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When Palmer West first became a father, he wasn’t quite ready to give up his love for motorcycling. But when he went looking for the proper protective gear, he found an entire market of products not suited to his metropolitan lifestyle.

“Four or five years ago, when I started having children, my wife said, ‘OK, I’m not going to ask you not to ride your motorcycle, but you are a dad now, so you need to wear every piece of armor that is out there.’ So I jumped into that market and realized it is woefully underserved from an aesthetic standpoint.”

It was from this ‘aesthetic void’ that Aether was born. West felt consumers shouldn’t have to choose between fashion and functionality, so he and his business partner Jonah Smith set out to find middle ground.

On this week’s episode of The Glossy Podcast, Hilary Milnes sits down with West to discuss the need for fashionable technical wear, the way wholesale failed the brand and the reason he and Smith are now considering taking on retail partners. Below are excerpts from the episode, edited for clarity.

Rethinking wholesale
“We realized we were doing a better job of selling our product than any of our wholesale partners. We began to do online at the same time we were doing wholesale, and we were having a much better rate of sale than our wholesale partners. The wholesale market is not a great business, especially for a brand. So we transitioned from wholesale to direct and, 100 percent, pulled out of our wholesale accounts.”

Filling the aesthetic void in technical gear
“[Before], to wear fully armored gear, you had to look like an extra in ‘Tron.’ There was an aesthetic void there. The customer was led to believe that over-branding and really loud, ill-fitted jackets meant technical. What we’re trying to do is say, ‘No, this is a trench coat that is PrimaLoft lined, fully seam-sealed and waterproof, and you can put it over your suit. Let us help you complete this look.’ We view ourselves as a design company that happens to make outerwear.”

Using digital marketing strategically
“The biggest thing about digital marketing that is sort of wonderful is that you get real analytics. If you buy a page in GQ, it looks good and you trust the customer base, but you have no idea how many people saw that and then went to your stores or made a purchase. With digital advertising, we get minute-to-minute, detailed information on exactly how many people we reached — like, ‘They saw your ad, and then two days later, they did this,’ or ‘This was their activity.’… I think there are brands that dive deeper than most customers know. We don’t do that. If someone comes to our website, and then they go to one or two more websites with available space, we will fill those with our ads. But we don’t follow people around. You either get it or you don’t.”

What would bring Aether back to wholesale
“Our approach to wholesale right now is, ‘Can it get us into markets we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten into, like Japan or France?’ So having a good partner — not multiple, because I don’t want to go back to those [trade] shows — to go all in with and say, ‘We’re going to be exclusive, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ We look at it from the standpoint that it’s advertising: ‘We know our customer goes to your place, so we’d like our product to be there, and we’ll work with you in order to make sure we’re in the same vernacular of brands.’ That’s what’s really difficult for Aether, because Nike’s got Adidas and they can push against each other, but we’re sort of in our own space.”

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