As a small, family-owned business, we love supporting the other small business in the Australian climbing scene. As part of this effort, we are rolling out a series of Q & As with some of the amazing local producers that we work with and running a little promo. In this installment, we chat with Andrew from Szent Climbing, the climber responsible for the sweet scent of chai wafting out of chalk bags everywhere.
How did you start climbing? What motivates you to keep climbing?
I started climbing back in high school (about 14 years old) until I moved away from home to go to uni, where it fell off the radar a bit. I picked it up again when I moved to Fortitude Valley in my mid-20s as Rocksports was just down the road, and KP across the bridge. I think it's getting outdoors to beautiful, beautiful places with a group of friends that motivates me to keep climbing. It's such a pure sport, every time I get on the rock, I question myself why I don't do it more.
What do you do when you’re not working on Szent?
I'm a Mechanical Engineer by trade, so I work as a project manager, typically constructing sewage treatment plants (glamourous I know), to supplement income while Szent continues to grow. Other than this I love to get outdoors as much as possible to surf, hike, play golf, anything really. I've also just had a little boy, so I’m really making an effort to make time for him every day.
What gave you the idea to start Szent?
I realised pretty early on that a career in engineering did not provide a lot of freedom in terms of lifestyle. As an engineer (or any professional career) you are the asset, and your time is the only thing you have to sell. I started thinking about potential business ideas that could take "Andrew" out of the equation as much as possible. On a climbing trip to the USA I came across a product called XChalk. I'd always had problems with cracked hands caused by chalk, so contacted the manufacturer and asked if I could licence it in Australia. That was the beginning of Szent, although at that stage we were running under the brand name Climber Gear.
Can you talk about a pivotal moment in the Szent journey?
The pivotal moment in the journey was when one of my climbing (and engineering) buddies, Auben, was about to move back to the UK. He was a big fan of XChalk and had the same issues about engineering as I did. He asked if I would mind if he licensed XChalk in the UK, to which I think I responded "F#** that, lets partner up". The hardest thing I found trying to get a company off the ground as just one person was not having anyone to bounce ideas off and stay motivated. It was at that stage that we really upped our game on the packaging, brought out our own plain chalk (YChalk) and got the licence for XChalk to Australia, NZ, Europe. From there its just been going from strength to strength, and we are now in the US market too.
Tell us about Szent and what sets it apart from similar brands?
I'm not sure Szent is that different to other climbing brands, and I think that's a good thing. Most of the big brands were started by a group of climbing friends that were looking to solve a problem that existing companies just hadn't solved yet. For us it was bringing chalk to the world that would not only provide great grip, but also condition your hands at the same time. Building a company around a product like this would also give us the freedom to do the things we love (that's the so far unfulfilled half of the plan anyway).
Aside from COVID-19, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing local producers of climbing products?
For a small company I would say freight and shipping has been our biggest hurdle. The costs in Australia to import/export seem to be a lot more than it is overseas, and domestic postage rates seem to be more expensive than items shipped direct from China. It's something we don't really understand, but no doubt this will get better as volumes increase.
What would you like to see happen with Szent in the future?
We started Szent to make products that we wanted. We have always let it grow organically, and slowly introduced products we couldn't find elsewhere, or our regular customers demanded. So I see it continuing like this for the foreseeable future. We have always focused on quality, so don't want to lose that by growing too fast.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know this local legends! Don't forget to check out our promo and support all our awesome local producers.