Zulfi Moon and his wife Greta are a blessing to cycle commuters everywhere – no more schoolkid-style backpacks littering the meeting room. Zulfi’s impressive retail background, combined with Greta’s confidence and inspiration, has seen this husband-and-wife team grow from a single test prototype to a fully-fledged, home-based design and manufacturing business. All while holding down full-time jobs and a newborn child! How did they do it? Read on to find out.
Hello, I’m Zulfi Moon, the co-founder of Vel-Oh – We’re a husband-and-wife team of designers and manufacturers for our cycling-inspired bag and accessory range.
My role, like any small business, can vary from cleaner, right up to key decision-maker! Having said that, I primarily look at sourcing collaborations with like-minded brands, pattern cutting, and co-designing our range. Coming from a fashion background, I wanted to understand the full spectrum of the industry.
Previously, I’ve worked for manufacturers, I was a buyer for ASOS, and I also managed flagship stores in London for the likes of Ben Sherman and Scotch and Soda.
I started my entrepreneurship back in 2003, where I opened my first brick-and-mortar store just off Carnaby Street in London, I then tried my hand at ecommerce by launching myrockcity.com, a site dedicated to music and fashion, and finally launched Vel-Oh in 2014.
I work full-time as a partner manager at Omnisend, and my evenings and weekends are taken up with my wife and newborn daughter. I also try to squeeze in some time for Vel-Oh as well, it definitely keeps you on your feet!
So, Vel-Oh started because we’re both urban cyclists and were frustrated with the lack of aesthetically-pleasing bags. You’d end up in the office with quite a utilitarian-looking thing – when you really wanted something smart and meeting/lunch-friendly that could also double up as a bike bag.
So we spent about a week talking about it, and the weekend making a prototype with whatever fabric we could find. It was awful! However, not to be deterred, we persevered and started to source someone who could help us. Greta had the confidence, but we just didn’t have the tools.
Soon after, we made the first iteration of Vel-oh and showcased it at a cycling show in London. We had no stock but wanted to get a true feeling of demand for our product. It was a hit – a pity we had no stock! We quickly found a company willing to produce small quantities and went to market the following year.
Sadly about 4 months later, the bags started to come back with defects. That’s when we took the decision to move fully from designers to manufacturers, too. Now, we had full ownership of quality control.
Today, we work from home. We’ve transformed one of our rooms into a fully-functional workshop, complete with a number of industrial machines, cutting tables, and nearly all the tools we need to be autonomous. Now that we have a child, we’ve also employed a part-timer to help with manufacturing. It’s a wonderful feeling teaching someone a new skill set.
Our initial idea was always to hit urban cycling shows around Europe. Our focus and design have changed slightly, but we still hold dear our initial idea. We now focus on all design shows and we feel that our range (it started with one and now sits at 24 and increasing) lends itself to the design-orientated market, hence us showcasing at the likes of Helsinki Design week.
We’ve just finished a collaboration with an amazing raincoat brand in Lithuania called Ducktails, we have another collaboration with Gym + Coffee due out later and are working on a cool project with a UK marketing company. As for the Vel-oh current range? Well, we’re constantly coming up with new ideas, but will they make the final cut? Who knows???
When we first launched Vel-Oh, we spent a lot of time trying to understand the market that we were in. We did this by constantly checking out inspirational brands along with direct competitors. This was key to us, but also very time-consuming. We sat down and discussed why we were doing this and how much focus it was taking away from us doing what we loved.
It’s been over 3 years since then, and taking a laser-focus approach to Vel-oh has seen it come on in leaps and bounds. When someone asks me how we design, it’s easy. The question we always ask ourselves is: what is the form and function?
We honestly love what we do, and never feel like it’s work, the designing process is a series of scribbles, pieces of fabric all over the place and way too many cups of tea (I’m British after all!)
Like any small business, the challenge is to keep evolving. When we started out, we had one bag retailing at £400. As a new brand that nobody had heard of, our challenge was getting people to purchase, so we went back to the drawing board to create a range of products for those who want to buy into the brand, right the way up to our aspirational hero products – now there’s something for everyone!
For us, it’s quite easy as there are only two of us. We have each our business emails, and a shared one, that we can see who’s taking ownership of what. Our store has a number of apps, but again, I’m always apprehensive of apps as I believe that these can be built into your theme (I just don’t have the time right now).
I use a product warning app that alerts our customers on any delays prior to purchasing – it allows them to agree to the delays prior to buying and gives them full disclosure of why this is happening.
I’ve just installed Okendo for all of my reviews, it looks really neat (only had it for about a week, so still learning).
We’re using Omnisend for our marketing platform, this is so robust, yet so simple to use. We’ve segmented our audiences into purchased colors, items, prices, dates, and locations, and then pretty much just automated the flow of information for them. We are now focusing on how we can utilize the SMS functionality to have a better user experience.
Get a wall planner!
I get asked this a lot from people starting out, and my answer will always be the same: do you love what you are doing and can you make a living? And also, never ask your friends and family for feedback on your designs.
I love Ted Talks! I feel that you can get a huge amount of clarity and inspiration from these, my idea is not to watch the ones that interest you but to watch as many as possible, you never know where the clarity will come from.
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