EP51 - Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast
This week we go a little further afield and we cross the waves to the US for our founder interview. Mckenna Haz is a young Canadian entrepreneur, building a sustainable activewear brand call SEAAV.
Now, activewear is an immensely crowded market with giants like Underarmour, 2XL, Lululemon and countless others, not to mention a raft of yoga-specialist brands, which is the space Mckenna started in as recently as 2020.
The fact that in the face of that competition she’s seen significant success already, and indeed been able secure venture funding to scale, suggests she’s doing some things really really well.
Looking from the outside, I had a fair idea that the magic was in the way she’s leveraging her sustainability-oriented brand story. Some of you may know that we’ve recently completed a huge marketing effectiveness assessment of 500 brands, and ranked them all according to how well we think they’re communicating to the market.
Despite being a small fish in the very large activewear ocean, Mckenna’s brand SEAAV came in the top 10, which immediately tells us that she’s really doing a great job of slicing up the message so it’s effective in the customer journey.
I was excited to chat with her on the show to hear from the founder herself about how important story is, and how she’s leveraging that story to drive growth in everything from following to sales.
What follows I think is a really unique insight into how this sustainability story thing can be leveraged, not just on the store, but in attracting influencers, investors and building community.
About Mckenna Haz
Mckenna started up SEAAV in her dorm room while she was studying advertising & communications and completing an MBA! If that wasn't already a lot, she was also actively competing as an NCAA Division 1 Female Rugby player.
Her love for preserving the ocean stems from her observations of the plastic and trash washed up on the coastline of her native Vancouver Island in the wake of the Fukushima Earthquake.
SEAAV stemmed from her passion to do something about the world's plastic pollution problem. Today, SEEAV make activewear from recycled PET fabrics, as well as run a number of impact initiatives related to ocean clean-up and restoration.
How does the SEAAV brand enable a positive impact?
Aside from making clothing from recycled PET (mixed with certified organic cotton), they have partnered with The Plastic Bank so that customers can have a direct impact with every order. Each item sponsors the collection of 1lb of plastic from coastal areas.
In addition, they donate 1% of revenue to coral planting initiatives through partners We The Reef.
They have also chosen to make all their shipment packaging compostable.
How important has the sustainability story been to SEAAV?
SEEAV’s customers are actively looking for more sustainable leisurewear, so it has always been a core part of their success to have this central to their brand story. Not just from people who want to buy and use the products, but also from influencers and brand ambassadors who were closely aligned with sustainability, ocean advocacy as well as fitness.
Beyond that though, the story attracted early attention from mentors and advisors who heard about the brand while it was a startup in college and helped with connections, acquiring funding and the like. Fast forward a couple of years and the story is still core to the brand’s success, helping to acquire outside capital and large retail chain deals that otherwise the brand scale may have prohibited.
Engaging brand ambassadors has been a key strategy for SEAAV, what was your approach?
Early on SEAAV took the approach of cold outreach to Yoga studio business owners. They ran a 4-part email campaign to them which was designed just to get a phone call. Then Meckenna would call them 1:1 as the business owner, explaining the sustainability story. Obviously, that didn’t resonate with everyone, but it was an amazing start. From there, the Yoga instructors would wear and promote SEAAV, as well as stock items from the catalogue in their studio, giving them another revenue stream.
In addition, they ran an ad campaign looking for ambassadors, who would buy into the clothing at a 50% discount and then in exchange be asked to promote it. That gave a lot of visible social proof on Instagram in particular. Once the become ambassadors, they get an affiliate code to promote, and those people then turn actively into sales staff for the brand.
One of the most important foundations of the ambassador programmes though is that they feel like they are part of a community and movement, so once again the story behind the brand mission and what they involved in is critical.
What coming up for SEAAV?
New product launches are on the cards, as well as collaborations with other brands, included cobranding. Doubling down on the messaging of make waves not waste including in products and direct branding.
Where can people get SEAAV products?
Everything this brand does is congruent and aligned with it’s purpose, even down to how the brand name SEAAV is short for see a vision of a cleaner future.
They make activewear from recycled PET, and every item sponsors the removal of a pound of plastic from shorelines via their partners the Plastic Bank, who incidentally are my guests on next week’s show.
That simple message of Make Waves Not Waste, a hashtag they own, of course is consistent across socials, content, sales funnels and post purchase, reinforcing their brand message and helping brand recall.
You heard from Mckenna, just how important the sustainability story has been in carving out growth, especially in the face of gigantic brands who can beat her on price, marketing spend and reach every hour of the day.
It’s enabled her to connect with business owners in yoga studios and gyms, and sure, it doesn’t resonate with everyone, that’s not the point. She’s recognised that it resonates most strongly with potential partners in coastal areas, and perhaps most importantly it provides the core around which to build her brand community, which she’s exploring even more through content series on sea life.
That story has also brought her investors, mentors, brand collaborators and big retail partners.