If you’re unfamiliar with the expression “Do what you love and the money will follow,” then you’ve probably been living under a rock. It’s not an overly new or prolific statement for young passionate entrepreneurs to hear. Doesn’t mean it’s not true, though.
Joschka Sawatzky is the lead designer and co-founder of Lifeline Supply along with photographer Jeff Shuh and Courage My Love bassist Brandon Lockwood. The exclusive retail brand and online apparel company operates on the Shopify platform and is grounded in beautiful design, quality, and a very simple question: would I wear it?
“It’s not about getting money and it’s not about being the coolest brand in the world,” Joschka says. “I started it because my two friends and I wanted stuff we could fill our closets with; that we would wear; that we were stoked on; that emulated our personalities.”
If you check his birth certificate, it will tell you that Joschka – in the business sense – is a relatively young pup. But when you speak with the Waterloo Region outfitter, it becomes immediately apparent that he conducts himself with a cool articulation and calm understanding that many entrepreneurs would take years to hone. And at the root of his acumen are two more traits that more business owners could use a healthy dose of – passion and focus.
“I think one of the first aspects that really helps us to be who we are is consistency. Myself being a designer, I have a really firm idea of how I want things to look. And I’ve learned over time that you can’t just do that over one platform. So in terms of the logo and the look of things, to the photography and the people wearing the clothes, and also to the brand voice and the way that you talk to people – I use my ability as a designer that specializes in branding to be able to leverage all this stuff into this one singular idea or voice, which Lifeline is.”
To call Lifeline Supply trendy would probably be both accurate and a gross overstatement, all in the same breath. The unisex aesthetic is certainly stylish and trendy in the sense that there is something innately alluring about wanting to wear these clothes right here and now in the nineteenth year of this millennium. But the style doesn’t feel fleeting either. The deliberate pieces that Joschka and his team have chosen to host their thoughtful designs are pieces that people actually want to wear.
Hoodies, T-shirts, crewneck sweaters, Snapback ball caps and flannel button-ups are what people choose to sport in the comfort of their homes, at concerts, at gastropubs and cafés, at sporting events, and in open-concept offices where million-dollar decisions are made at standing desks, adjacent to the startup foosball table. For all intents and purposes, this style of streetwear is most likely not going anywhere anytime soon, which makes it in effect, timeless (at least for the time being).
And of course when you consider time, sooner or later, you broach the subject of humble beginnings. Joschka recounts:
“Lifeline was created for a school project. I’m currently in a Bachelor of Design program at Conestoga College and I had a branding class in my second year and the project scope was to create a company, do all the brand assets for it, create a business plan, and basically lay the foundations for a company that could live in the real world. So I decided to take that project scope and run with it, but transitioning into something that’s actually feasible in the real world. Rainy days, sunny days I’m going to keep going with it because that’s what I’m most passionate about.”
Rainy days, sunny days I’m going to keep going ...
For Joschka, Lifeline really is a labour of love. Throughout the interview, it’s clear how passionate he is about what he does and how much of that passion starts even before the clothing – at the core of his business – the brand. When asked where the name comes from, he explains that the inspiration is about “following your passion and living a life that really emulates that thing that’s inside of you.” Symbolically it’s “that thing you can reach out and grab.”
But as he continues to explain, the consummate designer takes over: “Visually the name Lifeline is great because it’s an 8 letter word – it can be stacked, it can be written horizontally. Our logo has the two I’s connected – so there’s a lot of things I can play with from a design standpoint.”
And his understanding of the importance of staying true to the brand he has shaped and developed goes beyond hip designs and consistent colour palettes. Another priority for this young entrepreneur is made clear as he weighs the idea of value. “Another thing I’m really adamant with our clothes is quality over quantity – there’s a lot of brands out there printing on cheap garments, selling them for not a whole lot of money. If you buy a shirt for 25 bucks and it lasts maybe five wears and you’re over it – I don’t see that as being valuable.”
Speaking of value, Lifeline may be creating a million-dollar fashion brand and they don’t even realize it. Last year, venture backed fashion startups raised over $1.5B including Frank & Oak (CB Insights), a Montréal-based startup in Series C who has raised over $23M.
When asked what advice he’d offer other young folks, venturing into a similar world, he tells like it is:
“It’s never going to go anywhere if you don’t believe it yourself. I wanted to do it for myself and my friends because it’s what WE thought was the best thing to do. I have to follow this because it’s what I truly love.”
So if you’re in the market for a well-made sweater or long-cut T that’s been marked by thoughtful, passionate design, check out lifelinesupply.com and wear what you love, not because Joschka told you to. But because you love it.