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.


 

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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.

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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


From Journalism Student to Fashion Entrepreneur: What They Won’t Tell You

Ever since I graduated in 2008, I have been some sort of entrepreneur. Ironically, my worst grade in four years of college was in my “Entrepreneurship 101” class (heyo, Professor Rossi).

What I realized later on — that they don’t teach you in an academic setting — is that entrepreneurship has very little to do with getting good grades and is so much more about being able to take a risk.

My first experience with big risk-taking was during my senior year of college when I bailed on the law school entrance exam and booked a one-way ticket to Australia instead.

That one decision completely changed the trajectory of my life, and I spent two post-grad years bartending and traveling around the world, from Australia to Southeast Asia to South Africa.

When my parents thought I was coming home to get a “real job,” I would only stay for a few months, bartend every night, save up more money, and leave to travel again.

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When I eventually returned to the States in 2010 I brought my wanderlust and relentless craving for adventure with me.

I had once been the girl who envisioned herself in the corner office — but after two years abroad, I knew that I would never get a “real job.”

I wanted to create something bigger than myself. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to wake up every morning and go after my dreams. Maybe you can’t relate… I didn’t want to help build someone else’s dream.

It was a divine twist of fate when I got a Facebook message from a friend shortly after I got home. She said she was going through a “quarter-life crisis,” dreading the possibility of sitting in a cubicle all day, and suggested we start something together.

That “something” turned out to be a sustainable clothing company.

Of course, it didn’t happen immediately. Little did we know, we were about to embark on a three-year journey into self-discovery, entrepreneurial freedom and the pursuit of living life on our own terms.

Our plan was to create a company that would be 100% made in the USA, using fabrics and materials that did the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

It was called {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists, and it prompted my early exploration of conscious consumerism and the practice of living with less.

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I learned about the downsides of fast fashion: the environmental damage, the humanitarian violations, and the psychological effects of modern-day consumer culture.

These realizations completely changed me, and I decided to dedicate my career to creating a more conscious world where people see the power of voting with their dollars.

That’s all to say, we quickly found out that having a “vision” wasn’t enough. We were naive, unversed in industry lingo, and had zero connections in the fashion industry. It became obvious very early on that what we were trying to accomplish wouldn’t be easy.

We spent money on the wrong things, made every mistake possible, wasted time pursuing leads that ended in dead ends and continuously took two steps back with every one step forward.

Looking back at the emails I sent to fabric suppliers, I now know that my inquiries surely got a swift click of the delete button. I didn’t know how to talk to industry veterans, I had no idea how to walk “the walk,” and it showed.

But after a year and a half, having nearly depleted both of our savings accounts, the stars aligned.

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We received a response about a private label inquiry we had sent on a whim to a general contact form. After a few meetings, we made the decision to source and manufacture our first production run under the guidance of a company who had done it before.

The company was a startup itself but was farther along and had the production infrastructure that we lacked. They also had the knowledge, connections and reputation that we needed on our side.

After pushing forward solo for so long, we had found someone to take us by the hand and walk us through the process.

We had finally found the mentorship we needed.

More doors opened at the end of 2011 when we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first production run of our signature piece, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 30 different ways.

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What happened over our 30-day campaign far surpassed our wildest dreams. Not only did we acquire nearly 800 new customers, quadruple our first production order and attract the attention of The New York Times, but we finally saw a year and a half of hard work pay off.

Having gone through a unique entrepreneurial journey, I had developed a set of skills that were totally unexpected. I knew from my experience with the Versalette that breaking into the fashion industry was very difficult, and I wanted to make it easier for other aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same.

It’s my hope that I can continue to foster a space for creativity and collaboration while helping others start down their own path towards creating a business.

In the last few years, I’ve helped entrepreneurs all over the country set up supply chains in the U.S., source sustainable materials and bring their products to market.

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Factory45 is the program I created for entrepreneurs, like me, who have a vision and a plan but need the mentorship, framework and resources to get started.

If you have your own plans to launch an apparel brand, I hope you’ll consider joining me through your journey. Mentorship is the very thing that pushed my first company forward and I would love to do the same for you.

If you’re ready, apply to join me here.

*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.*

 

shannon whitehead, founder

 


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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.

Factory45 Success Story

Factory45 Success Story: VETTA, the Ultimate Capsule Collection

Over the past two months, a certain Factory45 entrepreneur has taken our community by storm.

“How did they move so fast?!”

“Their campaign was incredible!”

“I can’t believe how gorgeous their photography was!”

This community has blown me away with their support and kind words for the latest success story to come out of Factory45.

Yes, I’m talking about VETTA, the five-piece capsule collection that can make up a month’s worth of outfits. All sustainably sourced and ethically made in New York City.

So… how did they do it?

That’s what I want to share today with the hope that you’ll see inspiration and motivation in what VETTA created and take away some wisdom to apply to your own startup.

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I first met Cara Bartlett, one of VETTA’s co-founders, at a coffee shop in South Boston over a year ago.

At the time, I was in the middle of my second Factory45 cohort and Cara had recently left RueLaLa to go full time with her ethical fashion blog, Bien Faire.

We chatted about the fashion scene in Boston, she gave me some recommendations for ethically-made wedding dresses, and we parted ways with plans to host some sort of future event together.

Several months later, when I opened applications for the Factory45 Fall program, I was so surprised to see that Cara had applied for her company, “TBD.”

While she and her co-founder, Vanessa, had been brewing up dreams of starting their own line together, they needed help finding sustainable fabrics, choosing a manufacturer and coming up with creative ways to market the brand for a Kickstarter launch.

I guess you can say the rest is history. I accepted Cara into Factory45 and from day one, she hit the ground running at full speed ahead.

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Here’s what I’ve observed, after working with Cara for the past six months, that can be attributed to VETTA’s success:

>> Cara was working on VETTA full time. My philosophy and the mantra that my Factory45’ers hear over and over is: You have to take the entrepreneurial journey that’s right for you. Is it possible to launch a brand in six months? Yes. Is it possible for everyone? No.

Many of us have obligations, work, children, partner’s and other life “requirements” that take priority over our businesses. If you’re serious about launching a brand on the timeline you’ve laid out, though, then something has to give.

You either have to accept the fact that your brand will take 1-2 years to launch or you have to commit to dedicating everything you’ve got to the 6-8 month timeline you’ve laid out for yourself.

In the past, Cara has driven from Boston to New York City five weekends in a row. She’s flown to South Africa to meet with her co-founder in person. She’s traveled to Los Angeles for a whirlwind few days to shoot her lookbook and video.

When planning your launch timeline you have to figure out what’s right for you. Cara and Vanessa knew they wanted to launch a March 1st Kickstarter from the day they submitted their Factory45 application on September 21st. They kept their eye on the prize and didn’t miss their mark.

>> They built an audience before they launched. VETTA is unapologetically not for everyone. Cara and Vanessa identified a niche and an ideal target customer and invested six months into building a very specific and dedicated audience.

They grew their email list, Instagram following and Facebook page and with the help of beautiful photography, they strategically “teased” out their upcoming launch. They were able to get their target market excited about what they had to offer so that “early adopters” were ready and excited to purchase the VETTA collection as soon as it was available for pre-sale.

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>> They leveraged their network. During and after their campaign, VETTA caught the attention of some impressive press. While some of that was organic, for example The Boston Globe, Cara has told me they unabashedly called upon friends of friends of friends for help.

They networked their way into a meeting with VOGUE to start developing a relationship with the magazine. They tapped into the Factory45 network of suppliers and manufacturers to set up their supply chain. And as a result, they’re working with the same factory in NYC who creates many of Rag & Bone’s garments.

If you are creating something beautiful, intentional and good for the world, people will want to be apart of it. Don’t let fear get in the way of making the “ask.”

>> They had a “share-worthy” story. VETTA could have gone one of two ways. 1.) A collection of sustainably-and-ethically-made womenswear, 2.) 5 versatile pieces that mix + match to create a month’s worth of outfits.

Which version is more compelling? The difference in those two soundbites drastically affects your chance of becoming a “share-worthy” story. When it’s interesting, different and easy to communicate you’re much more likely to tell a friend about it.

I’ve written before about launching a Kickstarter campaign for my first company, {r}evolution apparel, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to leverage a concise message and story to represent your brand.

VETTA did just that and gained the attention of WHO WHAT WEAR, Brit + Co., Darling Magazine, BostInno, VentureFizz, The Wall Street Journal and other well-known press.

More than that, though, they gained the attention of 527 new customers.

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This is all to say that VETTA reached its $30,000 goal in five days and was featured by the Kickstarter Staff as a “Project We Love.”

By the end of their 30-day campaign, they had nearly tripled their goal to raise $88,954. Shortly after, Cara and Vanessa competed in the Sak’s Emerging Designer Showcase and won. Their second capsule collection will be available in Sak’s Fifth Avenue stores in the near future.

It goes without saying that I’m so proud of what VETTA has been able to accomplish and I want to emphasize that this kind of success is not out of reach for the aspiring entrepreneurs who may be reading.

It’s not going to be easy — but as Cara and Vanessa can attest, it will be worth it.

 

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Photos courtesy of VETTA and Sak’s Fifth Avenue


Important Marketing Tool

The Most Important Marketing Tool for Fashion Brands & How to Use It

So, I’m in yoga the other day and after the final “Namaste,” my teacher starts to make her daily announcements.

Instructor training begins again on Friday… Four beginner yoga classes are being offered on Saturdays… And then this:

“I also just want to let everyone know that I’m starting an email list.”

And as I’m putting my socks back on, I’m thinking, “Yes, go girl, start that email list.”

(It’s one of the first steps towards entrepreneurship, after all.)

But what begins to unfold has me cringing on my mat:

“So, um yeah, the clipboard is at the back of the room if you want to sign up… I’ll only send out, like, two emails a year…. I probably won’t send out the first email for a few months… You don’t have to sign up if you don’t want to, but I’ll just use it to stay in touch with you…”

And on it went as people started rolling up their mats.

I hung back and waited for a bit until I was one of the last people to leave the studio. As I walked past the clipboard that was sitting by the door, I looked over to see that not one person had signed up.

I wasn’t surprised. And it got me thinking about the startup brands I see online, desperately trying to build an audience, but failing to make an effective “ask.”

I should start by clarifying that your email list is your most important marketing tool — by far. It’s more important than Instagram, more important than Facebook, more important than Pinterest, more important than any other online marketing tool you can leverage.

Your email list is the fastest and most direct way to connect with your potential customers, and it’s yours. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, that now make you pay to connect with your followers, your email list belongs to you.

In the case of my yoga teacher, she was making a verbal “ask” to her studio of aspiring yogis. In the case of your online business, your “ask” is your opt-in incentive and call-to-action (CTA).

(If these terms are starting to sound like crazy-speak, consider joining Factory45 in May. We go into extensive detail about email marketing throughout the program.)

I know this isn’t very “zen” of me, but I want to analyze what my teacher did wrong so that it can help you grow your email list more effectively.

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>> She lacked confidence. If you don’t believe in what you’re offering it will show, and she seemed nervous to come across as too “salesy.” While marketing may not be a natural skill for a yoga teacher, it must become a natural skill for you if you plan to sell your collection, designs or products online.

If you’re not confident in making the “ask” and it shows through your copy, then you might as well not have an email opt-in at all.

(And don’t even think about doing that…)

>> She didn’t incentivize. So often I see email opt-ins that are as incentivizing as an annual flu shot. If your opt-in rate is low, it might be because your call-to-action is lackluster.

“Sign up to our mailing list” is not a call-to-action! That type of language doesn’t do anything to inspire people to want to hear from you. They need to know what they’re going to get and why they should care.

You can try discount codes, free shipping, and style guides to incentivize sign-ups, but the options are endless. The bottom line is that you have to provide real value to entice people to sign up.

>> She didn’t provide an expectation. She said, “I’ll just use it to stay in touch with you.”

What does that even mean?

She doesn’t know all of her students by name and if she did, “staying in touch” is a very allusive expression.

What will I receive emails about? Will I be interested in the topic? What kind of updates will be sent out?

Again, if you’re asking someone to opt into your list, instead of the email list of a competing brand, then you have to have a damn good reason why. “Staying in touch” doesn’t mean anything.

>> She didn’t sound consistent. There is a big difference between what online marketers call a “healthy list” and an “unhealthy list.”

A healthy list is engaged. You have an open rate above 25%, you have a consistent click-through rate, and your “unsubscribes” are generally low. A healthy list comes from consistency — weekly to bi-weekly emails that provide value, interest and intrigue to your following.

If you’re only going to send out two emails a year and you’re going to wait several months to send out the first one, then why bother?

By the time she sends out her first email, anyone who opted into her list will have already forgotten. And do you know what happens when people forget that they signed up?

They unsubscribe and mark the email as spam.

If you have something of value to offer to your target audience, then you need the confidence to market it. As a new business owner, you’re likely running the show on your own, so you have to be equal parts “the creative” and “the marketer.”

Building your email list is the most effective way to grow your brand, sell more products and make your mark in the industry.

But it doesn’t come easy.

It takes experimentation, rewriting your offers, asking for feedback and figuring out what value you can provide.

 

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