Given our significant reliance on technology nowadays, it becomes increasingly obvious how bad it would if one day we inadvertently created Skynet. Don’t get me wrong, technology is incredible and has improved our way of life in an innumerable amount of ways; can you imagine how much time it would take me to write out this article if I hadn’t had a laptop on which to write it out? That said however, it’s quite refreshing to sometimes be able to detach yourself from the digital world we live in and focus on traditional means of doing basic daily activities.
Take, for example, wristwatches. Sure, we have phones and computer screens to inform us of the current time, but unlike our electronic devices, the novelty of owning a timeless timepiece cannot be replicated nor replaced. As such, we would like to introduce you to Freedom to Exist, a UK-based watch brand that finds itself infatuated with creating the perfect minimalist watch. Finding their roots through the help of kickstarted campaign, Freedom to Exist have gone on to offer their signature 30 Edition and 40 Edition watches in an array of colours and styles.
We reached out to Paul Tanner in order to learn a bit more about the story behind Freedom to Exist, how it all began and where it all goes from here.
Can you provide us with some background on yourself, anything you want to share, your upbringings, and what you are like as a creative director, founder, and individual?
Kirsty and I met while working for Habitat (a UK Furniture brand), we then both joined Made.com and moved to Shanghai to help maintain the momentum of their explosive growth, and that experience inspired us to do our own thing. Kirsty had trouble finding a watch at the right price-point that she liked, that would also fit her — they tended to spin or slide up her wrist, and our watch and brand was born out of this gap in the market. Kirsty is the designer and creative force behind Freedom To Exist, and I manage to financial, logistical and website side of things. We collaborate but we have strict rules on who has final say, which removes arguments and bottlenecks.
How did the brand launch, what was this process like for you?
We launched our website in late 2015 and then started contacting London retailers with the view of tapping in to Christmas gift sales. We were fortunate to gain five highly respected design led retailers early on, which gave our new brand exposure and credibility. Early sales were so strong for our debut 30 Edition (taking its name from its 30mm case), that we turned to Kickstarter to fund a larger unisex mode called the 40 Edition (40mm case). This was successfully funded, and opened up our brand to Men and also Women that prefer a watch with a larger dial. Since then we have added additional colours and retailers, with our focus now on brand awareness and overseas growth.
What is your creative process? What do you want people to associate with when they hear the name of your brand?
Kirsty designs the watches and selects the colours, and then works with the factory to develop the prototypes. We have both worked in large companies previously, and often they develop new products by commity, which always leads to an original vision being diluted. By having one creative lead, and one creative decision maker, it ensures that the product is the best it can be, and stays true to our brand values and quality requirements.
We want people to associate our brand with quality, and also the personal touch. As theres only two of us currently, we hand check every purchase and we write a personalized note. We pride ourselves on our customer service, and this is an aspect we have focused on early on as it sets the foundation for healthy business. A happy customer will tell five friends, and unhappy customer will tell ten friends, so by over delivering and excessed our customers expectations, it will make our customers happy, it will help ensure they recommend us to friends and family.
How has your brand grown over time, and how have you personally grown over this period?
We have learnt a huge amount since starting the project. As with anything, hindsight is an amazing thing. The one thing that has remained consistent is our product, even now when we pack each parcel for dispatch we still get that wow feeling. Instagram became our dominant social platform early on, we recently reached 17,000 followers, which have formed our community and become brand ambassadors. When we launched there were just two of us, now there are many thousands.
Throughout this journey what has been your biggest struggle?
Time (no pun intended). Theres so much that we want to do, its hard to know where to start, especially as theres just two of us behind the brand. We are self funded, each sale goes back into the business for more stock and marketing, which gives us certain restrictions that force us to prioritize certain projects. With a bigger team and more budget we could grow more quickly and take more risks, but with a small team and tight budget we are growing organically and at a steady and considered pace.
Describe your customers and clients… What would you say is one thing you have that other brands might not?
A lot of our customers have emailed us saying “I have been looking for a watch like yours for ages…thanks so much!”. When creating the brand and our range, our motivation was to create a product we were unable to find on the market that we wanted to buy ourselves. We have attracted a lot of like minded people, who have thankfully told their friends and allowed us to grow.
Having worked in the furniture industry prior to entering the market for watches, how different or similar is the process involved in creating and distributing watches?
They are similar in the respect of taking a sketch to mass production. Product Development tends overlap regardless of the product type, with a strict process being followed to ensure that the new item is the best it can be, for the target price its aimed at. An issue with Furniture is its size and the cost of shipping, so a big benefit of having a watch is that we can ship globally, and we can provide this for free.
Based on your portfolios which predominately feature creating furniture, how closely related would you say is the architectural process for furniture in comparison to watches?
A big part of our development process was the balance of the lines, the thickness and the space between them. We have debated and re-sampled our watch as we wanted it to be 0.24mm finer on the bezel. With furniture and architecture you have similar discussions and situations but you’re dealing with larger tolerances. A piece of furniture may need to be amended by centimeters here and there, a building by 10’s of centrimetres.
Given the success of your first collection along with the huge support from your kickstarter for the 40 Edition, are there future plans for another addition to the growing product selection for Freedom to Exist?
Yes. Kickstarter was a great process and we learnt a lot from it and reached a large audience from it, and we will use it for other products in the future, most likely a new watch design that’s a higher spec and has more features than our current design. We are also considering other product categories and its an excellent test bed for product market fit and gaining early sales.
The name Freedom to Exist is a reference to the ideology that you “believe freedom is the freedom to choose, to fall in love, to wear what you want, how you want to.” Is this significant to your personal lives, or rather was it the result of having an existential crisis?
I found myself sitting on a plane and waiting for it to take off, and realizing that the 15 minutes that they ask you to turn off your electronic devices is the only time I’m not looking at my phone. My phone had become something that was utterly dominating my life. We felt that our new watch would be a response to this, something that told you the time when you wanted it, and wasn’t a device that constantly competed for your attention.
Since the dawn of time (well, the early 19th century at least), wristwatches were created to provide time in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Given the exponential growth in electronic devices, how important would you say wristwatches are to our current, fast-paced societal lifestyle?
I have read recently about the 5:2 Diet being use for Social Media usage. People allow themselves to use it for 5 days….and then have 2 days a week that they don’t look at it. More and more friends of mine are deleting their facebook accounts, and I think there’s an ongoing sense of feeling overwhelmed. In the old days, a lot of people smoked because it gave themselves something to do if they were ever left alone (back in the days when you could smoke in a pub — people would reach for the lighter as soon as their co-drinker went to get more drinks) and perhaps there’s a similar overlap in the damage social media can do to you. Watches will always have a place in society, and will outlast wearable tech as the go to time-teller. They have survived 100+ years, and will comfortably last 100+ more. There’s also an element of nostalgia with a timepiece, as people keep, collect and gift them. No one is going to remember and have fond memories of their fitbit in 10 years time, but a watch they got for their 18th Birthday, or the one they wore at their wedding, or the one they gave their son, will last in the memory for years.
Following the fast pace in which society finds itself, it’s refreshing to see that Freedom to Exist provides timeless watches that essentially exist the confinements of “fast fashion.” How do you believe that fast fashion has impacted the cultural effect of the wristwatch?
The need to turn over designs and colours has created a strong discount culture, and disposable culture. If a watch brand has a 50% off sale, or has gifted 5 x watches to a particular influencer, then they are not in it for the long haul. They are testing and manipulating market fit, and then moving on to the next design as soon as they see results. Our watch took many iterations and months (close to 18) to develop, and we are fully committed to it being the best it can be and intend to keep the design in our range for many years, we aren’t looking for a short term fix, we wanted a product that could become archetypal for its price-point.v
Be sure to check out their designs at www.freedomtoexist.com