Introducing The 24 Hour Outfit, Sustainably & Ethically Made in Brooklyn

This is an interview with Factory45’er Rachel Fernbach about the launch of her brand PonyBabe. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Rachel is raising money (update: has raised money) for her first production run of The 24 Hour Outfit.

What are you pre-selling on Kickstarter?

PonyBabe is a line focused on creating ultra comfy, versatile wardrobe staples for women. The clothing is made from premium super soft eco-friendly fabric and manufactured in Brooklyn, NY.  

The 24 Hour Outfit, now available for pre-sale on Kickstarter, is a collection of 4 pieces: a large wrap, a racerback tank top, a cardigan, and a pair of delicately pleated pants. Meant to be mixed, matched, layered, and worn on repeat – the 24 Hour Outfit is ideal for creative professionals, expecting/new mamas, yogis/meditators/dancers, minimalists, and travelers.

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Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I started PonyBabe with personal savings, and did not have the cashflow to fund my first production run. I needed to raise money to get that going, and also wanted to make sure there was a demand for the clothing before getting any deeper into the process. As a new label, Kickstarter is an ideal way for me to raise money while also testing the waters, and it’s an effective way to spread the word about PonyBabe.

What was the most challenging aspect of creating your campaign?

Oh my goodness. I’m not going to lie: If I had known how challenging this all would be, I… still would have done it, but at least I would have been emotionally prepared for the insanity of doing so many new things for the first time!

I would say that what has been most challenging is simply the fact that I came into this industry with very little knowledge, and have had to learn so many new things, on a constant basis. (How to get samples and patterns made, how to produce a photoshoot and video shoot, how to use social media, how to build a website… the list goes on.)  It’s tiring, exhilarating, exciting, and also super cool to learn new things — but some days my bandwidth runneth low…

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You’ve done months of prep. What helped you keep up your momentum and motivation?

I started building my email list very early, and though it has grown slowly, having a supportive circle of dedicated and caring people has been priceless… each time I sent out an update (even if it was to say that things weren’t going as planned), I received back an email here and there encouraging me to keep it up and make those clothes. Those little love notes really kept my spirits up when things were hard.

Can you give us a little insight into your campaign strategy? What has been working and what hasn’t worked as well?

The clothes I’m making are a great fit for a lot of different lifestyles. With that in mind, I honed in on a few niches – yoga, dance, minimalism, eco-fashion, American-made, and maternity – and researched blogs, boutiques, magazines, and influencers who might have an interest in seeing PonyBabe get funded. It’s pretty early in my campaign, so I’m still waiting to see what winds up working best!

What seems helpful is connecting through my networks – i.e., friends of friends seem much more likely to want to help… but I’m not letting that stop me from reaching out to others as well.  As in all arenas of life, relationships are key: it’s important to make personal connections, and make offers to give instead of just making requests to receive.

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What do you do when self doubt starts to creep up?

Notice it, allow it to have some space, then choose to focus on the positive. I actively shift my attention to what is going well, while also acknowledging that this is a stressful experience, and it’s normal and healthy to feel a little nervous or worried from time to time.

My nerdy self-encouragement mantra right now is “People love me and want me to succeed.”  It’s surprisingly motivating! 🙂

What’s your favorite reward being offered in your campaign?

The Whole Outfit, of course! Each piece is great on its own, but putting on the whole outfit is pretty much a perfect recipe for instant comfy cozy bliss. I love how it makes me feel like cuddling up with a mug of tea and a good book.

If you had one piece advice for someone considering launching a Kickstarter, what would it be?

Go for it! And ask for help from people, because it’s a lot for one person to take on.

You can check out Rachel’s campaign for The 24 Hour Outfit by PonyBabe here

 

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Does Hard Work Really Pay Off?

When I was growing up my parents always said,

“Work hard and it will pay off.”

When I knew I really shouldn’t sign up for that AP Biology class I did it anyway because, you know,

“I’ll just work harder.”

When I made an audition tape for an internship with Nike, I scripted out the entire four-minute video, storyboarded each shot and had multiple costume and set changes, because well,

“They’ll see how hard I worked.”

When I applied for a fellowship with NPR, competing against thousands of top-tier journalism grads, I told myself, I’ll get it because…

“I work really hard.”

Turns out, I got a “C” in AP Biology, didn’t get the internship with Nike and wasn’t even asked for an interview with NPR.

(My parents also have many words of wisdom for dealing with disappointment.)

Of course you need a hearty dose of hard work to accomplish your goals.

But the disclaimer of “hard work pays off” should be, “it’s also no guarantee.”

This was never more apparent than when I became an entrepreneur.

I quickly learned that hard work isn’t going to get you that much farther than the entrepreneur next you. 

Because working hard is simply a given.

I’ve spent the past 2.5 years working with and observing other entrepreneurs who have set out to start businesses of their own.

A lot of them work hard. And some of them don’t.

But there are other qualities that make far more of an impact:

>> They’re resourceful. I don’t mean they can forage for wild berries and make a bonfire with two twigs, I mean they have an attitude of, “I’ll figure this out.” Successful entrepreneurs know that every problem has a solution and they aren’t afraid to take action to find it.

>> They’re willing to take risks. Deciding to start your own business feels like a huge risk in itself, but it’s just the first one. Your entire entrepreneurial career will be made up of opportunities to take more risks.

Unfortunately, the word ‘risk’ typically comes with a negative connotation. Most of us were taught to follow the straight and narrow path that has road signs with the word “Conventional” along it.

One of the best things I ever did for my own business, and peace of mind, was start trading out the word ‘risk’ for ‘experiment.’

I’m experimenting with this marketing strategy… I’m experimenting with this type of business model… I’m experimenting with hiring this person…

>> They’re not easily derailed. The true test of an entrepreneur is when things go wrong. How will you handle it? Will it be the end of the world and cause you to curl up in the fetal position? Or will you look at it as an opportunity to try something new and come up with a new solution?

Real success is a series of baby steps and the entrepreneurs who break apart from the pack are the ones who keep their energy up.

They don’t let a tech glitch destroy their mood. They don’t let a confusing email from a supplier derail their focus. They don’t let a botched sample force them under the covers.

I once had an entrepreneur friend tell me that she starts working at 10am and is done by 5pm because, “She gets more work done during that time than the average person gets done in a 12-hour day.”

Needless to say, I appreciated her honesty.

Hard work is not the same as productivity, or attitude, or impact.

Successful entrepreneurs know that “working hard” is just another day at the office.

 

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How to Get Featured by Fashion Bloggers as a Startup Brand

“25 thousand dollars?!”

My friend nearly spilled her glass of wine across the table.

“How is that possible?” she asked, mouth agape.

I was out for drinks on Monday night with a couple of friends — one of whom is in the fashion industry and the other who isn’t.

“Yep, we were quoted $25,000 to be featured in one blog post with three product photos and 500 words of text,” my friend, who runs a womenswear brand, went onto explain.

I have to admit that even I was shocked by that price tag.

For small businesses who are doing the best they can with the resources they’ve got, the world of fashion blogging can be very intimidating.

How much should I expect to pay?

Do I give them the product and a fee on top of that?

Is it going to be worth it?

Being a fashion blogger is big business these days, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t affordable opportunities for smaller brands.

On Factory45 LIVE with the founders of Trendly we talk about what you really need to know about working with fashion bloggers.

Trendly is an app that connects influencers (like fashion bloggers) with authentic brands (like yours) that have social missions.

Pretty perfect, right?

So I wanted to bring Michael into the community so he can answer your questions about sponsored content, collaborations with bloggers and realistic expectations.

It’s true that just one Instagram post with the right influencer can skyrocket your revenue in a day.

It can also help grow your own social media following and get you on the radar of some of the bigger fashion bloggers in your niche.

But it can also be really hard to know which opportunity is worth investing in.

If you’ve dipped your toe into the blogger world but still haven’t quite figured it out or if it’s something you’ve been wondering about, then you can now listen to a recording to the interview.

Watch it for free HERE.

 

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If you know someone who would benefit from watching this interview on Factory45 LIVE, please share this link with them.

P.S. The next Factory45 LIVE will be with Lorraine Sanders, founder of Spirit of 608 on Wednesday, October 19th so mark your calendars : )

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Factory45 Success Stories

It’s been over two years since I started Factory45 and began working with entrepreneurs all over the U.S. and Canada to launch sustainable clothing brands.

In that time, I’ve done my best to introduce you to the designers who have come through the program, while sharing some of the success stories along the way.

I can easily get caught up in sharing the “how to” and “advice” articles, but I know how much value can also come from the inspirational — and the aspirational.

So, today, I want to share four success stories from past Factory45’ers who I’ve had the pleasure of working with to launch their brands. 


citizen-smalls-copySarah Davis, co-founder of CITIZEN SMALLS

When Sarah joined Factory45 during the Spring 2015 program she was already a seasoned entrepreneur but didn’t have a background in fashion or manufacturing. She was running a successful childcare service from her home base of Austin, TX but she was craving a different creative outlet.

From day one, Sarah was one of the most hardworking and focused people I’ve ever had the opportunity of working with. She meticulously followed each step that I laid out through Factory45 and went above and beyond to execute her vision for a children’s clothing line in six months.

In the Fall of 2015, Sarah launched Citizen Smalls, apparel for kiddos, through a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $20,000 to fund her first production run. In the past year, she’s been featured by Pottery Barn and has hosted pop-up shops all over the country. Every single piece in the Citizen Smalls collection is ethically made in the USA — you can shop both boys and girls items here.


sotela-copyHanna Baror-Padilla, founder of SOTELA

I love Hanna’s story because she’s a perfect example of how you can go through the Factory45 program at your own pace. One of the most common questions I’m asked by people who want to join Factory45 but aren’t sure if they can afford it, is how much money it takes to launch a fashion brand.

Hanna fully embraced the fact that she was working a full time job and didn’t have the savings to invest in patterns and samples right away, so she mapped out a launch schedule that better fit her finances.

As she gradually invested money into initial startup costs throughout the six months of Factory45 and after the program ended, she launched her womenswear company with a Kickstarter campaign a little over a year after starting Factory45.

Sotela, the last dress you’ll ever need, raised over $20,000 on Kickstarter in the spring of 2016 and Hanna just finished shipping out orders to her first customers. Every dress is ethically made in California from sustainable fabrics — you can shop all three styles here.


fair-seas-supply-copyTiffany Shown, founder of FAIR SEAS SUPPLY CO.

Tiffany has shared her story with us before (you can watch the whole video interview here), but I feel like a week doesn’t pass when there isn’t a new and exciting update from her.

Having started the Factory45 program with no idea about what type of product she wanted to create, Tiffany pretty quickly settled on the idea of round beach blankets and ran with it. Without a background in fashion or manufacturing, Tiffany tirelessly worked to set up a supply chain using organic cotton fabric while working with a cut and sew factory in California.

Having enough startup capital saved to self-fund her first production run, Tiffany launched Fair Seas Supply Co. just before the 2015 holiday season to an audience of raving fans. She has since produced a second collection, been featured in newspapers and magazines across the country and is selling her beach blankets in boutiques on both the east and west coasts.

You can shop from the California and New England collections here.


cause-i-run-copyAmanda Yanchury, founder of CAUSE I RUN

When Amanda started Factory45 she had recently moved from San Diego to Boston (where I live). I remember meeting her for drinks one night in the spring of 2015 and talking about her passion for running marathons.

She was getting ready for a big race and told me about the difficulty of finding running apparel that was sustainably and ethically made. It was this need she saw for herself that prompted her to launch her own athletic wear company.

Working a full time job at the same time as coming through Factory45, Amanda also built her company at her own pace and launched a year after starting the program.

CAUSE I RUN was fully funded through a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $15,000 to start production at a factory in Massachusetts. After her successful campaign, Amanda has continued offering pre-sales on her website as she starts production. You can shop sustainable running apparel from CAUSE I RUN here.


To read more success stories from Factory45, check out our Alumni Stories page.

 

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How Much Money Do You Really Need to Launch a Fashion Brand?

A few weeks ago you may remember I sent out a questionnaire to all of you, asking one question:

What is your SINGLE biggest challenge right now when it comes to launching your clothing company?

And not too surprisingly, most of you said the exact same thing…

“I don’t have any MONEY!”

(Or something along those lines.)

A lack of funds can be a huge problem for a startup brand that has the vision and dedication to succeed but simply doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to invest upfront.

Even more significant is the fact that many of us have a lot of fear-based thinking when it comes to money.

Whether it’s because of the way we were raised or a feeling of lack throughout our lives, many of us operate in a cycle of scarcity rather than abundance.

When it comes to building an apparel brand there’s also a lot of confusion around how much you really need for product development. We say we want to pay the people we work with an “ethical” wage but most of us don’t really know what that means.

In the second interview for Factory45 LIVE, I talked to Nicole Giordano, founder of StartUp FASHION, about the money topic that most people don’t want to touch.

In addition to answering questions from the audience, Nicole and I covered:

  • How much money you should realistically expect to spend during product development.
  • Our top recommendations for funding your first production run without the risk.
  • Ways to determine your stage of business, develop a budget, create a financial plan — and STICK to it.
  • The personal stories of how we funded our businesses from the beginning without going into debt.
  • And other creative ways to raise money, with management advice about how to be less afraid to spend it.

The truth is, if you’re creating a physical product then it requires some money — there’s no way around that.

But whereas 10 years ago, you had to have all of that capital sitting in your bank account (or have some rich relatives), the industry has changed. There are now easier and smarter ways to start your brand with very little risk to your own finances.

Listen to Factory45 LIVE with Nicole Giordano of StartUp FASHION.

 

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If you know someone who would benefit from attending Factory45 LIVE, please share the recording link.

P.S. The next Factory45 LIVE will be with Michael Riddering, co-founder of Trendly.  : )

 

How to Legally Protect Your Fashion Brand from Copycats

Your product is as unique as you are. With this usually stems some level of fear that others will want to copy your ideas.

Although these feelings are common, you don’t want it to prevent you from taking those next important steps.

So how do you move forward through the production process without your unique product being knocked off?

There are the legal routes to help protect yourself, and then there are common sense precautions you can choose to implement.

Three legal ways to protect yourself are: US Copyright Law, Design Patents and US Trademark Law.

>> US Copyright Law: This law will protect your “original expressions” — as in texts or graphics. It will not however protect any functional elements. For example a jacket you have created, the design you have had meticulously stitched into it – that is covered. However, the squared physical shape of the jacket is not covered under copyright laws.

>> Design Patents: This law will provide 14 years of protection, covering exclusive industrial design rights for new and nonobvious ornamental designs of functional items. This process can take anywhere from 6-12 months, so keep this timeline in mind while you’re working through the process.

>> US Trademark Law: While copyright law will protect the original design creation, trademark law will protect the wording and logo of the designer. This should lower the risk of confusion with the consumer, allowing them to know where their product is coming from.

Now you also have personal approaches you can take:

>> Tighten the material controls. One unfortunate problem you could encounter is having your manufacturer slip your design out the back door for their own personal gain. This rarely happens — especially in the U.S. — but it’s something to be mindful of. You want to keep a close eye on the production of your product. 

For example, if you had 3,000 units produced, and you are only seeing 2,400 units ship out, then you have a problem.

Try to source your own material any time you can, and only send the manufacturer what is needed to fulfill your exact order amount. This will give you more control over what’s happening in the production phase.

>> Break up the production when your product has multiple components. Have each component produced by a different manufacturer and then shipped to a completely separate party for assembly.

This will allow you to be more discreet so that no one manufacturer will know the entire process involved in creating your product.

>> Focus on the strength of your brand. One sure shot way to know you can overcome the competition is to make sure you have a rock solid brand identity.

Develop a brand that sets itself apart from all others so that your customer will go out of their way to seek your products.

At the bottom of it all — fashion design cannot truly be protected. My advice is to save your money for more immediate needs than trademarks and patents although a lawyer will probably tell you otherwise. 

Stay focused on building an awesome product, attracting excited early customers, and getting your brand to market for fast feedback.


How to Create Shoppable Instagram Feeds with Your Customers’ Photos

In July I asked if anyone would be interested in a live interview series with different industry experts in the manufacturing, retail, design and eCommerce spaces.

Kind of like a podcast, but on camera and live…

The reaction was an overwhelming ‘yes, please.’

So, I’m very excited to tell you that I’ve started a new monthly project called Factory45 LIVE.

Every month, I’ll offer a free opportunity to hear from an expert through a live, on-camera Q+A. You’ll be able to ask questions (if you want to) and get real advice about growing your business.

The first Factory45 LIVE interview was on August 24th with Aaron Escalona, founder of Popharvest. Aaron is a social media marketing expert and through Popharvest, he has created a way for brands like yours to create shoppable galleries using your customers’ Instagram photos.

A few of my past Factory45 entrepreneurs already use Popharvest for their own stores and have had awesome things to say about it.

In the interview, Aaron and I talked about:

  • Ways to use Instagram to drive more traffic to your online store
  • How to increase sales conversions on your site
  • Facebook advertising and how to get started effectively
  • How to create shoppable Instagram galleries…

And much more.

If your online store is currently up and running or if you plan to launch your brand in the near future, this will be information you won’t want to miss.

Aaron lives and breathes this stuff and shared some gems that you’ll be able to incorporate right away.

You can watch a recording to this Factory45 LIVE interview by clicking here (it’s free).

I’m really excited to bring this new opportunity to the Factory45 community and kick things off with a bang.

 

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important product testing

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.


5 Tips for Creating a “Made in the USA” Apparel Company

So, I’ve laid it out before — new designers tend to have a bad reputation. Not to say it’s your fault, it’s just that some have, unfortunately, ruined it for others.

Suppliers and manufacturers here in the U.S. have been in this game for a long time. And they’ve seen it all — from NAFTA to their neighboring factories shutting down to the early days of a shaky revival.

They’ve also seen every type of designer and aspiring entrepreneur, and most have come to the assumption that 9 times out of 10, it isn’t worth their time to take on work with someone who is new to the industry.

While navigating the world of sewn manufacturing may be new and probably a little intimidating, there are ways to set yourself up so that you don’t come off as the “new kid on the block.”

Let me break it down for you:

>> First and foremost: Set goals. So you have an idea – that’s great. Now, get it all out of your head and put it down on paper. While keeping in mind the vision of your product, you’ll want to set both long and short term goals. This will not only help to keep you motivated (long term), but also allow you see the little wins (short term) along the way.  

>> Research. Creating your own apparel company takes a lot of time and money. You want to take all the time you need to ensure you have several reliable options for both fabric sourcing and cut and sew. Do all the research you can before narrowing down your list, this usually requires multiple prototypes, and check out any online reviews or references of past clients who have worked with the factories you’re hoping to partner with. 

>> Budget. Not only are you going to need time and a lot of patience, but you will also need startup capital. You can likely negotiate with suppliers, but err on the side of caution and take the time to figure out what your budget is for each phase of development. If money isn’t growing on the trees outside of your house, I would strongly consider launching a Kickstarter campaign.

>> Organize your construction methods. Before you approach a supplier or factory, you want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Ideally, you will have a very detailed description of the fabric and materials you need (including weight, weave and fabrication) or a detailed spec sheet. This should include measurements, materials, colors, trim, hardware, grading, labels, tags, etc. and any other important information that would be needed to create your design. This will show that you know what you’re doing, have thought things through, and are a serious potential client.

>> Communication. You want this to be a two way street and effective communication is critical to your success. When you reach out to a project manager, there are some important “do’s and don’ts”:

DO: Provide a sample, pattern, spec sheet.

DON’T: Say things like “patent,” “sign an NDA,” or “What steps do I need to take?” These are all red flags to the production partner, indicating that youre a newbie.

Above all, be polite, professional, responsive and appreciative. The world of domestic manufacturing is complicated but once you get your foot in the door, other doors will open.


Improve Your Marketing Strategy by Using this One Simple Trick

When I published this blog post two weeks ago it was met with an overwhelmingly positive response.

I actually got teary eyed reading some of your replies.

So thoughtful, so heartfelt and then this —

“I think I am better off unsubscribing to your blog.”

It was the only negative response I received, rolled up into a few sentences of underlying racist vitriol.

“It’s just so frustrating,” I said to my husband. “Anytime you have anything worthwhile to say, you’re either preaching to the choir or falling to deaf ears.”

“I get that,” he said, “but what’s really wrong with preaching to the choir?”

And it got me thinking about all the marketing advice I give to the entrepreneurs I work with.

Find your ideal target customer, I tell them.

Establish your niche, I say over and over.

Market yourself to a specific group of people and they’ll come out to support you faster.

Because “preaching to the choir” actually means you’ve found your tribe —

The people who are going to support you and encourage you and eventually maybe even become your customers.

As small business owners, it’s not our job to write the perfect lines that are going to appeal to everyone.

It is our job to have opinions, offer insights and try to better the world for the people who we call our target market, our customers, our niche.

And that’s who you should set your focus on.

So, the next time you think to yourself,

“Should I share this?” or “Should I say that on my About page?” or “Should I retweet that?”

Think about your ideal customer.

Envision him or her in your mind.

And decide if what you want to say will resonate with the person you want to say it to.

Because there’s a beauty and a comfort in finding your people, and when that happens —

You don’t need to worry about anyone else.

 

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