SunGod launched its new cycling-specific Pace Series back in July, offering two models, Velans and Vulcans, each available in either a half frame (TF) or full-frame (FF) design. BikeBiz catches up with co-founders Zoe and Ali Watkiss to find out how it all began
Zoe: We launched the brand in 2013 through a series of crowdfunding campaigns, the first being on Indiegogo. It’s a fantastic platform in terms of proving the concept and proving that there was a market for what we were creating. It was a great way to establish whether we should quit our jobs and take the plunge. We are very fortunate that a lot of people got on board.
Ali: From the beginning, we were offering things that were making us different in the market – a custom product where the customer chose all the different colours, the frames and the lenses. We’ve had a lifetime guarantee since the very beginning.
What do you offer that perhaps your competitors do not?
Zoe: We saw a gap in the market. There were the branded pairs of sunglasses which cost a lot of money – they’re great quality but not super affordable for everyone, or you’d spend that money and keep them so close to you, you wouldn’t want to take them on an adventure. And then at the other end of the spectrum, there with the cheap throwaway brands which don’t protect your eyes and broke you know within a week.
Ali: There’s too much of this disposable culture where people buy them for a couple of weeks and then replace them. At the time, there weren’t many challenger brands – there were no brands who were coming in and trying to do things differently. We saw the opportunity to come in and shake up the market as much as we could.
How much has the brand grown since it launched?
Zoe: Over the past seven years or so it’s been a fantastic growth trajectory. We’ve been very lucky. It’s been relatively organic, so each year we’ve been in the region of 30-50% growth. We’ve been pushing quite hard with the constraints that we have in the market so we’ve added new things to our offering and a couple of years later we launched into the ski market with our goggles.
Ali: That was our first big move away from the day-to-day lifestyle sunglasses, going more into a specific sport. We launched with Kickstarter for that one and it was very successful.
Zoe: By then we had a bit of brand loyalty, people who trusted us for their lifestyle sunglasses. That was almost a natural progression and something that took a couple of years to develop and get right as a product but was worth the wait.
Have you faced any recent challenges with COVID-19, and if so, what have they been?
Zoe: The ski industry took a massive blow. In a weird turn of events, it brought our summer phase and planning for our Pace Series launch and our lifestyle range forward. We were almost forced as a team to start thinking about summer, thinking harder about the sentiment of messaging, what people really want to hear about at the moment.
We’re fortunate in that we’re a direct-to-consumer online brand. Online delivery has played quite a big part – we were lucky that our team were able to put in measures that kept shipping and delivery going.
Ali: It was also quite challenging for our supply chain, working with suppliers who were facing lockdown which made it very difficult to bring the Pace Series to market. When we came to confirm the order with our manufacturers, it was just as everything was locking down. We had a conversation: Do we go ahead with this or do we postpone this for a year? We thought we’ve got to take the risk and go all in and we’re really glad we did.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
Ali: We’re really obsessed with product quality and innovation so we dedicate a huge amount of time to improving things and making them better. With the original sunglasses we launched back in 2013, we’re now on our third big iteration of them. We’re constantly looking at ways to improve things and change them. We’re already looking at the new Pace products and working out how we can make them better and how we can also extend the range to fill in the gaps of products that we haven’t filled yet. There are some new products that are already being designed ready for next summer, that will extend the Pace Series and make sure that we provide a product for every type of customer and cyclist.
We also want to lead by example in terms of the impact we’re having on the planet and making sure that we’re being sustainable in the use of our materials. This year, we’ve introduced boxes that are made from recycled materials and they’re 100% recyclable as well. We also introduced microfibers that are made from recycled plastic bottles. This fits nicely with our lifetime guarantee, which is all about extending the life of products and making sure they can be used indefinitely and not part of a throwaway culture.