How I Launched: Madhappy

Member Noah Raf on cofounding the LVMH-backed streetwear brand that counts inclusivity and optimism as its core values

By Corinna Burford   Illustration by Alva Skogg   Tuesday 19 May, 2020   Long read

Brothers Noah and Peiman Raf founded Madhappy, a self-described ‘optimistic lifestyle brand’ with their friends Joshua Sitt and Mason Spector, in early 2017. Their goal was to create an apparel label that also helped to shed light on mental health issues. Since then, the LA-based company has grown a significant fanbase, which includes names like Gigi Hadid, Cardi B and Kacey Musgraves. It has also launched a blog, The Local Optimist, which includes conversations and toolkits on mental health, and has hosted pop-ups around the US with panels and workshops on the subject. Here, Soho House West Hollywood member, Noah Raf, discusses founding Madhappy, and how its positive ethos has helped the brand stand out among other lifestyle and apparel labels.

The big idea
‘We decided to start Madhappy in early 2017, because we saw that no other lifestyle brand had a strong focus on optimism and positivity. We wanted to build a long-lasting, inclusive brand here in LA. The name really spoke to us from day one. We wanted to put the words together to show the duality of life. It was never about everything being great all the time, but rather how life is all about ups and downs.’ 
Forming a plan
‘We started the company with just our four cofounders and our designer. Mason and I were focused on the creative side, while Peiman and Josh focused on production and operations. It was good to have people working in different areas, and having four cofounders early on was very helpful to get things moving quickly. In terms of planning, we mainly did what felt right. We were very small, so it didn’t take too much time to act. We really just focused on making products that we loved and bringing the brand to life through pop-ups. We tried to keep it simple and let people learn about the brand organically.’ 
Building the brand
‘Brands take a long time to build. We’ve only been at this for three years and have many years to go. For us, it has been important to focus on making long-term decisions. We want to do things that feel true to us, and we don’t like taking shortcuts that risk the future of our brand. We have always been about more than just apparel, and our mission to create more optimism in the world, combined with our mental health focus, has helped us stand out from other apparel companies. On top of that, we’ve been very specific about the partnerships and pop-ups we have chosen to do.’

Finding funding
‘We launched with some initial capital from our founders – about $20,000. Then, we decided to raise a seed round in 2019, bringing in a series of great investors across fashion, music, entertainment and manufacturing. We felt that it was a good way for us to tap into their amazing experiences and networks to continue building Madhappy.’ 

Launching to market
‘We wanted to launch and then let people react to what we were putting out. We only released a few products early on, because we wanted it to be small and focused. We opened our first pop-up in West Hollywood shortly after launching to market, which allowed us to throw a fun event that added to the awareness around the brand.’ 
An illustration of a pink hoodie with Mad Happy written on it on a green background.
(Alva Skogg)
Spreading the word
‘To start with, we released products, hosted events and opened pop-ups. And, as time went on, that grew and grew. It has been a fun process watching the brand grow organically over the past few years. Word of mouth has been our main approach. Luckily, people have been naturally drawn to the brand because of our catchy name and our strong mission around mental health. We all want to live more positive and optimistic lives, and have the hard conversations around mental health. We tried to make a brand that spoke to this and created product that made people feel good.’ 

Growing the business
‘We love our retail pop-up experiences and, eventually, we plan to open some permanent retail spots in our key markets across the US and internationally. At the same time, we will always continue to do pop-ups. We think a balanced approach is what will work best for us moving forward.’ 

Dealing with challenges
‘There are issues that come up daily with any business, and especially a startup like ours. In apparel specifically, it has been a game of learning about the manufacturing world and having the best possible supply chain. From there, we’ve had to find out about the ins and outs of all the other major business functions, like marketing, finance and e-commerce to build a sustainable, long-term brand. It’s always about facing the daily challenges and working as a team to get past them. 

‘When COVID-19 started, we also had to make sure that we took care of our team and quickly moved to a working from home set-up. Then, we temporarily closed our Melrose Place pop-up and put all our focus on our online channels. We rolled out a lot of programming around COVID-19 through our ‘Thinking Of You’ series on Instagram Live and on our blog, The Local Optimist. We also added a direct giveback component to COVID-19 relief on all our releases since mid-March. This time has been an adjustment period for all and it’s been filled with challenges, but we are grateful to have a platform to support our audience throughout.’

Eyes on the future
‘In the next few months, we’re excited to get past this time together and continue growing the brand. We have partnerships and pop-ups planned around the world later this year and into the next one. We are also investing heavily in our content to continue creating mental health-specific resources. Overall, we want to create a more optimistic world and do it with a strong internal team here in LA, while building a large community of Madhappy supporters globally.’
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