There’s a breed of business thinking that is not only about making money but also making a positive impact on the world. And Oz Jabur from Future Co is this breed of entrepreneur, helping to drive those other metrics of success. We talk to Oz about the future of active wear, sustainable sportswear and how history might hold some of the answers for the future of the industry.
Let’s talk about the history of your company, Future Co.
Future Co started about seven or eight years ago from a place of passion for sport. I’ve been a sports enthusiast all my life. During my school days, I played a whole lot of sports, from basketball to running. More recently, I’ve been into combat sports, Muay Thai and boxing. I’m also into trail running and endurance running.
I absolutely live and breathe that space. That started to evolve from a passion to a purpose where I started to judge myself around my lifestyle choices, in terms of my personal carbon footprint and how I could live better and become more eco-friendly.
When you look at apparel, a category which I consume a lot of, there’s a lot of waste there. I often buy a new set of training clothes every three to four months, which got me thinking about where it has come from, it’s sourcing and manufacturing. And then also its end of life; when the product is no longer usable, due to damage, or because of wear and tear, or because it’s not cool or trendy enough.
Fashion is obviously notorious for creating trends. Every three months you want to change things up because the cooler more trendier colour or cut is now available. So I looked at those things and I thought, ‘Well, how could I creatively solve this issue that I have?’ That being in terms of my journey to reduce my own waste, and then hopefully I could make an impact to influence others to do so as well.
It was a passion for sports, the purpose to reduce waste and make a positive impact on the environment. With that, I then came up with a creative business model and products that provides a mixture of all those things.
I started looking at old school classics. The theme behind what we’ve just recently dropped in November, when we launched, was a reinvention of nostalgic performance sportswear. The good solid items that everybody wore and reinventing those, making them cooler and more contemporary, but also something that you can potentially wear for another decade. They won’t lose fashion or fall out of trend.
I started looking at the last three decades; what did people wear in the seventies, eighties, and nineties? The problem to solve was exactly that, how could I take something that was old and useful, and make it exciting again? Underpinning that was the sustainability element, the purpose that we talked about, in terms of making sure that everything I do is committed to sustainability. From sourcing the materials right through to the design of the products, making them minimal and streamlined, and obviously in terms of the manufacturing process as well.
What was the catalyst for turning the passion into a purpose?
Around 2013, when it all started to come to fruition, I got a little bit sick. It was a combination of my health not going well and I was quite stressed because of work and life. Through that period, I had a bit of a wake up call in terms of what I was currently doing and what I wanted to be doing in the next 10, 20 and 30 years.
It made me self-reflect to embark on a journey to become better. For me personally, I wanted to live a better life and make better lifestyle choices. But also again, in terms of that impact, everyone asks themselves that question around, what is my purpose in the world and what do I want to do? That was the pivotal point which got it going.
It’s always been on the back burner because I’ve had a career and I’d been in corporate for a wee while, so I’d never really taken it seriously until the last couple of years. But now, especially with the recent events with COVID, it made me think more about where I want to be in the next few decades and whether that has true meaning and purpose behind it.
Is it a frightening thing to cut the tether to the security of the corporate world?
Huge. It’s a battle that you have to face in your own head, heart and soul. I’ve intentionally programmed myself to fit in a system, which is the corporate game. It’s very hard after 15 or so years to cut ties and reprogram yourself to do something fundamentally different where there is no security, both from a financial perspective and also from, I guess you could call it hope. You wake up and you know you have a job that day, but as an entrepreneur, you have no idea what’s going to happen.
If we’d look at that leap, were there things that you just didn’t expect?
You read a lot about resilience and grit and mental toughness and how innovation is a bit of a muscle the more you work on it. I always had thought that I would face challenges, but the one thing I didn’t expect is when nothing works for days on end and you’re just basically hitting a wall and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. What am I doing wrong? What am I not doing? You’re in that constant conflict.
You read up about it, but you don’t actually think it happens and sometimes it happens for a little bit longer than you expected. It’s quite challenging. I absolutely think, aside from your skills and experiences as an entrepreneur, to be creative, to think lean, to be able to influence, there is a huge element around mentality. You’re a warrior in your own head and there’s a number of battles that you have to constantly keep winning.
Are there things that pleasantly surprised you?
There’s no bureaucracy and red tape that you’d expect from any business, especially the big ones, for the right reasons.
The one thing that surprised me is the happiness factor. I’m working around the clock; day, night, weekends, holidays, the Christmas and New Year’s break that’s just been. I was constantly chipping away with a smile on my face. Yes, it’s hard, but I get a lot of fulfillment and enjoyment out of it.
I think a lot of budding entrepreneurs often don’t see that because they haven’t stepped into the game. One positive thing is just how I feel in the sense of achievement. I’m moving at a much faster, rapid pace. I’m smashing through stuff. I’ve got a whiteboard here and just about every day, I’m crossing out at least 10 to 12 things. Normally, in a business setting, that could probably take you about 12 months to get things done.
There’s something really fascinating about taking these pieces that have a legacy, that haven’t quite gone out of style and have always been cool and there’s a future in that. Are there other areas that you’re going to look at beyond the current collection?
Absolutely. We’ve got a new capsule dropping in March, which will introduce four new products in different colorways. Again, the design philosophy remains the same. We want to reinvent old classics and make staples.
I don’t want our members and customers to come and shop from us every three months or every season. That’s not what we’re about. We want to reduce waste. You’ll have a handful of items that would continue to look good for a very long time. That’s the principle that we’ll continue to follow.
In terms of looking back through the timeline, we’ll always look for influence. As an example, and I don’t want this to turn into a sales pitch, but I’m wearing Future Co right now. I’ve got a on windbreaker that was a hit back in the seventies. We’ve taken that template of what a running windbreaker was meant for, and redesigned it to make it a little bit more hip, a little bit more cool, but something that will stick in my wardrobe for the next, I hope, 10 years, and I could pull it out when I want to.
With Capsule Two, we’ve followed the same principles in terms of products that will always stay in your wardrobe; whether you’re about to go for a run, go to the gym or the new emerging category around athleisure, where you just want to put something on and go to the markets and have a coffee.
Back in the nineties when I was a kid, it was the coolest thing to have a bit of fluro green thrown into the outfit. Is there any life left in that fluro world?
I don’t want to give too much away, but Capsule Two will have a bit of that. It’s that inspiration from the past. We want to bring back some elements that worked and should still work, but because of trends, we often lose sight of what was good. It’s the whole value versus volume.
The reason why those trends exist is because it makes business sense. Is there a fundamental hurdle there in terms of creating a business around this sort of approach?
There is and it’s the reality. I’m not a nonprofit and I don’t see Future Co becoming that. We do provide donations. We do back good causes, through our partnerships with the New Zealand Forest Restoration Trust and Carbon Click, there is that element of giving, but you have to have a formula.
I’m the accountant myself so far and when you zoom out slightly away from the spreadsheet and look at the business model as a whole, there’s these design thinking principles that I often talk about. To make an innovative or a hot product, you want to be in the bullseye between desirability, feasibility and viability. Now there’s a new force or circle called ‘impact’, which is obviously the environment or social.
Desirability is, do customers want it? Would it fit their lives? Is it actually fixing a problem? Viability is the commercial side, I need this to obviously make commercial sense. It needs to make enough money for me to be able to sustain the business. I can’t obviously have a business running that’s loss making. I need to ensure it’s profitable so that I could reinvest in the business and make it a lot bigger, so I could provide my products and services to a whole lot more people.
Feasibility is more from a process perspective; can I make this happen? Do I have the right technology, the right systems, the right tools, the right people? You’re constantly looking at all of these things in abundance, in a way.
You can’t only look at viability. You can’t only look at the numbers because I’m not selling t-shirts here. I’m not getting a t-shirt made for $3, whacking a label on it and then selling it for $20 or$ 30 because it looks cool. I don’t think you have a unique, competitive advantage to be running that kind of business long-term.
Whereas obviously with us and our DNA, we’ve got a compelling business model through our purpose and where we’ve come from and the vision, in terms of where we want to be and where we want to take Future Co.
Oz is not going to save the world and impact climate change from selling a t-shirt or two from his little home office. We want to create a movement and we talk a lot about that. That’s obviously oriented around our members and customers, but also our neighbours, people across the street who are also in the same industry, people who are also making or retailing clothes.
Have a look at your business practices. This is not a time for competition. We want to collaborate, we want everybody to be able to do the right thing. If everybody just takes a little bit from what we’re doing and replicates it into their business practices, then collectively we’ve managed to achieve a great cause.
Do you feel like you are a new wave of entrepreneur coming through that has all of these considerations in place?
So much. Everything that I come across, read or hear recently links to the new age of consumerism and that people want to back a brand that has a purpose or has intentions that align with their values. Again, it’s no longer about, as I said, just selling something because it looks good.
Especially Gen Z, you talk to a lot of the younger demographic and they just love the story. They absolutely love the story. I feel like if you are starting something new, I’d hope you’d have a good purpose behind it. We often try to take shortcuts to make the extra dollar, but I just feel like it’s not sustainable in today’s age and where people’s mindsets are gravitating towards.
With that shift in consumer sentiment, it’ll just make financial sense to have the right impact mandate in place and the right purpose anyway. People are pretty conscious about greenwashing and they can see through a lot of a lot of stuff.
You’ve got to absolutely stay true. One thing that I’ve instilled from day dot with Future Co is transparency. We’re not a hundred percent there yet, but we are on a journey. We talk about that openly, in terms of our carbon footprint, in terms of our processes. We have a goal, we have an ambition and we absolutely want to get there.
There’s no point in saying that we’re carbon neutral and everything that we do is sustainable and eco-friendly, because people will call it out. You don’t want to create a false hope or stimulated hype behind a product, especially in the fashion industry, which is highly competitive and extremely crowded.
What is your vision for 10 years down the track?
I think the first thing that I want us to nail is to get what we’re doing right now to the best shape or place possible. Right now we’re focusing on producing good quality, sustainable sportswear, and we’ll continue to focus on that for the next couple of years until we’ve gained traction and momentum for us to then think about phase two and phase three.
Phase two and phase three would look at us essentially owning more of the whole supply chain. I want to be able to get into the R&D space, which I love, to look at other ways to take waste and turn it into value or that whole circular economy concept.
Right now, obviously I’m getting some help with that through partners, but I think equally this stuff is right for the New Zealand environment. We’re an agar plate for innovation, so I think we’ll be able to cut through a lot of that noise in terms of R&D and innovation within the textile space to come up with new and better ways to do things.
How would it work in an ideal world where you would partner with other companies that could potentially be competing in a different environment?
We’re not there yet, obviously, but I think the element of competition is real life and it’s something that we will stumble across. I like to talk about it in the same way as coding software, in that at some point in time, I want us to become open source.
Open source in terms of our business practices and whether we could help other people in terms of sharing some of our insights and learnings or the blueprint of how you can become sustainable. Or open source in terms of collaboration; come in and plug it into what we’re doing, so we can come up with a much better value proposition.
When we are looking at the whole R&D space, I will welcome collaboration, co-creation and partnership with others to make more meaning. I don’t feel like competition is a threat. You can have two companies that are running in parallel, doing similar things and not crossing paths. I think it’s a time for us to collaborate when it comes to it.
Do you imagine that if some cool designers wanted to fit in with that ethos that they could potentially come and do a JV with you or plug into it?
Absolutely, at any part of the value chain. It could be with the product development itself. We could have people who may want to work with us and co-create some new things because they have a vision that’s slightly different to ours. Or it could be more from a manufacturing perspective.
What we’re doing right now is MVP, the minimum viable product, but we’re already collaborating with the likes of r3pack, who offer recycled and compostable garment bags and courier bags. Eventually down the line, I want to collaborate and connect with courier companies that are running around delivering stuff in electric vehicles to reduce our carbon footprint.
When I first started Future Co within Auckland, I would deliver products on my electric skateboard, because I thought, what could be a better way to reduce my carbon footprint and the business’s carbon footprint than to deliver things in a neutral way. Rather than putting it into a diesel van so then when it rocks up, it’s a hundred percent sustainable and it’s packed beautifully, but unfortunately it’s come from a place that it shouldn’t have. There are elements across the entire process for Future Co to collaborate and for us to attract the right people and partners to make it a whole lot better.
Have you got ambitions to go into different markets in the future? What would that look like?
We’re aspiring to become the leading sustainable sportswear brand globally. I put ‘sustainable’ at the front of ‘sportswear’ because there’s already a number of really, really good sportswear brands that we all wear day in, day out, including myself. I think that’s a subcategory that will be emerging and I want us to absolutely dominate it.
Are you looking at categories outside of sportswear? Could I get a dad jumper from you potentially down the track?
Never say never. I think you might be able to get a dad jumper that’s like an off-court type of garment, that would still look good. In future releases, we will be getting into objects as well, so I’ll leave that to your imagination to what that could potentially entail.
There’ll be a number of work streams that we’re currently thinking about and designing that we’ll run in conjunction to clothing, objects and accessories, etc.
When you look at New Zealand, what do you get excited about in terms of areas of opportunities?
We can talk for hours. There’s a lot of topics that I get excited about. The things that have been of interest to me in the last three or four years are definitely around sustainability. I think New Zealand is ripe for renewables.
Even during my time at Mercury, I had a lot of exposure to renewable energy sources such as solar. When you’re talking about renewable energy, you can then start to paint a picture of your whole ecosystem. Your house and your transport, your car, or your bike, and creating a nice big circle for a self-sustaining life. I’m not saying we’re going to take it back to the dark ages where you’re completely off grid, but there is a lot of merits in this concept for us to research, develop and innovate ways in which we could live a much better lifestyle within our own circle or bubble;
From generating our own energy and everything within that. How do I go about my life? How do I transport myself to and from work? How do I live my life within the home? How I compost my own rubbish, how I can potentially convert my own rubbish into good. I just think that whole space is just ripe for innovation in New Zealand.
Is there a bit of a cop-out in things like carbon credit? Doesn’t it just come down to taking more personal responsibility and looking at things like consumerism and how much we’re buying and what sort of impact beyond the numbers we’re having?
Absolutely, there is that self-reflection in terms of how you’re living and the lifestyle choices that you’re making. Just because I’m backing a particular brand or working in a business context that is around sustainability may not truly mean that me as a person is living and breathing that.
I can’t comment about other others, but for me, growing up, I was a bit of a petrol head and it’s only in recent years where I’ve decided to make better choices, as an example, I flicked off my car. Now I walk everywhere. I use public transport, I’ve got a skateboard, I’ve got a scooter. I only borrow a car when I absolutely need to.
Would I love to be driving a V8? Yes. But again, I’ve had to reprogram what I value and what I think is good at the end of the day. I feel like it’s a journey for a whole lot of people. You really got to just sit down and think, ‘why would I do this and what does it mean for me?’ Because it’s a long-term goal and you won’t see the benefits and neither would my generation, to be honest with you, because it’s cumulative.
Me chasing the aspirations around Future Co, creating a sustainable business model, helping influence or impact people and other companies to do the same, is not going to solve climate change. But it will eventually if everybody jumps on board, because I feel like there is definitely that persona to it. It’s actually all about the people behind the curtains.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Future Co’s logo comes from a digital context. If you think about binary code, it’s all ones and zeros and it’s a very, very logical argument or expression. A one means yes, true. A zero means no, false. Basically everything that we do and experience comes from that.
I’ve taken it back to those nostalgic days where I want everybody to sit there and reflect on whether they want to join the movement. It’s either you’re going to do it or you’re not. It’s either a one or a zero. It’s either you want to sign up to this and start to look at better ways in which you can live your life, or no, this is not for me.
There is no right or wrong. This is not a right wing, left wing argument. Each person is entitled to their own agendas. So I totally agree with you, I think it actually just all boils down to who you are, why you’re doing it and the reasons behind it.
Learning another language sometimes extends your capability, even your internal vocabulary. Did you find that with coding as well, that it helped shape some of your thinking?
Yeah, probably actually. I think absolutely, it unlocks a certain part of your memory. You’re creating essentially another database and there’s probably complementary bits of information and data in that database that become useful at some point in time.
Coding is all about structure and that actually provides you with some sort of structure for life, in terms of how you go about doing something. It might be writing a business case, or it might be approaching a particular task in your day to day.
I think it’s become quite common for people to get into coding at a young age. I’ve heard of young kids at the age of five and six coming up with apps that are fascinating to use. Just with how the world’s turning these days and things like AI, as an example, you might not actually need to learn to code because you could have a machine do it for you.
Everything is object oriented nowadays, you can literally just drag and drop stuff. I think it’s about more understanding the logic behind coding. How code works? Not necessarily how to code, which I think could be quite helpful.
At a young age, we all dream of becoming Superman, a fireman, a doctor or something like that, but now the new breed is, ‘I want to become an entrepreneur. I want to become the next Elon Musk, I want to become Bill Gates.’ They all come from a coding background, so start early. Why not?
How do you instill this kind of capability around innovation and to look for those opportunities within that world?
It’s actually much simpler to think about face value because it’s more about a cycle of testing and learning, that whole experimentation mindset. Irrespective of whether you’re developing the next crypto currency or blockchain, or like what I’m doing right now, making actual, tangible products.
It’s about a test and learn mentality. You can put it on any platform and follow the same principles and hopefully you’ll be able to come across something really cool. Alternatively, you’ll know if something is not going to work really quickly. You often stumble across ideas by mistake when you’re experimenting and that’s true innovation in some aspect too.
Do you notice a fear of failure here in New Zealand?
I think there’s definitely an element of it. The floodlights get more intense when the work, business or brand setting is a lot bigger. There’s always that fear of failing because it’s going to make you look bad or put you in the spotlight to be judged.
But I think just recently, again in my line of work, there’s been a movement around, “it’s okay to fail”. There’s a lot of practices that have been coming about that are oriented around a fail fast mentality/test and learn behaviour. Especially in the digital and software space where you have things like agile, that’s all about getting stuff to market really, really quickly, testing, learning from customers and then re-evaluating and updating what you’re currently doing.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Eric Ries, but he came up with that whole concept a long time ago, the test and learn loop. It applies in any context of life. When you’re talking about a new brand such as Future Co.
You’re on a mission. You have a bit of a strategy and a road map on how to get there, but your road will always be unknown and there’ll be a lot of hurdles you have to face.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I’ve trained myself to commit to things. I’m pretty persistent myself. It’s probably more good than not. Going back to my sport, I always find myself doing the odd, crazy run. Recently I completed the Waitomo Trail Run, which was 36km, before that I did Triple Peaks in Hawke’s Bay, which was 57km. A couple of years ago, I did Oxfam Trail Run, which was a hundred kilometers.
You can’t give up when you’re in the midst of those things. There’s only one way out and it’s the finish line. It might be a personal trait, but I’ve always just taught myself that you’ve got to see a task through, you’ve got to finish, but it doesn’t mean that the task has to be successful.
You might finish something and it doesn’t provide you with the result that you had hoped, it doesn’t give you the goal from the hypothesis that you had set. That’s perfectly okay, but the journey and the process of actually accomplishing the task should be rewarding in itself.
Think about the process, think about the learnings, think about the journey, the experience, because I think that’s a huge takeout from the actual thing that you were trying to achieve, in a way.
Check out the range of activewear on Future Co’s website.
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