Hemp Eyewear’s Sam Whitten talks to Business Matters about his brand and some of the biggest challenges he’s faced thus far.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
For my final project in college, I was inspired by my desire to find long-term sustainable solutions after seeing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Initially, I started by creating eyeglass frames from recycled plastics, but after doing more research I found out about hemp. Since then, we have pioneered the use of organic hemp fiber in all of our products. Glasses have been successful in recent years and now we can launch sister product lines.
I founded Hemp glasses After graduation. My university’s pollution project really inspired me to take action and therefore I pursued the mission of bringing hemp in various forms to the public, showcasing the super crop and raising awareness of its many benefits. I have recently been exploring and experimenting with new ways in which our products can continue to push the boundaries in sustainable design and natural materials, that is. Pineapple leather straps for watches and natural dyes inside the glasses.
What is your point of difference?
One of the first companies on the market to explore the use of hemp as a massively sustainable alternative and the world’s first hemp fiber eyewear product. We have also recently launched the world’s first hemp watch.
How do you get the word out about your business?
We have a strong social media presence, with over 10,000 active followers on Instagram and we have regular press articles on covers such as Business Insider, Designboom, and various fashion magazines.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected companies?
We have been fortunate to have benefited in many ways from the pandemic. We have used the last year as an opportunity to reflect on the direction of the business and focus our efforts on product development. This has finally allowed us to put plans in place, for example launching a specialized design studio and raising funds for our new hemp watches.
Unfortunately, this has not been entirely true for our clients, many of whom have experienced a significant decline in business. This has had a direct impact on our sales, however, we are beginning to see momentum as many areas of the world experience easing of restrictions and an increase in business influx.
What is the hardest thing about running a business?
As mentioned above, there have been difficulties with cash flow and sales. This is always one of the hardest things for any business with a start-up structure, and the stability of the business can depend on its success. As an “idea person”, the organizational aspect of business has been a skill that I had to develop.
Have you received any financial support for your business?
Yes, there has been some government support through various schemes such as the Scottish Enterprise By Design grant and I have won the YOUNG EDGE award in the Scottish Business Awards program called ‘Scottish Edge’.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
Especially when starting out, there was notable market resistance. This was largely due to the perceptions surrounding hemp at the time, as well as the quality of the product at first. But in recent years, the quality of our products is fantastic and we are proud of it. There has also been a boom in interest in CBD oils and natural alternatives as people become more and more health and environmentally conscious. Fortunately, the reception has shifted significantly to a more positive nature regarding hemp and there are booming businesses within the industry.
Do you regret it?
If I had to name one, it would be the decision that was made at the beginning of this business when I decided to outsource the production of our spectacle frames to a company in the UK. It didn’t meet expectations, which made for a huge setback when I first started, and basically had to start over from scratch after spending almost the entire initial budget.
The best decision we made was to bring the production of our spectacle frames to our company. Everything is made in our factory now and we have direct control over quality control and design edits or prototyping takes one day instead of three months.
What are your three golden rules for success?
Passion. Without passion, it is impossible to have the level of commitment that is crucial to creating, managing and building a startup. With all the obstacles I faced in initially following my dream, I believe that it is my passion that helps me persevere through past and present difficulties. And having a team that shares my passion also increases the overall energy here.
Unconventional. This is the second most important rule for me. I always wonder “what’s the point of doing something someone else is already doing” and I think that’s essential to the success of the business thus far. We were the first people to actually use hemp in that way and we still have many more innovations to come. Being unique and different from the crowd drives every step of the way in this business.
Lastly, planning. I believe that making schedules and plans is part of an effective business model, whether it’s a simple to-do list or a detailed weekly planner, time management is key. I always tell my team that if they think a task will take an hour, schedule it to take twice as long as unexpected things always get in the way. Taking time off is also crucial, and planning for it is key to avoiding burnout.
Couldn’t I run my business without …?
My team. I spent the first five years of this business running it alone, handling all manufacturing, social media, content creation, press, and more. In hindsight, I can’t believe I’ve been able to do that for so long. Today my team is really helping me develop this business and now we can take substantial steps forward.
What’s next for your business?
As mentioned above, the last year has been an incredible opportunity for us to develop ideas that we have been sitting on for several years. We have been able to launch and raise funds for the world’s first hemp fiber watch and by working with Annas Anum we are also able to make it 100% vegan. In addition, we will soon launch our ‘Hemp Design Study’, which will be the next big step. This will be the design consulting arm of the company where we will design and develop new hemp products for other companies.