Growing up on a farm in East Sussex, Jack Sheffield has farmed in various UK counties and Australia. In 2017 he founded FeelAliveAgri, a brand aimed at young people in agriculture which is affordable but stylish. With clothing designed to be worn on the farm, in the fields or in the tractor, this rural brand has an exciting future!
Samantha Hobden caught up with Jack recently in Haynet’s Chatting A Bit Series to find out more about FeelAliveAgri and the story behind the brand:
Your passion for farming comes through very strong. Has this been with you from your childhood?
I grew up on a farm so you could say it has been with me from day one, I can’t remember my first day of work, I just gradually got into it from a young age but I always wanted to spread my wings and go further afield from the home farm. I used to sit in the tractors and combines from a young age for hours on end. These were the days before passenger seats when I had to be content with a cushion on top of a toolbox!
What was your childhood ambition? Was it to always work within an area that was countryside based?
At school, I always used to drift off and imagine running different businesses most of them not farming related as such but I’ve always imagined myself running a business. As I got older I realised agriculture and the countryside is my passion so decided to stay on that path. I think as a child you always imagine when you grow up, you’re going to have all the nice things in life which you desire. But you forget where the money is going to come from and what career path you are actually going to take.
When did you decide to step into the tough world of farming? What advice would you give a school leaver who was thinking of a career in this line of work?
When I left school and decided to do a two year course at Plumpton college, this was my first real dedication to the footsteps in my career path. Of course, it was still early days and if I decided it wasn’t for me it wasn’t going the be the end of the world as a lot of people on the course didn’t even end up in farming! If I could give advice to a school leaver is make the most of college, the time really flies there and its such a great laugh thinking back. You meet lifelong friends and also have a good party! I can’t say I learnt an awful lot there but it does encourage you to spread your wings further.
You have worked in Australia farming in the last few years. What advice would you give a “young farmer” on how to go about gaining experience farming abroad?
Firstly, I would avoid these agencies that will find you work supposedly, I have never dealt with one but I have heard many bad stories about them and they all want a large chunk of your wages apparently. I emailed some harvesting contractors personally and it was the best way to go about it. I was extremely fortunate to land a position with a harvesting contractor based in New South Wales, a family run company called Maybury Harvesting run by the Maybury family. I still chat with them often as they are such great people. Once you have a job confirmed, its time to apply for your visa! I’d be careful when doing so online as there are many websites run by third party companies which will apply for a visa for you through the official government website and charge you good money to do so! Make sure when applying it is the official government website of the country you are planning to work in.
Another thing I would highly recommend is not to be scared of leaving the farm life behind temporarily and going to the city/town, to sightsee, party… whatever! There’s a lot more to life than farming. Me and my friend decided to live it large in Sydney after harvest, its the only opportunity I would have ever had in my life to do that sort of thing and you have to make the most of that. I made memories that will last a lifetime but more importantly… what goes on tour stays on tour!
You have founded an exciting rural business in the last year creating clothing for young people in agriculture. Tell us why you felt the need to start Feel Alive Agri and the story behind its name.
About 4 years ago me and a couple of mates were working on a large arable unit in Kent doing the harvest, my choice of tractor at the time was the John Deere 7530, of which we made a joke about… Feeling Alive in the 75! I milked the saying a bit on social media of which became a popular hashtag on Instagram! One day I decided to produce some small decals which said #FeelAliveInThe75 and put them on an Instagram story and asked if people wanted any. People were going bonkers for them. This is when I decided I should maybe put this on polos and market it, but I should perhaps create a brand and give it a name? Feel Alive.. I thought, Feel Alive what? Farming? Nope… Agri? Perhaps… Feel Alive Agri? Feel Alive Agri! Yes, I’ve got it now I’ll make it one word. I also felt a gap in the market for a down to earth brand for country people which they can wear while getting their hands dirty, this is why I decided to go ahead and try my business idea.
What have been the challenges of working and running your own business? Tell us about the highs and lows.
The first year has been a massive challenge for me, people always congratulate me and tell me how well I’m doing but they only see the good side. I deal with a lot more behind closed doors and especially since I run the ship by myself. This year I gave up driving tractors in order to dedicate myself fully to what I wanted to do. Anyone who drives tractors knows you have to dedicate a lot of time to the job. With the time on my hands, I had to believe in myself and do things I had no idea about and teach myself. After I had the idea I had the worry of setting up a website, getting the store working, accepting payments, designing the stock, getting the stock made and ready to sell, organising postage, getting social media accounts set up… It was a whole new ball game to me and you forget all the little things, small steps at a time lead to a big difference.
The lows are things like when you have an issue with the website, dealing with people expecting something for free or wanting to be a brand ambassador, stock taking longer to come in than expected, when the machine which manufactures the decals brakes, dedicating time at weekends to do mundane jobs etc. There’s always going to issues with running a business and once you have overcome that issue, I can assure you another one will arrive. But thinking negatively will never drive you forward, there’s always highs, there’s nothing better than seeing your brand being loved by the consumer. That’s the thing that makes me happy, seeing people wear it or display the decals with pride, that’s a good feeling! Its the feeling of hard work paying off.
What areas of social media marketing do you find works well with your brand?
Instagram is definitely the most popular and the most effective way of social media marketing. Nobody really directly goes on a website nowadays without going via social media. People love pictures and that’s why Instagram will always be number one. To sell the item people want to see what it really looks like, no point in photoshopping logos onto clothing as people question do these items really exist?
We are no huge clothing brand that pays models lots of money and has exclusive photo shoots.. yet! But I rely a lot on customers photos to make up the social media accounts, as a lot of people love to send them in as they get a mention.
What are your future plans for Feel Alive Agri?
I have many plans in my mind but I’m a very secretive person. Someone once told me always keep your next move silent. I just take every day as it comes and play the game from there. However I do plan next summer to get out to shows and possibly get around the country, as it would be great to meet some of the customers.
If you hadn’t had travelled down the farming career path, what would have been your Plan B?
Hard question, but would probably be construction.
On a day off, where would we find you?
This is a concept I can’t grasp anymore is switching off. I never have a full day off as I always end up doing something work related. If I sometimes have a proper day off, it would consist of going away for the day with the other half to somewhere nice like Twickenham to watch the rugby or something along those lines. If I do have time away, I always log out of social media accounts and emails and leave the work phone behind so nothing can distract or annoy me. I find it hard to switch off from the business but it has to be done to keep mental sanity I think.
Where do you hope to be in ten year’s time?
Where I hope to be I’m not sure. Its all part of the adventure I think, but it would be nice to actually have my own farm and call it FeelAlive Farms and actually have an official store which people can come and visit and look around. Maybe have a few tractors, foragers and combines parked inside the store all done up with our colour scheme and sign written. I would also hope to do more in-house production and make our own designs from scratch. I also would have liked to diversify FeelAliveAgri within agriculture too but to what will remain all part of the adventure I guess.
Against the Clock
Beer or Champagne: Beer 100% Champagne only for breakfast on Christmas Day
Sunshine or Snow: Snow because it’s acceptable to go in the pub at midday in the week.
Home Counties or Far Away Shores: Far away shores because the world is a big place and you only get one lifetime to explore it.
Spend or Save: Save! Because I’m sensible now!
Home Cooked or Eating Out: Eating out is something I religiously do once a week but if you did it every night you’d get bored but I much prefer it over home cooked.
Music or Film: Music for driving, film for an evening in, I am very partial to a good film.
Tractor or Truck: Pickup trucks, they go faster!
Please visit: https://www.feelaliveagri.co.uk/