Aldri Sur

After spending a few seasons exploring, trail running, and swimming throughout the raw, rugged landscapes of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, Katie quickly realized her future would be forever changed.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Katie Godec, founder of Aldri Sur to hear what her experience as an entrepreneur has been like. Katie shared the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, especially during the pandemic, the process of building her brand, and wants to use her brand to encourage actively enjoying life.

Aldri Sur Logo

Q: Would you share a little about yourself with our audience?

I think it's important that I highlight this first, because it has absolutely nothing to do with what we're going to talk about today. I actually have a college degree, like many, but I have it in music. So I was actually a music educator for a very long time, and I do every so often teach music lessons. I have a couple of students that I've been teaching since they were like four … and I play piano. So, I come from a music education background technically in schooling, but I've done all kinds of stuff.

I don’t like being told I can’t do it, or “you shouldn't do this because you don’t have a degree in it.” Blah, blah, blah. If I did that… If I took that advice, I would have made $0. It’s not like I’m hiding [this background]. It’s more just that it’s part of my personal life versus professional life at this point. I have a piano in my house, and I sing, and write music and stuff all the time, but it's more just kind of for me at this point in my life.

Q: What took you from music to the path that you’re on now? How did the interests overlap? How did you get into this career path?

My brand, Aldri Sur, is absolutely inspired by my other part of my life, which is my athletic career. I was a triathlete for a really long time. People ask me, “how did you get into doing Triathlons? Were you always athletic?” I was not really athletic. Growing up, I was not on the track team. My parents didn't put me in swimming lessons, although we had a pool so I learned to swim from infancy. They threw me in with some floaties. I really love being outside.

I don’t like being told I can’t do it, or “you shouldn't do this because you don’t have a degree in it.” Blah, blah, blah. If I did that… If I took that advice, I would have made $0.

My family went camping all the time. I'm from a semi-rural part of Northern California in Sonoma County, so outdoor stuff was always really fun. And, the brand that I've built is for that. It is for people who just want to get outside. They don't have to be athletes like I was or am, but just definitely stuff that's meant for you to be outside versus inside.

Katie Godec, Owner of Aldri Sur

Q: I'd love to hear a little bit more about that business. What is it? How did it start? And how did you end up turning that passion into what it is now?

When the pandemic happened and a lot of my work was kind of in jeopardy - a lot of my sponsorships from my athletic career were being canceled because races were being canceled, I wasn't able to travel anywhere to go to competitions like I was used to -, I was thinking to myself: how do I take care of myself? One of the things that came up was in the athletic community. Everyone wanted neck gaiters to be masks, but they wanted something that was flexible and easy to go outside with them without having to have an N95 on their face. So I made them. I bought a sewing machine for $90, and I got some thread, and I got some fabric. I lived in Los Angeles, and there's a fashion district where you can easily go down and get the exact type of fabric you need. And I just made these frankenstein-like neck gaiters in my living room. 

I have a larger social media following, so I asked a lot of the people that followed me if they wanted to pay for shipping and have these or test them out for me. A lot of people were interested. I sent all the neck gaiters all over the United States, and people were giving me good feedback, so I put a little bit more money into it. I got better at selling them.

I took feedback about the design, and then fast forward... I've handmade, thousands of neck gaiters and sold them. Now, they're all over the United States and they made their way to Europe as well. And then that spiraled more into, “what else would I potentially want to make and sell to people? What can I physically make?

What do I want to have manufactured? That happened a year and a half ago, so today I don’t make most of my stuff by hand.

So that's the crazy inception story of the brand. The branding Aldri Sur is a separate story. It's actually Norwegian. It's a Norwegian phrase, “Ut på tur, aldri sur!”. It’s a rhyme, and it means when you're outside you can't have a bad day. It literally means “out on a hike, never sour, Aldri Sur.” So that's the feeling. Getting outside, having a good time.

The branding Aldri Sur is a separate story. It's actually Norwegian. It's a Norwegian phrase, “Ut på tur, aldri sur!”.  It’s a rhyme, and it means when you're outside you can't have a bad day. It literally means “out on a hike, never sour, Aldri Sur.” So that's the feeling. Getting outside, having a good time.

Q: Did you feel like this was a creative outlet for you during the pandemic for mental health?

I needed to do something. I'm so lucky that no one in my family has died of COVID-19. We weren't harmed in that way. But as an athlete who spent all my time outside - like hours and hours and hours needing to be outside on a trail or in the ocean to accomplish my training -, when the pandemic first happened in Los Angeles, we weren't even allowed to go on the trail. They shut them down for a few months, and we weren't allowed to go to the beach. I absolutely needed to do something creative inside. 

Q: What were those challenges and obstacles that you had to overcome when creating and launching the successful business that you're growing into?

Before I chose the branding Aldri Sur, I had come up with the name Aldri Sur just to give it a name. I had to get a domain to sell the stuff online. So one of my other sub companies I have has the word Tri Life in it (going back to my Triathlon career). So Tri Life is something I use a lot on social media, so I called them Tri Life Tubes, the neck gaiters. So the difficulties were absolutely just getting people aware that these were for sale. 

I think probably most companies’ problem is getting traffic. I had a little bit of an easier time because I already have a social media following that's pretty active. So those people have been awesome in helping me get things off the ground. But it's still a huge struggle. How do you get people to know that you're making amazing things or how do you teach someone what Aldri Sur means if they're not Norwegian? Just getting the message out to the masses was the number one problem.

Katie showcasing products
Custom wooden mug

Q: How did you learn to really leverage your social media following from a business standpoint and grow all your other channels to drive that traffic and awareness. Was it a matter of taking to Google and just bootstrapping it? What were those outlets that you went to to really understand marketing and how to leverage what you have while also getting into new channels for the larger marketing things like that.

You can read in a book or take a marketing class. I definitely did rely a lot on researching what other people had done versus looking at a textbook or something. So I went to competitors or what I assumed would be brand competitors or brands that I thought were similar that I'd like to be like, and I would spend hours and hours and hours just looking through their website, looking through their blogs and social media, looking at ambassadors that they have for their brand, noticing how they did their product descriptions, where do they ship to, what are their materials made out of and just becoming an expert about their things and then looking at that and making a choice for me.

Do I want to have an ambassador team? Do I want to do email marketing the way I'm noticing this brand is doing. And I've learned you can write down what you want and what you think is going to go well, but you have to test it. So I'm a huge believer in actually using my social media following. A lot of them are my friends and fellow athletes, and I just directly ask them, "do you like this? Would you respond well to this? Is this something you want or don't want?" And I just take their direct feedback and I put it into action because for now, this is my first marketing pool, my first customer base, so the products do need to fit their wants.

Q: Were there any tools or outlets particularly that helped you with that, or was it more organic? 

I do have a lot of mentors and friends who've given me tons of advice about my business in general and ways to handle money. But for this particular route of going into manufacturing and retail, I'm just doing it. I was actually on my computer last night, way too late at a coffee shop, trying to plan something minor - like getting some Facebook Ads up for different photos and testing which ones I want -, and I kind of just shut my laptop at some point because it was getting too late and I was very burned out from having to make creative decisions.

But then again it's a test. I’m asking: does this ad work? I don't know if it's going to work. So I thought, “I don't even know if this is going to work. I'm going to go to bed.” I shut the laptop and just slept on it. So for now, I'm a small business. I'm kind of a one woman show, and I am still very much figuring it out. But, it's good. It's a journey.

Q: I'm sure that our readers and listeners would love to know what your creative process was all the way from ideation to then having that physical product. Can you unpack that for us and just tell us about your approach?

Branding: So from conception of the branding, I actually spent a really, really long time on purpose in development of the idea behind the logo and actually picking the name Aldri Sur. I knew I wanted something that was Scandinavian, because I'm ethnically part Scandinavian. I have spent a lot of time in Sweden doing races, and the culture wants to be outside. So I knew that I had to do something that involves this sentiment. I'd write down all these names. I’d ask, “Do I want it to be in English or another language,” and I would ask friends to read the word out loud just to see if they could even pronounce it. And that took months. Then I also wanted to consider it for trademark purposes. I wanted to pick something that was pretty sound, so that also went through another round of approvals. 

Logo: The logo. Oh, my gosh, the logo took forever, too, because I knew I wanted my logo to be very memorable. I wanted it to be something people really wanted to actually have on their clothing, and not just think it’s a cool thing. I want them to think, “I know that brand.” I wanted them to see the logo and say, “I want to wear that on myself.” That's a huge endeavor. So I'm really pleased with it. There are a lot of Norwegian roots in the countryside. There  are these rustic plants, moss and such (they grow on the top, and they are just full of character.) They're really hardy. They withstand snow storms and rain and sun. 

Product: When that was done, designing natural products felt super easy because I had done all the work. I picked all the branding colors. I had picked the feelings. I wanted the product to give people the messaging of fun, outdoors, and positive vibes. So now fast forward to making a product. We just launched a very small collection of hats, and I wanted the hats to fit my audience. A lot of the people that currently are supporting me are athletic in some way, so we did a performance space hat where you needed to have holes for air flow and moisture. It needed to be comfortable and adjustable, because I do have about half and half male female customers at the moment. So I learned the hard way back in the days of neck gaiters that men have bigger heads and necks usually. And so a lot of the stuff I would make wouldn't fit them because I'm making it to fit me. So that's also tangible feedback.

Production: Another little secret is my current full time work that I also do, in addition to this company, is sort of lightly involved in manufacturing. So I actually help launch brands for other people, such as influencers, celebrities, and others of the like. I work with a company that does that. I'm very lucky that I had some manufacturing connections through them, but it was still the process of vetting, because there's a lot of manufacturers in the world, especially who can make a hat, and I needed to ask: are they the ones that can give me the best price? Are they the ones that can give you good quality that you're looking for? What do you have to negotiate? What are you going to settle on? And something I think for anyone that's looking to manufacture something at the beginning and you don't have a lot of capital. It is a big negotiation. In theory, the factories want you to make as much as possible because that's a lot of money for them, but you might not have $500,000 to drop on your first line. I don't have great advice about how to find a good manufacturing connection, but I do think just research and talking to people, even maybe reaching out to someone who has made something you want to make already and just asking them if they would be willing to give you a phone number and email and start from there.

one of Katie's neck tube designs

Q: Where do you see your brand going? Where do you see yourself in five years? What does success look like for Aldri Sur in five years? Do you want to expand? What is that vision?

I have asked myself that as well. I end up doing this thing in life, which is I want to do something new and fun. I'm just going to do it. I'm just going to jump in and do it and then I'm doing it. And then it's like, “Do I want to be doing this?” I ask myself that question. So I did that the other day. I went, alright, you're doing it. You're selling stuff. You designed this. You built a brand. I do want to keep doing it, especially because I just love the brand itself, the meaning behind it.

I am someone who thinks maybe I shouldn't be saying this is someone that's manufacturing products, but we maybe have a little too much stuff in the world at the moment. There's a lot of stuff being made and used and maybe not recycled or it's going to a landfill. I had to make some compromises with my first launch. I really, really wanted everything to be made from recycled materials or to be super sought out where it could last for 50 years and you never have to buy another one. That unfortunately takes a lot of money. Some of my hats are made from 100% recycled polyester. I use compostable bags when I was able to financially afford that. My whole goal moving forward is any money that's being made is going straight back into the business to figure out how to be more carbon neutral. I want to work with carbon neutral factories and make sure that all the materials are recycled or some. 

To give a shout out to a brand that I cannot compete with at the moment: Patagonia. They have programs where you can return Patagonia items and then somebody else can buy your Patagonia jacket that was lightly used. So you're not producing another jacket into the world. I would love to get to a place where my company does that also. So that's the goal for the future. 

Q: How important was having a cause for you, not from a marketing lens, but from truly just who you are authentically and creating this brand. How important was it for you to have that value alignment and that cause that you were giving back to when developing this brand?

It's literally everything. It causes me cringe when I have to pick up something that's in a plastic bag. I mean, to bring up the pandemic again for sanitary reasons...at some point things had to be individually wrapped or protected so that germs weren't getting on them. It’s a solution, but it's also the problem. I think of my nieces. I have a twelve year old niece and a nine year old niece. They have to live on this planet a lot longer than I do. So I'm constantly thinking about my impact on the environment, just everything that's going to be there for them when I'm gone. And then on top of all of that, the brand is about being outside. So we have to protect the outside if that's what my brand is about. And if any investors are listening, please invest my brand so I can expedite this carbon neutral goal that I have.

Q: What does the typical work day look like for you?

It's part of my work. I'm up at 04:45 a.m.. 05:00 a.m.. To do training. So this morning I did an ocean swim and then I did a run and then I went straight home, showered, and then I'm into work calls with this manufacturing job. 09:30 a.m.. And I work until like seven or 08:00 p.m.. And because a lot of manufacturing is done in Asia, the time zone difference for me is really drastic. So I'll have to be in meetings on calls at 09:00 p.m. Though, I said I'm an athlete, so I can't do that. So hopefully the work is done at ten and then marketing, branding, photo shoots, replying to social media stuff. All of that has to happen in the middle of the day. So I have to get the training done in the morning or it doesn't happen.

Q: How do you create those boundaries so that you can, first of all, stay sane but also stay productive, mentally healthy, physically healthy?

I'm fortunate that I've woven my passions of training and being outside into literally the essence of the job. So in theory, if I don't go train and take that time for myself, my brand fails because then I'm an imposter sort of. But I know most people that's not the case, and they could not go for their run and it won't matter to their work. I think if you start to feel like you hate everything... like you're tired and you don't want to do literally anything on your list that day...you probably have to make a change.

Q:What do you enjoy most about what you do and being an entrepreneur? 

I don't like being told what to do. I am told what to do about half the day in a really nice way. But being an entrepreneur, even though you're left out to drive, your making the choices and if they go well or don't go well it's on you. At least I get to tell myself to do it. So that's a huge benefit.

Q: What is your least favorite part about being an entrepreneur? The other side of the coin?

It is a little lonely now that it is compounded with work from home. The pandemic is bittersweet, but I can get a lot of stuff done on a phone call or from my home office via email. So in a way, I wish I could be an entrepreneur with other entrepreneurs in an office, which is basically what a co-working space is. So maybe that will change. Maybe I'll get to collaborate more with other people that are in a similar space and have more lunches, go to conventions, things like that.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a new brand or an online store?

Biggest piece of advice is you do need to have a connection to the brand beyond wanting to make money, because I think at some point, even if you're making money, it can get really hard and frustrating if you don't have any other reason to be doing what you're doing. I could easily see people getting burned out and that’s what they say about investment bankers. Congrats you're making a lot of money and you also hate what you're doing each day. So kind of what's the point? You don't need to take the long branding process that I did. And hey, maybe even my branding process is short. I'm sure companies take years sometimes to develop their brands, but I think really thinking about what you want your brand to be and enjoying that is important.

I'm fortunate that I've woven my passions of training and being outside into literally the essence of the job.

Q: What does the typical work day look like for you?

It's part of my work. I'm up at 04:45 a.m.. 05:00 a.m.. To do training. So this morning I did an ocean swim and then I did a run and then I went straight home, showered, and then I'm into work calls with this manufacturing job. 09:30 a.m.. And I work until like seven or 08:00 p.m.. And because a lot of manufacturing is done in Asia, the time zone difference for me is really drastic. So I'll have to be in meetings on calls at 09:00 p.m. Though, I said I'm an athlete, so I can't do that. So hopefully the work is done at ten and then marketing, branding, photo shoots, replying to social media stuff. All of that has to happen in the middle of the day. So I have to get the training done in the morning or it doesn't happen.

Q: How do you create those boundaries so that you can, first of all, stay sane but also stay productive, mentally healthy, physically healthy?

I'm fortunate that I've woven my passions of training and being outside into literally the essence of the job. So in theory, if I don't go train and take that time for myself, my brand fails because then I'm an imposter sort of. But I know most people that's not the case, and they could not go for their run and it won't matter to their work. I think if you start to feel like you hate everything... like you're tired and you don't want to do literally anything on your list that day...you probably have to make a change.

Q:What do you enjoy most about what you do and being an entrepreneur? 

I don't like being told what to do. I am told what to do about half the day in a really nice way. But being an entrepreneur, even though you're left out to drive, your making the choices and if they go well or don't go well it's on you. At least I get to tell myself to do it. So that's a huge benefit.

Q: What is your least favorite part about being an entrepreneur? The other side of the coin?

It is a little lonely now that it is compounded with work from home. The pandemic is bittersweet, but I can get a lot of stuff done on a phone call or from my home office via email. So in a way, I wish I could be an entrepreneur with other entrepreneurs in an office, which is basically what a co-working space is. So maybe that will change. Maybe I'll get to collaborate more with other people that are in a similar space and have more lunches, go to conventions, things like that.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a new brand or an online store?

Biggest piece of advice is you do need to have a connection to the brand beyond wanting to make money, because I think at some point, even if you're making money, it can get really hard and frustrating if you don't have any other reason to be doing what you're doing. I could easily see people getting burned out and that’s what they say about investment bankers. Congrats you're making a lot of money and you also hate what you're doing each day. So kind of what's the point? You don't need to take the long branding process that I did. And hey, maybe even my branding process is short. I'm sure companies take years sometimes to develop their brands, but I think really thinking about what you want your brand to be and enjoying that is important.

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