When injury ended dream army career recovery and a £200 press inspired a new business
V3 Apparel started as a way to motivate its founder Michael Pinocci back to full fitness after a career ending injury with the British Army, today it helps motivate more than one million athletes worldwide every day.
by Chris Pyke, Business Live & Western Mail Print - February 16, 2021
Michael Pinocci from Ebbw Vale founded V3 Apparel after being medically discharged from the army
Veni, vidi, vici – the Latin phrase of ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ stayed with Michael Pinocci as he was reading biographies of famous athletes and historical figures while he sought motivation following the abrupt end to his dream army career.
Michael had just seen his life plans disappear and was at a very low point. He had been medically discharged from the army following a training accident, just as he was preparing to be deployed to Afghanistan.
The armed forces was set to be Michael’s life. “I was a very active and participated in all sports growing up and spent most of my time outdoors so the military and the infantry in particular seemed like the perfect career choice for me,” Michael said.
He grew up in Blaina, Blaenau Gwent, and went to Brynmawr Comprehensive School before leaving for university. “I joined [the army] during university when I realised my spare time could be better spent working towards my career path rather than hanging around or on nights out.”
“I actually volunteered to go to Afghanistan as part of the reserve army. I was training all the time and volunteered with the aim of getting some experience under my belt and then applying for an officer role when I returned.”
When that was taken away from him he suddenly felt lost.
V3 Apparel exports to 90 countries around the world.
V3 Apparel did not initially start as a business, but as a way to motivate Michael as he started on the road to recovery.
No longer issued training gear by the army, Michael realised traditional sportswear brands created garments to meet the needs and bodies of elite athletes, resulting in what he believed was overpriced and poorly fitted garments for the average person.
“My brother suggested printing the motivational quotes that resonated with me on to custom cut garments, to help keep me motivated during my recovery training,” Michael explained.
“It worked and got me back on track, so we invested £200 in a screen printing press and set out to help others in a similar situation.”
That is how V3 Apparel was founded in 2015, and it was then that he decided to incorporate the Latin phrase into the business’ name: V3... veni, vidi, vici.
“I had kind of grasped on to that phrase, as a kind of reminder, to help me, you know, to remind me that with enough hard work and self-belief, you could overcome anything essentially,” said Michael.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of other things that helped get me back onto the road to recovery, and essentially, to get another career, but, seeing the impact it had on myself, I thought there must be someone else out there that’s struggling or in the same situation.
“And because we’d already invested in the screen printing press, we knew where we could get some garments, which we could custom cut. And so we just kind of put it out there on social media and it went like wildfire to be honest, especially with the American market initially.”
V3 has since moved away from motivational quotes to inspire wearers.
“We’ve developed a business that solves the original problems by designing and developing athletic wear, with an emphasis on inspiring, confident action through figure-enhancing fits supportive comfort and innovative fabrics to advance the physical and the mental performance of the everyday athlete,” Michael said, giving the company sales pitch.
“We moved away from those motivational quotes quite organically as the garments and the brand became more well known.
“The V3 logo itself has now become the motivational calling of athletes worldwide inspiring people to conquer their own goals.”
V3 Apparel only produces a limited supply of its products to keep demand high and avoid any surplus stock
The company now ships to 90 countries at last count and has retailers in six countries.
While Michael says the business started before “everyone was doing sportswear for women”, he knows they are in a crowded market.
However, V3 has a way of ensuring their products are always in demand.
“Products are made available to customers in limited quantities during quarterly product drops,” Michael explained.
“And they sell very fast. We have quite an incredible customer base and high demand for the products and a recent product drop sold out in less than one hour.”
Not only does the limited quantity create a high demand, it also makes good business sense. It means the company does not get left with any surplus stock.
Michael’s military background is clear in how has developed as a businessman, and never more so than when the global pandemic struck.
He recalls the words shouted at him by many army instructors – “no plan survives first contact”.
“Basically, it means as best as you plan for something, there will always be an issue and so you need to maintain some level of flexibility in your planning,” Michael said.
“So in my mindset, I’m always looking at the worst-case scenario and hoping for the best.”
V3 Apparel hopes its products inspire people while they exercise
While the design is done in the UK, V3 has its products manufactured in China, the products require an innovative seamless technology that Michael says is not available in the UK. This meant that they got an early warning and Michael started to plan for the worst.
Michael began to think about how the company could best ride out the pandemic, and his idea was to increase the marketing spend. He sensed this would be the first place traditional competitors would cut with their high outgoings and considered a pandemic would put more emphasis on health and fitness.
When lockdown came in March 2020, V3 tripled its marketing budget, and as people began to turn to ways to keep themselves occupied while stuck at home the sportswear industry was one that saw a spike in sales.
Michael’s plan certainly paid off, in the year-on-year figures sales went up 1,343%, visits to the online store went up 1,280%, and total orders went up 1,292%.
“That growth ranked us in the top 6% of retail companies worldwide,” Michael said. “Staying adaptable and flexible is key to our business.”
Michael says that while businesses may do that anyway, he doesn’t come at it from a traditional business sense.
“I question everything, to be honest with you. If someone tells me there’s a 30-day invoice, or they want a 30-day invoice from me, I ask why, why 30 days? I think we’re just stuck in our traditions. The most successful and biggest businesses around the world, you’re Amazon’s, Tesla’s etc are the industry disruptors. So, I try not to rest on my laurels or on any traditions. And like I said, question everything.”
When he started the business Michael signed up to the NatWest Business Entrepreneur Accelerator. The business was growing but Michael, being self-taught in all areas of his business, understood that there were gaps in his knowledge and a skill cap that could only be lifted by experience, so he started to look at how to improve his business sense.
Siwan Rees, NatWest Entrepreneur Acceleration Manager, said: “V3 Apparel is one of the most exciting fashion brands we’ve seen on the accelerator programme in Wales.
“Michael’s energy and commitment to the business has resonated throughout his time on the accelerator and it’s been great seeing him benefit from the programme and using what he has learned to benefit the business.
“It’s not easy launching a clothing retail business, but Michael has used the programme to successfully build a brand with real global impact.
“His hard work and determination has been paramount throughout and we’re looking forward to helping him further on his journey to greater success.”
Michael’s brother, Nicholas, the co-founder and director, is now fully on board.
When the business started Michael was working in recruitment for a private mental health company and Nicholas was still in education.
When the business grew one of them needed to go full-time with V3, so Michael left his job. Nicholas joined full-time after university and by then V3 had attracted serious investment.
“After bootstrapping the business from the initial £200 investment to a seven-figure valuation, revenue-based finance provider Clearbanc, founded by Michele Romanow from Canada’s Shark Tank, reached out to us mid 2020 after seeing V3 Apparel all over social media and offered to provide financial support for our digital marketing efforts,” Michael said.
“After witnessing our first month of growth, Clearbanc featured V3 Apparel in their debut UK portfolio as part of their £500m investment launch in the United Kingdom.”
In the six years since starting V3 Apparel it’s fair to say Michael is on the way to conquering.
Original article featured at https://www.business-live.co.uk/enterprise/small-and-medium-enterprises/injury-ended-dream-army-career-19850222 and published in Western Mail Newspaper February 17, 2021.
ABOUT V3 APPAREL: V3 Apparel is the original motivational fitness brand and online retailer specialising in limited edition, performance focused athletic wear. For more information, visit V3Apparel.com.