Are you sitting comfortably? Make yourself a nice cuppa and thumb through the edited highlights of the Lookfly Story.
We’ve been in business for seven years now, although writing this I’m not sure whether it feels like more or less. Time flies when you’re having fun. As you’ll see Lookfly has grown a lot since we produced our first experimental kit back in 2001. When we first started no one really paid attention to the UK market and purpose built Ultimate gear or was expensive. Seven years on and Ultimate has moved onto a new level along with the community that surrounds it. We are proud to have been a part of Ultimate’s growth in recent years and will continue to be an integral part of Ultimate in this country. We also hope to make waves on the continent too.
Cynics may argue we are profiting from the sport and commercialising the Ultimate community. Well so would the big names or other Ultimate manufacturers. However as you read through our history stop to consider all things Lookfly has done for the sport. Yes we are now making money at last, but our bottom line is supporting the game we love and the people that play it.
We have realised that the liberation of self employment combined with everything good about Ultimate has proven to be a satisfying way to work. Lookfly has achieved a lot, from bulk orders of discs and Freshers packs through to supporting Junior Ultimate and helping Tournaments across Europe. It is these things that put a smile on our faces.
When the alarm goes off in the morning Lookfly is something we are happy to get out of bed for.
The Lookfly story started out as a relatively simple affair back in 2001. In fact it didn’t start as “Lookfly” at all. Like many players we had the idea of getting shirts for our team, although we wanted to make our own. At this point Lookfly consisted of Steve and Sam. Our motivators were the prohibitive costs of other dedicated Ultimate kit manufacturers, a desire to try something different and just plain curiosity. Could this work?
By doing some groundwork a contact in the textile industry was established along with our first ever run of shirts. The first attempt was a relative success. Spurred by a bit more local interest in what we had done along with some inspiring sessions in the pub, we found a supplier with a performance fabric called ‘Enduro’ and set about doing more “research”. What does an Ultimate shirt need to do? We looked at fabrics, panelling, stitching and printing, which began the ongoing process of product development in a field we knew very little about at the time. This largely consisted of going from shop to shop and making observations about what we liked and didn’t like about the technical playing shirts that were available at the time.
In November we produced our first team kit under the name Fly Ultimate for our local University team called TNT, bought the URL Lookfly.com and created our first piece of lifestyle wear, the way of the disc hoodie. The era of the spray painted cotton tee was on the way out. Shortly after this Sam left the venture following his own path and Steve convinced Allison (then a Marketing Manager at Waterford Crystal) to fill the void.
In the year that witnessed Condors rise to the top, we started our own climb in earnest. The textile industry was proving to be more challenging than we had expected. There were so many variables concerning fabric quality, patterns and manufacturers which made us question if we could continue. But we were buoyed by series of orders from top 8 teams in addition to new developments with our tops, namely more colours and the ideas.
In April we suffered a major set back as our manufacturer pulled out, leaving us with new kit orders and no-one to make them. Like throwing that scoober on stall 9 that falls into friendly hands, we pulled it out of the bag and found a short term manufacturer to complete the orders. Despite a few late delivers we made it through the start of the year without looking too silly.
We often look back at this point and ask ourselves “Why did we continue?” We now know it was the response we got from the British Ultimate community that helped us realise there was a gap to fill and not just in a business sense. At the time Ultimate was developing a strong identity and collective consciousness, something that Lookfly could help to support.
As the summer heated up so did we. Our small temporary sampling manufacturer decided that Ultimate sportswear was way for them to expand so we teamed up and continued our kit production. This lead us on to supplying the GB Juniors with their kit for the Junior Worlds in Latvia, something we managed with only a week turnaround. More milestones would follow as the website developed into a shop and the idea of a pitch side presence started to emerge.
Significantly we placed our first ever bulk order of discs. By collaborating with teams who wanted to order from Discraft we put together enough discs for a bulk order. Sharing the postage costs and charging nothing for our services the initiative proved to be a success. Soon discs were flooding into the country more easily and much cheaper than they had before.
It’s at this point we should mention that because of our purchase of the URL lookfly.com, people were calling us Lookfly and not Fly Ultimate. Succumbing to the power of the internet influence we decided this year to pack up the name Fly Ultimate and go with public demand. After a year and a half of labour, Lookfly was born.
In our 3rd year any doubts we had about continuing with this endeavour were washed away by the events of the following 12 months. By now there was enough work for Alli to be working full-time although we still hadn’t made a return on our original investment. This year saw many key developments for Lookfly. The website was updated to look more than just a few pages strung together. We sourced a new material called ‘NuTec’, added shorts to our custom option and launched the first kit creator (other Ultimate companies would soon follow this idea) to help design the perfect team uniform. Furthermore we applied our experience of playing winter league and rainy Tours at Bristol to develop ulti-mits, a product so popular they are still with us today as one of our largest selling single products.
The pitch side shop went from strength to strength as well as the length of the country and across the channel. We showed up at Durham Hat, Tour, SNOUT, Nationals, Copa Pesca Disco in Mallorca and the German National Championships. In the 52 weeks of 2003 we attended 36 events with the help of our future employee Vince (working only for free gear) on weekends to assist with our pitch-side shop. With Allison and Steve still living off one full-time salary from Steve’s Motorola job and Vince working for free we decided to put the still meagre profits to good use.
Like many people out there we knew Ultimate should be played by more people and those who did play it deserved more support than they got. In 2003 we focused on building relationships with teams we felt shared the Lookfly mind set. In Germany we sponsored Hardfisch who finished 3rd at the Nationals, at EUC in France we teamed up with the irresistible Irish Spirit to sponsor their national team and to celebrate UK Ultimate we supported the UKUA Awards.
It was our close integration with our local student scene however that would show us that we could potentially make a big contribution. We had been toying with an idea for Freshers Packs, a concept intended promote the sport, draw in new players and add credibility to a sport that deserved it. At the time student Ultimate was the primary source of new players so we collaborated with the UKUA and the first Freshers Packs were born. Over fifty Universities applied for the packs resulting in a print run of 3000. Any money we had made over summer was eaten up by the packs, but it was all for a good cause becoming a better one.
The year started with our new fabric coming online. From the same manufacturer that provided fabric to Adidas and Ron-Hill we sourced Aquaduct, a fabric ideally suited to Ultimate. It was comfortable, light, hardwearing and designed to actively dispel moisture from within. We were also able to use this new relationship to develop the dye process and extend our colour range.
As company we started to make a transition in our attitudes and intentions for Lookfly. Ali was still working out of our attic full time and largely unpaid plus Steve and Vince still had their full time jobs. But this was the year we decided it was time to stop thinking of Lookfly as a ‘cool hobby’ and start to earn credibility as serious Ultimate supplier, whilst staying true to our roots as players. Again the events of the year proved Lookfly could be a positive presence in Ultimate. We showed what we could do, but we also discovered what we still had to do.
Worlds in Turku was on the horizon but even with a new fabric and jersey patterns we missed out on the GB kit order. Not to be deterred we continued backing Ireland as the most spirited team in Ultimate and embarked on the ambitious project of Lookfly news. Drawing on the enthusiasm of the GB Sideline team we assembled a team of reporters to help bring day by day updates of the GB progress to players back in the UK. Again we had found another gap in the Ultimate community.
When the drama of Turku was done we headed down to Portugal for the inaugural World Beach Ultimate Championships giving people a taste of what our kit could offer national players. On our return home we continued to establish ourselves as part of the British Ultimate scene. In addition to another run of Freshers packs for September we setup our first sponsorship deal with Clapham Ultimate who had been dominating the domestic Ultimate scene now for the past 4 years.
We were still struggling to balance our profit making with our non-profit endeavours, but what the Frisbee Gods give with one hand they take with another.
Another year and there is something of a routine starting to emerge; we have our busy times and our busier times. By now it seems to us that Lookfly and the people behind it are about far more than just creating kit. The lines between work an play haven’t just been blurred but also the lines between all the aspects of our endeavours as manufacturers, players and TD’s. We were finding ourselves giving advice on running tournaments and taking time promoting the sport in addition to just making kit.
The shop was now starting to bring all aspects of Ultimate into one place. We started trying new products to see what you liked and what you didn’t. We bought in knee pads for the serial indoor players and cut a deal with Vincere Sports to provide sand socks for the ever evolving beach scene. Speaking of which, in 2005 we kicked off our work with Beachfest and witnessed Huck & Sea take the title of UK Beach Champions. We also made up a batch of performance T’s, launched our annual Paganello offer and recruited Timo Keppner to be our representative in Germany.
The big one in 2005 was EUCC in Rostock. The event put a big smile on our faces thanks to Clapham and Iceni taking gold in their divisions, Clapham added the SOTG trophy to their name in the process. Our sponsorship deals were really starting to bear fruit and producing some great looking kit in the process. Unfortunately Lookfly news suffered a setback as the company hosting the site made a monumental cock-up and deleted our data base which hampered our EUCC efforts.
As the year reached its end we were once again starting a run of Freshers Packs, although this time we moved to a CD format. In addition to this we pulled together some of the best pictures of the year to create a Calendar for 2006. The profits helping the GB Junior Squad to attend the 2006 Junior Worlds in Boston USA.
We capped beginning and the end of the year with two significant partnerships. Firstly at the legendary Wonderful Copenhagen Tournament during May and then at the inaugural EUCF in Florence in October.
For WCU we teamed up with Mattias providing the participants with a memorable experience. With Mattias’ creative streak we produced some classic kit which sold out so fast we had to do another run when we got back to the UK. As a company we felt proud and slightly smug when Mattias emailed competing merchandisers saying he chose us ‘because I want my tournament to Lookfly.’
EUCF was a slightly bigger task for us. Max had taken on the task of running this tournament but kept coming up against one hurdle after another. Using our connections in the textile business we produced 10 port-a-pitches to over come the fact Max wasn’t allowed to mark out pitches. We also produced a website for him, supplied cones, scoreboards and kit to mark the occasion. By then our kit was really starting to take shape as the popularity of our gear from our other Italian adventure, the Burla Beach Cup, proved.
Outside of the regular season WUCC 06 was played out in Perth. Again we were proud to have so many teams wearing our kit including our Clapham, Iceni and Herd. Unfortunately it was too far for Lookfly news and besides, we were far to busy to leave Lookfly unattended.
As the year drew to a close our new found confidence lead us to overhaul the website, penning our business philosophy in the process. Work with Clapham helped us to develop new shorts and we also perfected our kit by bringing Aquaduct V2 online. Lighter and smoother than the original it set us up for a great 2007.
At the time we were concerned that Lookfly wasn’t moving forward. But looking back we wonder what we so worried about.
Then…(sound of tires screeching) Steve was made redundant from his cushy full time job that had largely funded Lookfly for the past 5 years. Panic time.
Thanks to a dodgy redundancy process Lookfly had it’s 1st investor. Steve’s ex-employer shelled out a small amount of capital and Lookfly had about 6 months to prove that with Steve working full-time along side of Alli, enough extra effort could be put in to keep it running with both of them running full time.
In one brief exchange over the phone it suddenly became apparent how far we had come. In amongst the all the stress of nurturing the business, alongside running a club, playing and moving house, we had lost sight of what we had achieved.
We had overcome the initial problems of starting a business while being able to stay true to our philosophy and could continue do so. We still had a way to go and we weren’t exactly sure where we’d end up. What we did know is we liked making great gear for people that wanted to play Ultimate. We also liked everything else we did, bringing new people to the sport, supporting grass roots players, running tournaments and working with the best players in the sport. So on we went.
The year was by no means a cake walk. Times were tight. Experimentation was not on the cards this year so we had to just concentrate on doing what we already did only making sure we did it better.
Change is good and so were challenges, both of which we met during this year. Unfortunately we lost a few top eight deals as our competitors woke up and took the ‘little frisbee company’ seriously. For each team we lost, there seemed to be two who took it’s place including the addition German Champions Zamperl to our supported teams. In Ultimate it’s always the hard games that are worth playing, they make you better. We were finding the same was true with Lookfly.
By the end of March we had won another hard game. Our new fabric, Blade design and ongoing support for British Ultimate clinched us the GB contract for Euros and Worlds. Proud doesn’t begin to describe how we felt. In addition to this the German Junior squads also chose our kit and used our Fairtrade cotton option for their hoodies. Remember when we a talked about gaining credibility as serious Ultimate supplier?
We also spotted the trend for single colour, pre made jerseys and made another investment by placing a bulk order for a run of single colour jerseys across a few of our colour near the end of the year. The Lookfly Lite concept was born and yet again we had found another answer to the ongoing question, ‘What more can we do with Lookfly?’
And we kept asking that question into the New Year.
It would be nice to say we are having a little breather, but things don’t stop. However nothing motivates you more than working for yourself, apart from working in Ultimate of course.
We still get to do everything we did when we started this venture and reassuringly we can do all these things because of who we work for, ourselves. There is no detached CEO or Managing Director with profit as their only bottom line and we intend to keep it that way. In fact we have even taken on other Ultimate players to help us develop our business further, people who share Lookfly’s passion for the game.
Blockstack TV has emerged out of the ashes of Lookfly news to much approval. Steve and Tom “The Voice” Styles are going to be covering the best Ultimate has to offer in the season including Paganello and Worlds. We have also re-launched the Lookfly website with the intention of being more than just a shop. This community we keep talking about deserves space to continue shaping its identity.
Our determination to keep production as local as possible has put us in a great position to respond to growing environmental concerns. We have resisted the lure of shifting production to China or India with its dubious working standards and regulations. In return we have a kit that travels less than 100miles during its manufacture. Our environmental control over our garments means we can sleep easy at night, confident there are no children stitching Lookfly labels for a penny an hour somewhere across the globe and as little carbon emitted in the creation of our kit as possible. Our electricity at Lookfly HQ was even wind turbine powered now.
Some days we may be daunted by the elaborate ‘to do list’ on the board in the Lookfly office and as with any job some things still get us down. We do our best not to take our failures to personally. The textile industry continues to be a minefield and last minute orders in time for tour will always test our patience. All that said, we wouldn’t trade this job for anything else.
Wow...what a year! Details coming soon.