"Are you guys closing down?"
"No....I just needed some time to step back and figure some things out."
This conversation became a daily occurrence over the winter months. It was cool to have so many people interested in what was happening with Seagull and with me. However, I really only had the chance to fully explain the situation to a few people. I want people to understand our decision to close, to restructure and where we stand now. I figured...why don't I just tell the whole thing. Not the cliff notes version. So here is the first installment. In the coming weeks we will be talking about specific aspects of our relaunch. If you read the whole thing you get a gold star!
Before we start this, I want to thank everyone that has supported us form day one.
It's hard to put an exact date on the "Oh shit" moment. The moment that I realized that if we kept going in the fashion we were that we wouldn't be around much longer. It was a process. I was exhausted both physically and creatively. I was frustrated, confused, and defeated. I guess they call that burn out. How could that happen when you are doing something you love with people you love?
The first years of Seagull were incredibly exciting. From 2004-2009 we were growing by 300% a year. We had established our name just before the urban cycling boom on the mid 2000's. We were right at the center of a growing trend. Because of this we were constantly struggling to keep our turnaround times down and to keep organized. We also were having a blast! We were sending bags all over the world and traveling to tons of events. The amount of orders masked over the larger production issues that were brewing.
In 2010 the crashing economy hit us. We had a large staff and overhead that was skyrocketing. These slowly started to wear on the reserves we had. We had to start taking on projects, contract sewing, and other design work. This was the beginning of a downward spiral. These projects did not have great profit margins, pure and simple. On a few projects, by the time we had designed, created templates and sourced materials we were already over budget. This left us chasing more of this type of work just to make ends meet. Through this time we continued to produce really high quality custom items.
At the same time that I was experiencing a serious case of "writers block". The pressure of financial strain had sucked all of the creativity out of me. I had a pile of prototypes for a new backpack that was almost as high as my sewing table. None of them were good. It's safe to say that I had spent thousands of hours working on designs and I had nothing to show for it. I remember a friend telling "Don't give up. Just keep chipping away at it and you'll break through'". This was one of the most frustrating periods of my life. I had never felt so creatively void and faced with such a big wall. Even if I was able to come up with an idea I wasn't able to get something into production.
This trend finally did break. I designed and made the nightshift and the trail buddy (in their early forms) in a single day. I could feel the wall being broken down. The creative juices started to flow. I was convinced that these new products would pull us out of the slump. Although they did well, they really highlighted some of the inefficiencies we had been struggling with all along.
The weeks turned into months that turned into years. The trend wasn't reversing. We were being sustained by custom orders but we had tried just about everything. In early summer 2013 I had make some hard choices. There simply wasn't money. I decided to scale back production and start cutting hours and even laying some people off. this continued up until fall 2014. In November of 2014 I decided we needed to stop. The problems we had were built into the business. Sometimes you have to burn something down to rebuild it. During a meeting shortly before our Christmas rush I informed everyone that there simply wouldn't be work after Christmas. This was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
January 2nd was a strange day. I returned to the shop after a short holiday break. It was empty. For the first time since 2005 it was just me. I wish I could say I knew what to do. I had no idea. I wasn't even sure I would be able to keep Seagull going. Maybe I was being guided somewhere else. Maybe it was time to walk away from it. Maybe I just needed to do Seagull as a hobby.
I spent many long hours discussing this with my wife, family and friends. I starting looking for other work. All the while, in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn't quite ready to walk away. After following up on a few leads I was actively seeking other options. This continued for a couple weeks. I was committed to this until one night. I was on a late night walk with my thoughts and a nip of whiskey in a old mug.
"Seagull is really important to me. I can't just walk away. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to Seagull to give it another shot. My product, my designs, my convictions are too solid to leave behind"
I think my wife put it best;
"If you leave this behind you will always wonder it could have been."
The thought crashed into my brain with such force an clarity that I could almost taste it. It was at that moment that I knew exactly what I had to do. This sudden clarity and determination had been lacking for so long I had almost forgotten what it felt like.
I re-entered the shop with renewed vigor and determination. The plan...remake Seagull the way I had wanted it to be. I had to re-invision the brand, develop a new business model, a new structure, new language and new products. This has been a lot to juggle but has been really exciting. I feel like we have grown up as a brand and as people.
We have the right people in the right places and the path has opened up for a bright future! We can't wait to share our vision with you!
- Daniel McKewen (owner/designer)