(This story is sponsored by Futurpreneur Canada.)
If you’ve ever wondered if being an entrepreneur can be fun, then Ed Forrester, founder and owner of Made You Look Underwear, has the answer. While his background in insurance and improvised comedy might seem like an unlikely mix, it was the combination of his business acumen and sense of humour that positioned him perfectly to see a gap in the market.
“I was underwriting complex manufacturing and wholesale risks,” he explains. “I was exposed to the supply chain of various goods and I was quite surprised at how much money people were making, who weren’t really doing anything.”
Forrester recognized that if he cut out the middlemen, there was a business opportunity. So he left his corporate job behind and set about finding a product. He came up with lots of ideas but the concept for Made You Look was born when he realized that the key to a successful men’s-underwear brand was in the marketing—and that’s where he could really excel.
“The crazy thing is that I knew nothing about sewing or garment manufacturing or any of that stuff,” he admits. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got this fun idea, I think I know how to market it, I think there’s a need out there for it, and maybe we can make some sort of social impact. Let’s spread some love!’”
The final result is a selection of bright and colourful underwear for men, all of which come with the message “Made You Look” on the waistband—a little joke should the wearer give anyone an inadvertent glimpse of their skivvies. And with tongue-in-cheek(y) names like “Space Fart”, “Ooh Fancy”, and “Kiss My”, it’s clear that the company’s tagline, “fun is sexy”, is always in mind.
However, the design is something that Forrester takes very seriously. That’s because he knows as well as anyone that an uncomfortable pair of undies can ruin your day. Made You Look’s supersoft fabric won’t sag and the flat-lock seams help reduce friction. He is particularly proud of the MALEBOX, which the website describes as “an ergonomic masterpiece for your prized possessions”.
While he certainly doesn’t miss working from 9 to 5 in an office job, getting to this point hasn’t been all laughs. One of Forrester’s first challenges was securing the investment capital. Like many aspiring entrepreneurs without equity to back a loan, he found it difficult to get the buy-in from banks.
“I have a bit of a tough time approaching organizations for an entrepreneurial venture when the people who are working in them aren’t themselves entrepreneurs,” he explains. “So it’s very rigid and by the book and there’s a lot of box-checking. They don’t always see the vision.”
That’s when he stumbled upon Futurpreneur Canada, which has been helping young people across the country build and grow successful and sustainable businesses since 1996. The nonprofit Futurpreneur recognizes it can be difficult to get funding when you’re a young person without a lot of assets. By offering entrepreneurs collateral-free loans of up to $45,000 toward launching or buying a business, Futurpreneur supports and opens doors for people with great ideas in ways that other financial institutions may not. Futurpreneur is able to finance up to $15,000 per business, and its partner, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), can provide additional financing of up to $30,000.
In the six months it took Forrester to gather the funding he needed to get Made You Look off the ground, he faced the somewhat overwhelming task of bringing his business to life.
“After I quit, I went on a mad frenzy looking for suppliers. I was bootstrapping all of it. I found all sorts of companies and, naïvely, I went overseas.”
He received some promising samples, but difficulties arose when he realized that the language barrier prevented him from being able to communicate any changes. He went back to the drawing board.
“I think it’s a bit of a silver lining because in the time that this all happened, the supplier that I now use didn’t exist. I found this amazing company based here in Vancouver. They have an incredible amount of experience, and they have just come from overseas so they have access to those companies as well. Immediately, if I wanted to scale up, I have access to those facilities and I don’t need to learn another language.”
Forrester has big hopes for Made You Look. He plans to tap into Futurpreneur’s network to help spread the brand message and grow his business. From Futurpreneur’s perspective, entrepreneurship matters to the health, vibrancy, adaptability, innovation, and economic activity of our communities. It’s for this reason that it is more than just another financing option, allowing budding entrepreneurs like Forrester to take advantage of a full suite of online and in-person business services including the support of dedicated mentors.
“The hardest thing is finding the support,” he says. “And you don’t want blind support—you want people to challenge you. But if too many people are telling you no, then find some other people. Or find a better idea. Just don’t give up on why you’re trying to do something.”
These days, Forrester loves being able to set his own schedule and no longer feels like a slave to the system. His advice to others is to take a chance and say yes to every opportunity. After all, his story just goes to prove that with hard work, a sense of humour—and the right underwear—you can achieve your dreams and create a business you’re really proud of.
“We genuinely believe that we have a fantastic product, and it’s supposed to be fun! We don’t have to take things so seriously,” he says. “Everything is so taboo these days, but let’s just have a laugh!”
To learn more about Futurpreneur and how it could help you get your idea off the ground and start your own business, visit the website.