“We want to be the number one adventure brand for kids”: Dinoski’s Will Chapman on Paw Patrol, licensing myths and bringing something new to outerwear

We caught up with Will Chapman, Creative Director and Co-Founder at Dinoski, to learn more about the origins of the firm, and why licensing was always a key part of the plan.

Since launching in late 2018, eco-friendly outerwear firm Dinoski secured (and eventually turned down) investment on Dragons’ Den, won Drapers ‘Ones to Watch’ at the 2020 Sustainable Fashion Awards and launched licensed ranges with mammoth kids brands like Paw Patrol and Peter Rabbit.

What started as a line of playful high-end ski-suits has evolved into a brand encompassing outdoor clothing, adventure holidays and an upcoming summer range called Dinosea.

We caught up with Will Chapman, Creative Director and Co-Founder at Dinoski, to learn more about the origins of the firm, and why licensing was always a key part of the plan.

Will Chapman, Dinoski
Hi Will; to kick us off, where did the seed of an idea for Dinoski spring from?

This brand started at the end of 2018. We felt there was a big gap in the outerwear market for kids, but particularly in the ski market. Everything looked the same and when parents would shop for their kids, they would just buy them stuff from wherever they bought their own ski suits.

If you asked a mum ‘who is your go-to outerwear or ski brand for kids?’, nobody came to mind. We thought we could be that stand-out brand. There wasn’t anyone matching up functional, technical skiwear with something fun – so that’s how we begun.

You guys have a vast array of amazing outerwear now, but what did you launch with?
We launched with three different styles, all animal-themed. We worked with a really cool illustrator called Jane Foster to create characters for each of our suits to bring them to life.

Will Chapman, Dinoski
We didn’t want a mum to feel like she was just picking up another coat or ski jacket; we wanted it to feel like she was almost adding another member of the family to the trip.

When kids are left at ski schools, there’s always a lot of tantrums; they don’t want to be left on their own, it’s a new thing… But when they’re dressed as a dinosaur and everyone is walking past smiling at them, they’re empowered with more confidence and it really helps the situation. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve had good traction in quite a short amount of time.

Absolutely; I’m a dreadful skier but even I’d be tempted back to the slopes in one of those suits! And we should add, the company is not all solely centred around skiing?
Yes, we never wanted to be pigeonholed into just skiing specifically. We always had a bigger vision. We think we could be the number one adventure brand for kids, globally. That’s why we wanted to step outside of skiing and get involved in the outdoor market by bringing out ranges of coats in the same style, as well as winter boots, tracksuits and even a summer range that’s launching this year called Dinosea, spanning swimwear, rash vests, sun hats and poncho towels.

Will Chapman, Dinoski
Exciting times. And as well as your own lines, you’ve also launched some brilliant licensed ranges. Some start-ups are a little hesitant to dip a toe into licensing too early, but you guys have embraced it with great results. Was licensed outerwear always part of the plan?

Well to support our own characters, we thought we could get bigger exposure by working with the bigger brands and getting that association with characters that people already know. We’re brand new so it’s hard to make a mark. You’re shouting on Instagram and Facebook, but it’s tough as a new brand to get that cut through, unless you’re supported by bigger brands. So right from the start we wanted to work with licences and have extra characters that could support what we were doing.

Which brands did you kick off with?
We initially launched a Peter Rabbit suit via Penguin Ventures and Sony Pictures, for the Peter Rabbit 2 movie. We also did the same for Paw Patrol and we have some really exciting stuff coming through this year.

Will Chapman, Dinoski
That’s two mighty brands to have for your first licensed ranges. Was it a tough sell getting them on board, being something of an unknown entity at the time?

When we first launched, we did think it was going to be a bit out of reach. We thought licensing would be more viable further down the line, but when we started exploring it and we started having conversations with people in the licensing business, we realised it’s a lot more achievable than what people think.

So for any new firms who might think licensing is too big a hurdle, what would you say to dispel that myth?
There aren’t major costs involved in doing licensed product. You commit to a minimum guarantee and a percentage of sales, but a lot of the time that minimum guarantee is a pretty small figure. Think about it as if you’re pulling that from the marketing budget. Ask yourself: ‘How much would we be prepared to pay to be able to shout about being a partner of, say, Paw Patrol, the biggest kids brand in the world?’ You’ll find it’s worth it and you’re able to make an amazing product for that brand, which no-one else is making.

Will Chapman, Dinoski
Licensing has been great for us, and especially the Paw Patrol stuff, we should have got more made! That’s the other part you’re trying to balance from a cash-flow point of view. It’s not so much the minimum guarantee that you’re worried about, it’s more about how much we have for production versus everything else we’re making. That’s where the issues are.

Away from the licensors you work with, Dinoski has already established a very clear brand identity in its own right. I think if a kid whizzed past in one of your suits, it would stand out as recognisably Dinoski. How did you come up with a core style that manages to be both functional and playful?
We set ourselves a strict brief at the beginning: we didn’t want to be fancy dress. New Year’s Day at a lot of ski resorts, people go out in fancy dress and there are actual fancy dress outfits designed to be worn over ski stuff, but we didn’t want to be that. We didn’t want to be novelty.

“We thought licensing would be more viable further down the line, but when we started exploring it, we realised it’s a lot more achievable than people think.”

Our stuff needed to be functional first. It had to be technical, high quality skiwear. Secondly, we added the fun features to make kids actually want to wear it. Our task was: Could we design something that’s animal-themed but also influenced by superheroes – hence the white chest.

Kids dress up as their favourite characters at home, but when they leave the house, they have to wear normal clothes – but why? That was our original brief and that’s what we ended up with. And when you have such a strong design for your core range, it’s then quite easy to translate that style into other well-known characters, as we’ve done with Paw Patrol and Peter Rabbit.

Will Chapman, Dinoski
Paw Patrol and Peter Rabbit are both great character brands; is this where you see most of the opportunities for licensing with Dinoski? Or would you be open to doing ranges with food brands, or lifestyle IP?

We’re definitely flexible. We’ve considered quite a few non-character based brands. We were in talks with Crayola at one point to do something and we’re also in discussions with Pantone to do adult-sized suits. We’re always open to opportunities around working with other brands in other sectors.

As we mentioned earlier, Dinoski itself has a strong brand identity. Do you see yourself expanding into other sectors and maybe even licensing Dinoski out with partners in different sectors?
Well, we thought ‘we’re doing well making the adventure apparel for kids, so why can’t we now curate actual family adventures?’ So that’s what we’re doing with our converted American school buses. It opens up a whole new world of licensing deals.

Yes! I’m glad you mentioned the school bus! It’s a touring, experiential showcase for the Dinoski brand right?
Right at the beginning, to differentiate ourselves from anyone else in the industry, we had a wacky idea to source an American school bus, ship it over and turn it into a mobile showroom that we would then take to tradeshows. With the money that we had from our early investment, which wasn’t a lot, it sounded like a terrible idea and so there was a bit of battling in terms of convincing the team to do it! But we did, and it was probably one of the best decisions we made. At every tradeshow, we steal the show with that bus. People come on, check out the range and the adults seem to love the bus more than the kids!

Will Chapman, Dinoski
So it was already a hit, but last summer – during lockdown – we made a few improvements to the bus and made it available for families to rent for short stays. It wasn’t available to drive; it was in a static location. It was like posh glamping. We sold out every day that it could be booked, from July 1st to October 1st. Then we sold out again in the Autumn. So we knew we wanted to make it a bigger part of the vision.

We now have Dinobus 2 on the go. It’s ready for people to book from the Easter holidays, throughout summer. We’re also considering a third bus and we’ve hired an awesome guy called Chris Brickel to be our Head of Adventures to oversee our whole adventure programme, including activities that people can book at each location – like target sports, campfire cooking lessons, bushcraft workshops and treasure hunts!

As we’ve gone on, we’ve refined what our mission is, which is to help families celebrate the great outdoors. We do that with our clothing, we do that with these adventures and we can also use our platform to make environmental issues more approachable to families too.

“We’re all about promoting a healthy lifestyle and getting kids off screens and outside, so we also think there’s opportunities in the food and beverage industry with healthy plant-based snacks.”

So this year this bus is back on tour; what other adventures have you got in the pipeline for the rest of 2021?
This summer we’ll have Dinoboats; these are yachts for sailing trips in Croatia and Norfolk. We’re also working with a stunning hotel in Greece called Marbella Elix to host our own kids club and an adventure race for the parents. Plus surfing trips in Polzeath and ski trips to Morzine, there’s loads going on! We think it’ll really take us to the next level, and in terms of licensing and partnerships, it really opens up a whole new world.

It sounds incredible and feels very fresh for an outerwear brand to be pushing these kinds of brand extensions. Do you think the outerwear space needed this kind of injection of creativity, from the school bus parking up at tradeshows to your expansion into adventure experiences?
Well on the trade show front, I imagine it’s the same across many industries. Everyone gets a uniformed booth and you find yourself walking through a big hangar with 200 different booths. A lot of clothing in kidswear is amazing and there are lots of brands we look up to, but when you’re among 200 other brands at a show, it’s really hard to stand out – even if your stuff is amazing.

So is there anyone that is displaying their stuff like us? Not at the tradeshows we’ve been to. But is there anyone who is innovating through materials and has great product? Absolutely; there’s quite a few.

I’m wary that now you’ve said that, your next tradeshow will be packed full of American school buses! You mentioned the mission to become the world’s number one adventure brands; does this mean there’s other industries, like toys, that you have your eye on?
We actually launched den-building kits last summer during lockdown, and that proved really popular. So yes, definitely. We just don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin, too quickly. We’re still a really small team and we’re still very young, but we think those things will come.

We’re all about promoting a healthy lifestyle and getting kids off screens and outside, so we also think there’s opportunities in the food and beverage industry with healthy plant-based snacks. We’ve discussed that, but unless the right partner come along, we likely won’t be pursuing that just yet.

I should also ask, if any brand owners or potential partners are reading this and chomping at the bit to reach out, what’s the best way to do that?
Well our big mantra since launching is momentum. The way that you get momentum is by having interesting conversations with other brands and other companies – even if it’s not directly relevant to what you do – and taking them as far as they will go. So absolutely; if anyone is interested in talking to us about what we’re doing, we would love to hear from them: [email protected].

Great stuff, and finally, before I let you, last question: how do you fuel your creativity?
We keep a close eye on what lots of other brands are doing. If there’s any industry awards, we look and see who’s winning them. We also look at what characters are popular in the kids’ space, what the toys look like and that all fuels it.

I think it’s also important to get a change of scenery. We did a surfing trip last summer to Polzeath to set up what we’re going to be doing there this year. It’s usually on those kinds of trips where your inspiration is sparked, when you’re away from your desk. If you’re out and not even thinking about work, that’s when ideas come to you.

Absolutely, and that now validates my request for the Brands Untapped team to go on a summer surfing trip! Well thanks so much for taking time out for this Will, and congrats on everything you’re doing with Dinoski; it’s fantastic.

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