but you don’t necessarily need to go to Uni for it cos it’s what you can do in your own time.”
I ask if after all this grind, whether they’re still paying off their student loans and it’s a unanimous yes, but like their early days with taxes, Ash laughs, “I don’t even know what’s going on with that, I’ll wait for a letter to be sent and then I’ll be like ‘shit I need to pay this.” There’s some irony when I scan over the story of their success so far and yet they’ve still got student loans and no one has a mortgage. Alpha says he’s getting one, Ash says he’d eventually like to but doesn’t know when and Matt’s in no rush even though he’s the oldest.
Three founders, with a penchant for cutting Tee’s from patterns, started out as an Instabrand selling their designs online to stocking their androgynous menswear in prestigious stores around the world including Harvey Nichols, Harrods and Selfridges within 3 years. Now ADYN are ready to thread their DNA into their new Womens essentials collection.
The new range of ADYN essentials will be available to pre-order on www.adyn.co.uk from 8pm Friday 13th May.