I am a founder and CEO of Northern Playground. I must admit, 2023 was no walk in the park. Here are my most important stories and thoughts from the past year.
1. Adios Facebook?
We have discussed breaking up with Meta (Facebook) for a while, and preferably also Google. A company with our values shouldn't send its money there. We intensely hate it and continousely test other methods. Unfortunately, we still rely on the visibility they provide. To truly prove our model, this is the last piece that isn't good enough. We won't give up.
2. Play more at sea
In September, we chartered the sailing ship Christian Radich, searching for the meaning of life and the essence of 'Play More.' It was crazy that we did it, and thanks to everyone who joined!
Revenue: approx.. 22,5 MNOK
Revenue Growth: approx. 10% (25% in the last six months)
Result: a significant loss, at the same level as 2022
2023 was tough for both the clothing and sports industries. Many went bankrupt. People are buying less, everything costs more, and worst of all for us and many others: the currency situation. A negative result in 2023 wasn't a part of the plan, and honestly, it's a bit challenging. We're doing well, but it makes our mindset short-term and a bit less 'crazy'—we're afraid to stand out. That is not good. On the positive hand, we have achieved growth in everything we do, except sales through retailers (other stores). As planned, we've cut that part of our business in 2023, and sales through this intermediary now account for about 5%. Four years ago, this was over 50%. Achieving growth in a troubled year is quite good, right? Especially this fall and early winter were really good. We've reversed the trend with arrows pointing upward, with about 25% revenue growth in the last half-year.
It's hard to write briefly about the people in the company. Some left, and some arrived. It's strange and a bit sad in a close-knit group. Now we're actually 1.5 FTEs less than last year, with about 9 FTEs in total. The company is growing on all areas but with fewer hands. Let me understate a bit; we have our hands full and fortunately still like each other.
To truly create a change in poeple´s mindsets towards using their clothes for longer, we've wanted a broader productrange in addition to thin wool garments. The philosophy of longevity must find a place in the everyday lives of customers, not just on adventures. Many may think we are only a wool brand. Our dream and plan is to establish a new category: the 'Longivety'-category. Still, the thin wool garments are our best sellers, with the t-shirt, grandpa longsleeve and crew longsleeve on the podium for 2023. 1/3 of all products we sell are actually wool and silk t-shirts. A lot happened on the product front last year, with a shirt, caps, and The Last, to name a few. A couple of these sneaked into the top 10 best-selling products. More goodies are coming.
6. The Crown Prince
Sure, we had lunch with the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, and it was exciting. But what we loved most was that a major Norwegian environmental organization had practically demanded that it should be NP among the Norwegian clothing brands representing the clothing industry on this event representing sustainability.
7. Very Annoying and Quite Cool
I can't talk about 2023 without mentioning Zipwear:
A. Very, very good that we tackled a large Zipwear inventory with the campaign featuring Solfrid, 87 years old. See Solfrid explain how easy Zipwear actually is to use here.
B. Solfrid helped, but not enough. We argued for a while before doing what we consider forbidden: a sales campaign. It hurts and is not the way forward for us. We apologize for this to our fans.
After a textile fair in Paris, our designer Jorunn took the train home. Mama mia! How proud I was.
9. Hooray #1
In our little bubble, we ponder a lot about who we are. What does the world look like if we succeed? What is our goal? In recent years, our vision has been: 'Reduce the world's clothing consumption.' It has changed. Now it is: 'Get people to love their products for a long time.' More concrete, more motivating. And it fits better with our business model; how we make money in a different way, how we think about design differently, and how we do marketing and communication differently.
10. Hooray #2
We asked our customers about their consumption last year. 59% said that we influenced them to buy fewer clothes. 30% said that NP has influenced them towards generally lower consumption. Motivating! Another fun fact is that in 2023, we repaired a total of 629 garments, both our own and other brand's. We just love that you repair!
11. Baby #2
I can't help it. I became a dad a few weeks ago! It's going to be a hectic time with both a baby at home and the 10-year-old Northern Playground, both of whom deserve a lot of love. I'm looking forward to everything like a kid!
12. Finally, a few words about the elephant in the room
The boy in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes shouted loudly that the emperor was naked. In our world, the emperor's new clothes are our consumption that no one wants to talk about. About 70% of the world's footprint comes from private consumers. We demand the oil being pumped and the electricity from the windmills on the beautiful mountains. We think someone else is ruining the world, but if we (especially in the West) all cut back a bit, everything will dramatically improve. But it's uncomfortable to cut consumption. For example, we want more and more clothes that we use less and less.
When we decided in 2019 to see this as a business opportunity, we were pretty much alone in talking about 'using for a long time' as an important environmental measure. 'Everyone' else talked about sustainable production. Now we're not alone in pointing out that 'sustainable clothes' is greenwashing, and not alone in talking about longtime usage as important. So regardless of naked emperors or elephants in your room, the fact that more clothing brands are talking about longevity is something to celebrate in 2023. Let's just hope it´s more than words!
Okay, that should do it. Feel free to speak up if you have something on your mind.
Happy and peaceful 2024. And remember to play more!
Once in a while, one of the Northern Playground employees sends out a letter giving you an honest look behind the scenes of the company. We believe that transparency is an essential part of being a socially responsible company. This is the 29th letter. Read the other ones here.