F4urce fitness wear founder Darren Blake is in it for the long run.
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Darren Blake, founder of fitness apparel start-up F4urce, wants to revolutionise the running world with clothing that is convenient, comfortable and modest. Here he talks prototypes, social media marketing and learning from mistakes.
What is the business in a nutshell?
F4urce is a new UK start-up with the ambition of producing high quality desirable running gear: prestigious fitness apparel that I personally aspire to wear! Clothing that is not only functional, reliable and durable, but flaunt-worthy and fun!
Our first product is the Ultra 3 in 1 tights. It incorporates shorts belt and multiple pockets, designed to be the ideal running attire for long distance runners. It’s a high end garment designed and made in Europe using best in class performance fabrics using a 100% environmentally and socially sustainable production process. Doing you and feeling great.
Why did you decide to start the business?
I have been on a running journey for the last 4 years, the catalyst for that was a major change in my personal life. After conquering a few marathons, F4urce seemed the natural progression, in continuing my journey.
After completing the Paris Marathon in 2019 I made the decision to take a punt on myself and back my ability to create something that people would desire.
I have worked in various industries in senior positions over the years but always for someone else, so although there are responsibilities they’re defined, and I could always go home and sleep relatively easy at night.
So, making this decision to back myself was daunting but ultimately I saw this as part of my continuous journey of growth.
How did the business develop?
We have spent the last 12 months developing the product and we are now at the stage where we are about to launch on Kickstarter, but the original idea simply came from me not being able to find (despite the many sports brands out there) suitable running attire.
I had this idea in my head but managed to convince myself it was not worth following up.
A later conversation with my brother gave me a new enthusiasm, he encouraged me and told me to pursue it, but again I did not follow up - until one day I was sat with two friends Giles and Donald and they convinced me to, at the very least, explore the possibilities.
So I contacted a professional sportswear designer to arrange a meeting, the purpose being that if he thinks it’s a good Idea then I will run with it.
I then laid bare my idea and the whole concept to the designer and waited for him to get back to me. It seemed a very long and nerve-wracking wait and the doubts began to creep back in. Perhaps my idea was rubbish and not even worthy of a reply? I then convinced myself it was a brilliant idea and that the designer was stealing it!
I eventually got a call back and the designer told me I was on to something and to his knowledge there was no similar product on the market. Even though he was extremely busy, he would be prepared to help me bring this to life.
Can you explain a little about current market conditions in your industry?
When ‘normal’ grounded to a halt, it would seem that a large number of people decided to use the time wisely, to get out and use their daily quota of exercise.
People have just adapted and judging by data from Strava and some bike retailers – the virus has seen their sales boosted – other areas Gyms for example have had their incomes decimated – so it’s a mixed picture.
Increased participation in sporting activity must be a winning situation – regardless of economic factors in our opinion, right, but as a start-up we just sat watching going WOW, tough times with, jobs and businesses and some whole industries previously thought solid and recession-proof disappearing fast or on the verge of disappearing.
We are very aware that this is possibly the most challenging times to start a brand, invest time and money and expect people to pay for a premium product with so much economic uncertainty.
But we believe in the product and are doing what we love – so it’s a relatively easy decision to keep going and not delay and wait for a more favourable climate. Besides if we leave it any longer we may miss any advantages that come with being first to market.
Saying that I am also seeing more and more everyday people like me who believe that there is more to this life than 9-5. They realisie that they can make the change, be a little brave and start out on their own, which I find really exciting.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting the business?
The (constant) learning curve, is bonkers - I have had to learn so much, even things I would have had zero interest in previously, the whole accounting side for instance and the language of business and marketing.
Don’t get me started on social media. Every area has its own nuances, processes and idiosyncrasies, so trying to get an understanding of all these - some pretty much from scratch, has been challenging.
That and the ability to wait for things.
What major bumps in the road have you had and how have you overcome them?
Development of the product and financing have also been challenges – I think I under-estimated just how long the process would take to get a product that I was 100% happy with – now I look back and smile at my naivety!
The belt module for instance took longer than expected to design, then there’s the fabric sourcing and testing of the protypes – like I said previously, nuances and processes
Obviously the co-vid pandemic happening in the closing stages of getting the samples made was a major bump. All I could do was to try and stay focussed and use the time to ensure other areas of the business were up to speed. And of course staying virus-free and healthy and myself.
What was your biggest mistake?
Wasting money! But that goes back to understanding the process and my naivety.
When you just start you feel there are 101 things to do. You spend time, effort and money on things that you initially believe to be important and then when you get to the business end you realise these things were actually of little or no use.
Hindsight would teach me there is an order and a process. It really does all start with the product so paying for a website or blog articles is not necessarily something I would recommend before creating a finished prototype.
How do you aim to attract and retain good people?
As a small start-up I initially did everything myself and use a team of talented freelancers where necessary. I have recently been joined by a brilliant creative director who was even more enthused by the product than I was which really did open my eyes to the potential.
I have also assembled a great team of advisors and I am lucky enough to have some very influential friends and family with expertise in many areas that I need. I hope to continue to attract passionate good people who fit our company ethos and which allows them to fulfil their potential.
What is your best advice to would-be entrepreneurs?
If you like to over-think things and like a challenge and are competitive and normally back yourself then this is the hardest game out there. Forget Chess or Scrabble this will have you thinking 24/7, 365 and then some.
But at the same time the satisfaction and buzz you get is something else, which is why the number one requirement is a love for whatever it is you do.