AN INTERVIEW: ECO FASHION WORLD

A big thanks to Oceana Lott for this fun interview published on Eco Fashion World. The original version is here.

Sustainable fashion consultant and entrepreneur, Shannon Whitehead, is launching an exciting new program for fashion startups that want to accelerate their path to success.  This month Factory45 opens its virtual doors to a select group of people who will spend six months together in 2-month long modules from June 2 to December 2, 2014. The program is entirely online with weekly group calls and bi-monthly one-on-one consulting sessions. There will also be videos, worksheets, scripts, templates and recorded expert interviews available with each new module. I had a chance to speak with Shannon about the program:

Eco Fashion World:  How did you come up with such an elegant model for your accelerator program?

Shannon Whitehead:  I’ve done a lot of observing, experimenting and learning in the past year. Accelerator programs are hot right now but are mostly found in the software, tech and personal development spaces. I saw accelerator programs used in these other areas and knew something similar could be beneficial to independent makers and designers.

The sustainable apparel industry can be really closed off — a lot of suppliers don’t have websites or even email addresses — and I toyed with this idea of creating a program that opens these doors for others. The format evolved from a combination of this original idea, and the similar process I took with my first company, {r}evolution apparel.

EFW:  What do you hope to achieve with Factory45? What are your goals?

SW:  This is my personal way of combatting fast fashion. I truly believe that the local, independent designer has a place in this industry and can compete above and beyond the cheap and disposable goods churned out by big corporations.
If I can help small companies launch and succeed, then I believe fewer people will be shopping at fast fashion stores like H&M and Forever21. Ultimately, I want to support small and local designers and show consumers that they are worth supporting.

EFW:  Is Factory45 for people who have a degree in design?

SW:  You definitely don’t need a degree in design to apply and be a great fit for the program – but if you do, that’s okay, too. I don’t come from a trained fashion background, and yet, I’ve had a clothing company and have worked as a sustainable apparel consultant.

One of the best attributes of Factory45 is that it gives entrepreneurs the resources and connections to outsource their weaknesses. We leave the sample-making, pattern-making and prototype-making to the experts.

EFW:  Who is the perfect candidate for Factory45?

SW:  The perfect candidate may have a product that has already seen some success but is ready to scale production (for example, someone with an Etsy store), or the perfect candidate could also still be in the idea phase right now. What matters most is that the applicant is committed to manufacturing in the USA and using sustainable materials.

Factory45 is all about being receptive to the resources, community, mentorship and guidance available no matter where you are in your business. If you’re 100 percent committed to fully showing up, then you’re an ideal applicant.

EFW:  What’s behind the name Factory45?

SW:  One night this past December, I was doing an unofficial “annual review” of the past year, outlining what went well, what didn’t go as well, what I learned, etc. I started writing down a list of the entrepreneurial lessons that I believed held true for myself and for others. By the time I was done, I had made a list of 45 startup principles.

When I started brainstorming names for the accelerator program in February, I made a list of words that represented how I wanted the program to feel. Then I combined those words with the number 45. Factory45 was one of the first names I came up with and it felt right.

EFW:  What kind of challenges do you imagine will come up for you and for the participants?

SW:  I don’t think there’s an entrepreneur out there who would tell you they haven’t seen bumps in the road. That’s the beauty of entrepreneurship — ebbs and flows and seeing opportunities in the silver lining of challenges.

The obstacles that participants will face in Factory45 will be different for everyone. Some will have a harder time getting their costs down, others will feel torn between two primary target markets and how to brand… it’s hard to predict, but chances are, I’ve already been through them in some capacity and will be ready to problem solve.

EFW:  How do you think a program like this will impact the fashion industry?

SW:  I hope that the resources, mentorship and connections available through Factory45 will show aspiring entrepreneurs that it is possible to create ethical supply chains and do good business. On the other side of the coin, US suppliers and American sew shops are ready to take on the work. There is a slow revival in domestic manufacturing and localization — and right now, it’s about making those mutually beneficial connections.

I believe in the slow fashion industry. I believe in slowing down the making, buying and disposing of fashion, and I believe that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of what that means. I hope that Factory45 will create more entrepreneurs who can change the industry with me.