Startup Spotlight: Vision Wear Lacrosse Co.

Editor’s Note: Vision Wear competed in the McGill Dobson Cup 2016 in the Small & Medium Enterprise Track, walking away with the Grit Prize valued at $2,500. The Dobson Chronicles’ Kymberly Reid sat down with Matthew and Dan, two of four co-founders of Vision Wear, to learn more about their entrepreneurship journey and what their startup has been up to this past year. Readers of The Dobson Chronicles get a special offer on their e-commerce website: for 15 percent off your purchase, enter McGillDobson at checkout!

Vision Wear is a McGill-based startup that creates a collection of lacrosse apparel that truly embodies the essence of the sport and lifestyle of its players. The brand revolutionizes the traditional ‘dad-style’ gear for the growing sport by giving players an image that reflects their passion.

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Matthew Tse and Dan Williams, co-founders of Vision Wear, McGill lacrosse players and lovers of the game. The Vision Wear team is also comprised of Tom and Brad, who were unable to make the interview.

Last year, the team competed in the McGill Dobson Cup 2016 in the Small & Medium Enterprise Track where they won the $2,500 Grit Prize! I spoke with them about this experience and the development of the brand both before and after the McGill Dobson Cup.

Dan Williams and Matthew Tse, co-founders of Vision Wear at the McGill Dobson Cup 2016 powered by National Bank

First off, can you introduce yourselves and the story of Vision Wear?

Dan Williams: I’m Dan, a history major and in my final year. I take care of sales and establishing our products with larger groups. I try to get them on board with what we are doing, both the socks and the lifestyle they reflect. I am also the occasional model! We started out with Vision Wear by leaning on the old contacts and the networks that we had. This was how we first began to build ourselves and the brand. Our main goal is to try and embody the sport within our company itself.

Matthew Tse: I thought of the idea behind Vision Wear in my first year. I met Dan through the McGill lacrosse team – I always say we are lacrosse players first before business people. So our common ground is that we’ve both been playing lacrosse our entire lives. Since we’ve engaged with the culture for a long time, we have been able to be very grassroots with growing the brand. It is created by lacrosse players, for lacrosse players.

The story behind it all is that one day I got home from practice and I realized that I ripped one of my favorite socks. It’s a thing about lacrosse players that they love their socks and that it always has to be a particular type. It has to be mid-calf in length and oftentimes colorful. It’s a very specific style, and usually very flamboyant.

So to replace my socks, I found a website that allows you to customize your own mid-calf length socks. As I was about to make a design, I noticed that my designs were a lot better than the ones they had displayed. At that moment, I realized that I had the ability to improve what was available to the sport, for the people that play it and love it.

DW: We found that we all had similar experiences with these socks. The same company makes these cotton socks but after two games, you already have a hole the size of your heel!

READ ALSO: McGill Dobson Cup 2016 Award Winners

For someone like myself, who has never played lacrosse, how would you sum up the culture of the sport?

MT: It’s a stereotypical ‘lax’, bro, pseudo frat boy, almost like a surfer bro spirit.

Or at least that’s the cliché the media gives to lacrosse. It is very flamboyant and out there, so we like to play to that. In our brand, we try to embody the three sides of lacrosse. In addition to the mainstream ‘lax’ look, we also try to embody the indigenous side as well. We like to embrace that aspect, and understand this culture is the reason why we are here and play the sport.

The third aspect is about putting aside the jokes and giving it a professional look as well because people don’t always take lacrosse seriously. Lacrosse is up and coming, it is not as widespread as sports like soccer or rugby. There are only two leagues and it is much harder to play lacrosse professionally like you could play soccer as a professional athlete.

DW: We want to appeal to the younger side of this as well. We go by the motto: play, practice, and party. We don’t always do it in that order but the sport usually follows this code. We play together, practice together, and party together.

Check out Vision Wear at www.visionwear.ca. For 15 percent off your purchase, enter McGillDobson at checkout!

Why did you choose socks to showcase this?

MT: It was an opening in the market, a chance for us to get our foot in the door.

DW:  No pun intended.

MT: It is more like an up and coming trend since lacrosse players have always taken their socks seriously. But being able to customize them is fairly new. We were able to get into the lacrosse market, something that people are starting to know now as a growing sport. In addition to socks, we also have shirts, phone cases, and soon, hats. We think of it as a lifestyle brand, not just socks.

Getting those reps in ⛄️#snowball ripping

A photo posted by Vision Lacrosse Co. (@_visionwear) on

What makes Vision Wear unique?

DW: There is no other company that truly embodies the lifestyle, giving us a unique opportunity. If we had started with shirts, we would be up against all other companies with “dad-made graphics.” Instead, we started by focusing on socks because footwear is everything.

MT: The “dad-made graphics” approach is very separated from this generation, it is a lot more traditional. What makes us unique is that compared to everyone else, we are a part of the market and the sport as it is now.

How did competing in the McGill Dobson Cup 2016 contribute to the development of Vision Wear?

DW: It really made us reassess our entire business plan. At the beginning, we were just going with our own intuition as lacrosse players. By taking part in the McGill Dobson Cup, we learned a lot from the mentors about ways to develop our company. The judges kept asking, “Why don’t you just sell socks to everyone?”

This allowed us to reaffirm what our identity was as a brand. It’s not that we don’t want to sell to other people given that our products are available to everyone, we just don’t market it to them. We have put our brand into clothing for the McGill rowing team, as well as the McGill track and field team. We even made holiday socks and seasonal designs. They are performance based socks, so you don’t have to be a lacrosse player to wear them but it is lacrosse by nature. That is what is important to us and we wanted to focus on that.

MT: What makes us unique as a brand is this focus and it’s how we distinguish ourselves. Other brands like Nike may have a general product – we try to embrace our niche in lacrosse. We don’t just sell to lacrosse players but the ability to have that brand identity is about more than just socks. This is a lifestyle that we love to live, instead of creating a brand for something we don’t care about. By using what we know, we were able to succeed in the long run.

You not only competed in the McGill Dobson Cup 2016 but you won the Grit Prize – what did winning this prize help you to accomplish?

DW: The Grit Prize really helped us to invest in improving and increasing our inventory. Instead of being stuck with leftover inventory, we were able to replace them. Being able to buy larger quantities, allowed our margins to increase.

MT: Improving our stocks allowed us to slice costs, make our product a little cheaper, and we no longer had to re-stock after a big sale. Coming out of the McGill Dobson Cup, we explored marketing a lot more. We took this new inventory that was now much cheaper and better quality and gave it to players to get our product out there to potential customers. We sponsored the referees’ socks in the Under 19 World Lacrosse Championships. We also supplied socks for Team China and were able to be in attendance to get the word out. This was an opportunity for us to market and network by sharing our brand.       

DW: Also, buying a larger quantity and decreasing our margins allowed us to pursue retail opportunities, for example, with the Redbird Sports Shop. That kind of retail opportunity really requires a larger quantity and decreased costs which we were only able to do after the McGill Dobson Cup.

Looking back, what advice would you give to yourselves in the competition?

DW: Trust in your business and stick to your guns! Even when the judges questioned it, we stuck to lacrosse because we saw ourselves going forward with it. Sticking with that mindset and with what we wanted was very beneficial and it grounded us.  

What advice would you give to current competitors?

DW: Keep trying, success doesn’t happen overnight. There will be failure and there will be success, but embrace both and look for other opportunities.

MT: A large part of our success was how established we were. I think having that social proof was good because the judges aren’t lacrosse players and may not be aware of how our brand would market to players. Really take the time to actually see, and sculpt something you want to see and make, or do something long enough for it to become clear. It’s really important to spend the time developing that vision. Also, something to keep in mind is that judges are not your customers so take those hits and continue building if you truly believe in your idea.

Now that it has been almost a year since the McGill Dobson Cup, how do you plan on going forward from here?

DW:  We all have our own personal career aspirations: Brad wants to go to medical school, Tom is pursuing other opportunities, Matt is looking into graduate school, and I’m considering other ventures. So going forward, we will be communicating a lot about what we want to do.

For me, I love waking up thinking about socks! I love what we are doing and this is what I hope to be doing in the next year. The goal is to start putting ourselves more in the community with promotional videos, and getting our socks to players who are at the forefront.

MT: We are focusing on expansion and doing hats as well. We would very much like to keep going. For long term goals, we continue to talk and touch base; we’re all in consensus that this is a sustainable future that we are willing to pursue. We all agree that this is what we want to do. Within a year of university, we want to come out running and build a sustainable brand.

DW: With what we’ve learned from the McGill Dobson Cup, we’re constantly looking for other opportunities. Maybe looking to some stores in Toronto that are looking for trendy gear as well. Our focus is getting more exposure.

Photo credit: Vision Wear Lacrosse Co. on Facebook

Finally, how do we get our hands on some Vision Wear?

MT: They are available in the Redbird Sports Shop at the McGill Currie Gym.

DW: The Redbird Sports Shop is the best if you’re in Montreal, but otherwise, we have a great e-commerce store! For team sales, contact me. We have a lot of limited edition items available and we also have some discounts. For 15 percent off your purchase, enter McGillDobson at checkout!

Happy Chinese New Year !

A photo posted by Vision Lacrosse Co. (@_visionwear) on

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Kymberly Reid

Kymberly is a U3 student in her final year, studying Anthropology, Communication Studies, and Social Entrepreneurship. She is originally from Jamaica but has spent half her life in Toronto. While growing up in Jamaica, she witnessed widespread economic and social inequalities which greatly influenced her interest in social business. Kymberly is currently working with groups in the social sector like Beyond Me and social enterprises like Penny Drops and Groundit.