Two months ago, VU students, Joost and Rolf, together with their friend Luca started the sustainable clothing brand. Canardy: the clothes with the bright, yellow, rubber duck. Within a few weeks, they sold out most of their inventory and it’s gotten impossible to go to the lectures without a duck staring at you from someone’s shirt. The blog team tracked down one of the founders, Rolf Willems for a new ‘Meet the Students’ masterpiece. Rolf talks about the process of starting a new business, the peaks, the lows and his advice for other students.
Rolf, you’re not the typical VU student, 18 years old and founder of three companies, what have you done before Canardy?
In my first company, I helped content creators on YouTube to find advertisement deals. The second is a web design and online marketing company. We help businesses with their online promotion, online appearance and website. Something they don’t want to spend too much time on and we can probably do better than them. We already had some cool clients like Flügel, but also many smaller companies.
So you got paid in shots?
No… We were paid money, unfortunately. If they would offer me one free bottle per week, I would have agreed!
So what motivates you to start new projects?
Every time I have a new idea, I instantly want to make it happen. Just to create things that other people will use, wear or pay money for. It gives a great fulfillment when people like our website, when we get clicks on an advertisement or when people buy our shirt. This gives me perhaps the biggest kick in life!
Nice! But let’s go on to Canardy, from all the animals in the world, why the duck?
It is a very random story actually: Joost bought 30 rubber ducks for 3 euros on Alibaba. When the order arrived, we were in a funny mood. We asked ourselves: Why don’t we put these ducks on t-shirts. The duck is an expression of fun things; it’s cute, cool, joyful and above all, no one can hate a rubber duck. We had actually always wanted to start our own clothing brand, so why not with a duck!
Indeed quite random haha. Canardy is not a standard clothing brand, what is its vision?
We want to be a fun and happy brand that takes things less serious. On top of that, we don’t want any negative sides. Everyone starting a brand in the clothing industry should at least start off with right business ethics, working hours and working conditions, so that’s what we do. If you want to change something in this world, you need to begin with yourself. We can’t change what other people do but if you yourself are on a good track, you’re changing a bit of the world.
Why would anyone buy a Canardy shirt instead of a Primark shirt?
That’s an easy one, Primark clothes aren’t exactly famous for their small footprint on the environment and great working conditions. Canardy however, works with partners that produce in safe working conditions. Besides, the clothes are produced with organic cotton and recycled polyester. If you care about the environment and the people that make your clothes, you would choose Canardy over Primark. It’s more expensive of course, but that’s the consideration you make.
You had this idea of a rubber duck on a shirt, what were your next steps?
We had to find a supplier and production people, this was quite difficult. We googled a bit and found a company from Belgium that really fitted our style. We met up with them and it immediately clicked well. After a few weeks, we had ordered 271 shirts! It was very exciting.
I can imagine… How is business going right now?
It’s going very well. The most exciting thing since we started is that we get more and more orders from people we don’t know. This gives the confirmation that people actually like it. A DJ duo from Amsterdam even sent us a message, asking whether we want to partner up.
Partnering up with a DJ could be a very helpful marketing tool! Are there any other ways you will bring the rubber duck to the masses?
We think that when people like our product, it will grow by itself. Sponsoring a few fun parties would be cool, not the really big events, just good nights out.
What would be the ultimate Canardy partner?
That’s a difficult one!
I don’t think so! But, I could see Post Malone wearing Canardy. If he would be wearing our shirt at a concert once, we would be done! But just like the very famous people, I think everyone can wear Canardy.
I can imagine starting a company is not all roses (and ducks), what has been the biggest struggle since you started out?
Another clothing brand is opposing our trademark so we have some legal conflict. They think our name looks too much like theirs. We don’t agree because the opposing party has a real duck, not a rubber one. Everyone can have a different opinion so we’ll wait for the procedure. If we lose, we can’t use the duck in combination with the word Canardy.
You could change the duck to a banana and call it Banardy?!
Haha fun idea, I’ll keep it in mind! But we like the rubber duck and the name ‘Canardy’ so that would be a very ducked up situation.
I understand, what will the next Canardy products look like?
For the spring collection, we have clothes with lively colors coming up. Future collections could also consist of windbreakers, underwear and socks. And of course new hoodies, shirts and sweaters.
What about slippers?
Haven’t thought about that, good idea!
I do want my shares though… 😉 But Rolf, a more personal question; what is your biggest dream in life?
At this moment I don’t really have a specific dream. It would be awesome if I could earn my money with a company I started. I don’t necessarily want to become a multi-millionaire, although it would certainly be fun. Being able to do my own thing, earn money from it and enjoy it, that’s all I need.
What is your advice to students with cool and crazy ideas for new start-ups?
When you have an idea, first check whether people actually like it. When they do, just start and try everything. If you need help from other people, don’t be afraid to ask them. Most people are happy to help and perhaps they know something you don’t. Keep trying until you get to the point you want to be!
One final question, which is also the most important one…
Where can I apply to become a Canardy model?
You can always send us an email; we will probably need new models for the spring campaign!
Do you also have your own company or another great story to tell? Contact our Blog Team on [email protected] and share your story!
written by Sem Kotek