Our founding fathers, Jono Salfield and Declan Wise were recently featured in ASB magazine, here is the article below, with words by ASB mag.
Byron Bay was known to passing travellers by three things before the boom came calling; the pint of milk, the yard of ale and the gallon of fuel.
From the dairy factory on the edge of town to the pub on the main drag to the petrol station on the corner, Byron was archetypical country Australia. Farmers and fishermen kept the town ticking over, then surfers stumbled upon its waves and a cottage industry was born. Bay action was the hub, local brands like Maddog achieved notoriety through the 80's and over the years Byron's waywardly differing tribes contributed to a melting pot of free thinking ideas and individuals. Fast-forward to today and the streetscape in largely dominated by the major brands - you could be forgiven for thinking opportunities for a home-grown label were over. Out of this environment, two high school friends, Declan Wise and Jono Salfield started Afends on Declan's family farm, and while it's tempting to compare the Afends start up story to that of the major brands, the boys are having nothing to do with it. These days Byron shire is officially 'Afends Country' and the pair have just taken out 'Breakthrough Brand of the Year' at the 2015 Australian Surf Industry awards.
Growing up in Byron, when was the light bulb moment you/Dec decided to start your own clothing label?
I was 16 when I first became interested in graphic design. This led me to start my first clothing label which I called No Vacancy and consisted of about 20 printed tees and hoodies, Deco also was into making a brand but instead took to screen printing where he did an apprenticeship with a local screen printer. It was 2006 when we got together and decided to start something more serious. We rented a small unit in the Byron industrial Estate. Downstairs was set up with screen printing equipment and an office in the corner. Upstairs we had a bedroom each which we called home. Next door was Electric Visual and we will always be grateful to the example that Lauro and Pete set. We started screen printing t-shirts for hardcore bands. Meanwhile we were designing and screenprinting our first range of SMS t-shirts for Afends. After about 3 months we had designed and produced our first catalogue. Having done this, we took to the road in a Hiace van filled with surfboards, skateboards, sleeping bags and of course our salesman samples. We started hitting up surf shops from Byron to Melbourne and to our surprise we wrote about 25k of indent orders. I remember asking Tim Cochran who was at Ripcurl at the time what indent meant!
How long have you and Deco known each other? What were you doing before Afends?
We have known each other since year 7 in high school so that is like over 20 years now . Byron used to be a super chilled small town, everyone knew everyone. Deco and I used to hang out as we both lived on the same street. After school we both travelled a lot. In ‘98’ I made it through to the semi finals in Gromfest and got it into my head that I might be able to be a pro-surfer. As I have an English passport I headed for Newquay, thinking I would do well in surf comps there, but unfortunately my Gromfest success was the best I ever did. Whilst I was in Newquay Deco was living in Bali where he had his screen-printing apprenticeship on hold. After this, we both returned to Byron Bay, having decided that we didn’t want to work for the man but we wanted to start our own company.
You’ve just signed Garrett Parkes. How important is Byron Bay to the brand in terms of the influence of surfers, skaters, artists and just culturally to the brands DNA?
Most of our team guys are Byron based which is important as far as being able to work hands on with everyone involved. Garrett was Byron’s golden child and being a fair bit younger than me I always considered him a grom, nowadays grown up Garrett is a perfect mould of an Afends kid. He just missed out from qualifying for the 2015 WSL tour but this year he is also focusing on his free surfing which Afends is encouraging. The Afends team is a super important part of the brand. Our team is a blend of like minded individuals that enjoy punk and hardcore music but then also like the tranquillity of paddling out into perfect waves in destinations far away from any civilisation as well as skateboarding in a city street. But as far as team riders go you’re always fighting an uphill battle if you sponsor someone that doesn’t live and breathe the brand. It’s so important for any brand that the people that represent the brand fit the brand and I really feel that our team is Afends.
Can you recall moments on the road, you’re heading to Melbourne with the first range to show retailers… life's good right?
On that first Melbourne trip, Deco and I went surfing, skating, partying and hanging with mates while trying to act serious showing a range to stores. It was such a great experience. I wouldn’t change the fact that we started this company with nothing as the experience along the way is something that money cant buy. So the moments along the way were all amazing, even the let downs. We had stores just straight up laugh at the collection and said you guys will never make it in this industry. Let downs only make you stronger as a person and as a company. But that trip was such a success and a memorable experience.
You started from scratch, a few small investors, there was no family business, no wad of cash, Afends literally grew from a garage out at Declan's folks farm. What was your reaction to winning SBIA Breakthrough Brand Of The Year ? What was the ‘breakthrough’ moment for Afends and How do you react when media compare you to one of the major brands?
When Deco, Ryan and I were at the award ceremony we had a hunch that we could possibly win but never really thought we would beat Vissla. It’s a such an honor to us to win the break through award. I cant tell you how stoked we all were. A big thank you to all the independent surf stores. With out their support we would never have won. The support over the years has been amazing to say the least so yeah we are just stoked to be in the industry and doing what we love. Its taken us almost 10 years to get to where we are, But like anything hard work pays off. Thank you to everyone that voted for us.
On business, how have you managed the growth ? In terms of staff, cash flow and financing? What does Afends turnover? How many investors are involved?
Our sales target is to show a 35% increase each year. To support this financially is the hard part. Cash flow is always tight and hats off to Deco who manages this side of the business. Our investors are our family members and friends. This enabled us to to now hit a turnover of just over 5 million.
Have you ever gone close to going bust? What year was it and what steps did you take to right path it?
When starting a label organically the first step of production is basic screen printed designs to blank t-shirts. The next step was getting cut and sew garments made in Bali. In 2008 we decided to make our range in China. In my mind we had just made it to the big league. It was as if we had just qualified for the WSL.
Anyway we didn’t move just a few tees we moved our entire range to the first contact we had been given. 4 months later the shipment arrived. The excitement of over 200 boxes showing up to our door was overwhelming so we started ripping the boxes apart eager to get a look at the garments inside. To our surprise the hooded fleece was bright orange where we had ordered grey, the prints were thick plastisol where we had ordered water-based. And the worst thing was that half the prints weren’t even our designs! They had changed them. The devastation didn’t deter us so we shipped out the product and crossed our fingers that it would sell. We are still here to tell the tale.
How difficult is it to crack the US market? Are you now more focused on Australian market? How is your European business? Japan?
We have tried a few different angles and approaches for the US market. I don’t think that its super hard to crack. The risky part is trying to manage both the Australian and US business. We are currently looking for a company to licence the brand in the USA. Afends Europe is run under a licence and is doing extremely well. Japan is also doing amazingly well. We teamed up with the guys from Jumble Jam (owner of Banks) to distribute the brand. They have been distributing the brand since 2013 and growing at a rapid rate. Having great success in many influential stores as well as Murasaki Sports the brand is in good stead for a solid future in Japan.
In terms of distribution, Afends is everywhere, online Iconic, SurfStitch and quite a few other online outlets. How do you manage the day to day relationship with B&M accounts? How many B&M accounts are you in? Who was you first account?
We have 20 staff members in our HQ. Our national Sales manager and his team of reps handle all relationships and dealings with B&M. We have over 300 door ways across the country. The first store we stocked was a small street wear store in Byron called Byron Style. It was the go to store for alternative fashion.
What is Afends ‘point of difference’ in the market?
Our Point of difference is the way we express our lifestyle through photography, product and branding. Starting a small brand your vision changes as you grow, so you get a roller coaster effect with not knowing where you fit in the market place. What we have learnt from trial and error is that while still making the brand broad so the market share is meaningful that you still need to stick to your roots and be real to what the brands ethos is. Afends started as a hardcore and punk rock style brand, a lot of our friends were in bands so our core roots are that of a punk rock life style mixed with the surf culture of Byron Bay. There will never be another Volcom, Stussy or Obey but Afends is similar in the fact that it’s a culture driven brand.
How is your women’s line performing? Is it growing and what as a % of the mens business?
The Womens brand is relatively new to our business, even though we have been dabbling in womens clothing since the beginning. It hasn’t been a serious part of the business till about 2 years ago when we hired our womens designer Bec Nolan. Bec is doing some great things for the womens side of the business and we aim at the % break down to be around 70/30 mens to womens by 2018. At the moment its at around 15% of the business.
Any shout outs to individuals, stores or companies you’d like to thank?Everyone at Afends is a friend and we consider you family, we love your work. I would especially like to thank Lauro for snapping my sunglasses just because they were Dragon when he was running Electric. I was pissed off at the time but now I look back at it as a golden memory plus all the support that Lauro and Pete have given Deco and I over the years. Paul Bow has been helping us for more than 4 years. The knowledge that he has shared with us has helped to make the brand what it is today. Phil Johnson has been there for Deco and I when in need of business advise. Rama, Tim, and Milledge for all their advice in graphics and product development. Also thank you to Kai, Dion, and Mitch. And last but not least, thanks to our fathers. Craig and Phil who have been supportive from day 1, and without the help of our old men Afends wouldn’t exist.