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 (like Instagram).

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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7 Tips For Getting a Fabric Supplier to Respond to Your Email

As a new business owner, it is vital that you know how to write an effective email that will earn a response.

Depending on who you’re writing to, it can be easier said than done.

When it comes to reaching out to fabric suppliers, especially, there are seven key rules to remember:

1.) Consider the audience you’re reaching out. The supplier is likely receiving hundreds of emails per week, so you want to make sure your inquiry gets straight to the point. The supplier does not care about your background or the mission of your company. At the end of the day, they just want to make a sale.

2.) Keep the email short and sweet. Yes, you will want to include a nice “Hello” and an appropriate “Thank you.” But again, make sure you are not wasting the recipient’s time.

3.) Do your due diligence. Make sure you do your own research on the supplier’s website before you reach out. Oftentimes, you can get many of your questions answered on the supplier’s About, Shop and FAQ pages.

4.) Know your stuff. Many fabric suppliers are going to want to see that you actually know what you’re talking about, so they don’t risk wasting their own time. One great way to show that you’re serious about being their customer is to send over a design, spec sheet or a visual example of the piece you’re needing the fabric for.

5.) Don’t ask about MOQ’s. Especially not in your first email. This mistake will make you come off as overly frugal and price-conscious before even making initial contact.

6.) Foster the relationship. Once you’ve received an initial response, take your time in building a relationship with the sales rep. While being courteous of their time, you want to cultivate the relationship and make it easy for them to help you. Down the road, they’ll be much more likely to negotiate MOQ’s with you later on.

7.) Stay persistent. Be mindful of not overwhelming the supplier, but don’t give up. Finding sustainable and low-impact fabrics is not an easy task for anyone. Stick to your values and keep up your search. Fabric sourcing is one of the steps in product development that can take the longest, so be patient.


4 Ways to Negotiate Minimums with Fabric Suppliers

There are so many moving parts that go into launching a sustainable apparel company and one of the steps that can take the longest is fabric sourcing.

As any seasoned designer knows, the moment you realize you have found the fabric can be a mixture of relief, hope and — apprehension.

The first question that will come into your mind is:

Can I meet the supplier’s minimum order quantity (MOQ)?

Maybe you’re planning to start out with 500 yards (or less) because you’re just getting your brand up and running.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for a supplier to require an MOQ of 1,000 (or more) yards, and there may be many reasons for it depending on who you’re working with.

The first thing you need to is find out why the minimums are set at the amount that they are, keeping in mind that the exact reasons will be specific to the individual suppliers.

Once you find out their “why,” you’ll be better equipped to negotiate.

And then you can devise a plan.

Before you start to propose negotiations, make sure you’re not making one of these other fabric sourcing mistakes and take a look at the supplier’s website before you call or email.

Sometimes you can find the MOQ and the company’s capabilities right on the site, and it can help set you up to make the perfect proposal for negotiation.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you devise the right plan:

>> When a supplier sets a MOQ because of time efficiency for custom dyeing your fabric, offer to pay  a flat “dye fee” in addition to the per yard cost of the fabric. This may add to the final cost of the order, but it will likely be much cheaper than ordering three times the amount you need just to meet the MOQ.

>> If the MOQ is in place because it “costs what it costs,” then you can either offer to put down a deposit, but place smaller orders at a time OR you can see if there is the option of “piggy-backing” onto one of their existing client’s orders and splitting the cost. Keep in mind that your production schedule will need to be flexible.

>> If the MOQ is in place because it’s a custom order, let’s say there’s a very particular blue fabric you want but it’s never carried in stock, it may be worth conceding to what the supplier already has available in their warehouse. If you can meet the minimums of an in-stock fabric that is only a slightly different shade of blue, then it’s probably worth settling for it. You don’t want to be so committed to your original vision, that you can’t see the “good enough” version staring you in the face.

>> And lastly, you can try offering to pay a higher price per yard, in order to purchase less than their normal MOQ.

There are many ways that you can go about this, and you will find and choose what works best for you. Go with your instincts, but don’t force it. 

If a supplier won’t budge, then it’s better to cut your losses amicably rather than burn a bridge. When one door closes another opens…

Remember, that no matter what avenue you choose for negotiation this is your journey, your brand and your company’s future.

Give it all you got.


 

Using Your Voice When the Words Aren’t Perfect

Today I had originally planned to share the process behind creating a sustainable and zero-waste wedding.

But in light of everything going on in the U.S. right now, the idea of talking about ethically-made wedding dresses and locally-sourced food is not something I could stomach.

This place of paralysis is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past week.

How do we write, market, message and sell our businesses and brands when all of it seems so trivial to the very real issues that are unfolding around us?

Is it a betrayal to offer a sale, feature a product, post an Instagram, promote ourselves when so much of the world is grieving?

I’m not sure.

There are platforms like Design*Sponge that took a hiatus over the weekend from posting anything. D*S founder Grace Bonney shared a heartfelt letter explaining the decision for the two-day pause in content.

Other brands have continued with regularly scheduled programming but have also used their platforms to share posts of allegiance and words of support.

And then other companies have chosen to be silent, for whatever reason feels true to them.

Tragedy occurs all around the world, every day, and if we paused every time something bad happened, we would get nothing done at all.

But the past week has felt different. And I’ve felt different about what I wanted to say to you today.

As an American-born, white female, I not only have the privilege that came with the lottery of my birth, but I also have the privilege of being an entrepreneur with a modest platform to voice my opinions.

As fellow entrepreneurs, no matter what race or gender you are, you also have a platform in which to express your beliefs.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to figure out what you want to say.

Last week my good friend and I were texting back and forth about how to address the murders in Minnesota, Baton Rouge and Dallas, as business owners.

The conversation went something like this:

“WTF is happening to our country?”

“I feel guilty doing other things and not saying something, but I don’t know what to say.”

“Isn’t it better to say nothing at all than to say something uninformed?”

“I feel like anything that comes out of my mouth sounds like I’m trying to be a better white person than the next.”

“Agreed. But then it’s like, get over how it makes you feel. This isn’t about you.”

And so it went…

I fully recognize how unfair it is that my friend and I are able to have (and leave) this conversation at all. For many Americans, this is the life they’re living. They can’t escape it.

For the past week, I’ve gone back and forth about what to write and what to say.

And yes, I considered saying nothing.

But what I came to realize is that it’s not so much about having the perfect words as it is about having a voice.

There are writers far more articulate than I, who are far more versed on these issues, and my instinct is to tell myself, “Leave it to them. They know more. They’ll say it better.”

But that’s not the point.

As entrepreneurs, we hold the expectation and the responsibility of being the changemakers, the freedom fighters, the revolutionaries.

If you have a public platform, then you are privileged in a way that so much of the world isn’t. And I want you to know that bringing your voice to this conversation, despite how awkward or scary it may be, matters.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

We can take action together towards fighting for justice and the fair treatment of our fellow humans — in a way that doesn’t sacrifice our brand, or go off message or lead customers astray.

Because when it comes to having a message, acceptance, tolerance and love are universal.

 

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Additional resources:

This is the best piece I’ve found on the tangible action steps that can be taken to create change via The Huffington Post

Why do we stay silent when racism is all around us? By Nisha Moodley

Code Switch is a podcast that explores race and culture.


Photo credit: Molly Belle

live without

How I Run My Business: The People & Tools I Can’t Live Without

Whether it’s the solopreneur working from home with two kids or the startup founder running a team of 40 in Brooklyn, I’m fascinated by the systems that entrepreneurs create to grow and maintain their businesses.

On that note, I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to the tools and people I rely on every day to keep Factory45 running as smoothly as possible.

Before I get started, you should know that it wasn’t until the Fall of 2014 that I felt financially secure enough to make my first hire. So, in case you’re just starting your business now, remember that this doesn’t happen overnight.

THE PEOPLE

Rather than hiring full-time employees, I prefer to stay lean and hire contractors to help with critical components of my business. With sites like Upwork and HireMyMom.com it’s easy to hire part-time contractors, making it a win-win for you and for the person you’re hiring.

The contractor has the autonomy to run their own freelance business, set their own schedule and work from anywhere. The perk for you is that you can hire someone who specializes in the 1-2 skills you’re looking for.

I currently work with seven part-time contractors, who have (thankfully) become a well-oiled machine. I can act as project manager between each moving part, knowing that every person is doing their job as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

It helps that every single one of them is also an ace at what they do, so building up trust happens quickly.

erika

Erika (Phoenix, AZ) manages the publishing of blog posts and the scheduling of emails for Factory45. So, for example, what you’re reading right now? She made it happen. After I write the content in a Google doc, I send the link to her with the photos to accompany it, and she designs it all on WordPress and ActiveCampaign.

 

Inaina (Atlanta, GA) designs the Keynote presentations that eventually become video lessons in the Factory45 program. She’s a former Apple employee with a profound knowledge of anything related to a Mac, and I was able to snag her off of Upwork nearly two years ago.

 

Shaunshaun (Seattle, WA) is the graphic designer for the Factory45 program. He creates the PDF’s, exercises, to-do lists and visual elements of the online course. I’m always telling him he’s fast as lightning (really, the man can whip up a PDF quicker than anyone I know).

 

Joshjosh (San Diego, CA) is the video editor for the Factory45 program and hiring him has saved me hours of time. After I record a video lesson for the course, I’m able to send Josh the draft so he can edit out any bloopers or mistakes. Rather than starting over every time I misspeak, hiring Josh allows me to record just one run-through.

 

raniRani (Bangladesh) is my only contractor who isn’t based in the U.S. and she takes care of Instagram growth for Factory45. Rani has been doing Instagram marketing for over two years and she has single-handedly grown my following from 1,500 to over 5,000 in six months — without buying followers.

 

Emilyemily (San Francisco, CA) has done all of the web design and development for the main Factory45 website and blog, as well as the private portal where my entrepreneurs are able to access the Factory45 program. She is the workhorse of the whole online operation and makes sure everything runs smoothly and looks beautiful.

 

Jerodostermeier-cpa copy (West Plain, MO) is my accountant and has managed the financial side of Factory45 as the business has continued to grow over the past two years. I’ve worked with Jerod since 2011 when I was making a poverty-line wage, so it’s been exciting to have him along for this ride. His help has also been invaluable in keeping all of my ducks in a row.


I know a lot of entrepreneurs hire people to do their blog writing and social media posting, but I’m pretty adamant about writing all of the content myself. You’ll never see a blog post with my name on it that wasn’t written by me. And every single word of the Factory45 program was written by me over many, many months.

There are only so many hours in the day, so hiring out “specialists” to take over the work that isn’t my strength, allows me to grow without burning out.

In addition to written content, I take the reins on strategic marketing, relationship building and most importantly, working with my entrepreneurs through Factory45.

THE TOOLS

  • Asana: Seriously, can’t live without it. It’s the ultimate task management resource. I was first introduced to it when I worked a brief stint for Danielle LaPorte in 2013 and I’ve relied on it ever since.
  • WordPress: I use WordPress for the Factory45 website, the blog and the program portal. I know how to create a blog post, but under Emily’s strict orders, I’m not allowed to touch anything else ; )
  • Google Drive: This is where all of my written content lives. I have close to 30 different folders for blog posts, launch strategies, marketing, each of my contractors, media outreach, etc. During the rare times that Google Drive crashes, my brain crashes too.
  • Dropbox: I use Dropbox as a collaborative sharing tool between myself, Emily, Shaun, Ina and Josh. It’s easy to transfer finished content from person to person so that it all ends up where it needs to be.
  • Edgar: For $49 a month, Edgar will save all of the social media posts that you schedule, and recycled them at a later date. Only a fraction of your audience sees a tweet or Facebook post when you send it out, so this ensures that your content doesn’t go to waste after one use.
  • ActiveCampaign: At the beginning of 2016, I made the transition from MailChimp (the email marketing platform I had been using since 2010) to ActiveCampaign. I wanted a fresh start and to clean house with my list, and with more advanced capabilities, I made the decision to migrate and I haven’t looked back.

I want to reiterate again that I bootstrapped for a long time and did everything by myself until I was ready to hand over some control.

When you’re first starting out it’s expected that you run all operations and stretch yourself thin so you have an understanding of everything that goes on in running your business.

 

 

 


 

How to Define the “Why” Behind Your Business

Last week, I was having celebratory drinks with a friend right around the time applications to Factory45 were closing.

“So…” she asked. “How did it go?! Did you have a lot of awesome people apply?”

When I told her yes, that I doubled the applicant pool and grew by 156%, her next question was:

“What’s next then? Are you going to blow this thing up or what?”

I took a sip of my drink, giving me time to try and come up with an answer that wouldn’t disappoint her.

“I don’t think so…” I said. “I like keeping things relatively small and manageable. I like having work / life balance and not being overwhelmed by a ton of other commitments.”

As the words came out of my mouth, I knew how they sounded.

Unambitious, at best.

Lazy, at worst.

My friend, on the other hand, runs a women’s clothing brand and is gunning for an IPO.

Her and her business partner dream of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, having hundreds of employees to manage, and working out of a big corporate headquarters.

Me? I just want to be able to go to yoga at noon on a Tuesday.

While there was once a time that I dreamed of running a 7-figure business, the “why” behind my work has changed over the years.

And having been on both sides of the spectrum, I can tell you there isn’t a right or a wrong motive for doing business.

What can get you in trouble is deciding to start a company and not having a “why” at all.

Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, the “Lean In” movement, feminism and the amazing work that female executives are doing to boost leadership, women business owners are being pushed to want it all.

Yes, we hear, you can be a CEO and be a really great mom.

And while I believe that’s absolutely true, it doesn’t mean that you have to want it.

Is it okay to start a business so your family has an extra $1,000/month in spending money? Yes.

Is it okay to start a business so you can quit your full-time job and be at home when your kids are done with school? Absolutely.

Is it okay to start a business so you can work remotely and travel the word? Of course.

And YES, it’s also okay to want to be the next Tory Burch.

At the very beginning of the Factory45 program, I ask all of my entrepreneurs to write down the “vision” for their company in a one-page business plan.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we should all be asking ourselves to write down the “vision” for our lives, as the owners and creators of our businesses.

As you take this big step and make the commitment to embark on entrepreneurship, ask yourself:

What is my “why?”

What are the personal reasons for wanting to start a business?

Is it for fame, for glamour, for wealth, for freedom, for security, for flexibility, for fun?

As time goes on, your answer can change. But it’s your “why” that’s going to keep you moving past the hurdles and the hard times.

It’s your “why” that’s going to define you as an entrepreneur.

And whether you’re the entrepreneur who comes home at 10pm every night, fulfilled by a hard day’s work, or the entrepreneur who works 30 hours a week and has afternoon dance parties in her home office, only you know what will move you and drive you forward.

Define your “why” and you’ll be that much closer to defining your business.

 

 

Photo credit: Bench Accounting