Stay Wild is not just a brand. Co-founders Natalie Glaze and Zanna Van Dijk pour their hearts and souls into it. They have a clear mission; to celebrate the ocean and its impact on our lives, as it provides energy to the marine world and us, producing every second breath we take.
As a result, the co-founders of Stay Wild are incredibly passionate about respecting and protecting it.
Their mission is to produce swimwear with a purpose, and as a small business, they can bring their unique vision into reality.
The first steps
Like any business, the beginning of the journey has taught them both a lot of valuable lessons. I had the pleasure of sitting down and discussing some of those with the women behind the brand. When thinking about the first year in business, Zanna comes up with two words “naivety and ignorance”.
She recalls a lesson from the first factory that they worked with, as they learned a lot from that experience and have come a long way since then.
“We learned a lot of lessons about working a bit harder when it comes to sourcing and finding the right people to work with. We went with the first factory that we found that ticked all our credentials sustainability-wise. Still, they didn’t tick it when it came to production and knowing what to do when it came to swimwear. That was a massive learning curve for us.”
“So the first year was full of multiple hurdles; one after another and jumping between factories. It was fun.”
The work that goes into each collection is an extensive collaboration between the co-founders and their audience. They create pieces using regenerated ocean plastic through the most sustainable practices possible; they make them into clean-cut styles designed to flatter every woman. Audience interaction and participation has been vital for the brand from the very beginning.
“I think it was because Zanna and I, like we’ve said multiple times, we didn’t know what we were doing”, laughed Natalie. “For us, being able to ask our audience and get them involved from the beginning helped us make a lot of decisions that we were not quite sure about.”
The importance of community
She points out how your audience and consumers are the people who are purchasing and wearing the products. “It made sense to ask them from the beginning. What colours would you like to wear? What shapes? Would you like to see? Get them involved at every stage.”
From the very beginning, they asked the community to be involved in every element of the business: colours, naming of the products, modelling the collections.
“It’s a beautiful marketing strategy”, she admits “yet, it was never intentionally a marketing thing.” They both recognised the power of that close relationship with their community early on as by getting them involved, customers felt like they’ve helped shape the brand.
“We can make what we want.” Continues Zanna, “We’re so lucky that we’re so agile. We have a community of women who follow us and provide constant feedback. And we have the privilege to be able to hear from them and hear what they want.”
Natalie points out how customers want more from brands these days. It’s not just about the product. It’s about being involved in the story, understanding who the founders are, the journey of it.
“We’ve shared a lot. We shared breakdowns, crying whilst packing boxes for 10 hours. That’s not glamorous, and lots of brands would be like, maybe that’s too much, maybe we shouldn’t share that. But we’ve always just been following this mindset and sharing it all.”
Connecting with nature
Growing up scuba diving, snorkelling and spending time by the water allowed Zanna and Natalie to develop a strong connection with the sea. You can see this reflected in all of their pieces. Zanna shares her love for their Odyssey: “it’s a piece which people wear when they’re actually out wild swimming, and our name is Stay Wild. Other pieces are beautiful, they’re functional, they’re sustainable, but this is a piece women who want to get out in the wild would wear.”
She creates this analogy to a confident Bond girl that makes you feel like a badass when you swim, feeling confident. “For me, honestly, this is the piece which encapsulates what Stay Wild is about.”
In short, Stay Wild should enable you to make the best choice you can without compromising style or substance.
Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans—a total of 12 million tonnes a year, equivalent to a truckload a minute. At Stay Wild, they are committed to not only fighting this problem but contributing to the solution. Every single element of their production is as sustainable and ethical as possible—the small details matter.
Through Stay Wild, they can channel their energy into building a brand that reflects their style and values.
“The ultimate pro (of being so small) is the freedom that we have”. Zanna brings on the example of how last year when COVID hit, they could not bring out their new collection. Yet, they could still experiment with new colours and designs in the meantime “we had the flexibility and the freedom to be able to experiment and explore. We could create what we wanted and bounce back quickly.”
The pros and cons of being a small business
Natalie also points out how huge businesses have so many processes to bring something new in – things can take years to get approved. “We can see a trend or be reactive to a situation and turn that around really quickly. We can make decisions quickly, and those were some of the best decisions we made.”
Yet, small businesses have their challenges. There is no big team. There’s no big marketing budget. When big fashion brands come in, they launch with a group of 10 people. “The biggest challenge that you have as a small business is that each individual doesn’t wear one hat. Each individual has multiple hats,” admits Zanna.
“We’ve been fortunate that we are growing year on year, and people seem to love our products. Yet, we are a small team,” agrees Natalie. “You have to have multiple roles – you can be the founder, but you’re also doing jobs which an intern would do. It’s so fast-paced, and with a small number of people, we have a lot of responsibility growing as a business with a small team.”
There’s an element of the fashion industry Stay Wild goes against, and that is seasons. “Because we’re a slow fashion brand, we just release pieces as and when we feel like our community needs them”, Zanna explains. “This goes completely against the traditional model of the fashion industry.”
When you’re working in a slow fashion model, the priority is making sure that things are produced to the highest quality, and every piece has a purpose, and that every piece fits in with the brand and what the audience wants and needs.
“What’s been great about the fact that we have no background is we were able to go in and make up our way of running a business”, agrees Natalie.
“We don’t follow preconceived rules. And although it wasn’t intentional, we were going against every single rule.”
A great reminder for any business, big or small, is to run your business your way. “You can do things in your way. You don’t need to follow what other huge businesses are doing. You don’t have to follow any set rules, do things your way. You don’t need any prior qualifications or background. You can learn as you go, which is what we’ve done, and we’re still going – so we must be doing it right!”