- I still remember getting your email in 2013, about you guys setting up Fortis. To be honest the whole idea of creating polarised fishing sunglasses sounded pretty cool but the name was a bit strange to me and a lot of Belgians as a then recent bankrupt big bank over here had the same name (did you know that, lol?). Anyway, where did you get the name and idea originally?
Sending out those initial Fortis emails to various people seems like an age away! Thankfully the take up was well received and we’ve made some good friends as a result of it. You too can surely relate to the difficultly of naming a brand… it took us literally months. We went through every English word… and then started going through the latin ones when we run out. Fortis actually derives from Fortuna, and that means “fortune favours the bold” and ‘Fortis’ is Latin for ‘brave’. Which is quite apt for an angler!
- Was the idea something that grew naturally, or did you purposely look into something to fill a gap in the angling industry? (I mean: Monkey Climber was just started up without any business plan, nothing, we just created a first mag and saw from there on what happened)
It’s definitely just grown naturally in the way we’ve branched out with clothing and a few accessories, but the whole polarized brand came from a lot of thought. We were heavily involved in iPhone apps at the time, we wanted to start something bigger so we started sampling those portable chargers with a view to marketing them to anglers. At the time, there was just none on the market, but they were coming in way too expensive. Paul was fishing in France, and his girlfriend at the time was taking the piss out of his polaroids saying how “uncool” they were. He text me saying “How about some fashionable fishing glasses?” and it clicked. By the time he’d come back I’d ordered samples and contacted manufacturers, we were both super excited as we knew it had potential. It was niche, but there was a huge gap for it, and it went from there!
- You were already active in the angling industry before, with iAngler, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Paul and I met at Art College, before we went off for Uni. iAngler was formed after we’d done our degrees and gained some experience working for agencies in the City. It was just when the app market was talking hold around 2011, and we developed some unique fishing ones at the time, rig apps, weather and moon phase ones etc etc. Along with those, we also built quite a few websites for various brands in the market like Korda, SubSurface, Guru Tackle, Urban Bait, Monkey Climber and Gigantica etc etc. All that funded Fortis.
- Was Fortis originally set up as an iAngler side business? And where is it now, main one now we guess?
Exactly that, nowadays we just don’t have the time for web stuff! That said we try find the time for cool bits and we’ve just finished Gaz’s new site. (Coming soon)
- What were the main difficulties when you started up, and the surprises – both pleasant and unpleasant – you encountered at an early stage?
We made the decision we were in this for the long haul, and as a result of that we wanted to work with the retailers and not sell direct to the public. Some shops were receptive, other’s were not. It’s tough to hear shops saying they aren’t interested, when we are so passionate about it! Cold calling all those shops trying to get them buy our stuff when they’ve never heard of the brand or the products was hard. On the flip side to that, getting reorders so quick from those that did get involved, and seeing everyone get buzzed about the products, was rewarding. It reassured us that we weren’t crazy and the idea had legs…
- You entered the market big and with a bang, guess that was on purpose too?
That’s surely just a dream for any new business? Thankfully it went okay. We didn’t launch till we had everything ready… the stock, the adverts, the photography, the collective, the support – so we flicked the switch (and kept our fingers crossed!).
- What or who helped you in the early days to create such a household name so quickly?
No other brand did glasses when we launched, that was the thing. We literally cherry picked all the cooler dudes out there regardless of their ties and sponsorships, and sent them shades. So all these guys had a fancy black box arrive laced with orange tissue paper…. And a few pairs of polairised glasses inside. As it didn’t conflict with their other brands, it was cool, and as a result, everyone in the mags seemed to be wearing them. We tied that up with some reasonably good marketing, and word got around pretty quick.
- I can imagine your first run sold out swiftly, what happened next? Panic?
I wish! When you have next to no retailers, and best part of 4000 pairs to shift it took a while! We actually grew the range believe it or not. We had the trendy models, Avaitors, Flat Tops and Square Tops… but noticed pretty quickly some people just wanted a more traditional pair to wear. So we developed the Wraps. They’re still our best selling to this day… people just love them. They aren’t the coolest one’s we’ve done, but they’re very practical!
- Personal Angling: how is this influenced by a booming business?
People assume when you have your own business, you must be out fishing all the time! That couldn’t be any further from the truth. We’re both still mega passionate about angling, fish a little less that we’d like, but not by choice. It’s a balance. No publicity lakes and syndicates make up our fishing these days, with the odd trip to Europe. It’s nice to keep our personal fishing out of the public domain.
- A lot of people think the cool brands of today are quite big, they see you as the CEO’s with tens of people working for you; reality is different, right? E.g. Let our readers know where do hold your stock (at Zwolle you guys told me everywhere you can)
Please don’t shatter our dreams, we tell everyone we’re CEO’s! 😉 Our first shipment was literally stored anywhere and everywhere. Garages, spare rooms, attics, boxes hidden under matresses, boxes on matresses! We’re a lot more organized now, we’ve got the whole basement of our office decked out but we run out of space again, so we’ve converted the attic too.
- Any funny Fortis stories?
I don’t know if you know The Tackle Box in Dartford, it’s a pretty big shop in the UK, and close to our homes too. We organised our very first sales meeting with a view to them stocking our products. We sat down in the office all excited, with the 3 managers, Paul and I. They made us a coffee, and I proceeded to get the samples out of my bag. As Paul was reaching over to sugar his drink… they looked at the glasses and within seconds said “DON’T LIKE EM, WE WONT SELL THEM!”. I hadn’t even finished putting them on the table, and they’d already ruled them out. I see Paul’s hand start shaking out of the corner my eye, sugar decorating the table… and my mouth went bone dry. We couldn’t believe it. As we were chatting we could see on the CCTV that a chap and his wife were looking at the glasses downstairs in the shop, so one of them took our samples down to him to see if he liked them. He didn’t quite fit our demographic, but we weren’t prepared for the hysterical laughing his wife broke into when he tried them on, that we all witnessed upstairs huddled around the black and white surveillance TV. Even one of the younger chaps in the shop said he wouldn’t wear them either! After much persuasion we left with an order, which they sold out of in one weekend. Luckily for us, we all have different tastes!
- In these past five years, how do you keep yourselves fresh, renewing, etc (the collabs maybe?)
We’ve recently launched the XSR Binoculars and also the ‘Elements’ technical layering system which complements the Snugpak clothing perfectly. We don’t look into the fishing industry for inspiration, but the street and outdoor markets where there’s huge potential for cross over products and development.
- Already a big collab with Snugpak, any more to come?
Collaborating with Snugpak works perfectly as Sunglasses traditionally are so seasonal, so it keeps us busy right through the colder months too. We’ve been working on a huge new project, but it won’t launch until SS2020 such is the work going into it! We can’t wait for that!
- You’re a dad know, do you still work as hard as before?
Always! Being a Dad is so cool, literally the best! So perhaps it makes you work even harder, possibly that underlying feeling of being responsible for a little person! J
- Have you ever considered giving up? What keeps you going?
No chance, I love it! It can get pretty annoying that now everyone seems to be trying to do polarised glasses, but we just remain focused and stay one step ahead. We market ours all year round, where as all the other brands just have a quick flash in the pan with it. When a customer comes to a show, and tells you he has a few pairs of glasses, the jacket, the cap, the bucket and he “needs” the new stuff… that’s what makes it worthwhile!
- Fortis is 5 years now, where do you see yourself in another five?
We’ll keep trying to push the sport forward with our media, and our products will be a lot more technical too. We’ve got a real passion for performance, so that’s what we’re working on at the moment. Maybe we’ll have CEO on our business cards! J
If possible, underneath the piece we will focus on these two messages regarding DIY businesses, can you explain your thoughts about these?
Your own anthem, any way you could translate that to a diy business too?
Most importantly, ensure your idea has substance and originality. Do your own thing! Look further afield and be inspired by more than just fishing.
For instance, recently I saw you were looking for staff.
Develop the areas of your business that need the most attention… we’ve just employed someone to run the operations, which will free up precious time to focus on development and marketing. Don’t confuse the need to employ someone with putting off doing the shitty jobs yourself… there comes a tipping point whereby its physically impossible to get things done. That’s when it’s time to get help!
Check out the Monkey Climber website.
Check out our products page for the full range of polarised fishing sunglasses.