As promised, less about me - and a bit more information about the business.
Paria was born in 2014 whilst I was having a shower. There’s an image.
Riding had always been a passion of mine, but I’d never come across a cycling brand that inspired me in the same way as my favourite snowboarding brands. I’d been trying to find technical clothing which fitted my (slightly leftfield) streetwear aesthetic. Rapha was too flashy for me; the vibe seemed a bit stuck up. Other offerings from bigger retailers and more mainstream brands looked ‘pedestrian’ in terms of design and construction. In my mind, there was an opportunity to get creative and develop something fresh.
I’d been chatting to a friend who ran a cycling shop in Shoreditch. We spent hours brainstorming products, routes to market and ridiculous brand names, but we didn’t have any money, or a real business plan. The fledgling partnership eventually dissolved, and I decided I’d go it alone. I wanted to develop something which visually represented how I felt when I was riding, and how I had felt through most of my career – a bit of an outsider.
Through pure serendipity (a chance encounter with his Mum in a bar), I came to know an artist in Leeds who would help me bring the vision to life. Freddie Denton had studied in LA under Shepherd Fairy (of Obey streetwear fame), and after a quick chat it was clear that he understood what I was looking for. He produced a number of jersey designs which were right up my street, covering everything from 90’s rave styles to camo (I love a good bit of camo).
All I needed was someone to make the products, but this was frustratingly difficult. Although there are a lot of people out there who will try to help you, there aren’t many who can actually deliver what you need. The one area I had never had any experience in was sourcing, but what I lacked in nous I made up for in enthusiasm. I eventually made a connection with someone who could make the kind of kit I was after, with great technical qualities and “designability”. The first ever Paria jersey went on sale in April 2015.
Things progressed quickly, and I soon realised how cushioned and secure I had been in the confines of the mega-brand operations I had previously worked in. The pressures of raising your profile, delivering numbers at year end, and delivering cross-functional projects had all been (to a certain extent) something you could put on standby when you left the office or logged off for the day. Paria was 24/7 – and in the start-up phase, you are marketing, sales, social media, purchasing, accounts, web developer, brand ambassador – the full spectrum of operational resource.
And it didn’t stop – with the likes of ASOS and Amazon, people expect a response immediately and you are under-delivering if you haven’t replied within the hour. It was a real eye-opener, and I saw that my earlier protestations of no longer working for the man had been naïve. Paria was not going to pay the bills any time soon. Thankfully, I was able to pick up consulting and contract work in FMCG sales alongside the new venture to keep things ticking over.
I also realised I would need more cash, so I took a start-up loan from Virgin. This offered me a mentor as well access to some of the Virgin support network. I somehow managed to score a mind-blowing opportunity to take advice from the man himself, Richard Branson, winning a competition to fly out to Detroit alongside luminaries from Rapha, Cambridge Satchell Co and Endemol.
I received 1-2-1 direction and advice from one of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs, which helped immeasurably in structuring how I was positioning the brand, and how to raise the profile. I spent a surreal week following the Branson carnival around Detroit, receiving lots of positive feedback and food for thought. My proposition was very different to the usual start-ups, and I ended up winning more networking opportunities, spending time with Wayne Hemingway, opening an Apple store and ultimately being mentored by some of the Fast Track 100 companies.
My thinking on these opportunities has always been just to say yes to any offer of new connections or link ups. You never know what is going to come out the other side (it might be a trip to America!) and there is always a spider web of opportunity out there. Nine times out of 10, people want to and can help you. In the same way, I always try to pay it forward for other people, making introductions where I can.
Why am I telling you this? Our collaborative outlook is a huge part of the Paria brand. We partner with people where both parties will genuinely benefit from the shared output, whether that be a supplier, client, or artist collaborators. I always want the two parts to be greater than the sum of the whole, and this has helped us develop great relationships with craft brewers, clothing brands, artists and much more.
My fundamental guiding philosophy has been “don’t be a dick” - treat others as you’d want to be treated. This vision extends to our customers and supporters – we’ve long had the #pariafam, and we want our customers to feel part of what we do and come along for the ride.
Through several contacts, I heard about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme - a mini-MBA and intensive growth programme supporting scalable SMEs. Being selected to join 10kSB was a privilege, providing access to some of the major business brains from Oxford Saïd Business School, Harvard and beyond.
Completing the 3-month programme in May 2022 is the main reason why you’re reading this today, as it prepared me to launch an investment raise to take Paria to the next level. So here we are.
Too long/Didn’t read: It’s been a wild ride and a long time coming, but we’re dead set on our mission to take Paria into the big time (more on this next time!), and your support means the world.
As always – your thoughts/questions are very welcome! firstname.lastname@example.org