6 Sustainable Fashion Projects to Watch in 2017: The Experts Weigh In

It’s the third annual edition of sustainable fashion projects to watch in the new year and below you’ll find our favorites.

I asked the experts to share the projects, designers, brands and technology that they’re most excited to follow in 2017. Enjoy!


lorraine-opalwall-headshot-9-7-16“There’s this incredible ecosystem of business resources, services and programs set up to help fashion brands incorporate more sustainable practices into what they’re doing, and it wasn’t that way even two years ago. Some to watch are obviously Factory45 (duh!), Startup Fashion, ProjectEntrepreneur and TrendSeeder.

I am also paying close attention to the necessary interconnectedness of sustainability in fashion, where you see companies like Evrnu partnering with Levi’s and The Renewal Workshop teaming up with multiple brands to present new ways of thinking about the lifecycle of the clothes we wear.”

Lorraine Sanders, Founder of PressDope by Spirit of 608 and host of the Spirit of 608 podcast


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“I’m really excited about the emergence of sustainable undergarment brands. It used to be that there were so few choices that you could feel good about. Now they’re popping up everywhere and range from the fancier styles of NAJA, which has a women-focused social mission, to the fun styles of La Vie En Orange, which recycles your t-shirts into cute cotton undies.”

Nicole Giordano, Founder of Startup Fashion


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“This year, I’m excited by brands that are blurring the traditional boundaries of fashion. New brands like Kirrin Finch are filling a void for (proper-fitting) menswear-inspired womenswear as established companies like Burberry make mixed gender shows a fixture of fashion week.

In addition, the concept of quality clothing that purposefully endures through sizes and seasons is resurfacing among sustainable lines: Sotela designs dresses that span several sizes while the made-to-order brand DE SMET rejects the fashion calendar to release just one piece per month over the course of the year.”

Elizabeth Stilwell, Creator of The Note Passer and Co-Founder of the Ethical Writers Coalition


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“From yeast-based synthetic spider silk to hybrid fabrics that convert solar power and movement into electricity, fashion innovation will continue to soar to new heights in the new year. But I think that more low-tech pursuits such as knitting, crocheting, and sewing will also see a resurgence, particularly in these uncertain political times, when getting down to brass tacks and working with our hands will bring a more visceral level of comfort.

I’d keep my eyes peeled, in particular, for organizations such as the Craftivist Collective, which uses the art of craft as a vehicle for “gentle activism,” and Knit Aid, which provides refugees with lovingly hand-knit blankets, scarves, gloves, and hats. On a personal note, I’m currently knitting my fourth Pussyhat Project hat for the upcoming Women’s March on Washington. It’s easy to surrender to feelings of hopelessness, but we can rally everything we have against the tide of tyranny and hatred. There is strength in numbers, and it can begin with a single stitch.”

Jasmin Malik Chua, Managing Editor of Ecouterre


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“I’m excited to see Increasing alternatives to leather come to the market. Right now most faux leather ‘vegan’ options are plastic-based, which of course is not compostable. But with pineapple-based and even mushroom leather alternatives becoming available, I’m hoping we’ll start to see more and more of them available on a larger scale!”

 

Rachel Kibbe, Founder of Helpsy


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“Because of where I stand in the fashion space, I’m lucky to see sustainable startups launching new projects on a regular basis. The ones that I get really excited about are pushing the boundaries of branding, storytelling and marketing to say something different about what it means to be an ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ apparel brand.

Some of the companies that stand out right now are Girlfriend Collective that opted out of traditional advertising and used their budget to get their product into the hands of their customers. Factory45’er Peche is pushing the boundaries of the lingerie industry by making undergarments for every “body” and defying gender norms. And then there’s mompreneur brand SproutFit that is challenging traditional sizing for infants and toddlers by making garments adjust as the baby grows.

If I’ve learned anything over the past several years working with sustainable fashion startups it’s that the companies that get people excited are the ones who tell a different story. It’s those unique stories that I’ll be keeping my eye on this year.”

Shannon Lohr, Founder of Factory45


Is there a sustainable fashion project / designer / business / technology you’re excited to watch in 2017? Share this post using the buttons to the left and add a comment with your project of choice.

A big thanks to everyone who contributed and a happy new year to all.

 

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The 2 Most Important Things You Should Know About Product Testing

Consider this scenario.

You spend years dreaming up the perfect apparel product.

You spend months meticulously creating it.

You tweak and stitch and hem and haw over it until…

It’s perfect.

To you.

But what about the lady on the other side of the country, who really wishes the zipper slid up and down a little easier?

Have you tested it to make sure it’s also perfect for your customer?

There are two phases of product development that I would say are a must.

1.) To test your product in the pre-product development process.

2.) To test your product in post-product development.

First, you want to test your concept.

The easiest way to do this is by sending out a survey to your target market (ideally through your email list). This should help you identify your ideal customer, as well as let you know how likely they are to pay for your product.

Once you receive the feedback, consider every bit of it. Make any necessary changes before you move on to develop your patterns and samples.

An important note here: People may not know what they want, but they definitely know what they don’t want. Phrase your survey questions in a way that provokes your future customer to tell you what they don’t like about similar garments on the market and how they feel they could be improved.

The second test is a user test of the product after the sample has already been made.

Start this process by checking to see what is federally mandated by your country for the manufacturer. For example, in the United States, baby clothing has required testing.

If you aren’t sure what testing may be required by law, use this page on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website to find out. (Note that this is specific to the U.S.)

You want to ensure that you’re offering a product of quality, value and safety. You need go that extra mile to make sure what you believe to be perfect, is actually perfect.

Don’t let this overwhelm you. Testing agencies are out there who specialize in a wide variety of consumer products. Many of these tests are budgetfriendly, as well. Do the research, find out what you need and factor it into your budget.

Your other product testing outlet is going to be much easier

Your family and friends.

This has proven by many first-time entrepreneurs to be the most honest and easiest form of feedback. Reach out to someone in your target market who will be brutally honest and let you know what they like and what can be improved.

Once those two tests are completed, you’ll feel ready and confident to move into production.


Launch Your Clothing Company with Factory45

*UPDATE: Applications to the 2016 program of Factory45 are now closed! Enrollment will open again in Spring 2017. Get on the list to be notified here.*

YES, you can now apply to join the 2016 program of Factory45!

If it’s the right fit, I’d love to have the opportunity to work with you.

You can get all of the details about the program here.

Over the past two years, Factory45 has helped entrepreneurs from all over the country launch clothing companies that are sustainably and ethically made in the USA.

Whether you still can’t find a fabric supplier whose minimums you can afford or the process of finding a manufacturer has been a giant headache, I know there is a way to launch your company with more confidence, less frustration and without wasting valuable time and money.

In fact, I’ve proven it.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to share my own story of entrepreneurship, introduce you to some of the alumni who have successfully launched through Factory45, and answer all of your questions about what you can expect.

If you’ve been waiting months for this day to come, then I invite you to fill out your application now.

If you’re still new to Factory45 and aren’t sure what it’s all about, then click the play button below. We’ve been working on this video project for months, and I’m so excited to be able to finally share it with everyone today.

Get inspired, get to know me and get ready. If you’ve been dreaming of starting your own apparel company but haven’t known where to start, Factory45 may be just what you’re looking for.

Apply to join me here.

 

shannon whitehead, founder

P.S. If there’s someone in your life who’s been talking about starting a clothing company please share the Factory45 application with them.

Entrepreneurship was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I hope that everyone (who wants to) gets the chance to run their own business.

Fashion Revolution

What is Fashion Revolution Week & Why Should You Care?

Three years ago this week, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed in the middle of the workday, killing 1,134 workers and injuring over 2,500 others.

The workers who perished in the worst tragedy in the history of the world’s garment industry were making the clothes that we buy — from western retailers such as, J.C. Penney, Joe Fresh, Benetton, The Children’s Place, Inditex (the parent company of Zara), The North Face and Wal-Mart, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Igniting a long overdue call-to-arms by a concerned group of cducators, designers, journalists and consumers, “Fashion Revolution Day” was created as a global movement to commemorate those lives lost, while promoting a conversation around supply chain transparency.

Three years after its inception, Fashion Revolution Day has become Fashion Revolution Week and tens of thousands of consumers from across the world will be asking brands, #whomademyclothes as part of a global social media campaign.

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As activist Livia Firth points out, you can “become an active citizen through your wardrobe,” and here’s why you should:

1.) Not only is fast fashion cheating its workers, it’s cheating you.

It’s no secret that fast fashion retailers such as Zara, Forever21 and H&M design clothes to fall apart. It’s the foundation of their bottom line.

The fast fashion business model is dependent on consumers buying fashion in excess. The clothing only lasts a few washes so that you’re prompted to go out and buy more.

“When you go to make a purchase, take a look at the product and ask yourself: ‘Am I being cheated?’” Maxine Bedat, co-founder of eCommerce company Zady told Fortune. “If a product from a fast fashion chain is falling apart before you’ve even bought it, it’s not a deal. It’s the fast fashion company trying to get you to buy something that is quick on trend but slow on quality.”

2.) “Discounts” aren’t really discounts.

The “discounted” designer labels you think you’re buying from outlets like TJ Maxx and Saks’ Off 5th have likely never seen a designer label before, according to Jay Hallstein in “The Myth of the Maxxinista.”

In fact, the “excess” or unsellable items that you think you’re getting at a fraction of the price are likely produced in an entirely different factory than the designer brand you think you’re buying.

As Hillary Crosley writes in her article for Jezebel, “The jig is up: Big brands like J. Crew, Gap and Saks’ Off 5th aren’t selling you discounted or out of season merchandise at their outlet locations. You’re just buying lower quality cardigans and patterned pants.” 

The reality is that outlet stores (under the name of brands like J. Crew and Banana Republic) have actually become fast fashion retailers of their own. In an effort to keep up with the rapid pace of the giant fast fashion brands, these outlet stores must lower cost and lower quality to compete on price.

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3.) Fashion is a $3 trillion industry and many of its workers are children and marginalized women.

The next time you chase a sale for $4.95 dresses, ask yourself: “How is that possible?” Seriously, think about it. How does that dress magically appear in front of you at such a cheap price?

Somewhere, someone has to pay for it and it’s likely at the cost of indentured servitude. Yes, slavery.

As of 2016, there are an estimated 27-30 million enslaved men, women and children across the globe, according to non-profit Made in a Free World.

There are people in countries such as Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India who are forced to work against their will. Whether they’re picking cotton or tanning leather, they don’t earn a penny for making your clothing. They are literally bound to a life of enslavement with very little hope of getting out.

CottonFarmer

4.) Fast fashion is anti-feminist.

I’m not about to go on a political rant, but if you do consider yourself a feminist then it’s time to start thinking seriously about how your values are reflected in your closet.

Of the 1000+ people who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the vast majority of them were young women. It’s estimated that 80 percent of the women working in garment factories in developing world countries come from rural areas to seek out a better life with little education.

“Many face working excessive hours – often 14-16 hours per day – with forced overtime and no job security, for poverty wages and without trade union rights recognized,” Ilana Winterstein, a director at Labour Behind The Label told HuffPost UK Lifestyle. “They suffer poor health, are victims of sexual and physical abuse and cannot afford to send their children to school.”

With inadequate health and safety checks, in the worst case resulting in tragedies like Rana Plaza, Winterstein says the repression of trade unions means that workers are too fearful to speak out about their reality.

5.) You actually have the power.

That’s right, you have the power to change an industry that so desperately needs to be revolutionized.

Fashion is the third-most damaging industry to the planet — after oil and animal agriculture — and it’s all so that we can we can enjoy a little retail therapy.

I don’t think any of us would try to justify the deaths of 1,134 people for our fashion needs, so why do we keep buying and supporting the brands that we know don’t deserve our dollars?

It’s not too late to get educated, stay informed and make your own individual impact. With the help of Fashion Revolution Week, it’s the perfect time to start.

Find more information on how to get involved here. Attend a Fashion Revolution event in your city, by browsing the event list here. Photos courtesy of www.fashionrevolution.org.

 

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Please forward and share this post to spread the word about Fashion Revolution Week and help your friends become informed. We have the power when we use our voices.


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3 Podcasts for Sustainable Fashion & Startup Inspiration

Has anyone else jumped on the podcast train? I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I’ve shared before that podcasts have been apart of my morning routine since 2014. It’s usually the first thing I do when my alarm goes off.

Recently, though, I’ve had the opportunity to get in front of the microphone myself. So today, I wanted to share three different interviews I’ve done (about three different topics) in case you’re like me, and are constantly looking for more content to tune into:

The Creative Giant Show: How to Sew Business Success in the Fashion Industry with Sustainable Apparel Strategist Shannon Whitehead.

I connected with host Charlie Gilkey back in 2010 when I was just starting to explore the world of entrepreneurship. And I was recently invited on his podcast to talk about:

  • Why I decided to start a sustainable apparel company, despite the risks involved.
  • Which challenges to consider if you’re thinking about starting a clothing company.
  • Which business trends are disrupting the fashion industry.

>> Listen here 

Conscious Chatter: Made in the USA

I mentioned this new podcast in my blog post from last week — it was started by my friend Kestrel Jenkins who has been in the sustainable fashion industry for years. Our interview focuses on “Made in the USA” and Kestrel and I discuss:

  • How outsourcing affected the U.S. economy after NAFTA was signed.
  • Why localized manufacturing is important for every country.
  • How the movement is growing because of small, independent brands.

>> Listen here

Bootstrapping It: Creating an Online Accelerator Program for Apparel Startups with Shannon Whitehead, Founder of Factory45

Host Vince Carter interviews entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their companies rather than trying to raise VC funding. So, of course, we had a lot to talk about. In the interview, we cover:

  • Why you should be honest with yourself about your business ambitions.
  • How to use Kickstarter and pre-sales to fund your business startup.
  • How to strategize so that you spend your startup funds on the right resources.

>> Listen here

Enjoy!

 

 

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Introducing the Entrepreneurs of Factory45 Fall 2015: Part IV

It’s hard to believe six months have passed since Factory45 started and my third cohort embarked on this program. We will wrap up the Fall 2015 program on April 1st and applications for the 2016 program will open on May 18th.

Before then, I want to introduce you to another batch of entrepreneurs I worked with this year (in no particular order). If you missed introductions to the other Factory45’ers I’ve highlighted, you can read those here, here and here.

And if you’re feeling inspired or motivated to start your own sustainable apparel company, make sure you’re on my list here so I can notify you when applications open in May.

gillian-nashGillian Nash is a bridal designer in the East Village of New York City. In addition to headpieces and hair adornment, Gillian creates gowns with three silhouettes: strapless, spaghetti and sleeved. She then overlays each gown with draped tulle and handmade silk flowers to make custom bridalwear. Each headpiece is handmade using traditional flower-making techniques that Gillians says are a lost art in the present day. Gillian Nash Bridal is “sustainably handmade with love” and will launch in Autumn 2016.

 

amy-rubinAmy Rubin is based in Indianapolis and is launching an active vintage-wear line called Polymath Apparel. Her first line, MODified, is a collection of contemporary, sustainable fabrics, as well as patterned vintage fabrics. The intention for the collection is to create looks with a “mod” touch inspired by bold colors and graphic lines of the 1960’s and 70’s. The Polymath mood board is live on Instagram and you can sign up for launch updates here.

 

ginamarie-chauntea

Ginamarie Georgees & Chauntea Foster came together as business partners in Southern California to launch Mharbana, a sustainable athletic apparel line that uses superior fabrics and embodies an empowered lifestyle. With fitness being a main focus of their daily routines, Ginamarie and Chauntea are appealing to the cross-fit and bodybuilding community that they’ve grown to know. You can sign up for launch updates here and learn more about the mission behind Mharbana on their blog.

 

heather-cucciaHeather Cuccia is the founder of Fairly Fauna, a cruelty-free and vegan boutique that promotes healthy living. As Heather was curating other lines to sell through her online store, she realized there weren’t many animal-free clothing companies to choose from. She’s now creating her own line to fill the hole in the market. Fairly Fauna works with animal rescue groups and is a partner of Being Pawsitive, an online magazine dedicated to pets. You can shop vegan and cruelty-free fashion on Fairly Fauna here.

 

Jason Ozenkoski

Jason Ozenkoski started his entrepreneurial journey one serendipitous evening when he was bartending at a community lake house. He saw a couple sitting by the lake and the man was to trying to keep his wife warm by draping a beach towel over but it kept falling down. Envisioning a better solution, Jason came up with a prototype for a convertible blanket / jacket that he later named The Thracket (throw jacket). From 2001 until now, Jason received both wholesale and direct orders, but wanted to avoid moving manufacturing overseas. He’s held out to set up manufacturing in the U.S. and rebrand the product. He’s aiming to start production in the Carolinas in 2016.

In case you missed it last week, Factory45’er VETTA is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for their five-piece capsule collection that can be mixed and matched to create a month’s worth of outfits. You can check out their campaign and order pieces for pre-sale here.

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apparel production

Preparing for Apparel Production: A Video Interview with Clothier Design Source

The question that so often comes up for new designers is about production. For anyone who is new to the industry, the apparel manufacturing process is something of a mystery.

With every production partner having its own way of doing things, this isn’t surprising. Production is one of those parts of creating a physical product that, until you’re in it, there’s no way to fully prepare.

Challenges will come up for you that won’t come up for your peers. Questions will go unanswered until you’re in the thick of the production line. And truthfully, the best way to learn is by going through it.

With that said, there are ways to prepare yourself, knowledge to obtain and lessons to learn before you dive in. The better prepared you are with the concepts, terms and order of production, the better off your first production run will be.

With this in mind, I interviewed Mindy Martell, the owner and president of Clothier Design Source, an apparel production house in St. Paul, Minnesota. In this 20 minute video interview, Mindy and I talk about:

  • Some of the early mistakes that new designers make in the production process.
  • A list of the 7 most important things you need in place before you can start production.
  • An explanation of what grading is, why you need it and what’s involved in grading a garment.
  • What a new designer should know about ordering labels.
  • How production cutting works, what “yield” is and how different colorways can affect your cost.
  • What to expect when you start production.
  • How to control your quality.
  • And Mindy’s most important piece advice for new designers.

Watch the whole interview here.

If you thought the interview with Mindy was helpful, we’d love for you to share — click to tweet here or use the social share buttons on the left.

To receive the Manufacturing Checklists mentioned in the interview, you can get CDS’ here and Factory45’s here.

 

 

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6 Fashion Brands Weigh in on “What I Wish I Had Known Sooner”

One of the reasons people become “serial entrepreneurs” is because of how much you learn through the process of starting your first, or second, or even third company.

It’s easier to say what you should have known or what you wish you had known when you’re looking back.

I started Factory45 with this in mind — after going through the process of starting a sustainable clothing company with my co-founder, I realized afterwards that there were so many things I wish I had known sooner. I wanted to impart those lessons learned on other aspiring entrepreneurs so they wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

On that note, I’ve asked six designers running established fashion brands to share what they wish they had known as a young fashion startup:

 

katie-rock“I wish I’d known that, no matter how much you love the product, you absolutely have to ensure that: (a) you can get it produced fairly simply/easily (to avoid loss of time/sleep and potential burnout); and (b) the margins are healthy enough that you can not just sustain, but actually grow, the business (or you at least see a clear path to get the margins to that place).  

I also wish I had understood that startups often take time! We thought we’d be an overnight hit, and we took it hard at times when we realized it would take longer than expected. Definitely be hopeful and excited and all of that good stuff, but also be realistic.”

— Katie Rock, co-founder of Activyst

 

tara-st-james“I wish I had known that fashion is about breaking the rules, not following them. That theory is applied to design all the time, but the business of fashion should also be about challenging the status quo, not following the calendar, not following what everyone else does and not doing as we’re told. That’s the only way change will happen in this industry and I wish I had known that sooner.”

— Tara St. James, founder of Study NY

 

colette-chretien“I wish I had known which parts of the sampling and manufacturing process would be good for me to figure out on my own and which steps are vital to have carried out by an experienced professional. There were some things I realized I should have done myself, and a few things that would have saved me time and money in the long run had I outsourced.

I also wish I knew that everything takes so much longer than you think it will. Both in terms of developing a product, and establishing a brand. Patience is important, but complacency is dangerous.”

— Colette Chretien, founder of La Fille Colette

 

taylor-gamine“I wish I had known how much clarity I had starting off—that I felt content and confident knowing what I was setting out to do and who I was trying to speak to. Had I taken stock of this intuition at that early stage, it would have been much easier as my audience grew to know when I’m being true to myself and the narrative I am trying to tell. Even now, as I slowly start to roll out new work, I realize that the hardest thing I have to do in this (post) post modern, socially nomadic world we live in is to just fiercely be myself.”

— Taylor Johnston, founder of Gamine

 

BrassClothing_©HOGGER&Co._web_013“I wish I had known just how important it is to have an audience to launch to. If you want a product-based business, first start by generating a following. This could be through a blog, via Instagram or Twitter. Build up a community of people that is in-line with your future product. When you’re ready to launch you’ll have an invested group of people you can turn into customers.”

— Jay Adams, co-founder of Brass

 

Delta+Leather+Tote+Bag“I wish I had known that finding great US manufacturing is kind of like speed dating. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out, make a polite exit, but move on. Their existing operations shouldn’t have to adjust much at all to achieve the product to be produced. It should be a very close fit from the very beginning.

I’ve realized over the years that in spite of a manufacturer’s best effort and enthusiasm, sometimes it wasn’t enough to get a good product at the right price point in the end. Their capabilities sometimes just didn’t match what I was trying to achieve. And as a designer I had to learn how to recognize the pitfalls early in the game to avoid a lot of wasted money time and effort.”

— Matt Mahler, founder of Skye Bags

Know someone who would benefit from reading these six lessons? Use the social buttons on the left of your screen to share on the platform of your choice.

 

 

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Breaking the Fashion Rules: An Interview with the Founder of StartUp FASHION

“I wanted to create something that stuck its tongue out at the closed-off, rule ridden fashion industry,” says Nicole Giordano, founder of StartUp FASHION.

I can certainly relate to that.

Nicole, who runs an online community for independent designers, is my fellow “fashion nonconformist.”

We’re both self-proclaimed rule breakers in an industry that has become increasingly disconnected with every passing fashion week. And neither of us has hesitated to make that known.

For those reasons and others, I’m excited to introduce Nicole to you today.

Nicole created StartUp FASHION because she wanted a place for designers to be able to get support. She wanted a place where they could get their questions answered as they navigated the scary entrepreneurial path.

“I wanted to make sure that fashion makers all over the world knew that there was a different path, that they could build something their own way, whether traditional or not,” says Nicole.

Today, enrollment into the StartUp FASHION Community opens until January 30th. Nicole took some time to answer questions about the Community for those of you who are currently running businesses and may be interested in joining.

Tell us about the StartUp FASHION community. Who is it for?

It’s for independent fashion and accessories designers around the world.

But more specifically, it’s for independent designers who are working to build their fashion businesses their own way; our members are breaking the traditional fashion rules and creating businesses that complement their lifestyles.

They are approaching their business models and their problem solving with creativity and a willingness to be vulnerable. They are open to sharing their experiences and helping others just as much as they’re accepting help and learning.

Nicole Giordano, StartUp FASHIONWhat are some of the most valuable aspects of being in the the StartUp FASHION community?

The relationships that the designers build with one another is so incredibly inspiring. When I see a question posted and then other members swoop in and give advice, feedback, answers… I get so excited!

The other thing I love is the way we share the business guidance in the Community. It’s very step-by-step. We create workbooks around important business topics that guide the designers through the steps the need to take using leading questions and brainstorming writing.

When they complete the workbooks they have their next steps written right in front of them; they know what to do next. To me, that’s one of the hardest parts of running a business, knowing what you need to do before you even think about how you’re going to do it.  

Who are some of the designers currently enrolled in the community?

I wish I could share the stories of all of them! But two that pop into my mind are…

Brooklyn based handbag designer Shana Luther. I’ve watched Shana over the past 2 ½ years that she’s been a member build her brand and her business into something that’s just right for her. She’s really taken to heart that concept of building a business that complements her lifestyle rather than one that other think you’re “supposed” to build. She’s built a real name for herself by actively participating in pop-up shops and trunk shows, by consistently running her social media, and by creating a brand identity that truly resonates with what she knows about her “woman”.

Melbourne, Australia-based apparel and accessories brand Hokum. It’s been amazing to watch Penelope build her brand and business. Her designs are so impressive and her victories like securing an NYC showroom and being chosen as one of five finalists for the Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award have been so incredibly exciting to cheer on!

The approach that each of these brands is taking is different, but they’re both finding the success that they’ve defined for themselves.

What is your personal goal in creating StartUp FASHION?

  • To encourage makers and designers and creators to build something that makes them truly happy.
  • To remind them that they don’t need to follow the fashion rules, that they can have fashion businesses in whatever form they so choose.
  • To create a “home” for designers where they can find answers, and encouragement, and guidance, and support to help them reach their individual visions of success.

How can interested designers get involved?

We open up the Independent Designers Community twice a year for one week each time. And right now we’re open! But only until January 30th. So now’s the time to join us!

What is the best entrepreneurship book you’ve ever read?

Just one?! Shannon, that’s like asking me to pick my favorite food. Impossible. Well, I’m going to break the rules. Some of my favorites are:

The E Myth Revisited

Personality Not Included

Raving Fans

Start With Why

What are your favorite tools for running your own business?

I don’t know how I functioned before I started using Asana. It’s a free project management tool and it’s the reason I can sleep at night.

I also lean pretty heavily on Hootsuite, WordPress, and Google Docs.

Current obsession is…

Less consumption. I’ve started making the transition into a “capsule” closet, which I’m loving. It’s been interesting to see how that translates into my business efficiency. I no longer think too much about what I’m going to wear to meetings or events. I’ve got my well-made basics and then have fun with the jewelry and accessories that my mood is leaning toward that day.

Also, my French press.


To join StartUp FASHION for its 2017 enrollment period, find out more here. Enrollment closes on Monday, January 30th. [Update: enrollment is now closed.]

 

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Fabric Sourcing at a Trade Show

I know a bunch of you are planning on attending the fabric trade shows in NYC this week — there’s Premiere Vision, DG Expo and TexWorld all happening in the next five days.

I remember going to my first trade show several years ago and even though it was one of the smaller ones, I recall feeling very overwhelmed.

A big venue? With tons of industry veterans? And you’re just supposed to walk up and start talking to them?

An introvert’s nightmare. 

In light of some of the questions that may be coming up for you, I thought I’d share some of my tips for having a successful trade show experience:

1.) KNOW WHAT YOUR END GOAL IS.

Many of you are flying in from out of town to attend these trade shows, which means you’re dishing out several hundred dollars on airfare, hotel rooms, taxis and overpriced food.

The last thing you want is to leave NYC regretting the trip and wishing you hadn’t spent the money. Chances are, you’re going to feel overwhelmed when you arrive at your first show — especially Premiere Vision and TexWorld — so you need to be clear on your end goal.

Are you there to find a very specific type of fabric? Are you there to browse potential fabrics to use in your next collection? Are you there to network? Are you there to attend the seminars?

Your answer should not be, “Yes, to all of the above.” Pick one or two goals to focus on, write them down on a piece of paper or in the notes app on your phone.

If you start to feel off-track over the next few days, look back at what you wrote down and it will help center you.

2.) GET A LIST OF VENDORS IN ADVANCE.

All of the shows will either have a printed list of vendors when you arrive (kind of like a program or playbill), but many of them also have a list of vendors on their websites.

Take some time to sit down with your phone or computer and Google search the vendors list.

You’re probably not going to be able to get through all of them, so you want to make sure you’re prioritizing the vendors that are most likely to have what you’re looking for. (Again, this is where your goal for the week comes in handy.)

Mark asterisks or highlight the vendors that you want to see and talk to, and then…

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3.) MAP OUT YOUR CONQUESTS.

Cross reference the list of vendors you want to visit with the map that is provided by the show.

Again, mark asterisks or highlight the locations of the vendors you’re interested in and be strategic about the route you’re going to take so you can hit up each vendor without backtracking.

4.) SHOW YOUR VALUE AS A CUSTOMER.

You’ve determined the vendors you want to talk to, you’ve mapped out a route through the venue, and you’re about to approach your first table…

First you’ll see a bunch of binders, swatch books and marketing material on the vendor’s table. If the binders are labeled properly, you can potentially find the fabric you’re looking for without asking for the help of the sales rep or supplier.

Depending on the vendor, there could be a small line of people waiting to talk to the sales rep or it could be just you at the table. Either way, when you get the chance to initiate a conversation be courteous of the rep’s time.

Yes, they’re selling to you but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people walking through the show.

The sales rep doesn’t need to hear your life story about why you’re starting your line. They don’t need to hear an explanation of the mission behind your company. And they don’t need to hear about the difficulties you’ve had finding the right fabric.

Your job is to show them that you’re a serious and professional prospective client who has the resources and money to make a wholesale purchase from them (in their minds, the larger the better). You can communicate this effectively by taking the time to…

5.) MAKE A SPECIFIC ASK.

One of the last things a vendor wants to hear is, “Do you have organic cotton?” Or “What do you have for blue fabrics?”

If you’re attending a show to simply browse around, then you can say so. But if you’re looking for something specific and you’re going to ask for help, then you need to be very clear about what it is you’re looking for.

Ideally, you’ll be able to tell the rep the fiber, weave, weight and color you want. If you already have a swatch or sample of the fabric you’re looking for, bring it and show it to the rep.

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6.) GET THEIR BUSINESS CARD.

Again, this seems counterintuitive since the vendor is supposed to be selling to you, but this industry isn’t like many others. Don’t expect for a sales rep to come running after you. It’s on you to get their information and follow up with them.

Tip: Instead of collecting a bunch of business cards that can easily get lost, take a photo of the sales rep’s business card. You can do the same thing with the swatch cards and fabric samples you’re interested in — snap a photo of the item number and fabric description.

7.) DON’T RUSH INTO ANYTHING.

As a small business owner, don’t feel pressure to make any decisions in the moment. If you have photos of the fabrics you like, as well as contact information, you can weigh your options after some thought and email the vendors when you get home.

In your follow up email, mention the show where you met them and again, keep your request short, sweet and specific.

Although overwhelming at times, trade shows are one of the most exciting parts of being in this industry. There is an energy and a vibe that is hard to replicate at other events.

If at any time it becomes too much, pop out for a cup of coffee or find a quiet corner to look back through your map and vendors list. This should be FUN! So try and enjoy yourself : )

Want more fabric sourcing tips, read 4 Mistakes to Avoid When Sourcing Fabric.

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All photos courtesy of Premiere Vision.