Spotlight – Adam Mintz and Charlie Friedmann from Athletes Collective
As a website that prides itself on discovering great products and great new brands, SD is always on the hunt for people that are making a difference in our local fashion community. Let us introduce you to Athletes Collective (AC) – A Toronto based clothing brand that focuses on making the highest quality athletic apparel for the every day athlete. Founded by Adam Mintz and Charlie Friedmann, AC might just be the next big thing in athletic wear.
Right now, the Brand has been focused on perfecting the athletic top, but as we found out in the interview below, the sky’s the limit for Athletes Collective.
SD: As a fresh-out of the box brand, what would you like people to know about Athletes Collective?
AC: In short, there are two main takeaways. First is the products. We make perfect basic athletic shirts for the everyday male athlete. They’re made in Canada with high quality materials that feel great and keep you dry, have an athletic fit and are well-priced compared to the competition. Second, is our brand identity, culture and ideals. We are a collective of and for athletes. Beyond just making great products, we’ve made it a priority to become a strong member of the athletic community while working to build our own community as well. That “Collective” spirit is something that influences everything we do and is why we work with charities connected to athletics through initiatives like our Athletes for Good ambassador program and Community Collection shirts.
SD: Can you explain the process of how Athletes came to be, from Idea to finally creating the product?
AC: As we got older and our personal styles started to change from sporting huge logos across our chests to no logos, we realized we wanted the same for our athletic gear. Unfortunately, that product just didn’t exist. We also grew tired of paying upwards of $60 just for a moisture wicking t-shirt, on top of which we found that most of the major labels were designed for a certain body type and didn’t fit us and many of our friends properly. For example, mediums were often too long and smalls were too short or too tight. We spoke about it some more and said “why don’t we try to make a shirt ourselves?” So we went out and bought about 15 different shirts from the major labels, analyzed what we liked and didn’t like about their respective fits and started to take measurements, using ourselves as fit models. Since neither of us can sew, we started to call local manufacturers that could help us take these measurements and turn them into a shirt. Luckily we landed on one that had lots of experience with startups like ours, as well as with large athletic wear brands. We sourced roughly five different kinds of fabric to do some test runs and we were off. Over the course of the next 8 months we must have created over 35 samples comprised of about 7 different fits and designs made from the various fabrics we had chosen. We personally tested them on the field, then gave them to our friends to test, took their feedback and kept making more samples. Eventually after all the testing and all the rounds of samples, we found the right fit and the right fabric, and here we are today.
SD: What is your brand’s culture?
AC: Inclusiveness and community best describe what we’re all about. It’s right there in the name: Athletes Collective. Our overarching goal is truly to build a collective of what we call “everyday athletes”. We’re not focused on professional athletes like some big brands, but instead on normal guys brought together through sport. What’s great about sports once you get out of high school or college, is there are so many ways to be an athlete no matter your ability. If you’re new to running you can join a beginners running club, if you haven’t played hockey since pee-wee you can take adult skating lessons with people who also have trouble stopping, or if you’re a former college athlete you can easily find leagues or groups with other former college players who still take their sport seriously. That’s what our culture is all about: no ego, all levels of skill and any level of intensity, from recreational to ultra competitive.
SD: What is the meaning behind the name Athletes Collective, and how do you think you will be successful in such a saturated marketplace?
AC: Obviously we touched on this in previous answers, but saying we want to build a collective of athletes is just the beginning. On our website we have a page highlighting our Founding Principles that lists a number of examples of the everyday athlete, but then most importantly ends by asking “What kind of athlete are you?” Every order we send out also comes with a postcard that features those principles and invites our customers to share their athletic lives with us on social media using the hashtag #whatathlete.
We’re also committed in more concrete ways to building up not just our own community, but the athletic community at large. To that end, we’re extremely excited about two new initiatives that we’re launching in July. First is our Community Collection which will feature custom designed limited edition versions of our shirts with proceeds going to benefit a specific charitable organization. On July 7th we will begin selling the first entry in this special collection which is a shirt to benefit Experience Camps, an organization that runs free summer camps for boys who have lost a parent, sibling or loved one. Charlie, one of our founders, volunteers at one of the Experience Camps and can attest that it’s a great organization that combines athletics, collective experience and an amazing community to make a real difference in the lives of the campers. Organizations like this inform our interpretation of the name Athletes Collective and goals for the brand going forward so we couldn’t be happier to be working with them.
The second initiative that we’re launching is a unique Athletes for Good ambassador program that also works to the benefit of charities connected to athletics. While some companies have ambassadors that are really just affiliate salespeople, we are seeking out leaders in the athletic world who already have a strong community, but want to join with us and our collective to build something even stronger and truly meaningful together. With that vision in mind, instead of giving our ambassadors a portion of sales they refer, we give 10% to a charity of their choice. We love that this program will let us meet, support and hopefully draw attention to a variety of great organizations rather than just one or two charities we might choose or know of on our own. We’ve already lined up a few ambassadors to launch this program, but we’re always looking for more great people and really hope this becomes a flagship program that grows along with our brand.
We truly believe that by building a strong community where our customers are not just strangers, but members invested in our success, we will stand out in the crowd be able to carve out a home in the athletic wear marketplace.
SD:Who are the people behind your brand?
AC: We (Adam Mintz and Charlie Friedmann) are lifelong friends who grew up in Montreal and are now both living in Toronto. Charlie played competitive tennis throughout high school, while Adam starred for Coach Folkerson (the namesake for our signature shirt) as a point guard on our high school basketball team. We’re both now avid tennis players, regular (Adam) and intermittent (Charlie) gym goers and big sports fans—so much so that our business meetings regularly turn into hour long discussions regarding who is the greatest tennis player ever (Nadal or Federer), how tired we are of seeing so much flopping during NBA games, and why the Raptors can never seem to get a call.
Adam actually started his career in fashion working as a brand manager for Diesel Canada, before going on to get a Masters degree from Emerson college in Global Marketing Communication. He has since been working as a brand consultant.
Charlie has previously worked as a corporate lawyer at a large firm in New York, as well as in the hospitality industry as a lawyer and consultant before transitioning to working with startups and ultimately founding Athletes Collective. He has a degree in Economics from McGill and in Law from New York University.
SD :How would you say AC differs from other athlete focused products out there?
AC: 1. Our combination of quality material, quality fit and affordability. Some have two out of three, few have all three elements.
2. We’re one of the only unbranded sportswear brands on the market. It’s very hard to find performance gear without a logo emblazoned all over it. Don’t get us wrong, we’re big fans of the Swoosh and Three Stripes, in fact we often wear them when we play sports too, but it’s nice to have a few pieces that don’t have a logo. We believe athletes are defined by their actions, not by the logo on their chests which is something we say in our Founding Principles as well.
3. Our products are made in Canada. It’s extremely rare to find any clothing that is made locally, let alone performance athletic wear, yet we made a point of producing our goods in Canada and still offering them at a fair price. We’re building a brand that’s all about creating a community, so we didn’t want our products to be made by people we didn’t know thousands of miles away. The idea of community and collective informs everything we do, including our production methods.
SD: Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
AC: To be honest we’re very focused on the nearer term goals of getting this business off the ground and starting to build a community and brand through organic and sustainable growth. Nevertheless, longterm we expect our product offering to grow extensively and possibly become more sport specific. Most importantly though, our vision is for the collective element of our brand to continue to be a major point of emphasis and ultimately a driving force for our growth. If Athletes Collective is successful down the road it will be because we were able to build a strong and lasting community of athletes. That means supporting athletic communities and charities small and large, working with organizations from rec leagues to national sporting federations, and always being mindful of involving the everyday athlete in our decision making. Our community will help define what products we offer, what markets we enter and what outside organizations we partner with because that’s what building a strong collective means to us. Our message will start small and local, but has the potential to resonate globally.
SD: What kind of product line do you think AC will eventually carry?
AC: We’d like to carry a full line of men’s athletic gear that the everyday male athlete could use for multiple sports. This would include long sleeve and sleeveless shirts, a compression line and accessories like arm sleeves, bandanas, wristbands and hats.
SD: What brands do you love?
AC: Warby Parker – We love how they took on huge players by offering a stylish and unbranded product direct to consumers at a great price. We also love their commitment to charity whereby they donate a pair of glasses to people in need for every pair they sell.
Nespresso – We’re big fans of their attention to detail. We like the coffee, but we really love the effort that goes into designing the machines, the capsules and even the packaging they come in.
Under Armour – The founder Kevin Plank started off by creating a shirt that filled a need he couldn’t find on the market. He then started selling his shirts to his friends and hustling to get more and more people to try what he’d come up with. We’re obviously kind of hoping to follow that path to success by starting in a similar way.
Gongshow Hockey – Aside from the phenomenal quality and design of their products, few brands have targeted and captured a lifestyle and community quite like these guys. Sometimes it seems like they know and understand the lives of hockey players better than the players themselves.
SD: Do you have any tips for people looking to start their own brand?
AC: 1. Create products that you love and would wear if you saw them online or in a store. If you love your products others will too. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to test your products and ideas with others. We spent almost a year perfecting our first products, gathering opinions on prototypes and refining our designs based on that feedback. After all that testing and tweaking we finally came to a product we really loved and believed in; that’s when we knew we were ready to launch.
2. Build a compelling brand identity. Having a great product is a key part of the equation, but you also need to be able to tell a good story that inspires people to not only become customers, but supporters and brand evangelists. For us that means working to support communities based around athletics while also seeking to build our larger “Collective”. That’s why we created our unique Athletes for Good ambassador program, our Community Collection with custom shirts to benefit charitable organizations and why we love working with running clubs, rec leagues and other communities that, like ours, are built around sport.
3. Don’t chase market opportunities, focus on what you know and can do better than others. We make men’s athletic apparel because we buy and wear men’s athletic apparel. Every day people ask us if we plan to make products for women and while we know that’s a great market, we honestly don’t think we can do it best so it’s just not the right market for us. You can’t be everything to everyone and trying to do so is a recipe for failure in any business.
4. Make a plan. It’s great to have a goal of creating your own brand, but a goal without a plan is just a wish. Know how you want to invest your time and money, and frankly, how much of each you have to invest. Always be realistic, always work to get better and keep track of your goals and milestones as you go.