“Wisdom is truly knowing what is of value in life, what happiness is and how to put it into practice and share it with others.”
Brendan Lo is a father of two from Byron Bay, Australia who decided to launch his own business, “smartass undies” two and a half years ago, after what he describes as a ‘3am brain fart’. From the moment his kids started to read, he’s been collecting toilet wall quotes and snippets of wisdom from the likes of the Dalai Lama, Thoreau and Dr Suess, to help his family reflect on life’s values and what brings true happiness. One night, Brendan lay awake trying to think of a way to incorporate these inspirational messages into his everyday routine, and realised that undies and socks would make the perfect billboard. Two and a half years later, smartass undies sell underwear and socks that feature inspiring, motivational messages which, Brendan believes, help the wearer stay on track with what really matters.
“Of course, you can’t see the undies’ messages while you’re wearing them” he says, “butt when you pull’em out of the draw to put’em on, take’em off, put them in or out of the wash, hang them up, take them down, fold them and put away, the messages are always there to help keep you on track.” His smartass socks’ values are visible when worn, and act as toe-wiggling reminders of how we should act throughout life.
Brendan grew up in Darwin, in the North of Australia, living across the road from a large Aboriginal community and surrounded by Crocodile Dundee country —an environment that formed his love of nature and a desire to protect it (Smartass undies are made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) while their socks are made from certified organic cotton. Brendan’s also committed half the company’s profits to supporting the planting of trees and the protection and regeneration of rainforests). He describes himself as a 3rd generation Australian-born Chinese man married to a Dane, with two children who are a blend of East meets West; North meets South. Two year old Mini Fox Terrier Juno completes what he says is a quirky family who aren’t shy about laughing at themselves.
Like most budding entrepreneurs, Brendan continues in his day job while smartass undies gets properly off the ground, and indeed his career as an Occupational Therapist has been part of what has driven him to understand and seek meaning and purpose in life —and put the answers on his underpants! He’s worked as both a paediatric and a disability specialist, and has been training staff who support people with a disability for more than a decade. He currently works with one of Australia’s largest disability services.
Another motivator for starting his business is Brendan’s family. His amazing mother used to say to him, “Wisdom is truly knowing what is of value in life, what happiness is and how to put it into practice and share it with others.” Since he and his wife had children themselves, riding the “big-ass learning curve” and embracing the kaleidoscope of uncertainties that parenting brings, one thing he believes most parents are clear on is that they want their children to be happy. But how many people stop to think about what the key ingredients are that lead to a deep sense of happiness?
As a parent, Brendan feels that starting his own business has also been an exercise in modelling to his children that it is worth stepping out of your comfort zone to take on challenges, to learn, to pursue your ideas and have a purpose that is bigger than yourself. He’s a firm believer that children learn a little from what we say, but they learn much more from what we do.
I See Magic Everywhere!
Freya: When did you first see the magic in starting a sustainable undies company, and how do you keep the magic alive two and a half years later?
Brendan: Starting a business is so like having a child, it needs nurturing, attention and care. There’s a mighty steep learning curve; learning to roll, crawl and getting up on your feet, and of course there is a whole bunch of mess along the way.
The magic of being a parent and starting a business is in seeing it grow and reach its first milestone. We went through a bunch of teething problems to reach the point where we were able to launch in the midst of the Covid pandemic in July 2020. We’re still working to find our ass in many ways, butt, there is magic in creating something off your own back, that reflects your values and vision, and serves as an outlet for your wacky ponderings!
In a modern world with an infinite array of entertainment available at our children’s fingertips, it’s perhaps never been so important to encourage our children to see the everyday magic that exists around them. I love those moments spent with our kids observing things like a caterpillar contracting and expanding as it moves along a twig, or how a drop of water stays intact while it glides across the surface of a leaf. What totally lights me up is when our kids discover something new; an insect they haven’t noticed before perhaps, or a mythical creature formed by the clouds, and they race to grab us to share in the magic. There is magic everywhere, and if I can give my children the gift of developing the eyes and mind to see it then I will have made their life rich indeed. If our unconventional tools for motivation can do the same for our customers, then I hail mission success.
Stay Focussed On The Important Shit And Leave The Rest Behind!
Freya: What was the most important shit to focus on when you started your own business?
Brendan: From the get-go I knew I wanted to create something that would bring more positivity to the world and have a net benefit to the planet. The effect of climate change is the most significant threat to our children’s future. It impacts on everything, from the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the price of our home insurance, to a broad swath of illnesses and diseases that are on the rise. If the world becomes 2°C warmer, the impact will make Covid appear as an insignificant blip in comparison.
It’s been one hell of a journey exploring the world of textiles and swimming through the cloudy waters of what is and isn’t sustainable for our undies. I was completely naïve about the apparel industry when I started out and I was convinced that natural fibres were going to be the most sustainable materials to use. But as I dug under the surface, I discovered numerous complexities, such as modal and bamboo which are all the rage in sustainable fashion, butt the actual impact of converting these hard, fibrous plants into soft fabric requires extreme processing which often uses harsh and toxic chemicals and substantial amounts of water. Cotton farms have seen river systems depleted and chemical use has lead to the death of marine life on a grand scale.
All natural fibres still use petrochemicals throughout the farming practices and half the world’s natural forests have now been cleared, with the vast majority of this clearing due to agriculture. I think most people now realise that single use plastic is an exponentially growing monster, leading to immense landfill issues and degradation of our oceans, so when I discovered that single use plastic drink bottles could be turned into a high-performance, soft, moisture wicking fabric, I was sold. With a million bottles a minute being discarded, I wanted my biz to be part of the solution to this big ass problem.
From the concept stage I planned to be carbon-neutral through partnering with organisations that plant trees. I’ve been a long-time fan of Sir David Attenborough’s work, growing up with his soothing, yet stately voice beaming the wonders of the world straight into our lounge. His recent film and witness statement: A Life on Our Planet had such a profound impact on me that I have now made the decision to become not just carbon neutral, but carbon positive. To achieve this I’ve partnered with HalfCut.org (referring to half the world’s forest already having been destroyed) and have committed 50% of our profits to the planting of trees, joining the international Billion Trees Campaign and supporting the saving of precious rainforests. HalfCut are quirky like us; in their trademark annual campaign they encourage folk to go out on limb and shave, braid or colour half their hair to raise funds and awareness of the need protect forests and plant trees.
The data and science is clear; we all need to make changes in a broad range of ways. We can turn things around, butt it will take all our asses.
You Only Fail If You Quit!
Freya: What ‘failures’ have you had to overcome in the course of launching your own business?
Brendan: Oh the list is long, but each failure guides the next step and those steps they have led me to connect with some amazing, open-hearted people such as yourself. I want our children to understand that there will always be things that are difficult, hard and even painful, but that they are not to shy away from them; it is the tough stuff that makes us stronger, not the easy. “Easy now” often leads to “hard later”.
Happiness Ain’t Luck or Privilege, It’s a Badass Choice!
Freya: What conscious choices do you make to stay happy?
Brendan: A commitment to mindfulness, to put the effort in to keep dragging my ass and mind back to the reality of things and reign it in from creating looping negative stories. I created smartass undies because I need regular reminders to keep my own mind on track, I absolutely get high off my own supply.
Surround Your Ass With Those On The Same Mission As You!
Freya: What tips do you have for finding the right co-workers, employees, joint ventures and collaborators to work with your brand?
Brendan: Skills and specific knowledge are of course important, but it’s shared vision and values that are the real deal breaker for me. My experience tells me that being up front, open and honest about your intentions is the key. All elements of smartass undies come from my values and desire to bring more positivity to the world, and to do what I can to create a more sustainable future for our children. It’s these intentions, along with a little cheeky humour thrown in, that attract folk who also give a cr*p.
The Way Your Ass Sees The Problem Is The Problem!
Freya: How do you teach your kids to approach the problems they face?
Brendan: I constantly challenge my children, and myself, to find multiple angles to see things from. When we take a moment to step back, walk around and take a look at a problem from different perspectives, we can then see things more objectively, and we’re then in a better position to start problem-solving. Seeking opinions outside of our own framework is also important; perhaps not always easy to swallow but being open to others’ opinions can lead to greater understanding of a situation and a more effective approach. I encourage my children to seek out the stats, learn to understand the science. Some problems will seem overwhelmingly large, but when we can hone in on the part that we can solve, we then become part of the solution.
Today I Kick Procrastination In The Ass And Get Shit Done!
Freya: What is your tip for kicking procrastination in the ass?
Brendan: Ain’t gunna lie, this one’s numero uno on my challenge list and not something I can claim to have mastered yet. Not very original, butt my method is a simple handwritten To Do list that I go through at the start of each day. It often ends up being an A4 page or two, butt if I can knock off the top three priorities for the day then I feel like I’ve made progress.
Freya: Thanks Brendan for a great interview and some lovely undies and socks!
Intrigued? Wanna know more? Read my blog about smartass undies’ inspirational SOCKS, and how I’m using them to motivate me in 2021 HERE
Brendan’s company smartassundies sell men’s and women’s undies and socks that are available online for worldwide shipping at smartassundies.com They can also be found on Instagram. Note that I earn commission from any purchases made following the links in this article. But I never promote products I don’t try and love myself!
Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents and you can follow her for more parenting wisdom on Instagram at @the_amateur_mama !