We talked to Brendan Kennedy, founder and CEO at NxTSTOP, on how the travel apparel company helps protect the world we love to explore, and its newest approach dubbed Travleisure.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brendan Kennedy: Luckily, we have all faired well despite being spread around the globe, but of course, hoping for safe and healthy times ahead.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded NxTSTOP
Brendan Kennedy: I shifted into the startup world after getting my MBA at MIT Sloan, and the idea for NxTSTOP came to me as a result of the constant travel I had been doing for both work and pleasure. Flying hundreds of thousands of miles a year, I started to realize that I wanted clothing that could be my “travel uniform” for versatility and allow me to broadcast my travel lifestyle and connect with others. That’s how I settled on “NxTSTOP” as a way to always be thinking about the next positive adventure. I founded the company to encourage people to travel and interact in positive ways. At the same time, we believe that a travel apparel company has a responsibility to help protect the world we love to explore. This means that the product must be sustainable for the environment in a way that is also economically profitable and powerful to drive change across the apparel industry.
How does NxTSTOP innovate?
Brendan Kennedy: We have defined a whole new approach to fabric composition for travel that we call Travleisure, which means we select leading-edge materials that are both eco-friendly AND functionally important to overcome challenges that travel presents. In the COVID-19 time, functional now also means protective/sanitary in addition to comfort and versatility. For example, we select fabrics with properties that are distinctly antimicrobial/anti-viral, breathable, wrinkle-resistant, and odor resistant. At the same time, we utilize recycled or organic fabrics, and we use only biodegradable packaging to minimize our impact on the environment.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Brendan Kennedy: The original idea of Travleisure apparel – to be functionally architected for travel – was something we were about to fully launch in March 2020, but given the shutdown of travel, we had to pivot or else we would have been ruined. We were one of the first companies to launch reusable masks, and it’s an interesting story.
Up until January 2020, NxTSTOP was still a part-time project. I was working full-time at VMware and slowly building the brand. Then I was laid off in late January and shifted full time to NxTSTOP, with the goal of launching our first full collection by April. Right after we finished the photoshoot for our first apparel collection on March 7, COVID started rapidly spreading across the US. We put a hold on production and waited to see how things would go. In speaking with different people across the world, I started to see an opportunity to make reusable, washable masks. However, I was unsure if it was something he wanted to move forward with since COVID was at such beginning stages, and masks were still not required. Nonetheless, we moved forward and told our manufacturers to move quickly.
About 2 weeks later, masks became more popular, and US cities began requiring citizens to wear them. Articles on major publications such as GQ, USA Today, NY Mag, and Esquire began listing places to buy masks, and our BD lead Kim managed to get NxTSTOP to be included in all of those articles that published on April 8. The next day, our sales skyrocketed. And it hasn’t slowed down since. Amazon found us that way and reached out to give us an Account Manager to go through their FBA program. At the same time, some of the world’s biggest companies, like Samsung, Henry Schein, and Blizzard got in touch for bulk order masks. We’ve been featured online several times since, and our brand name is continuing to grow!
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Brendan Kennedy: In every step of the journey for us so far, speed has been the key. Hesitation and inaction are more impactful than anything else. Of course, we need to balance speed with effectiveness.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and NxTSTOP in the future?
Brendan Kennedy: I think with the COVID world, keeping a balance of work and leisure time is key. Getting out of the house to explore nature and get back to the natural way of life is critical to keeping me (and my team) healthy, especially as normal travel has been restricted.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Brendan Kennedy: No one has yet dominated the travel wear industry, so when you walk out the door for a trip, you’re wearing a mix of different clothes you think might work best. This means that we compete with a lot of Athleisure brands – Nike, Adidas, Puma, Lulu – etc. that people wear now.
Your final thoughts
Brendan Kennedy: With COVID, travel now means the journey starts every time you leave your house. You are literally not allowed to enter a plane, bus, or even Uber without a face mask. A face mask is absolutely necessary to travel, but this just the beginning. We believe that the next evolution of apparel will be one that protects you in every step of your travel adventures. In the post-COVID-19 world, this idea will continue to permeate every aspect of travel.
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