Report: The State of Sustainable Fashion Entrepreneurship 2016

“You know what you should do?” said my friend Lorraine, who is the founder of the Spirit of 608 podcast. “You should create a report.”

“A report, like…” I trailed off, wondering where this was going.

“You know, like a media report that shows the state of sustainable fashion entrepreneurship. You could interview some of the designers you’ve worked with, poll your community and put together something with infographics and graphs that show your findings.”

I knew that following the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, there has been a surge of entrepreneurial interest in ethical manufacturing practices.

And after three years working with over 150 early-stage sustainable fashion brands, I knew that I could capture the shifts and trends I’m seeing daily.

We wondered if there was a way to also show what this means for the future of the fashion industry.

So after our conversation, I got to work.

And thanks to Lorraine’s help and encouragement, the participation of some of my most dedicated Factory45’ers and the execution of my talented graphic designer, today I’m releasing Factory45’s report on The State of Sustainable Fashion Entrepreneurship 2016.

This 13-page study contains original case studies, infographics and anecdotes from 30 exclusive interviews with independent designers, as well as findings such as:

  • 82% of the brands interviewed know the people who make their products are paid a fair and living wage. Compared to 2% of traditional retailers.
  • 100% of the brands interviewed know where their products are made. Compared to 61% of traditional retailers.
  • 88% of the brands interviewed feel there is more access to sustainable supply chains than there was five years ago.
  • It now requires 99% less in startup capital to start an independent brand than in 2014.

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Despite what the mainstream fashion industry wants you to think, it is now easier than ever before to launch an independent fashion label. And with persistence, there are new sustainable and ethical brands proving every day that it can be done.

You can read the full report here.

And if you like what you read, please share the link with your network. I’ve put together an easy copy-and-paste description to go with it:

Factory45 has released its 2016 report on the State of Sustainable Fashion Entrepreneurship. Did you know that it now requires 99% less in startup capital to start an independent brand than in 2014? Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/2fDrsop

Thank you so much for reading and sharing.

With your support, I’m looking forward to bringing even more sustainable fashion to the marketplace in 2017.

 

 

 

 

P.S. If you are a blogger or reporter and would like to use the report for a future story, please contact me directly at shannon@factory45.co.

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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Making It: Start-up Advice from the Co-Founder of Sword & Plough

I was first introduced to the founders of Sword & Plough during their Kickstarter campaign in the spring of 2013. Sisters Betsy and Emily Nunez launched a campaign (that blew their goal out of water) to produce a quadruple bottom line company that works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish bags.

A year later, I met Betsy in Boston to hear more about the behind the scenes of growing Sword & Plough. Since our coffee chat, S&P has seen some amazing traction with its debut on The Today Show, as well as features in Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, Refinery29 and many more.

Having started from ground zero and building the company into what it is today, Betsy is sharing her best start-up advice for early-stage companies that are ready to embark on their journey.

1.) What inspired the creation of Sword & Plough? What are the ethics and values behind your company?

My sister, Emily, and I grew up in a military family. After hearing so many meaningful stories from our father, uncle, and cousin about their time in the service, Emily was inspired to serve herself. She was particularly inspired by the humanitarian missions that our dad was deployed on and the counterinsurgency research he conducted that was put into action. She knew she wanted to serve in the military, and we both knew at a young age that we wanted to make a positive impact in the world, just as our family members had.

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As a result of Emily’s time in Army ROTC during college and growing up in a military family, she was keenly aware of the incredible amount of military surplus waste, as well as the state of veteran unemployment. This inspired her to take something that is often wasted and upcycle it into a beautiful product with a powerful mission.

The result is our company Sword & Plough.

Today, our team re-purposes military surplus materials into stylish bags that are made by American manufacturers that are veteran owned or operated. We also donate 10 percent of the profits to veteran organizations that align with our mission to strengthen civil-military understanding, empower veteran employment, and reduce waste.

We are a quadruple bottom line fashion and accessories business focused on people, our purpose, care for the planet, and profitability (a key component that allows us to further our impact). Our team has built our business model to reflect a life cycle and we’ve worked hard to shape the brand’s ethos with impact at every stage. To date, Sword & Plough has up-cycled over 15,000+ pounds of military surplus, supported 38 veteran jobs, and sold over 5,000 products. twitter-bird-light-bgs1

2.) What was the most difficult part of setting up your supply chain? What hurdles did you have to get over in the process?sword-plough

The most challenging part of setting up our supply chain was learning everything from scratch, setting it up, and ‘putting out fires’ or problem solving as issues arose. We knew from the beginning we wanted to do our manufacturing in the U.S. and work with U.S. partners and suppliers, but no one on our team had specific knowledge or experience with manufacturing or creating a supply chain. Building our long term supply chain for large scale S&P production happened after launching on Kickstarter, all while the majority of our team was located in different time zones — Emily, our CEO, was deployed and serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan at that time.

First hand experience taught us that relying on so many different pieces (manufacturing, shipping, expenses, other people and even the environment) can create surprises or ‘speed bumps.’ What you thought was going to take one month to implement can quickly extend to two or even three months!

These ‘speed bumps’ were the sort of setbacks that if not corrected the second time around, can quickly crush an early stage business, or best (of the worst) case scenario, lead to unhappy customers.

We worked hard to absorb as much information as possible and then make adjustments and implement new strategies as we moved forward.

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Here are a few key things we learned:

  • Find sources that are a match for large scale production regardless of the stage you are at.
  • Find sources or partners that carry items that are consistently re-stocked or are regularly available in large quantities.
  • Ensure that the companies you are working with are in good financial standing and will be a long term partner.
  • Ask the supplier or partner to fill out a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility survey) or ask them questions to ensure their processes meet your values.
  • Do test runs for time, cost, etc.
  • Get quotes, samples, shipping timelines, lead times, and cost in writing prior to purchasing.
  • Find an effective and diligent way of communicating with your manufacturer (Whether it be planned calls, weekly/daily visits, having them regularly update a master spreadsheet with production progress).
  • Find mentors specifically skilled and experienced in retail distribution, operations, logistics, and supply chain.

Manufacturing within the U.S., communicating with all parties in the same language, as well as being located in the same country has helped us do all of the above, act or react in a very timely manner, and has allowed us to feel a lot more comfortable with our processes once we were set up.

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3.) What mistakes or challenges have you learned from while setting up and running Sword & Plough?

We knew there would be a lot of challenges and new roles, facets, and foundations that were going to be essential to fulfilling our dream of turning S&P into a well functioning business.

When building a startup, you haven’t learned how to do everything yet and you’re likely going to be very limited with resources and working capital. A lot of the advice and help we received early on is still priceless today.

We’ve never been afraid to ask for help or to ask the questions that will help us problem solve or plan our vision further. It wasn’t easy (early on) to be focused on an idea that hadn’t gained momentum yet, or something that people weren’t aware of or didn’t understand. We’ve learned through early challenges that nothing worth doing comes easy and there’s a lot to learn when you’re building something from scratch. It’s your ability to work when work isn’t easy that makes the difference.

The best part about our business life is the uniqueness and pride that comes with seeing our idea through and gaining momentum. Each and every day, regardless of the challenges that present themselves, we feel like we’ve won the lottery because our team gets to build something that is our owntwitter-bird-light-bgs1, through our vision and share it with the world.

Sword-and-Plough-Repurposed-Bags4.) What is your main marketing strategy? You’ve also gotten some great press – how did those opportunities come about?

Our main marketing strategy is to build engaged groups through word of mouth, social media, press, and email marketing. A lot of the opportunities and features that we have received to date have come from a very strong launch when we entered the market on Kickstarter in April 2013.

Here are  three things that we found helpful to think about when launching our brand and getting the word out:

1. Define your goal and create your pre-launch, launch and post-launch plan. Define your vision for your audience, brand, community, and story. Be as detailed as you can and think about what you need in terms of funding and your goals for marketing, branding, production and customer experience.

2. Activate and engage your network. Make an early, large, public and online announcement to your commitment to build your product or launch. From that point on, commit to building as much awareness as possible around your product, campaign, or launch.

3. Ensure a wide audience for your campaign (to expand even beyond your network):

  • Share your product or idea with as many friends, family and acquaintances as possible.
  • Organize feedback sessions and ask for their advice, opinion and real time feedback. Collect as much information as possible and listen.
  • After you’ve connected with someone in your target market, ask if there’s anyone they think you should meet or speak with who could provide additional support, and don’t be shy about asking for a direct introduction.
  • As you’re having the conversations, give people the opportunity to sign up for launch alerts or updates.
  • Create engaging content and tell every aspect of your story.
  • Develop brand evangelists who will talk about your product and story.
  • Create and build your brand’s resources (social media platforms, media packet, press release, business cards, pitch postcards, text lists, email lists, photography and campaign videos).
  • Build a media list of bloggers and publications that have synergy with your idea, mission and product. Keep in mind that many of the bloggers you reach out to are getting hundreds of emails each day. You need to make your story stand out, and the easiest way to do that is often with a direct introduction.
  • Create new contacts outside of your own network by attending meet-ups, events, presentations, pitch competitions, events in the industry you’re looking to enter, and be an active member of communities that have synergy with your mission
  • We highly encourage you to reach out to your already existing network — your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network and ask for support, in the form of help or pledges, but perhaps more importantly, contacts.

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5.) What advice do you have for designer entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

If we could pass along advice, our top ten would be…

1. Take your ideas seriously from the start. Every idea is worth serious consideration (at least a five minute brainstorm), no matter how absurd or impossible it may seem at first. Believe in the power of an idea. Test your idea continuously and ask questions. Push yourself to drive the idea from concept into reality.

2. Ask for feedback every step of the way.

3. Dream up the biggest vision possible, start wherever you are and start small. twitter-bird-light-bgs1

4. Nothing is impossible or out of reach for people that continuously try and go after what they want.

5. Push through the challenges and overcome any sized obstacles by gathering information, seeking help and broadening your perspective.

6. Find mentors that are successful and experienced within your industry.

7. Constantly developing relationships is essential for business growth.

8. Build your own community or seek out the ones that will either be very supportive and the most critical of your idea. Both will make you better.

9. Seek out opportunities. They are fuel for gaining momentum, and opening the door for communication between your business and audience is key.

10. Always thank people and express gratitude.

Photos courtesy of Sword & Plough, So Freaking Cool, Druammons, Made Close, Go Verb & Super Compressor.


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Factory45 is Hiring a Content & Communications Manager!

Calling all social media and marketing enthusiasts…

If you consider yourself an “A-player,” love the world of entrepreneurship, and are excited about the freedom of working from anywhere, I want to talk to you.

I’m Shannon, founder of Factory45, and I’m hiring a part-time content & communications manager to work with me directly.

US

Factory45 is an accelerator program that gives designers and makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA. With six months, three modules, and an online community of entrepreneurs, Factory45 provides the business tools that aren’t taught in fashion school and the connections that can only be found through inside connections.

For the past few months, I’ve been running all operations with the help of two summer interns. As August comes to a close, I’m looking for someone to work with me at the next level.

YOU

You are someone who has experience creating and managing online content via blogging and social media. Ideally, you’re familiar with WordPress, TweetDeck (or something similar), and email marketing. The ideal candidate has an acute awareness of details, an eye for aesthetically pleasing design, impeccable grammar and spelling, and the ability to adopt a distinct brand voice.

Your level of experience can vary — it’s most important that you’re a “go-getter” who can efficiently manage your time, juggle varying tasks at once, and aren’t afraid to take on the marketing and content “department” of Factory45 as your own. There is a lot of room for autonomy and potential for growth within the company.

WHAT WE NEED

Strategy and implementation for:

– Growing Factory45’s social media presence and following

– Increasing traffic and readership of the Factory45 blog

– Developing a marketing strategy for the 2015 application period

WEEKLY TASKS

– Manage the Factory45 blog by editing and publishing content on WordPress and Medium, while also sharing on social media. (This is not a writing task – you will be given the blog posts.)

– Manage email-marketing outreach through MailChimp (or the platform of your choice).

– Create and schedule content for social media sharing.

– Build relationships for guest posting and press outreach.

– Develop strategies for strengthening the “voice” of Factory45 and deepening our brand identity.

– Occasionally create Factory45 program content using Keynote.

THE TERMS

Starting out, I’m looking for someone who can dedicate 6-10 hours per week. Commensurate on experience, payment will range from $12-$20/hour. We’ll start on a one-month paid trial period and if all goes well, we’ll extend the terms to a contract-based position. As I mentioned, this position offers the opportunity to grow in both hours and pay.

You must be comfortable working virtually — and be self-motivated.

THE PERKS

– The opportunity to work on the ground level of a new company with projected potential for high growth.

– The freedom of working from anywhere and setting your own hours.

– The potential to be connected to some of the leading industry experts in sustainable fashion.

– The experience of working in a rapidly growing industry.

– Strong emphasis on work/life balance, self-growth, personal discovery and meaningful work.

DETAILS ON APPLYING

No resumes please! Go ahead and send me an email with the subject line “Content & Communications Manager” to shannon@factory45.co outlining your previous experience, why you’re the perfect person for this job, how your ideals align with Factory45, and links to your blog and/or social media accounts. Candidates who keep it short and succinct will get major bonus points : )

Deadline to apply is 9/1, but a decision may be made sooner so ASAP is best.

Curious to see more? Factory45 on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.