Interview with Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, Livsn

Slide introducing the interview with Andrew of Livsn

Livsn is live on Kickstarter releasing the Flex Canvas Pants V2. These pants strike a balance between versatility, durability, and sustainability. Made from eco-friendly materials and packed with features like a gusseted crotch, roll-up leg system, and knee articulation, the Flex Canvas Pants are designed to take you all the way from the trailhead to the office. Livsn designed the Flex Canvas Pants to allow you to own less and live more. Details on the campaign can be found here: http://oncee.fnd.to/livsn2.0.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background that has led you to this point? 

I previously worked at another outdoor company. Over the years, I learned every moving part of building an apparel brand, making nearly every mistake in the process, and eventually became CEO of that company. While there, I developed an eye for good apparel design and the shrewdness to navigate the supply chain.

What I saw is the dirty backside of the apparel industry. Yes, even in outdoor apparel. What bothered me the most are the vast amounts of low-effort, low-quality items made every year for no other purpose than to fill a rack. What’s not sold is then marked down, sold at bottom dollar, and then ends up in the landfill. This process stinks, and it’s led by overproduction of cheap goods that aren’t needed.

Tell us about your brand and the inspiration behind it? 

My main hobbies were (and still are) backpacking, mountain biking, floating, and camping. When these are your pastimes, you tend to accumulate a lot of gear and clothing – lots of stuff. While some of it was high-quality and served a purpose, a lot of it was bought compulsively or seemingly just appeared in my garage. 

A few years back, I started a process of shedding my unneeded belongings with the goal of thinning my possessions down to things I truly need and love. I kept things made with care, things that serve a purpose, and especially those things that facilitate getting outside. I kept what mattered. When what you own is what you love, it becomes easier to keep it organized and cared-for. This makes life more pleasant, less stressful, and leads to more time doing the things you love. 

The process above forced me to make tough choices about my clothing. With higher standards and a greater understanding of value, I realized much of my clothing fell short. My background in apparel operations and design gave me the confidence to design the pieces that were missing from my wardrobe – but only those that weren’t already done well by someone else. 

I discovered the term “Livsnjutare,” a Swedish word loosely translated as “one who lives life fully and to the extreme; a lover of life.” This word catalysed the formation of the brand, leading me to outline everything about the lifestyle we would represent (and the products we’d make to facilitate it). The root of the word, Livsn, stood out to me. It sounds great on the tongue, has no harsh stops, and has a few positive puns (lives-in / live-zen). Naming something you care about is difficult, but Livsn felt natural and easy.

There is too much cheap clothing made every day. Stuff that has no use except to feed an appetite for trendy style at cheap prices. Our mission [at Livsn] is to make durable, versatile clothing for those who value experiences more than stuff. We truly believe in owning less, living more, and keeping what matters. From the very start, I’ve been dedicated to making high-quality clothing that truly performs at the highest level. My ultimate goal is to create good clothing that lasts longer so that less clothing needs to be made overall. We’re successful if we help lead a movement towards less wasteful consumerism.

Model wearing Livsn fleece while fishing

How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers?

I believe a sustainable wardrobe is a versatile one. Making a garment, no matter how “green,” takes a tremendous amount of energy. By owning less and buying higher-quality versatile items, you can reduce the amount of apparel you buy. This leads to a major reduction in waste. 

Next, we design for durability and repairability. For the same reason above regarding the energy used in creating apparel, the right thing to do is to make something with the intention of it lasting a long time. We do this. On our garments, all the usual first-failure points are reinforced. We do everything we can on the front-end to ensure our clothing lasts as long as possible. Then, we go further by offering an at-cost repair program to encourage our customers to repair before replacing. We don’t make money on this because we believe it’s the right thing to do. We’ll even gladly take back our clothing when it finally meets its end, ensuring as much as we can that it doesn’t end up in the landfill. 

Our final priority is to use sustainable materials. If we can use natural materials to get the job done, we will, and we’ll work to source them from organic farmers. When we use synthetics, we do everything we can do source recycled materials. This is hard at our small scale, however, because the industry isn’t fully transitioned to green manufacturing. High-order minimums sometimes keep us from the greenest option (as happened with V1 of the Flex Canvas Pants), so we fall back on our core values of durability and versatility. V2 will be made with organic cotton and recycled polyester, though!

Model wearing the Livsn fleece while getting out of a white truck

What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?

I don’t think business and sustainability are two separate concepts anymore. A business that is doing more harm to the planet than good doesn’t have a right to exist. I think people are waking up to this fact. It likely won’t happen fast enough, but businesses operating in the status quo that got us here won’t continue to profit from a modern, educated consumer.

Conscious capitalism means creating more good in the world than damage. A constant topic of conversation around our office is the price we pay to create something new. That obviously means that we need to be creating products that are needed and are not duplicates of something already existing. But beyond that, I truly believe that business can be a force for good. With a profitable business you can pay your employees well, give back to your community, enforce a sustainable supply chain, and support positive initiatives we’re passionate about.

I’ve written about this topic, and if your readers are interested they can check it out here: 

https://www.livsndesigns.com/blogs/the-pipeline/sustainability-pt-1

https://www.livsndesigns.com/blogs/the-pipeline/sustainability-pt-2

How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?

We launched this brand crowdfunding from complete strangers on Kickstarter, 100% of our sales have been through a website, and my co-founder lives 2,000 miles away! I’d say we are friends of technology and run this business such that we don’t fall behind. The innovation in textiles that fascinates me the most is using natural and age-old materials to achieve technical results. Think merino wool, hemp, rayon, and other amazing fabrics. 

Model wearing the Livsn fleece while trekking through the woods

What does wilderness mean to you?

Aside from the official wilderness designation, to me the term means anywhere far enough from civilization where you can’t hear a car, won’t run into someone else, and the night sky is unpolluted by light sources. It’s in a place like this where I like to be alone and I can truly recharge.

Do you have a favorite item- it may be an heirloom handed down from a grandparent, friend or relative of some kind- that has great meaning to you?

Oh boy, do I! I’ve been a sucker for functional antiques since I was a kid, which may be weird. I’ll try and keep it short. The biggest (literally) one that comes to mind is our 1971 Blue Hole canoe. It was my stepmom’s and I found it in her basement when I was around 16. It’s an original made with Royalex. I love it to death and take such great care of it. My wife and I can’t go on a float trip without at least one offer to buy it off us. It’s going in this off-season for a gunwale-straightening, armoring, new seats, knee pads, and a full refurbishing.

Model wearing the Livsn pants while rock climbing

If you had to choose one place to live with only the basics available to you where would it be and what would you take with you apart from the obvious survival gear?

I’m assuming you mean for the rest of my time, which is an important distinction. It would be awesome to say somewhere beautiful like Alaska or the Cascades, but that wouldn’t be the best plan. It would need to be somewhere with mostly-mild weather, fresh water, plenty of vegetation, and wildlife (and beautiful, of course). I’d probably stake out a claim somewhere in the Ozark National Forest with a spring-fed creek on the property. I know the land and I’d be happy in such an enchanting landscape.

Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?

Extending the lifespan of a garment by nine months reduces its carbon and water impact by 30%. I want to make clothing that extends lifespan by years! Obviously clothing wears out, but that’s where the repair process comes in.

I’d like our impact and legacy to be one of leading a movement towards buying right, buying less, and taking care of your things. By doing so you not only help protect our planet, but you create more space for living.

Andrew cutting a pair of Livsn pants and then the pants displayed on a model with the pants rolled up

What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?

Define your values from the beginning and make them public. When you’re starting out, nearly everything you do is behind closed doors with little scrutiny. It’ll be up to you to make the right choices, and it makes it easier when your fans know your intentions and are able to call you out if you don’t.

Do you have a quote, saying or poem you find inspirational and what is it?

I would choose the first two lines from Max Ehermann’s “Desiderata,” with the hope it would motivate people to read the whole poem: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Sketch of a Livsn jacket on the design table

What brands do you admire? 

It probably goes without saying, but I can’t overemphasize how much I admire and appreciate the work Yvon Chouinard and the Patagonia team have done for sustainability. We literally could not be embarking on this journey if they hadn’t paved the way, forcing the industry to adopt cleaner standards and more transparent policies.

How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers ?

I think to the consumer group we care about, it’s huge. Obviously, the first concerns when buying clothing is comfort, function, and style, but when those are met and there is still competition, the brand that doesn’t hide behind shady practices is going to win out. I’m so happy about that.

Model wearing Livsn pants while rock climbing over a ravine

Can you tell us something about your brand that might surprise us to know? 

Livsn is a part of the global Techstars network. We went through the Austin ’19 accelerator alongside some incredible tech and tech-enabled startups. It may seem odd that an outdoor apparel brand was accepted into one of the world’s leading startup accelerators, but I guess they saw what we see: a need for good, well-made products in the world.

What is your favorite animal and why? 

I really like Mountain Goats. Maybe I ordered too much from Backcountry back in the day, but I’ve always admired their ability to survive in such incredible conditions. They hang out on the side of sheer cliffs. As someone who has never been the most hardcore climber, I may be slightly jealous as well ;).

Model wearing Livsn pants while welding

What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?

I’m not buying too many things new these days. If I can snag something used and high-quality from a second-hand store or online, I will. Obviously this has its limits and I’m only human, but I think we can all look to buy well-loved items more than not.

Livsn logo displayed on a fleece jacket