Radically Personal S1 E5
Creating a Lighter, More Radically Personal World
Periods of transformation often result in some of the most exciting leaps forward for a brand.
That’s been especially true for animal-free footwear brand Native Shoes who have made it their mission to ‘Live Lightly’, designing shoes that make for a happier and healthier world. Listen in to hear from Bec Boxall, Native’s VP of Marketing, Channels, and Customer Experience, on how Native has been putting that mission at the center of their expansion into the direct to consumer (D2C) space and creating a Radically Personal experience for their customers.
“When your work is aligned with your values, it's a happier place to be working from."
Joseph: Welcome to the Radically Personal podcast where the people behind the most beloved brands share how they put their customers at the heart of everything they do. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. On today’s episode, we sit down with Bec Boxall. Bec runs all of marketing, e-commerce, and customer experience at Native Shoes, the 100% animal-free footwear brand whose products are designed to create a happier and healthy world. I joined Bec and her two Schnoodle dogs, Watson and Henry, at Native’s beautiful Vancouver headquarters. In this episode, you’ll hear from Bec on how she guided the 10 year old company through a purpose led transformation that reinvented their strategy for e-commerce and customer experience.
Bec: I believe that a transformation around customer experience and around purpose can happen at any point in a brand and a company’s life.
Joseph: We’ll talk about how being purpose led encourages innovation at the company. Native’s core mission is to live lightly and encourages employees to ask more what ifs. These ideals inspired a recycling program that became the Native Shoes Remix Project.
Bec: One of our declarations is that by 2023, we have 100% of our products lifecycle managed, and one of the avenues for that is for us to recycle our shoes. The goal is to recycle as many of our shoes as people want to give us.
Joseph: Finally, Bec shares the radically personal value she looks for when recruiting the Native team.
Bec: In a high growth and in a transformation type environment, curiosity is so fundamental because things change so quickly. You need the agility of thought and not being particularly tied to one way of doing things.
Joseph: This is Radically Personal. Super excited to be here in Vancouver at Native Shoes. This is actually a first for us here on Radically Personal. We’ve never actually had pets. Who’s with us today?
Bec: I have Watson and Henry with us. They are Schnauzer cross Poodles or known on the street as the Schnoodle. These guys have traveled from Australia to Canada with me.
Joseph: That’s great. Why don’t we start with, can you just tell everyone what you do here?
Bec: I am the VP of marketing and sales and customer experience. I’m really fortunate, I work across a number of the functions of the business. I oversee the marketing, the marketing function, the sales channel, so our wholesale business, our growing retail business and our growing e-commerce business and also the customer experience team, so everything that touches the customer, which I love, and reaching our customers wherever we are. Yeah, it’s been really great.
Joseph: One of the best parts of my conversation with Bec was hearing her tell the story behind the brand of Native Shoes.
Bec: Yeah. We’re just over-
Joseph: 10 years old, right? You just had your birthday.
Bec: Just over 10 years old, we celebrated our birthday last, 10 birthday, last year. From our foundation, we’ve been animal-free and we were a wholesale business for the better part of that decade. Then, more recently, our founder, Scott Hawthorn, wanted to launch the direct to consumer side of the business, in part for having a direct conversation with our customer, but primarily he was very passionate about being a purpose led business.
Joseph: For the better part of the first 10 years of the life of the company, more indirect connection with your customers. Last few years, change that obviously to a much greater focus on direct to consumer.
Bec: And leading with purpose. Small tangent, we talk a lot about purpose led and marketed purpose in the business. It’s pretty easy these days to have a purpose that exists in your marketing team and in your comms, but doesn’t really live in the culture or the fabric of the business. Scott really led this conversation in the beginning, but we’re really passionate about having our purpose being felt and understood and in our culture across all teams, whether you’re in finance, whether you’re in operations, whether you’re in the product team or on the coal front in the customer experience team.
Joseph: Let’s talk about that. Actually, I liked it so much, I actually wrote it down and I wanted to read, starts with this idea live lightly. It seems the heavier the world gets, the more it needs lightness. Lightness is why we’re here. It guides us to design products and experiences that create a lighter, healthier, happy world for us all. Each time you wear a pair of Native Shoes, you’re making an impact.
Bec: Again, because purpose, it both starts inside and then goes out. When we really got down to brass tacks in terms of invigorating the culture and the business around purpose, and then how we wanted to show up and how we’re being perceived in the world, the language around our purpose became fundamental. We say, “At Native Shoes, we make it easy for all to live lightly.” The pillars that sit underneath that are ask more what ifs, do the kind thing, lighten up and practice tiny activism.
Joseph: You joined, and it is at the kickoff of this transformation to be purpose led. What was the spark that idea?
Bec: I mean the spark really started with Scott Hawthorn, our founder. He’s our visionary and he felt very strongly about bringing to the forefront our purpose, which had been in our DNA since day one, but really wanted us to lead with it, both from a legacy perspective and also what that meant for our culture and who we invited into our team here and what that meant we were going to be able to create from there.
Joseph: As an entrepreneur, one of the things I loved hearing from Bec was how their value of ask more what ifs has translated into transformation and innovation in the company. For example, she tells a story about Project Remix. How did that happen? Walk through, what is it? What is Project Remix, and how did that come to fruition?
Bec: The wonderful thing ask more what ifs is that it led us back in with also our internal values around curiosity. It’s a value and kind of a guideline for us all in any situation to be saying, “Well, what if we could do that? Or what if there was a different way of looking at this situation? Or what if we took this conversation in a different direction?” Having the space so people feel confident to say, “Well, what if we did this?”
Joseph: One day, someone says, “What if?”
Bec: Chad rolls in and he was chatting to our founder, Scott, about something completely different. Then, he’s one foot out of the door, and he turns around and he says to Scott, “Oh, I have this idea. It’s probably nothing. What if we made a grinder that we could put our shoes into and we could make that stuff into something else?” Scott said to him, “All right, well, put together a one pager for me and I’ll find you some budget to do that.” Within a day, Chad had turned around his one pager, and Scott gave him a few thousand dollars to work with. The goal is to recycle our Jefferson shoes. You pop them into the grinder and we grind them up. It comes out with this, I guess, the rubble of our Jeffersons. It’s a reasonably flexible material then to convert into flooring or seating. We’ve got some seating in the office that’s made out of old Jefferson shoes.
Bec: This year, we’ve partnered with the council in Vancouver and we’ve made a flooring, the flooring of a new playground that opened is made of old Jefferson shoes. We have a partner in the States, [Camp 00:08:19], and they’ve opened a few locations, Dallas and New York. They’ve got a playground inside their store and the flooring of the playground… So one of our declarations is that by 2023, we have 100% of our products lifecycle managed. One of the avenues for that is for us to recycle our shoes. The goal is to recycle as many of our shoes as people want to give us.
Joseph: Live lightly.
Bec: Living lightly, leaving a light footprint on the planet.
Joseph: How are you managing, because you’re going through two transformations at the same time? One is just a transformation of sort of thinking about how you do business, but also changing the approach of how you’re going to market. How are you managing those two things at the same time?
Bec: Having both at the same time has actually been really important. Being purpose led is that you’re starting with that and then things fall out from there. The fact that we’re leading with purpose led to the sales channel transformation. It provides clarity about what we stand for, where we’re going. It unites the team. Every team member has their own personal attachment, their own personal reason associated with our purpose for being here. I believe that a transformation around customer experience and around purpose can happen at any point in a brand and a company’s life. It starts with declaring it, that you want it and you want to do it and you want to stand for it. Then, it’s about embedding a culture and repeating that culture and standing for that culture every day, providing the language. I talked before about the power of language and the language around our purpose was fundamental and incredibly important to get right as a foundation for that transformation.
Joseph: When you’re going through recruiting of people, how do you get at that? How do you say, “Yes, this person matches our cultural and values and mission?”
Bec: One of the questions in the interview is what is it about our purpose that is attractive to you and how do you think you can contribute to it? We have more recently included a… We’ve launched a volunteer program as a benefit for our team. There’s two days a year on top of your personal days.
Joseph: You can take to volunteer.
Bec: To volunteer, which is our tiny activism pillar. I think the calculation is about 800 volunteer hours a year from Native Shoes.
Joseph: When we first spoke, you talked about, when you’re recruiting the team, about the importance of curiosity. How do you get at that? How do you… This person clearly has it, is there a set of questions you ask them? How do you know?
Bec: In a high growth and in a transformation type environment, curiosity is so fundamental because things change so quickly. You need the agility of thought and not being particularly tied to one way of doing things. Also, we want to do new things and lead the way. If you’re bringing a bias of how something must be done, this is a tough environment if that’s your preferred way of thinking. I’ll be honest, I don’t have one particular way of going about it. I consciously approach any interview in a very conversational manner, I really want to understand who someone is.
Joseph: What’s an example of how you then… Once people join, how do you enable them, train them really to get into the mission of Native Shoes? What’s that process like?
Bec: We get anyone that starts to spend time in every facet of the business.
Joseph: They rotate, so they join and they …
Bec: They join. They spend their first two weeks in orientation and meeting with key leaders in key functions across the business. It’s important they understand how each department approaches problems and what they’re focused on and how things work. The other tool that we offer everybody across the business is personal growth training that teaches… It’s around teaching a lot of tools around self-awareness and strategies to approach problem solving or to approach personal bias or belief systems. It’s become common for new employees to appear in personal growth sessions before they’ve actually even started, because we run these programs ongoing through the year. Whenever the start date is, if they can fit in then, we’ll get them in from day one.
Joseph: As part of the rotation, do people go to a retail store? Do they work in customer support? Do they spend time in the lab?
Bec: Definitely store visits and at least one store shift.
Joseph: You work a store shift, you go into the store and you’re engaged directly with customers in real life.
Bec: Yeah. Yes. As we build out our retail channel, the goal is to make that an ongoing program. The store teams have a lot to share on any given day. It’s important for our role at support office to hear our store teams, but the intel and the insight you get from engaging with customers and helping customers on the floor and understanding what brought them in and why they like this and why they don’t like that, it’s …
Joseph: Gives you empathy and knowledge.
Bec: Just so powerful. Yeah, and that’s why we’re all here.
Joseph: When you think about the team that works in customer experience and customer support, is there a career trajectory that they go through potentially? I’m just thinking about all the stories you’ve told so far about how people move to all these functions. How do you think about that?
Bec: Yes, there is career trajectory for those team members. Given the type of growth path that the whole company is on, it doesn’t need to be one particular way. We are really big on opportunities for people, but for them to also own their development, use their initiative, ask the what if, take on a stretch assignment. People may end up moving to marketing, they may end up moving to product. We just had a team member move from the customer experience team to be our office manager. We’ve got one of our store team members that’s coming on as a customer experience member, so we’re really excited to have all of her experience from being on the floor in the store in the team. No one stays in the same gig for very long. Even within your role, your role usually evolves pretty quickly to include other things that you didn’t have when you first started.
Joseph: The name of this podcast is Radically Personal. What’s something radically personal that you can share about your journey in life that you bring to work today?
Bec: My yearbook quote was, “You can’t lead a calvary charge if you think you look funny on a horse,” which is not very animal friendly anymore. At that time, my dad had said it to me and I thought it was a bit funny. I was like, “Oh, I kind of like that, being out in front and don’t think I look funny out here.” I’ve actually used that motto more in the last three years than I think I have in my life to date. It is really having the confidence to be out in front and not looking around to be like, “Well, how do other people do this? Or am I doing the right thing?” Just being out in front and try not to worry about getting stuff wrong or whether you look weird.
Joseph: The important thing is you’re on the horse, you’re leading the charge.
Bec: Lead the charge, yeah. Yeah.
Joseph: Thanks Bec and the entire team at Native Shoes. It’s been inspiring to talk to you about how you’re leading the charge for Native Shoes’ growth and transforming the company to be purpose led. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. Thanks for listening to this episode of Radically Personal. If you enjoyed the podcast, please be sure to subscribe and rate it on Apple and Google Podcast, Spotify, or visit us at RadicallyPersonal.com. We’ll see you next time.