How this entrepreneur turned a passion project into a global sportswear brand
For many of the world’s most iconic brands, it’s the popularity of their products that generates a following and creates a strong sense of community around the brand. Think Nike and Apple.
When entrepreneur David Harris-Burland launched his eco-responsible activewear and accessories business Vivida Lifestyle, it was to a worldwide community of followers that he had spent several years building. Nevertheless, it took all his determination, enthusiasm and powers of persuasion to transform what started out as a purely passion project into the company it is today.
It was 2015 and Harris-Burland had just finished college, which had included a year of study at a Parisian business school and time spent working as a stockbroker. With no immediate career plans, this avowed water sports fanatic decided to take a year off, travel the world and indulge his passion for surfing, kitesurfing and connecting with nature.
“During my travels, I met a lot of surfers and kitesurfers, people from all walks of life, who shared the same passions,” he says. “Very quickly small clusters of communities began to evolve, all embracing the ethos of living life to the fullest, doing what you love; the essence of what Vivida is.
Harris-Burland had T-shirts printed – its first sustainable products – for the growing army of Vivida brand ambassadors and followers. However, at this point it was still a passion project and not part of any business master plan.
Then suddenly it was 2018, and Harris-Burland’s family and friends were concerned that instead of focusing on his career, he was still enjoying his “hippie adventure.” “It was then that I realized I had to find a way to commercialize this concept and turn it into a business that would allow me to earn a living,” he says.
The strength of Vivida’s suite has provided what every startup owner dreams of, an out-of-the-box customer base. Harris-Burland began researching the most durable watersports apparel suppliers, but quickly discovered that turning her passion into a profitable business would not be easy. In 2020, his plans for a line of sustainable activewear, which included jumpsuits, bathrobes, swim shorts and poncho towels, quickly ran into two significant headwinds; Brexit and Covid.
“Brexit was difficult because 40% of our customer base was in Europe and a large part of our community,” says Harris-Burland. “We tried to solve the post-Brexit export problems by setting up an EU fulfillment operation in the Netherlands, investing around £200,000, alongside our UK warehouse in Kent. “
Their problems got even worse that year when the pandemic hit, plaguing the company with more shipping issues, manufacturing delays and cargoes stranded on ships, which had a huge impact on costs. .
“Freight costs quadrupled in six months and continued to rise,” says Harris-Burland. “Our suppliers are based in China, Taiwan and Portugal, and although we are focusing more on our European base, some of the best suppliers of durable neoprene are based in Taiwan. They are the leaders in the sustainability technology behind our products.
The company has been funded through various channels, including two investment rounds in 2019 and 2021. A third round of angel investment has just been launched. He also relied on various loan schemes, including the UK government’s Coronavirus Bounce Back loan scheme and private loans from friends and family.
Lack of working capital was another obstacle to realizing the company’s potential. Financing by a revenue financing provider Clearcowhich provides businesses with capital in return for a percentage of their future earnings, has helped fill the gaps.
If there was one upside to the pandemic, it’s the rise of e-commerce that has proven to be a lifeline for so many online businesses. “As the closures have been eased, outdoor activities such as wild swimming, kiteboarding and paddleboarding have taken off,” says Harris-Burland. “People needed a way to change when they came out of the water, which was great for us. Pre-orders, both from B2B and retail customers, also helped ease cash flow. »
Vivida Lifestyle has successfully grown from a passion project into a sustainable D2C outdoor apparel brand without losing sight of its roots; this connection to nature and a sense of freedom and life well lived. It has a team of six full-time employees, as well as an extensive and growing network of independent partners in marketing, product design and content contributors.
Ultimately, Harris-Burland’s vision for Vivida Lifestyles is one of a business offering even more closely aligned with wellness and connection. His ideas include Vivida Adventures, a biannual crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a kiteboard, and Vivida Villages, with eco-lodges and holistic wellness centers.
He admits the trip was a huge learning curve. “I’m really a yes-man; I hate saying no to new and exciting ideas, but recognizing that sometimes in business you have to say no was a hard lesson to learn,” he says. “I’m also blessed to have some amazing people around me that I can learn from, including Neil Craggs, an angel investor who first told me I needed to raise money and is at my side since 2018.”
Harris-Burland thinks they are now ready to move on. Sales since the company’s inception have exceeded £2m, including around £1m in the last 12 months. “We are at a pivotal moment, and with the help of investors, we can expand the product line, globalize, strengthen the team and capitalize on the opportunity because we know the demand is there.”
Despite the challenges and personal sacrifices, Harris-Burland’s passion and confidence in its brand is unwavering. He says: “It was incredibly difficult. I invested every penny of my own money in the company and my credit score completely disappeared, but never for a second did I doubt that Vivida was a success.