From Footballer to Active Wear Entrepreneur

Going in for the Goal: Tim Brown leads the way for the next big thing in activewear

After attending the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as part of the New Zealand team, footballer Tim Brown decided it was time for a new challenge. He retired from professional sport to set up Three Over Seven, an activewear company aimed at the everyday athlete. In February this year, the company launched the world’s first woollen running shoe, The Wool Runners. The first 1,000 pairs sold out in four and a half days. We caught up with him to talk about his decision to change careers, how he made it all work, and what’s next for Three Over Seven.

What made you decide to set up your own business and make such a career change?

After the World Cup I decided that I had taken football as far as I could – much further than I had ever dreamed of – and that it was time for a new challenge. I retired from professional and international football, ending my contract with my club, the Wellington Phoenix. After that, I decided to move to London to attend London School of Economics and study towards a master’s degree in management.

After graduating I had a couple of job interviews but I didn’t really have a clear understanding of what I wanted to do and no strong career trajectory mapped out. I figured that if I could be part of a New Zealand team that got to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years, and then went unbeaten at that World Cup – it’s true, look it up! – I could have a go at building my own company. Starting Three Over Seven was the best, next challenge for me. So far, I would say it’s proved as hard as being in a national football team, but I’m glad I did it, as it’s proven to be a great decision and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way.

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How has the company developed since the start?

We wanted the brand to be designed with the everyday athlete in mind. We used Kickstarter, which is a funding platform for creative projects, to secure investment for our product. It was a great, easy first step to get things underway. Additionally, we won a place on the UKTI’s Sirius Programme that gave us a little money to keep the lights on, free office space in a business incubator for a year, and the chance to build the team out to three people.

Throughout the process we were part of The Bakery’s accelerator programme and hub for entrepreneurs in London, which was an awesome experience. We were among some great, talented people, all in the same boat as us, trying to build a company. It has been invaluable and, most importantly, made this crazy journey we are on fun. What’s so great about setting up a new business here in the UK is that there is just so much help to get you started. I think New Zealand is behind in that respect. Today we’re four people working full time and I think – you will have to check with the others! – that we’re having a lot of fun tackling this challenge.

How did you take your idea from the concept stage to a finished product?

In February this year, we launched the world’s first woollen running shoes, The Wool Runners, on Kickstarter. It proved to be a great success as we sold out of our first 1,000 pairs in four and a half days. We raised $120,000 in that time. The fact that it is the world’s first woollen running shoe is what makes it so special.

We wanted to create a shoe designed not wear socks with, capitalising on the unique properties of the wool material. There was a gap in the market for a product like this, a clear opportunity for us!

We had a textile innovation – a woollen fabric for use in footwear – created for us by a world-leading research lab in New Zealand with the help of a grant from the Wool Industries Research Association, a farmer funding body. I got the grant just before I started my Masters and by the time I finished the fabric was ready for commercialisation. Manufacturing is both difficult and challenging and we’ve fought hard to get our product as close to perfect as we could.

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How has your background affected the way you work?

I draw on my sporting experience constantly, particularly as we build our team to address the challenge of building a business. My Masters from the London School of Economics has been equally valuable in preparing me for the rigours of going it alone in a global marketplace.

What plans do you have moving forward?

We plan to scale our operations, continue to build products that serve the everyday athlete, and in the process prove the possibilities of 3D printing in footwear. I think 3D printing will be the next big thing in activewear as it takes clothing manufacturing one step closer to becoming customised. Our next product will use this method to find a completely new way of making shoes. It’s still at an early stage, but we are looking at developing a system that will change the way shoes are sized, allowing for them to be completely customisable.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?

Don’t talk about it, go do it. And, try to create an environment or situation where you can make lots of little mistakes and learn by doing.

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About Tim Brown

Originally from England, Tim Brown was formerly a professional footballer who played for the New Zealand national team from 2004 to 2012. He attended the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with the New Zealand team before retiring from professional sport, leaving his club, the Wellington Phoenix. After that, Tim moved to London where he studied a master’s degree at the London School of Economics. In January 2014, he launched start-up Three Over Seven, an activewear company aimed at the everyday athlete. With the help of funding platform Kickstarter and entrepreneur accelerator The Bakery, Three Over Seven’s first product, the world’s first woollen running shoe, was released in February this year. The product sold out of its first 1,000 pairs in four and a half days and raised $120,000 in that time. The company today has four employees and headquarters in both London and New Zealand.