In Conversation With Paul Tanner
What made you decide to start Freedom To Exist?
Kirsty and I went shopping to buy her a watch for her birthday, and we were unable to find one that she liked, that would fit her, wasn't overly branded, and wasn't really expensive. A lot of the watches she tried tended to slide up her arm or spin on her wrist, or displayed a logo that she felt too imposing, or had a price tag that didn't seem in keeping with the feel of the product. Kirsty and I met while working at Habitat, and our background is designing and developing products, so we thought that if we had this issue finding a watch that we liked, others would as well. A lot of our customers still say to us “I have been looking for a watch like yours for ages!”
Does Freedom To Exist have a message?
Yes, our brand name of FREEDOM TO EXIST was born out of a brainstorming session where we wanted to capture the fact that we are an antidote to the noise of technology and branding. People are addicted to their phones and wearable devices, and our brand name and our product is for people that want to step back, pause and catch their breath. Our watches do not track, beep or monitor you. They just tell the time and do so exquisitely well.
How would you say the fashion/retail climate has changed since you started your brand?
Due to platforms like Kickstarter, lots of new brands have launched in a short space of time. Watches in particular has become quite a saturated market, and my feeling is that a lot of these brands will come and go, and that only a select few will survive. It's important to offer a story and a point of difference, some of the new brands look like one another and are competing on price rather than design.
What are your influences (inside and outside of fashion/retail)?
Design wise when creating fte we wanted to create a product that we would also want to buy as a customer, and the 30 & 40 Edition watch collections are the culmination of our inspirations, desire and experience. We both like minimal products, ones that have been carefully considered and refined until they're perfect.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started Freedom To Exist?
That word of mouth, and getting the physical product in front of a prospective customer counts for so much more than Facebook and Instagram posts. The internet allows lots of brands to start without a retail space, but getting your product in front of real people is still hugely important. We wanted to ensure that our product was very tactile when we developed it - we spent a lot of time working on the fit, the quality of the leather, the domed watch face and the weight and feel of the product, and when people try it on or see one of their friends wearing an fte watch, it has a hugely positive effect on people buying into our new brand.
What advice/warnings would you give someone looking to start their own brand?
That marketing and PR is expensive, and that whatever budget they have invested in product, they should invest the same in promoting their new brand.
What goals do you have as a designer?
That fte becomes a destination when people want to buy a gift for a loved one, or a treat for themselves.
If you could live the life of any other designer for a day, who would you choose?
Jonathan Ive at Apple. I have read a number of articles about his design lab and their ability to prototype, and it must be exciting being able to combine design with invention.
Is there a brand out there that you wish you had started?
Nendo, as consistently every design they release has a “I wish I had thought of that” feeling.
What’s the most recent book you read?
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. We really enjoy his podcast and the book captures the tricks and shortcuts that have been self taught by a host of successful people from various backgrounds.
Did it feed into your creative process?
It has had in input on how we manage our time more effectively, as there are lots of clever ways of working that we can use to maximise our time.
What motivates you?
We prepare each parcel by hand before we send it out, and each time we check and inspect the watch, we still love the design and feel a sense of pride and also excitement that another customer will be wearing it. Creating a brand is difficult, but when we have a product that we still immensely proud of, it makes all those late nights worth it.
What's the best part of your job?
Being our own bosses. If we have an idea for a product, our website or our social media, we can just do it. We don't have to seek approval or permission, we can just make it happen.
What's the worst part of your job?
fte is just Kirsty and me, so the worst is having a million and one things we want to do, but not the team yet to instigate them quickly. We have lots of ideas and ambition for the brand, but have to pace and prioritise until we start to scale up.
What's your life motto?
Our brand name of FREEDOM TO EXIST is something that's become a motto as well as a company name. We are taking steps to look at our phones less often, and to step back from the digital overload that's becoming more and more intrusive.