Building a brand from the purpose, up

Badd Karma EMPOWER collection, 2018

It all started as an antidote to creative frustration. My day job is copywriting, and while it involves creating, it’s usually the kind of creating that happens within tightly defined parameters. I wanted to stretch out. Push the parameters. See what lies beyond.

So I challenged myself to start a side hustle. What could I achieve in, say 5 hours a week, on a creative side project? An outlet for my busy, frustrated brain, definitely. Another revenue stream? Maybe.

My great idea was this: slogan T-shirts + yoga + my love of wordplay.

And so it was that Badd Karma was born. I want to be clear, though: there was no real purpose at this stage, except for self-amusement and the potential of relatively easy cash.

The plan was to create a load of designs and drop-ship them with a print-on-demand firm. That meant I had literally no initial outlay and no risk. I set everything up. And I kept meaning to push the button, to launch my easy-as-pie online store, but something kept stopping me. Eventually, I realised that the best thing about drop-shipping was also the worst thing. The fact that I wasn’t taking any real risk here felt… kind of phoney. And the fact that I wouldn’t even touch my products before they reached paying customers felt really, really wrong.

I didn’t know it, but I was unwittingly finding the beginnings of my personal and brand purpose.

Customer experience, I realised, was something I cared deeply about. I needed to design that, direct it, own it. I found a local screen printer that I liked and figured out that I could just about afford to invest several hundred pounds on a sample range. Then, with the garments in my hands, I could start to perfect the products and build a brand that people would—I hoped—love.

It was around this time (October 2017) that I went to a networking event, and something strange happened. When people asked what I did, I ended up wanting to talk more about Badd Karma than I did about my established copywriting business.

And overwhelmingly, people got it. They loved the idea.

“But why are you treating it like a pet project?” asked one woman I met. “You clearly believe in it. Why don’t you do a proper business plan and see what you can achieve if you take it seriously?”

Seven weeks later, I incorporated Badd Karma as a limited company. In the previous few weeks, I’d written a five-year business plan and a two-year marketing and social media plan. I’d received my first shipment and designed no less than four small collections, which I planned to release over the course of 2018. I’ve learned a huge amount about e-commerce and inventory—things I’ve never even thought about much before now. I’ve talked to yogis and would-be yogis and yoga teachers and people who have no interest in yoga but who love the idea anyway. And I’ve developed a very rooted sense of purpose.

You see, when I was writing Badd Karma’s business plan, I felt an unexpected swell of ambition for this brand-to-be. This could be a thing. This could really, truly fly. Maybe I would make some money after all! It looked increasingly likely.

But it didn’t feel like quite enough. What was missing, I realised, was meaning. Sure, I was doing this to challenge myself and make some money and fulfil a consumer desire, if not a need.

I needed a bigger why.

The answer was already there, of course. Probably nestling deep in my subconscious way before any of this took any kind of shape. The point of Badd Karma, I realised, was two-fold, really.

First, it was to encourage people on the yoga mat, especially those—like me—who are enthusiastic but have lots to learn, who feel at times like an imposter in a world of impossibly bendy, beautiful people. Because I know that yoga is for everyone, but sometimes it doesn’t feel quite like that. Second, it was to make yoga more accessible to people who could benefit from it. So I decided that Badd Karma would do social good, giving a proportion of profits to social inclusion causes and initiatives that make yoga accessible to those who need it, like refugees, trauma sufferers and people recovering from serious illness. In the future, I’d like to get the percentage up to at least 50% and potentially, set up a foundation to administer it to relevant causes.

So I went back to the drawing board and built my brand from the purpose, up.

Since then, Badd Karma’s purpose of championing realness on the yoga mat has had an enlightening effect on my brand building. It’s made me think carefully about the messages I’m sharing and the way I do business (hello, brand values), get really fussy about my product (hello, user experience) and, just as importantly, challenge myself in new and interesting ways (the list of new things I’ve learned about—from packaging to eco-friendly inks to product photography to accounting and social enterprise and more—is endless).

When you throw yourself into your purpose, what feels scary is suddenly less daunting. For instance, it only feels right to be honest and transparent about the brand story, my products and how I feel about certain issues. I’m from a corporate background where image is carefully curated and stewarded, so this radical honesty I’m apparently allowed to exercise is new and terrifying… but also exhilarating and slightly addictive.

I’m also forced to admit what I don’t know (turns out, it’s a lot) and ask for help. By and large, help been given freely and generously. Even though I’m doing this largely on my own, I’ve never felt more supported by a whole network of amazing people. I’d like to think it’s because my purpose is clear and people relate to it. Either way, my faith is human nature currently stands pretty solid.

So I had the beginnings of a brand and a steadfast purpose. What would come next? I decided that a Kickstarter campaign would be the most effective and humble way to begin because above all else, it would give me an honest answer about the appetite for Badd Karma. It launches at the end of January 2018. If I get funded, it’s all systems go with the first collection. And if I don’t, I’ll re-think things a little. It might be that I need to find another way to fulfil this purpose I’ve found. For what it’s worth, though, I absolutely plan to get funded—and some.

What I’ve learned in the past few months is vast. First, you can achieve more than you ever dreamed of if you just commit, acknowledge the the risk and do it anyway, go all-in, work hard and ask, ask, ask. Don’t know how to do half of this stuff? Good. My curiosity has sky-rocketed since this all began and completely overrides my natural shyness about asking questions or requesting help. Being curious, open and grateful is a genuinely delightful way to live, I can tell you.

In a world that feels especially crazy right now, all of us need purpose to ground us and feed us. And I genuinely believe that we look for it in the brands we interact with. Innovation and profit isn’t enough. Ingenuity and popularity isn’t enough. Purpose—meaning, making a difference, connecting to people—is truly what counts.

The Kickstarter campaign is now live until Sunday 25 February at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/baddkarma/badd-karma-outspoken-yogawear-for-real-life-badass. If you’re able to support me by spreading the word, sharing this story or pledging, you’d be making a difference.

Thank you.