Factory45 Success Stories

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


sotela-copyHanna Baror-Padilla, founder of SOTELA

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

“I don’t have any MONEY!”

(Or something along those lines.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to Factory45 LIVE with Nicole Giordano of StartUp FASHION.

 

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

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

 

How to Legally Protect Your Fashion Brand from Copycats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now you also have personal approaches you can take:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sew Shop Talk: Introducing APaDS

Note from Shannon: This is a guest post by Savannah Fender who is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. 


When you think of fashion and apparel what are some of the top cities that come to mind?

The majority of people would probably identify with New York and Los Angles or Milan and Paris. However, it is what’s hidden under our noses that can help entrepreneurs thrive.

Against popular belief, the sewn goods and textile industry is alive and well within the United States.

Many times the facilities are a lot closer to home than you think. Perhaps they are even your next-door neighbors.

Today, we are going to be touring Apparel Prototyping and Design Solutions, LLC (APaDS) in Pelzer, SC. With a population of just below 100 people, you probably weren’t taught about Pelzer in your eighth-grade geography class! Pelzer is about a 20-minute drive south of Greenville, SC.

There I met with Darlene Martin, the senior pattern maker at APaDS with 28 years of experience; and Elroy Pierce, Founder of APaDS with over 38 years of experience in apparel manufacturing.

Before we got started with an in-depth discussion about domestic production, I took a tour of APaDS. The facility was established in May 2014, as a result of Clemson University making a decision to shut down Clemson Apparel Research (CAR). APaDS, where Darlene and Elroy are today is located at 6931 Hwy 29 N, Pelzer, SC, with six office spaces, a digital patternmaking room, and an open floorplan sewing/cutting room.

Darlene got started in the industry when she was in her early 20s. She had taken a home economics course in high school and discovered her passion for sewing. Darlene went to work  at a local “blouse plant” and from there, her mentor taught her pattern work straight from fabric draping.

They worked for clients like Victoria’s Secret, Sears, and Coldwater Creek. As CAD (computer-aided design) programs became more popular, Darlene’s company encouraged her to go to Atlanta for a two-week program to learn digitizing and grading. Darlene hasn’t stopped working in the industry since.

Even in shutdowns she managed to keep pushing.

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Today APaDS is working with about 150 different clients, including Reese Witherspoon’s brand Draper James.

When you enter APaDS you can see firsthand the passion the employees put into their work. For the people at APaDS, domestic manufacturing was what they always knew, so why move away from it?

They understand the industry has changed drastically and are willing to adapt everyday.

When asked what trades-off companies have to take to stay domestic, Elroy responded:

“There is still a large skill set in the States, it is diminishing very quickly… companies are going to have to look to semi-automation… produce smaller qualities on a faster turn time, than what they did in old production… ”

APaDS is very optimistic about the future of American manufacturing, although it will take time, they feel they are doing their part to promote domestic manufacturing and help entrepreneurs grow.

APaDS is passionate about what they are creating.

If you are looking for someone in the same time zone (or even just a few hours off) that is willing to work with you face-to-face to produce outstanding quality, this is certainly a place your products can be developed.

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Breaking it down:

  • What can APaDS do for you?

>> They are the front people you want to be working with before manufacturing or mass-producing. APaDS can help with your sewn product needs from pattern design, pattern grading, marker plotting, garment samples, garment costing, industrial engineering, apparel consulting, and even small runs (upon request). These are some of the initial steps you MUST take before finding a manufacturer that will work with you.

  • How much do they cost?

>> They are very competitive and cost varies depending on the services and needs of a client.

  • Do I need a Tech Pack?

>> Not necessarily, however it will save APaDS some time when it comes to product development. If you don’t have a technical pack created, APaDS is more than happy to help you format exactly what you need page by page.

  • Am I allowed to visit the facility?

>> APaDS loves it when their clients come for initial consultations, or later in the process to view their work. However, if you aren’t near the area don’t let that stop you! Darlene is very accessible via phone, email, and even Skype.

  • What is the time frame for a returned product?

>> Anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

  • What if I already have a pattern ready?

>> The timeframe may be shortened a bit, but the pattern will still need to be reviewed by Darlene for marking and digitalizing.  

To learn more about the incredible people working at APaDS, be sure to check out their website here and Facebook page here.


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Savannah Fender is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. She completed her B.F.A at Radford University in Fashion Design and Marketing. She is currently in her last semester at NC State working on her thesis, which focuses on domestic manufacturing within the sewn goods and  textile industry. Savannah is passionate about garment production and helping entrepreneurs thrive!

 

 


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.


new entrepreneurs

5 Ways to Get Ahead When You’re a New Entrepreneur

How do you ensure success? Who stands out from the crowd? What separates the pros from the amateurs?

There aren’t any definitive answers. And I’m not even going to begin to try and analyze them. What I will say, is that over the years, I’ve been observing. Working with startups and new entrepreneurs on a regular basis has provided rare insight into what makes one person get ahead of the rest.

Here are five way to set yourself up for success that go beyond conventional wisdom:

1.) Make it easy to help you.

Most people are excited and willing to help out new entrepreneurs. But the likelihood of connecting with someone who is more seasoned in the industry is largely dependent on how you make the “ask.”

The first and most obvious way to sabotage yourself is by writing an inquiry email that scrolls on for block paragraph after endless block paragraph. In most cases if you’re looking for advice, the person you’re seeking out is busy.

I implore you, keep your email to no more than two to three short paragraphs. Your chances of getting a response are incrementally higher and I promise you’ll come across as more professional — and more effective.

Bonus tip: ask a specific question. Avoid using phrases like, “Can I pick your brain?” Instead, ask the exact questions you want to know the answers to. Once you have your foot in the door and get a response, you can follow up from there.

2.) Write thank you notes.

They don’t have to be handwritten and shipped via snail mail, but if someone takes the time to jump on a call on your behalf, follow up with them. I’m always surprised when I block out a free 30 minute call to answer someone’s questions and I never hear from them again.

Regardless if the advice was good or not, it’s common courtesy to express gratitude to someone who gave their time to you.

This is especially applicable when a contact goes out on a limb to introduce you to someone. It makes that person and yourself look bad if you don’t take the time to follow up afterwards.

Good things come from gratitude. And the most successful entrepreneurs show how much they value the people who helped them along the way.

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3.) Start before you’re ready.

Should I launch now? Should I get more real world experience first? Should I go back to school? Only you know the answer that’s right for you, but my recommendation to most aspiring entrepreneurs is to start before you’re ready.

Building a business requires a long runway. It’s not only about the amount of hours in the day that you spend on your business, but the months and years that you take building up to it. As I tell my entrepreneurs (on repeat), launching a successful company is a marathon not a sprint.

The sooner you can start fleshing out your ideas, seeking out mentorship, connecting with industry peers and educating yourself, the better off you are in the long run. The old cliche usually holds true: Tomorrow you’ll wish you had started today.

>> Tess, that one was for you : )

4.) Be consistent.

The entrepreneurs who get ahead are calm and collected. They’re methodical, they’re strategic and they don’t get easily frazzled.

Can’t figure out how to link up your domain to your server? “No problem, I’m sure tech support can help me.”

First sample came in two sizes too big? “No worries, I’ll speak with my factory and have them fix it.”

Kickstarter video is low quality? “No big deal, we’ll reshoot.”

When you’re first starting out, your attitude and the way you handle challenges are going to dictate how you respond in the months or years of your business to come. The entrepreneurs that get ahead know there is a solution for everything. And sometimes the solution falls under the guise of a better option.

Building a business is not an overnight endeavor. It requires consistency of action, which means not giving up if something doesn’t work the first time.

5.) Ask for help.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Nobody builds a successful business by doing it on their own. That’s right, nobody.

The entrepreneurs and mentors you see online or in fashion magazines are all getting help, seeking out mentors of their own, building advisory boards and seeking out further education.

In the past six months, I’ve taken three online courses, countless webinars, hired a consultant and sought out a mentor myself. This is in addition to the five part-time employees that help me build my business.

Solopreneurship is a farce. If you want to get ahead, then you have to seek out help from others and continue to invest in yourself.

That’s what separates the amateurs from the pros.

 

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dictate your success

Do You Let Others Dictate Your Success?

I have a friend in the sustainable fashion industry who is amazing.

Out of college, she interned for an international eco-fashion brand, she’s worked for big designers in NYC, she’s helped to run a fashion-tech startup on the west coast, and she’s constantly debuting her own creative projects.

One of her most recent endeavors is a podcast with people in the sustainable fashion industry and to announce it, she sent out an email to her network.

When a big-name womenswear designer replied back my friend was awestruck.

“I can’t believe she is interested!” she said to me.

To which I replied, “Um, of course she’s interested. You’re, like, amazing. And everything you do is amazing.”

“Do you think I should ask if I can interview her?” Insert grimace of trepidation.

Me: “Uh, YES! I’m sure she would be honored! Do it!”

It took less than a week for my friend to hear back from the designer and get an interview on the books.

As an outsider looking in on the situation, it was so clear to me why this person would immediately say “yes” to my friend’s request.

My best guess is that the designer was equally thrilled and honored to be asked.

But to my friend, making the ask was scary and nerve-racking. She was the one having to make herself vulnerable to rejection and in doing so, the stakes were automatically heightened.

We all put people on pedestals (I’ve written about imposter syndrome before here). Most of us can think of at least one person we feel inadequate to. We get it in our heads that because of our [age / experience / station in life / upbringing / background / etc.] we’re not worthy of the people around us.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from one of my entrepreneurs in Factory45:

“I reached out to this patternmaker… she wrote me back once and then I never heard from her again. It really knocked my confidence.”

Fact: As entrepreneurs, we cannot let our perception of others dictate the decisions we make and how we navigate forward.

As soon as we do, we’re letting other people determine our success.

For all we know, we’re letting an unanswered email that could’ve ended up in a spam folder, hinder us from moving forward.

And yes, we all do it. Sure, there is the occasional ego-less robot whose confidence doesn’t waver, but for the rest of us mortals we can’t help but question our place among others.

Where do I belong? Am I understood? These are questions humans have been asking themselves since the beginning of time — back when we were using rocks as dishware.

But I’d argue that as entrepreneurs, those questions take on an even deeper meaning. Do my ideas matter? Am I making the world a better place?

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We tend to look for outside opinions to validate those answers.

Recently, I was connected with an entrepreneur in the venture capital and development space, who has been a coach to entrepreneurs for several decades.

Originally, we were supposed to jump on call to talk through a pre-interview so I could be on his podcast, but after our call, he told me he wanted to do more.

“Shannon,” he said. “How can I support you beyond a 30-minute podcast? I really believe in what you’re doing and you’re one of the only people out there doing it. How can I help you?”

When we got back on the phone he expressed interest in mentoring me and immediately my thoughts jumped to:

“Why would he be interested in me?”

“How can I fairly compensate him?”

“I don’t want to waste his time…”

When we got on our third call it was clear how much he believed in Factory45. No strings attached. He wanted to do what he could to help me succeed.

So, why did I question my worth? Because of his LinkedIn profile? Or his bio? Or his successful company and connections to other entrepreneurs I admire?

Why do those external factors dictate our internal dialogue?

Because they shouldn’t.

If we’re all going to succeed as entrepreneurs (and yes, there is enough success for all of us), then we can’t hold back, waiting to see how others will respond.

We have to take the favor from the exec we met at a networking event. We have to click “send” on the cold pitch to Vogue. We have to accept the meeting with the intimidating industry veteran. We have to believe we’re worthy of the help we are offered.

It’s safe to say there isn’t anyone giving us gold stars or A+’s anymore. It’s our job as highly-capable, driven entrepreneurs to give them to ourselves.

The future of our businesses depend on it.

 

 

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*This post was published with permission from Kestrel.

Photo credit: Jeshu John


 

The Reason New Designers Get a Bad Rep

I’m in the business of working with startups and new designers. A lot of the people I work with don’t have a fashion design background. They’re entrepreneurs with a cool idea, but other than that, they don’t have much knowledge on how to get started.

One of the reasons I started Factory45 was because I know there aren’t many industry veterans who want to “deal with” new designers. I’ve had three people in the past week say, “Oh yeah, so-and-so doesn’t even attempt to work with college grads / newbies / design students / etc.”

The fact is, new designers have a bad reputation. If you’re starting to squirm a little, just hear me out.

I’m not saying that you are necessarily to blame for the bad rep, but there are other people who have “spoiled it” for others.

For the most part, suppliers would rather not work with you, sew shops would rather not work with you, factories would rather not work with you. And this is why fashion startups have such a hard time getting started.

Manufacturers in the States have been doing this long enough to know that 9 times out of 10 it just isn’t worth their time to take on the additional baggage of someone new to the industry. They have a responsibility to the construction and production of a product, but they don’t have a responsibility to educate you.

Let me give you an example of an all-too-common email that the vast majority of project managers have probably received:

“Hello – I have a patent for an innovative new apparel product. I’m looking for a production partner to work with – do you do apparel? Are you willing to sign an NDA? What next steps do I need to take? Thanks, [name]”

If you don’t see anything wrong with this example please keep reading.

I want to break this down because there are few different pieces that we should look at:

“PATENT”: If you are trying to patent an apparel product, you are wasting your money. The only person who will tell you otherwise is a lawyer (for obvious reasons). There are .01% of apparel products in the world that are unusual enough to legally protect. Even then, someone else could come in, rip off the design, change one button and your product is no longer protected.

I know the warm and fuzzy feeling you may get from “legitimizing” your company, but trust me, you’re wasting valuable time and money that could be spent on finding out if your customers even want your product.

“INNOVATIVE NEW APPAREL PRODUCT”: This says nothing. There is no sew shop, factory, manufacturer or supplier that is going to take you seriously (or even know how to respond to you) if you don’t give a description of the product you’re trying to make. Ideally, you will be able to tell them the type of garment, the type of fabric you’re using, how many units you’re looking to produce and what your timeline is.

“SIGN AN NDA”: Asking a manufacturer to sign an NDA is akin to writing “amateur hour” on your business card. If your product is good enough to be ripped off or stolen, it won’t be your production partner who does it. Many of the manufacturers in the U.S. have been in this industry for decades. If they were in the business of screwing over designers, then they wouldn’t have lasted this long. I don’t know anyone who would sign an NDA, so please, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by asking.

“WHAT STEPS DO I NEED TO TAKE”: Oh lordy. This has to be the biggest pet peeve of all. And it’s probably the most common question asked. I’m just going to go ahead and put out a PSA for every manufacturer out there: Again, it is not your production partner’s job to educate you. If you don’t know what the next steps are, then you need to go back to the drawing board, do some research, read some blogs, books or hire someone to help you. (I have 30 people coming through Factory45 this spring, because they were smart enough to do that.)

If this all sounds a little harsh, I know you would never do this — I just want to make sure you know why ; )

The thing is, I really want you to succeed. We need entrepreneurs creating products that solve a problem for people. We need new designers working with manufacturers in the U.S. and keeping the momentum up.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to make that happen. I want to make sure you’re doing it the right way.

Here are the things you need in place to approach a potential production partner:

  • A sample
  • A pattern
  • A spec sheet
  • (A good head on your shoulders)
  • (Good communication skills)

Some will require more than that, but at the most basic level, that’s what you need before you should even send out an inquiry email.

If a production partner agrees to take your project on, then you’ll also need:

  • Fabric (don’t wait to source it, but wait to purchase it)
  • Materials
  • Capital

Production will not start until you have all of those items and can pay 50% upfront.

 

I remember reading Kathleen Fasanella’s book several years ago, and she went so far to say: Because designers have a bad rep, don’t call yourself a designer — call yourself a manufacturer.

So now you know — it’s not just me saying it.

 

 

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Are you an aspiring entrepreneur or designer who’s new to the apparel industry? Get the free “Manufacturing Checklist” from Factory45 here.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Francis 


Making It: Startup Advice from Hackwith Design House

Lisa Hackwith is the designer, founder and creator behind Hackwith Design House, a women’s apparel company that offers limited-run garments. In HDH’s own words:

“Instead of designing for mass production, we immerse ourselves wholeheartedly in the process and create every piece with the intention of it becoming that special highlight of your closet. We create less than 25 of each piece, which makes all of them uniquely rare and special.”

Starting out as a one-woman show who now has a team of sewers and a partner to run operations, Lisa is proving that independent design and conscious business is possible — as well as profitable.

With an Instagram following of 85K, a recent feature in Design*Sponge and a loyal fan base of customers, Hackwith Design House is well on its way to leading the independent design movement.

I spoke with Lisa about how she got started, her best marketing strategy and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

How did you get started launching your own apparel company?

I taught myself to sew after I graduated from college with an studio art degree. I took a year off to research MFA programs when I discovered my medium – designing and making clothes. Over the next five years, I sewed daily. I had some success with my Etsy shop and getting wholesale orders, but in order to make the business sustainable, something had to change.

In February 2013, I took a few months off to re-work my business model; I re-launched Hackwith Design House in September 2013. The new model centered on my priorities: staying in Minneapolis, manufacturing all the clothing in the U.S., and making sure I love everything with my name on it. Thus the limited-edition model was born: 2-4 designs are released every Monday, no more than 25 pieces of each.

Since September 2013, I’ve hired 3 seamstresses and have partnered with Erin Husted to run operations. In August 2014, we added the HDH Basics line, and in January 2015, we added HDH Swim.  It’s been so fun (and so much hard work!) to see the company grow the way it has.

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What does a “typical” day look like for you?

As any small business owner knows, a typical day is anything but. Each day presents new challenges, new opportunities, and constant work.

I usually come into the studio around 8:30 each morning and spend the day designing, making patterns, making sample pieces, instructing my lead seamstress on new pieces, and going over wholesale orders, marketing or business strategies with Erin.

I leave anywhere from 6-7pm and sometimes do some work at home. I appreciate that each day is a little different yet all still within working at what I love.

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How did you set up your supply chain at first? How has it changed since you started out?

The fabrics I work with are all sourced from a local, family-owned fabric store that specializes in purchasing run-off fabrics. I love going to the fabric store and feeling each new fabric until I find the right ones. I also love the idea of using fabrics that may not get used otherwise. We are in the middle of sourcing fabrics for Basics so that it can be a consistent fabric option. Our goal is to find a sustainable source for fabric, which is still harder than it should be.

What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?

I really enjoy partnering with bloggers by gifting them items that they can take photos of and use for styling.  It’s great to see how different women wear HDH pieces.

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What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own ethical apparel companies?

When we are trying to make a decision, we do our best to think about more than the bottom line. We like to call ourselves a company with a conscience. But in doing so, one has to remember to weigh a variety of factors, from where fabrics are made, to how much we pay our employees, to creating garments that are quality.

We have found it to be helpful to think about solutions as being placed on a spectrum: on one end you have “the evil corporation” that cares about nothing other than increasing profit, on the other end you have the idyllic company that hurts no one and makes only good decisions. Most companies are somewhere in the middle. We try our best to make decisions that get us closer and closer to the good.

To learn more about Lisa, Erin and the team at Hackwith Design House, check out the HDH website here

Photo credit: Hackwith Design House

50 Ethical Businesses to Support on Black Friday

Shopping on Black Friday has become an American institution. In 2013, consumers spent $12.3 billion dollars on Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined, according to USA Today. And the average American spent $407 throughout the entire weekend.

While the ‘anti Black Friday’ movement has been adopted by some, most consumers still welcome the (fake) discounts, post-Thanksgiving tradition, and official call-to-action for holiday shopping. Big box America jams the front pages of Google just as shoppers jam their parking lots.

Last year, I proposed 50 things to do instead of participating in Black Friday. And while I stand behind those consumers who choose to opt out, I also realize that most small businesses and socially-conscious brands can’t abandon Black Friday and close down shop for the day. Doing so would be the equivalent of saying “no” to a big boost in sales and missing out on the heightened buying behavior that Black Friday ignites.

When the consumer is ready and willing to pull out his wallet can a small business owner afford to take a moral stand? Not always.

As consumers, we possess the free will to choose whether or not we shop on this particular day. But instead of drawing a hard line and saying “don’t shop,” there is another option.

Support brands that deserve your dollars — more than Wal-Mart or Best Buy does (yeah, I said it). Small businesses are the ones that keep our towns, communities and local economies running, and even better, they’re often the businesses that practice transparent, ethical and responsible business practices that are embedded into their business models.

If you’re going to shop on Friday, why not choose quality, craftsmanship and durability over cheap, imported and disposable. It’s clear by now that our relationship to fashion has some dangerous implications, but we can all start creating a solution in the way that we shop this holiday season.

Below is a list of 50 apparel brands that believe in ethics, sustainability and transparency. I’ve divided them into categories, depending on what you’re looking for, and most will be offering sales on Friday with the rest of big-box America. Imagine the effect that $12.3 billion could have on these small businesses, all of which pay their workers a fair and living wage.

Your Black Friday dollars make a statement about who you are and what you believe. What will yours be? twitter-bird-light-bgs1

Womenswear

Reformation | killer clothes that don’t kill the environment. made in LA.

Cuyana | fewer, better things. superior quality.

Green Line by K | timeless. organic. made in Massachusetts.

Vaute Couture | vegan. recycled fibers. made in NYC.

Nicole Lenzen | chic day to night womenswear. made in NYC.

Piece x Piece | luxury. salvaged fabrics. made in San Francisco.

StudyNY | seasonless. contemporary. made in Brooklyn.

Hackwith Design House | limited edition. short run. made in the USA.

Seamly.co | sustainable. versatile. made in Colorado.

Brass | transparent, honest fashion. made in China.

Pima Doll | sustainable. less waste. made in Peru.

Amour Vert | buy a tee, plant a tree. made in San Francisco.

Prairie Underground | for independent women. made sustainably in Seattle.

 

Menswear

Peter Field | men’s accessories made in the USA.

Tuckerman & Co. | organic cotton buttondowns. made in New England.

Apolis | socially motivated to empower communities.

Brave Gentleman | for ethically handsome men.

Flint & Tinder | made in America & built to last.

Bluffworks | wash less. wrinkle free. made in NYC.

Ministry of Supply | performance workwear. transparent manufacturing.

 

Mens & Womens

Forest and Fin | screen-printed tees. non-toxic ink. handmade in Savannah.

PACT Apparel | organic cotton. socks, underwear & basics.

Appalatch | all-purpose knitwear. made in the USA.

Loomstate | organic & sustainable designer apparel.

NAU | outdoor apparel made from sustainable materials.

 

Childrenswear

Noble Carriage | organic cotton baby goods.

Kallio | vintage kids fashion. made in NYC.

Aventyr kidswear | unisex, eco-friendly kidswear. made in the USA.

Dhana EcoKids | organic, fair trade fabric. low impact dyes.

My Little Adel | handmade children’s accessories.

 

Denim

Gamine | selvedge denim dungarees. american-made.

Noble Denim | responsibly-made jeans. makers of quality.

Eva & Paul | organic. fair trade. made in the USA.

Raleigh Denim | old-school denim crafters. made in the USA.

 

Footwear

Bhava | cruelty-free. conscious. vegan.

Nisolo | handmade. ethically-sourced leather.

Sseko Designs | sandals that empower & employ women.

Rekixx | 100% recyclable. landfill-free sneaker.

 

Accessories

Sword & Plough | recycled military fabric. upcycled into bags.

Wild Mantle | hooded scarves. handwoven with sustainable materials.

Activyst | athletic bags that fund girls’ sports worldwide.

Hera By Day | handcrafted turbans for the modern bohemian.

MULXIPLY | fair trade. artisan craftsmanship. made in Nepal.

Looptworks | repurpose excess textiles into new products.

Stone + Cloth | canvas bags provide scholarships to students.

lallitara | vintage saris. one-of-a-kind products.

sarah oliver handbags | handmade bags, employing senior citizens.

 

Thrifted

Twice | second-hand name brands.

ThredUp | online consignment shop.

Poshmark | shop the closets of women across America.

There are so many more awesome brands practicing honest and ethical business — this is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s simply meant to help you get started. Happy holiday, everyone.