It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. For Jeremy and Darren Lay, that necessity was gym clothes that were designed beautifully and in line with functionality – not against it. And that weren’t subject to the same fluctuations in trends that other high-end sportswear brands seemed to be. Oh, and that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
These clothes that sprung out of necessity, designed for themselves alone, started to gain interest from others. That’s how ECHT was born. Fast-forward to now and they’re getting ready to expand internationally. Which is pretty mind-blowing: “Our response has been beyond what I have expected from such a small idea,” says Jeremy. “Every day I am humbled that people not only love our products, but believe in the message we are conveying.”
And what’s the message being conveyed? Jeremy elaborates: “Our roots of design derive from leading fashion influencers, which we combine with innovative fabrics to provide the customer with a unique garment. We pursue the idea of providing clothing that is boundless, with the ability to be worn throughout various parts of the day, all whilst providing comfort, style and durability.” That durability is in the fabric, as well as in the perennial design: “My designs are inspired by leading streetwear brands, as well as what I find to be most suitable for the gym. In every collection, I want to push the boundary of bridging fitness and streetwear – that’s the basis of ECHT and its products.”
They were after simplicity and transparency too. “We believe there is a lot of noise within the sportswear industry, whether that be overpriced products or a complex selection with a difficulty to create in-trend outfits.” This philosophy is encoded in their name. ECHT, Jeremy explains, is a German word that means “authentic”. “The overall look we attempt to convey is a clean look inspired by fashion-leading content whilst keeping the basis within fitness. We don’t like clutter,” he says.
In terms of the logistics required in running ECHT, they’ve partnered with Fulfilio to get the job done. The Melbourne-based fulfilment service lets the team hand over the labour-intensive aspects of the business. Whether that be packing, unloading stock, or counting stock. “Fulfilio has provided a means to optimise the time of day that we would usually be pick/packing and use it on other aspects of the business, such as creating quality content, planning and improving the overall efficiency of the business,” says Jeremy. “It’s been beneficial for us in that we are now able to plan and execute more effectively, and therefore grow the business faster.”
Jeremy and Darren Lay are cousins. And while working with family can have its pros and cons, for these guys it seems to mostly be pros. In fact, what’s unusual and admirable about ECHT is that most members of the team have known each other since the ages of 6-7, and have grown up together. The way they make this work is by having strict boundaries; if you’re in the office, then you’re working. But there’s also a common respect that’s been bred over years of knowing each other, that works very much to their advantage and allows the team a healthy equilibrium.
Another unique thing about ECHT is that they didn’t have any mentors during the growth and development of their business. But in place of that, says Jeremy, social media has been a crucial support and resource. “What’s been great with the presence of social media is seeing similar people like yourself, who have not just started business, but have ventured into careers that are different from the norm.”
3 business lessons from ECHT
1. Practise ‘Aggressive Patience’
You need to be prepared to be very patient, for a long time. But when the time comes to finally execute, you need to hit that with everything you’ve got. “One of the hardest things we had to get through during the start was being patient,” Jeremy says. “What we learnt was that results took time, but when it was time to execute, we had to make sure we did it aggressively. Chances to grow the business at the start were rare and therefore each chance that we were given, we needed to be aggressive. Aggressive patience is one of the reasons ECHT is now successful.”
2. Stay focused on the goal
There will be times when you feel like you’re not getting results, but stick to it. “Having no business owners or mentors, it was quite easy to divert from the track and attempt to try another business. What we learnt was that building a business is all about momentum. Building momentum is the core foundation of any successful business, which means staying focused on the goal.”
3. Keep on keepin’ on
Grit is the difference between a successful idea, and an idea that fails. “Many companies fail not because of the idea, but because the entrepreneur gave up too quickly. What I picture is that failure and success are so close to each other, that when you feel most like giving up, that’s actually when success is just around the corner.”