New Beanie Brand Launches with a Point of View
Industry veteran Brad Alband is launching a new headwear brand called Autumn.
We touched base with him to find out more, including why he thinks there is room in the market for a new player.
Other partners in the brand include Jeff Richards and Ryan Willisko of Nitro Snowboards North America.
Why did you see an opening in headwear?
Brad Alband: Timing is everything, and for us we saw the two large players in the category hit their 15-year milestones recently and noticed both had shifts in their respective directions. It happens as brands mature and grow.
As I looked at the overall product in the beanie market specifically, nothing was speaking to me as a consumer. Everything was pointed very outdoor in color palettes, patterns, trims and details. I wanted something more influenced by global fashion trends – from luxury brands to skate and street.
We did not think we were alone and talked to a number of influential retailers who felt the same thing. There was no excitement in the category, and I would say a lot of what was on the sales floor was based on trends going on five-plus years in the market. That’s when we knew it was time to try and disrupt a stale category.
We made the decision in June of 2019 and rushed to have everything ready for reps and distributors by Jan 1, 2020 to start the regional shows. We are pleased with the outcome. We left the OR tradeshow feeling we could even exceed our first-year goal. However, as the next 45 days played out with COVID-19, we ended up just a hair below what I was projecting, which we’ll take as a win considering everything.
What kind of retailers have placed orders?
Brad Alband: I think the Denver market is the best example of where we’ll be positioned year one and we’ll be driving sales for this model to be duplicated region by region, city by city.
Autumn will be in Berkeley Supply, which is a better men’s apparel store, sitting next to brands like Carhartt WIP and Filson. We’ll be in Emage Skateshop next to brands like Polar Skate Co, Dime and Bronze 56K. Evo is really excited about the brand and it puts us next to Patagonia, North Face and Arc’teryx. BC Surf & Sport is our more traditional action sports retailer and we’ll be next to ThirtyTwo, Volcom and 686.
With majors, Urban Outfitters is testing us with the bolder stripe and color styles that I think are going to connect with their customers, and Zumiez is putting us in their top snow doors.
I feel like we have the different distribution tiers covered here and the next step in Denver would be to get in front of women’s buyers for these stores or their equivalent in year two.
What is Autumn’s differentiator?
Brad Alband: We had three written down before we launched and I think we accomplished starting them all in year one.
A focus on fit. I wear beanies the majority of the year and have since I can remember. The one thing I always found frustrated was that every beanie fit differently. No one was providing a fit story, so I took what I learned at KR3W and the bottoms category and applied to beanies.
All Autumn beanies fall into three fits:
- Simple Fit is our shallowest, 10” tall with a 2.5-3” cuff. This is the fit meant to be worn all year long
- Select Fit is our new trend fit, 11” tall with a 3” cuff. It’s meant to be worn taller and is mediumweight for colder climates.
- Surplus Fit is our tallest workwear fit, 12” tall with a 3.5” cuff.
A customer can shop in store or online and confidently know the beanie they are buying is going to fit like they expect. We are going to hammer this story home. As season two is developing right now, we are merchandising the line where all three fits have 10 styles each.
The second is design influence. Not looking specifically to outdoor. Not signing up and living by trend data services. Scouring social media feeds and stories for what the youth are wearing, picking up ideas at thrift stores, and analyzing what is being worn in real time by real people looking to be different. I consider myself more of a sociologist than designer at this point.
The third is the operations of the brand. I knew to come in and try to make noise immediately I needed to partner with a company that had the back-end operations solid. I wanted to work with a company that retailers spoke highly of and that was on the way up.
So I asked Ryan Willisko and Jeff Richards of Nitro Snowboards North America to be my partners in the brand. They handle the shipping, receiving, invoicing, returns – all of the things start ups take for granted but are the most important factors to getting that order a second time from a retailer. Autumn is under their distribution in the United States and Canada, and we think there’s opportunity to have similar relationships globally in the future.
How is COVID-19 impacting the brand’s launch?
Brad Alband: A decrease in sleep and an increase in alcohol? I’m joking but kind of not. I think the best way to answer this is leading up to placing the buy April 1, I talked to and listened to whoever I could about what they would do – peers, mentors, competitors – all of them. This is a self-funded brand and that risk now became unmeasurable compared to how I looked at it four months prior.
Luckily, Scott Bailey (Co-founder of KR3W and Supra) called me and brought things into perspective about being small, being nimble, and being different than the larger brands. Retailers and customers are still going to want variety and want new. I would say after placing the buy, I now have a bit of blinders on. It’s July, what’s it going to look like in the fall and winter? No one knows what next week is even going to look like so I’ve turned off the TV for the most part and put my head down. Year one we can handle this kind of disruption. If it were year three, it would be a whole different story.