Naadam Cashmere Founder, Matt Scanlon, on Leveraging E-Commerce to Build a Brand That Gives Back
By Stephanie Benedetto and Cassandra Paré
Ever since the soft, dreamy fabric we call cashmere made its way into retail stores the world over, it’s earned its place in our closets as one of life’s little luxuries. This warm and cozy material has been the stuff that winter sweater dreams are made of. But can there be more to cashmere than its luxurious narrative? According to the label, Naadam Cashmere , it certainly can, and they’re setting out to create a new story that changes the way you think of cashmere. We sat down with Naadam Founder, Matt Scanlon, to learn more about his label and how he's leveraging e-commerce and digital assets to build that brand.
P2P: Tell us about the Naadam brand and story?
Matt: The story of Naadam really began in a very small town in Mongolia. We had been taken there by a journalist with no expectations of getting into the cashmere business nor any idea what this trip would lead to. When we finally arrived there, after a 20 hour drive, what we discovered was a beautiful community of herders who were producing the finest cashmere in the world and whose livelihood revolved around this industry. We started to think about how we could make a business out of this. The story of Naadam is really steeped in the romance of this process and where our cashmere comes from.
We decided to create a cashmere brand with a cyclical business model, meaning that we source the finest cashmere from this town in Mongolia while giving back to the herders that make it. A percentage of our profits are invested in a World Bank livestock insurance program that is designed to protect the nomadic herders in Mongolia who depend on the industry.
P2P: The Naadam brand is committed to giving back to the workers who produce its materials. Tell us how the decision to create this commitment evolved and what you hope to achieve with this alignment?
It wasn’t that we set out to create a brand that was deliberately socially conscious, but rather simply just an inclination that: shouldn’t all businesses work like this?
Matt: It wasn’t that we set out to create a brand that was deliberately socially conscious, but rather simply just an inclination that: shouldn’t all businesses work like this? We believe this process should be recreated by others in the fashion industry. Our definition of sustainability is really “economic sustainability” as much as it is an ethical footprint. At the end of the day, it’s just good business. It’s about two businesses -- ours and the community’s businesses -- growing symbiotically.
Through our programs, including the GOBI revival funded that we’ve partnered with Maiyet on, we are able to provide veterinary support to the community and to invest in the programs that the community needs. It’s really a bottom up approach where we figure out, by talking to the community, what they need and then we figure out how much that will cost and we fund those programs. This isn’t a one for one model – we really aim to create programs that allow the community to create lasting, sustainable impact. It’s a “teach a man to fish” mentality over a “give a man a fish” mentality.
P2P: What do you think the biggest challenges are when it comes to creating a successful fashion brand?
Matt: Some of the biggest challenges to creating a successful fashion brand start with the challenge of being able to build a brand. Building a brand is really about crafting your story and making sure that it’s really consistent across all the touchpoints your brand may reach. I am a strong believer in content creation to tell your story and to help lead to ROI through partnerships, PR exposure, and digital reach.
The other challenge I think a lot of brands face is around cash flow and making sure that we have money to finance ourselves. We don’t want to overexpose ourselves so we focus on things like private labeling and e-commerce.
P2P: What are the next steps for Naadam? How will you continue to grow the brand?
Matt: Our next steps are to take the money we’ve raised and invest in e-commerce heavily. This will include focusing on affiliate marketing, paid search, and search engine optimization to continue to grow our brand, as well as building our social media presence. We want to own the interaction with our customers online.
Naadam has also had some incredibly successful partnerships, including with Maiyet, Steven Alan, and Birchbox, and will continue to look for these opportunities to push the brand forward.
P2P: What advice would you give to other founders thinking about creating a fashion brand?
I would tell other founders to just sell and figure the rest out later! If you “sell, sell, sell,” you have revenue, and if you have revenue, you have a company, and if you have enough revenue, you have a community and a brand.
Matt: I would tell other founders to just sell and figure the rest out later! If you “sell, sell, sell,” you have revenue, and if you have revenue, you have a company, and if you have enough revenue, you have a community and a brand. You can always figure out the logistics later.
A good way to do this is through Kickstarter. Naadam’s Kickstarter campaign was not about raising money, but rather focused on sales and making sure others cared about the brand. When we started our campaign, we only had a prototype and the brand, so we just told the brand story like we would tell it to our parents across the dinner table. We weren’t playing a price game or a product game, but rather a message game. We knew there was no turning back once our Kickstarter campaign was successful and we had to start the fulfillment process.
P2P: Where do you see the future of fashion headed? Do you think more brands are going to embrace this sustainable model?
Matt: The reason I built a clothing brand is because I believe this business model should be recreated for the rest of the industry. It’s not just to make money, but the way other people should do it.
Learn more about the work of Naadam Cashmere