How Astro Suits built a Business selling NASA themed Snow Jackets on Shopify
Built with Shopify
Built with Shopify
How Astro Suits built a Business selling NASA themed Snow Jackets on Shopify
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Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Rahul Sethuram. I am a software engineer by trade and an entrepreneur. I’ve worked at and or started companies in a few different fields, including automotive, fintech, blockchain, and of course e-commerce. My co-founder Chandler and I started our latest venture Astro Suits in 2019.
I have always been a snowboarding junkie as well as a space nerd, so starting Astro Suits allowed me to combine those two passions and be able to create some really awesome products. Our first product is NASA-themed snow jackets, but we have lots of other designs and products in the pipeline!
Being an entrepreneur means you always have to wear a ton of different hats. Our days at Astro Suits are filled with everything under the sun. Daily, our duties include website design, product development, order fulfillment, creative design. Our favorite thing we do during the day, however, is talking to customers. We love to hear feedback from our customers on what they like, what they don’t like, and ideas on how we can improve.
What inspired you to create the business?
I started searching for NASA-themed snowboarding jackets last year for myself to wear during the coming snow season. I was surprised to find nothing on the market that existed. Burton designed NASA-themed apparel for the 2018 Winter Olympics and did a limited release, which instantly sold out. I realized that there is a market for this, and I went out to design a jacket that was inspired by the heroic NASA astronauts, and performs like a high-quality jacket on the slopes.
However, I have always been very interested in fashion design, so I jumped at the opportunity to start my own clothing brand.
Walk us through the process of creating your first product.
I had a vision for how I wanted the jacket to look. First and foremost, the inspiration was the iconic Apollo mission space suits. Even though they were designed 50 years ago, the design is timeless, and they will always look cool. What kid didn’t grow up wanting to be an astronaut? We wanted to take that inspiration and turn it into something that could be worn on the slopes.
I posted a couple Reddit threads to ask about clothing design and how to go about it, and actually got in touch with our first designer through Reddit DMs. He was pumped about the idea and jumped in to create some mockups. After I had the mockups in hand, I submitted them to NASA to get official approval under their licensing guidelines. After a quick iteration to meet their guidelines, we had an approval letter from NASA in hand to produce and sell the jackets!
In parallel to this process, I was searching for high-quality manufacturers that could deliver on our vision. We spoke to a few and found one on Alibaba that checked off all the boxes. The supplier we found makes products for high profile companies such as North Face. We are not able to use print-on-demand for this product, since snow jackets are still a specialty item. The manufacturer provided samples, and we started with a 100 piece order.
What was the process of launching your business like?
We launched the website in August of 2019. Our first product started shipping in September of 2019. We have been relying on social media to get the word out. We have made posts in various forums, subreddits, and groups to try to promote the product and build up buzz.
We had a designer come in and build an initial website, however we are very hands-on in the process. We have iterated on everything on the site and we manage it day-to-day ourselves. We launched the site with two initial products. We have one of the products in stock and shipping, and the other one is pre-ordered.
We got our sale through pure hustle. We put in a ton of work into building the site, building the product, creating ads, designing the campaigns, targeting the audience, doing the SEO. All of that hard work eventually culminates into sales, and it’s rewarding to see the end result.
What are some of the most effective ways that you acquire and retain customers?
We have been trying to stay active on our social media platforms. We have an interesting niche which is the intersection of space and snow sports, so we think there is a ton of cool content we can create and provide to keep our audience engaged.
We have been experimenting with Facebook ads thus far, we have been getting pretty solid engagement from that channel. We have not tried Adwords campaigns yet. Our goal is to build up some good creatives and start to ramp up our advertising and make use of other platforms such as Adwords, Pinterest, Google Shopping, Amazon, Snapchat, etc.
Which Shopify Apps are most important to your business?
We make heavy use of analytics. Because we have technical backgrounds, a data-driven approach is what makes the most sense to us. We enjoy collecting analytics and ad data and using that to directly feed back into how we operate our ad campaigns.
What have been your greatest sources of inspiration?
The podcast “How I Made This” has been an inspiration to me in terms of hearing amazing stories from other founders and how they created their now-iconic project. I recently listened to the Shopify episode, which was very relevant since I have been using Shopify.
Other than that, Elon Musk has always been a source of huge inspiration to me with his vision for the future of humanity. Looking at him always drives me to be the best version of myself.
What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve overcome?
The biggest challenge is definitely wrapping my head around this new e-commerce ecosystem. I haven’t done this before, so it was a learning process to figure out all the different tooling in the space, how to hook everything up, and how to get started with launching our site. I have to give major kudos to Shopify though, they have a slick platform that makes this stuff really easy.
Personally, I love learning about new products, platforms, and concepts, so I was eager to just jump into things and absorb as much as I could. Another challenge for me was finding out exactly where to learn. There are a lot of posts, videos, websites that all scream at you “MAKE MONEY EASILY ONLINE FOR FREE” and things like that. I tend to view those things as particularly scammy and I stay away from those. My viewpoint is: if someone could make money online that easily, why would they share their secrets for free? Clearly the incentives are not right. The best way to do this from what I’ve learned is to network and make friends with the people that are doing this, and get them to mentor you.
Based on your success, do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
I think the main thing I have learned is just how easy it is nowadays to start a business. I had zero experience in either clothing design or e-commerce, but I found out all the tools are online and available. So my best advice is…
Another important thing, as I alluded to earlier, is how important your network is. It’s really all about who you know. So in that regard, put yourself out there as much as you can, you never know who you will meet and how they can possibly help you in the future. Also help as many people as you can, it’s always really important to pay it forward, as good deeds will end up coming back tenfold.
If I could have done things differently, I would have probably spent more time learning and researching the marketing angle and maybe started marketing and building audience before I even got the product in hand.
How are things today and what are your plans for the future?
Things are going well in the early stages. Since we just launched within the last few weeks, we are very much in the “data gathering” phase without any real data points to project actual revenue numbers. We are experimenting mostly with Facebook, but we will soon expand into Google, Snapchat, Pinterest, Amazon, and others.
We are starting out with our Apollo line of jackets, which is the item we have produced and stocked. The Gemini line is available for looking at on the site, but we have not yet stocked the item.
We have plans to launch lines for both women and kids, as well as expand into other product lines. We would like to make use of print-on-demand and other techniques for our next few products so we can easily deliver customers the best experience at scale.
Where can we learn more?
Our website is https://astrosuits.shop. Please feel free to contact us through the site or our social channels! We would love to hear any feedback on our site and/or products, good or bad. As I mentioned, we love talking to our customers, so we will personally view and respond to any feedback we get!
We are always looking for interested and talented people to join the team. Our main needs right now are on the marketing side. If this is a product that interests you and you would like to help us out, please drop us a line! We have previously relied on gig work for marketing needs, so we would be open to pay-as-you go engagements, so you can get your side hustle on while helping with a cool new product!