Reading: Business Lessons from The Badass Behind BODA SKINS
Business Lessons from The Badass Behind BODA SKINS
No matter where you lie on the sartorial spectrum – from thirsty hypebeast to the same black turtleneck on repeat-peat-peat-peat – a good leather jacket is the foundation of any closet. Luckily we got to sit down and chat with Nathan Alexander, CEO of BODA SKINS to find out more about their unconvential marketing strategy, redefining failure, Smooth FM and the cool design sh*t that’s coming your way.
How did you get started?
When I was living in Turkey, I had a chance meeting with a leather factory owner and that was the catalyst for BODA SKINS. My degree is in product design and while I always knew I would fulfil my passion for designing, I had no idea that this encounter with this humble man would lead to me building a global fashion brand – we still work together now and his business has grown with mine.
A day after meeting him, I took three bus rides across the mountains to visit him because I’d always dreamed of designing the ultimate leather jacket. I stayed at the factory for two weeks while we worked on some new designs. His factory was a small family run business, there were only 12 staff and the love and passion they had was amazing, but the styles he had were really out of date. I saw it as my opportunity to design something that I thought was modern, edgy and stylish.
We came up with three designs, but I had no money to pay him, so I said I’d fly back to England and sell the designs to the local shops. It didn’t actually happen like this though. I put the jackets on eBay and my I sold my first jacket that week.
What is the problem you are trying to solve? What is your solution?
Fast fashion is a big problem. People are cluttering up their homes with loads of stuff they don’t use or love. Instead of owning 20 jackets worth £60 each, it would be better if they saved up to buy something they really loved.
Ultimately, my ambition is to get people to think differently about fashion. I’m a great advocate of slow-fashion and hold a strong belief that people should have fewer, but better-quality clothes in their wardrobes. This is why BODA SKINS is about designing and crafting slow-fashion from raw materials, with a focus on quality and longevity.
Would you ever build a brick and mortar flagship store?
I would love to have a flagship store in London or NYC. I don’t believe we have an online world or offline world, just a world. I think the best companies do both successfully.
What was the inspiration for your company?
When I was seven my mum came back from New York with a leather jacket each for myself and my brother. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. My brother grew out of his quickly but because I grew slowly, I wore it for years.
I had a huge emotional attachment to my jacket; I felt indestructible wearing it and never wanted to take it off, I lived in it and had all my adventures in it, so it had many emotional connections.
That sense of a leather jacket being something you love for a long time and an item of clothing that really lasts the years stuck with me and it started my love for leather jackets.
Later in life, when I had the opportunity to design and manufacture my own, I took that passion and spirit from my childhood and put it in to creating what is now known as BODA SKINS.
How do you advertise your business?
We don’t use conventional marketing methods; it’s always been our strategy to let our products do the talking. I believe that if you make something truly remarkable, people will always buy from you and if you add incredible customer service alongside it, then the client will do the marketing for you.
The team has spent years building relationships with celebrities, tastemakers and stylists around the world to get our collections seen on those people whose values and vibes align with the brand, and it works really well. It hasn’t been difficult because we have strong product that they love and want to be seen in. Our pieces have been worn by talent such as Justin Timberlake, Olivia Palermo, Hailey Bieber, Wiz Khalifa and Johnny Depp. It undoubtedly raises our profile and boosts sales.
How is your business model different?
We have grown into a global fashion business without any outside investment or marketing budget.
There was always a firm belief that if you make something wonderful, sooner or later people will want to buy it – so that’s what we focused on!
We make remarkable products and put them on the backs of remarkable people doing monumental things, then we let the product do the talking.
Best business advice you’ve ever been given? Best advice you’ve ignored?
The best advice I’ve followed was from Richard Branson …’the best way of learning about anything is by doing’.
I’ve tried and failed over 12 businesses and I learnt so much from each one, which eventually led to the success of BODA SKINS.
The best advice I’ve ignored is ‘don’t try to run before you can walk’.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I get inspiration from absolutely everything; my surroundings, world travel, anything I think is cool, music, the people I meet …
I’m always taking photos and making notes to look back on when I’m designing a new collection. I even designed a detail on a jacket inspired by air hostess’s uniform!
To what do you attribute your success?
Building and sustaining great relationships internationally and creating amazing products. My ambition for every design is for it to be the best in the world and this takes hard work. Before each piece is launched it’s refined around 60 times and I regularly travel the world to find the very best fabrics, materials and hardware out there.
Also, I’m surrounded by a strong reliable team that has the same vision, values and drive as me.
Finally, I think my product-design rather than fashion-design degree has contributed to my success, as it means my approach to fashion is a little bit different. I add my own unique touches and I spend hours designing every little detail to make sure every piece I make is perfect. It helps me design products that don’t just look amazing, but also function and perform well.
Did you ever almost fail, and if so, what kept you going?
I’ve ‘failed’ many times in business, but I made the decision to never call it failure and instead call it learning. What kept me going was the drive to fulfil my ambition of dressing clients from head to toe in BODA SKINS if that’s what they wanted and the vision to create world-class products that are loved by people all over the world.
I’ve ‘failed’ many times in business, but I made the decision to never call it failure and instead call it learning.
Define the perfect leather jacket.
Just pop onto our website!
A perfect leather jacket is a best mate that goes on many adventures with you and is strong enough and built well enough to withstand the ride.
How do you re-design/revolutionize something as iconic as the leather jacket?
I don’t think you need to re-design or revolutionise the leather jacket. I have a take on it, which comes from my experiences as a product designer and this runs through every part of it.
It’s about being painstaking about the detail and making every aspect of the jacket function and perform as well as possible.
Best music for getting pumped up? Mellowing out? Driving?
Pumped up – I like to listen to my wife’s favourite 80s power ballads playlist, but don’t tell her.
Mellowing out – Smooth FM while making dinner.
Driving – Inspirational audiobooks usually on business or mindfulness.
What are the biggest challenges you face at your company?
Finding the right people to work with – those who share my passion and vision. I find as the business grows, so does your team and that can be challenging.
What product have you recently seen that made you think #&^@#$* this is great design?
The new Ford Mustang GT. I think they’ve done an incredible job of taking the characteristics of the old GT Mustang and bringing it into the 21st century while still retaining its character.
People throw around the word “authenticity” a lot online, what does “authentic” mean to your brand, or what word would you replace it with?
Authentic to me means staying true to your values. BODA SKINS’ values run over and over in my head and because they’re so deeply ingrained in me, decision-making is always simple.
Who is your fashion icon?
Does work life balance exist?
It’s not really applicable to me because I don’t really see what I do as work, it’s just my life.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
The new 2019/20 A/W collection is some of the best work I’ve ever done. I’m so proud of it and can’t wait to see it launched, so watch this space.
You knew you were onto something when you saw ________ in your jacket?
One piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Find yourself a mentor who’s done what you want to do before, then learn from their successes and mistakes.
Something you love that other people hate?
Tell us a little bit more about the custom jacket painting?
I’ve named it SUPER COOL SH*T because that’s exactly what it is. The concept is very simple; you pick the jacket you like and answer a few short questions about you to help BODA SKINS mock up a design based on your brief. When you’re happy with sketch, we will then hand paint it as its own original work of art and it will be the only one of its kind in this world.
I had one made for my wife and I for our wedding day and we did one for Justin Timberlake with his album cover on the back – he’s worn it on and off-stage loads. It’s a wonderful way to get your personality out there and make something truly personal.
I simply want to create a remarkable wardrobe for people who live their lives in the spotlight and my aim to make every design a world-best, so that’s going to keep me busy. The brand will continue to evolve and diversify and that really excites me.
We’ll soon be launching a DENIM collection for the first time ever, along with the most perfect
WKNDR bag and of course the A/W collection I mentioned. And there will also be a few surprises along the way, but they’re a secret for now.