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Q&A: Launch Learnings from Walter Sky Founder Nathan Andersen

Dad, mountaineer, businessman, ordained minister. Nathan Andersen’s adding one more role to his life res this year: Co-Founder of Walter Sky, his very own tangible offering to the world at large. After navigating four years of intricate details for an ironically minimalist brand, it’s finally time to launch, and that means Nathan, his brother Wesley and his network are feeling all the feels.

Here, Nate reflects on that “point of no return,” funny field test feedback and the ups and downs of, quite literally, wearing his work on his sleeve.


How are you feeling about launch?
Everything. Excited, nervous, terrified. It’s a mixed bag of emotions, for sure, considering whether or not the brand is gonna resonate with people. As much as you tell yourself you don’t care what people think, you do care. You want people to appreciate and like it. You’re not gonna please everyone—there’s gonna be criticisms—but hopefully there’s praise along with it. It’ll be nice to get some input from outside my inner circle.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What was that moment when you decided to put pencil to paper?
I remember the moment when it was the point of no return. The project itself had been marinating for quite some time and it was always the dream, but it was always unattainable. I felt like I had gotten to a point in my life where I had too many responsibilities to be able to give up on my current situation in order to chase that dream. It wore on me. My wife could see it. My friends could see it. I was wasting away at my old job, which was a great opportunity and incredible experience, but i just felt like I was wasting my talents and I was destined for something different. Not better, but different.

I’d gone to a meeting the day before with my business partner—a big meeting with a large organization and we came to this agreement which would have been extremely beneficial financially for our company. The very next day, I went in to work and was going through my emails and I just stopped, got up and walked to my business partner and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” And he was like, “I’m surprised it took you this long.” He even saw it. But you know, you get caught in that routine and complacency and it’s safe and it’s comfortable.

 

 

What were those first couple of steps that you took toward bringing the brand to life?
The first couple steps were identifying exactly what the brand was and what I wanted it to be. Taking all the ideas and concepts that I had and narrowing it down to something much more specific. The more that I went out to conventions and shows looking at fabric, the more it became very clear what it was that I wanted to do, which was to create something completely different.

“It’s all part of your history. If I’m lucky enough, I’ll have a great story to tell down the road.”
- Nathan Andersen

You go to the trade shows and it’s just more of the same. I started to understand the nature of the business behind the curtain. It’s not necessarily about innovative fabrics—in reality most companies are sourcing the same fabrics from the same mills and pushing the same product, so you’re just paying for the company’s marketing, not an innovative, technologically advanced piece of clothing. Not to say what we’re putting out there is a magic carpet ride, but it’s different enough where I felt and feel fulfilled that we did what we intended to do.

So the first part was dialing in the DNA of the brand. That’s when the brand almost failed before it even started because we couldn’t find what it was that we were looking for. After we found the right textile manufacturers, it was about building the line off of the fabrics that were available. Some ideas had to be scrapped because, if it was already on the market, it was just wasteful and part of the herd.

What would you do differently if you had to start Walter Sky from scratch?
I don’t know if I would change anything because there’s so much growth involved in the process. You learn so much by the mistakes that you make in the beginning. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so forthcoming with my ideas because I’ve seen them pop up with individuals that I met with.

From a production standpoint, I would’ve committed to a few items at a time and seen those through as opposed to throwing so many projects in the ring out of excitement. I would design the t-shirt and get distracted and start designing a pant; but I had the desire and need to create as much as I could. It’s all part of your process, your journey, your growth and evolution—as an individual and as a brand. It’s all part of your history. If I’m lucky enough, I’ll have a great story to tell down the road.

What's it like to see all of your hard work come to life?
It’s very surreal and rewarding. When you go out and all your friends are wearing your clothes, that’s pretty rad. It’s definitely the pay off right there. Or to have one of their wives or girlfriends call me and say, “Hey, so-and-so is wearing your clothes and they look awesome.” That’s been one of the highs for sure.

Have you heard any surprising stories from your field testers?
I’ll talk to some guys like “How do you like the shirt?” and they’re like “I love it, but I haven’t worn it that much yet because I have it in the section of my closet where I keep my nice clothes.” And I’m like, that’s not the point of the garment. The idea is you can wear it for anything and everything. Try and ruin it. You have this because I want you to put it to the test. I have a friend who lives up in Calgary and he’s been good about sending me picture of him taking his kids to school and later that afternoon he’s on top of a mountain up near Banff with the shirt on, comparing it to a Merino wool shirt that his friend’s wearing. So there are those who understand the concept behind it and what it’s intended to be used for and those who have to get the hang of it.

In the beginning I had a hard time with that as well. I’d find myself going to work out and putting on some shirts that I’d tailored before Walter Sky—so they fit the same but were cotton poly—because I didn’t want to ruin my “good” shirt. But then I forced myself to get past that mindset where “this is for one experience and this is for that experience,” because that’s why we started this whole thing.

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