true cost

“People aren’t going to care until it hurts them personally.”

That was the last comment in the closing discussion of The True Cost movie screening I co-hosted in Boston this summer.

The documentary has been sweeping film festivals and fashion media across the world with a no-holds-bar narrative of fashion’s effect on people and planet.

As I sat in the audience that night, surrounded by 100+ students, designers, entrepreneurs, mechanical engineers and concerned consumers, I could see and hear the emotions around me.

There’s something about watching a female garment worker being beaten with a club on the streets of Phnom Penh that can really grip you.

As strong as the emotions were, though, some of the most insightful comments in the post-discussion focused on how we will respond now that we’ve seen the footage and the movie is no longer playing in front of our eyes.

“We’re so detached,” one audience member said. “It’s just so hard to care about people on the other side of the world who you don’t know. Especially when there are so many other problems in the world.”

This sentiment resonates with many consumers: When there is so much to fight for in this world, how do you choose your battles?

When you’re the mom in Missouri with four mouths to feed and the cheapest store is a Wal-Mart, how do you say ‘no’ to the five dollar t-shirts that your kids will grow out of in a few months?

When you’re the university student drowning in debt, how do you make ethical fashion a part of your lifestyle?

In an ideal world, the industry execs profiting off of cheap labor would choose to change things on their own. Then consumers wouldn’t have to make a choice — it would either be ethically-made or not made at all.

But that’s not the reality we live in. The reality is that the fashion industry is a 3 trillion dollar a year business and only two percent of apparel companies source from suppliers that pay their workers a fair and living wage.

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The reality is that industry giants can claim negligence because they don’t technically “own” their factories and thus don’t have to take responsibility for fair compensation.

The reality is that until consumers start making demands and asking for change, the fashion industry has no reason to clean up its act.

We’ve heard all of this before. It’s a classic chicken and the egg. A vicious cycle of rock bottom prices and consumer expectation that it should be this way. We expect the five dollar t-shirt — I’d even go so far to say, we feel entitled to it.

And that’s where the root of the problem lies. On the surface, the issues are obvious to us: pay the workers a better wage, change the supply chain, improve working conditions.

“…But I still want clothing to be cheap.”

We deflect the responsibility with the same negligence that fast fashion shareholders deflect it.

There’s nothing I can do as one person. The problem is too great to solve. The issues are too complicated. There is someone more qualified to tackle this. There are only so many hours in a day…

Why should the medical student in Boston care about the garment worker in Bangladesh?

Maybe the answer lies in actually remembering, as True Cost director Andrew Morgan says, that there are people behind the clothes we wear.

Maybe if we saw that with a different stroke of luck in the gene pool, it could be us in front of that sewing machine — we wouldn’t be so apathetic.

I don’t have the answer. Or a solution. The best I can do is lead by example and encourage others to do the same.

The best you can do is to start asking questions, educating yourself, sparking non-judgmental conversations with your friends while doing whatever you can to shine light on yet another fundamental flaw in our society —

That when it comes to the bottom line, the underdog never wins.

If you haven’t seen The True Cost documentary yet it’s streaming on Netflix for free right now.

Photo credit: The True Cost

 


Market45

What do you do when you’re sent a live interview request for international television?

You say, no, of course. Who would ever subject themselves to that kind of stress?

I was walking home from a morning of co-working when I got an email from a producer at CCTV America.

She had found an article I wrote for the Huffington Post and wanted me to talk about fast fashion for their primetime news show, Global Business America.

The segment would air live at precisely 8:22pm that night. Was I available?

As someone who is perfectly happy to stay in my little home office, taking interviews by phone and email, my first instinct was to ignore it.

She wants me on live TV in less than 7 hours? That’s nuts. That’s not enough time to prepare…. I’d have to be crazy to do that….

And yet, as my stream of conscious is screaming, “Shannon, don’t do it! Too scary, too scary!” I find my fingers typing:

I’d love to come on the show tonight. Let me know about next steps.

(I like thinking about this sequence as a scene from Pixar’s “Inside Out” – if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

Fast forward, and all of the sudden I’m on the phone with the producer, doing a pre-interview and she is arranging for a car service to pick me up and take me to the satellite studio in downtown Boston later that night.

Of course, the rest of the day fell to shit as I prepared for the segment and tried to talk myself off the ledge from what I had agreed to.

“Sustainable Fashion Advocate Has Massive Meltdown on Live Television, Bringing Shame to a Fledgling Industry” was the headline I was preparing myself for.

By 7:40pm, there was a black car sitting outside my house to take me to the studio. And for reasons unbeknownst to me, I got in it.

Sitting in the green room, I was taking deep breaths, using the pointer to index finger technique used in yoga and meditation, and telling myself that no one would be watching so it didn’t matter if I sucked.

“Just because it streams to 85 million viewers in over 100 countries doesn’t mean that anyone actually watches it…”

Before I know it, I’m in the studio, in front of a fake Boston skyline, hooked up to a microphone and earpiece and staring into a black screen. The audio tech says “good luck,” closes the door and leaves me the in the room by myself.

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Shortly after, a producer in DC comes into my ear and says, “Shannon, you’re on in 90 seconds.”

All the curse words.

“Shannon, you’re on in one minute.”

And that’s when I hear the pre-recorded segment go live. I hear a reporter talking about Bauble Bar and fast fashion and how great the business model is for consumers and companies.

In my ear:  “The fast fashion model is successful because it gets the consumer what they want, at an appropriate price, in the time frame that they want.”

Cut to my brain waves: Uhhhh, do they, like, know I’m against fast fashion?

“Shannon, you’re on in 30 seconds.”

More curse words.

In my ear: “For just under 40 dollars, you can buy a chic bra and underwear set.”

As I hear the anchor segue into introducing me, I give myself one last chance to panic and blackout.

A few seconds later, I’m on live television talking about the topic that I’m most passionate about.

Showtime.

You can watch the first segment here and the interview here:

And just like that it was done. And I didn’t flop, or freeze up, or accidentally say “shit” instead of “shift.” I flipped the script on how the business of fast fashion is typically portrayed and even had some fun doing it.

Moral of story? Sometimes things are scary and they do flop (case in point: my speaking engagement at ECO Fashion Week three years ago…)

But sometimes, they’re awesome. Sometimes, they’re more important than your fears.

Here’s to losing your shit and winning it back,

 

 


As soon as I walked in, I wanted to run out. All of the feelings of awkward adolescence came streaming back as the European house music blared in my ears and over-enthusiastic pre-teens bounced through the huge glass doors.

It was 2013 and I hadn’t stepped foot in an H&M store in nearly five years. Despite my unabashed dislike for the giant fast fashion retailer, its new “Conscious Collection” had recently launched and I wanted to know what all of the fuss was about.

Celebrities from Michelle Williams to Penn Badgley were donning “conscious” threads on the red carpet. Reputable media outlets were heralding H&M as the fearless leader in environmental integrity. So I wondered, could sustainable fashion finally be going mainstream?

I walked over to the first store manager I could find and a sprightly brunette in a faux leather jacket turned around to assist me.

“Hi, I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of the Conscious Collection,” I asked.

“I’m not sure what you mean… ” she replied back.

“You know, the new line of organic cotton and recycled fabrics… the eco-friendly stuff?” I attempted to explain.

Blank stare.

“Remember? Helen Hunt wore that navy gown on the red carpet? The Conscious… Collection…”

I trailed off.

If you keep up with sustainable fashion trends (or are just a really big H&M fan), you know that the company recently released its 2014 sustainability report.

In the first few pages of the document, H&M’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson says:

“In order to remain a successful business, we need to keep growing – and at the same time respect the planetary boundaries.”

I’ll be honest, I had to re-read that sentence a few times. My first thought was:

On what planet can you continue to produce 600 million garments per year and not exceed ecological boundaries?

The success of H&M is dependent on a strategy of planned obsolescence. Fast fashion can never truly be sustainable because the business model itself is inherently unsustainable.

If Persson is upfront about the company needing to grow (undoubtedly to keep shareholders happy), then all of the “conscious collections” in the world can’t do a thing for sustainability.

As long as the fast fashion business model remains the same, any attempt at a more sustainable future is simply a wash.

As Marc Bain of Quartz points out, “a landfill overflowing with organic cotton is still an overflowing landfill.”

So, why bring this up now when I’ve already argued this point before?

Last week, H&M launched a film campaign with actress Olivia Wilde to debut its new “Conscious Exclusive” collection for 2015.

And I’m here to say, don’t buy into the hype.

In an article from Fast Company, writer and editor Ariel Schwartz highlights an alarming study about consumer perception.

When over 1,000 people were asked to name the single most socially-responsible company they could think of, Chik-fil-A, Wal-Mart, P&G and Apple made the top 20 list.

That’s all to say that millions of dollars go into creating brands that communicate a certain consumer assumption — despite what’s actually going on in the supply chain and behind the scenes.

H&M’s “Conscious” print campaign is running the same month as the second-annual Fashion Revolution Day campaign and its film push with Olivia Wilde is starting the week leading up to Fashion Revolution Day on April 24. Coincidence?

If H&M wants consumers to categorize it with a global fashion revolution that is pushing to make change in the industry, then they’re doing a really good job. That kind of positioning isn’t happenstance.

In the past, H&M has been given international ethics awards, despite manufacturing about 25 percent of its clothing in factories in Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is the lowest in the world.

It’s been named one of the best companies to work for despite 850,000 of its textile workers not being paid a fair and living wage.

And although H&M is one of the largest buyers of organic cotton, it still only accounts for 13.7% of its total garment production.

In 2015, H&M will produce over 600 million new garments. That’s an increase of 50 million articles of clothing from 2011. It will expand its physical locations by 10 to 15 percent every year, requiring the use of energy-intensive resources.

Each week, H&M will debut a new “season” of trends catapulting the old fashion calendar of 2-4 seasons per year into 52 micro-seasons.

All the while, the average American will continue discarding over 68 pounds of clothing into landfills annually.

Critics of mine will say, “Well, at least H&M is doing something. We can’t fault them for trying.”

To that I say:

If H&M was truly serious about sustainability, then it would focus on changing its business model — not on making more clothing under the guise of a feel-good name.


Market45

Francisca Pineda is the founder and designer of Bhava, a conscious footwear company. We first met in NYC last year for lunch, and I learned that not only is she a designer, but she also organizes sustainable fashion retreats in Costa Rica and teaches ethical design classes at FIT.

Today, Francisca is digging deep into her advice for new designers and giving us an insider’s perspective into what it’s like to be a business owner in the fashion industry. From sourcing to sketching to marketing, Francisca is a pro at what she does and it shows. Enjoy!

How did you get started launching Bhava?

I think like most other designers, it started because I couldn’t find what I wanted in the market place. After graduating from Parsons, I started working for a high-end apparel brand and was in charge of all of their accessories. By the time I launched Bhava I had experience in every category of accessory design.

Launching Bhava was something I had actually started planning back in 2009. We had the name and logo ready but the timing wasn’t right and I had gotten a job offer I couldn’t refuse. At that time, I knew I wanted to make an ethical collection but didn’t truly understand “ethical fashion” or the importance of using environmentally-conscious materials.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started learning about the devastation caused by the leather industry, as well as fast fashion manufacturing. This “awakening” happened after I personally witnessed the disabling effects of the toxic chemicals used in the majority of leather production. Soon after, I became obsessed with learning about all aspects of the chemicals being used, the workers who were exposed, and the “dead zones” that this industry creates.

I started taking all the  Ethical Fashion classes offered at FIT, and attending any sustainability or ethical fashion events that I heard of to continue to learn and connect with others. Once you learn the importance of our decisions as designers and consumers, it’s pretty difficult to go back. I made a personal promise to myself to make a change, because the thought of profiting from such a destructive system was no longer an option for me. And this is ultimately what gives me the drive to keep going with Bhava.

I believe we are all drawn to our unique causes and experiences. I chose to embrace the challenge and proceed full steam ahead. When the time was right we started slowly testing only a few styles at a time. You have no idea what you don’t know until you start! Sizing, fit, pricing, and what colors or materials people respond to are what I feel are really important to test in the beginning. Although it sounds so risky to start a fashion brand these days, it is possible to be cautious and thoughtful in planning a collection so there is as little risk as possible involved.

ALDEN BOOT IN NUDE HAND PAINTED CORK-2

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

Every day is different, but in general I am not a morning person. I prefer to start work later in the day and into the night and spend the beginning of my day on self-care. This includes a short focus meditation, oil pulling, some light core yoga, and fresh turmeric tea with lemon.

Usually, I try to get through the urgent e-mails with production, delivery, sales, and customer service first.  I work with manufacturers in different time zones so it’s important for me to reply to them right away. All of this usually takes half of my day.  When it’s time to sketch and look at materials (my favorite part) it’s usually in the afternoon when I am more relaxed.

Lately, I am most excited about bringing beautiful new materials to the market. I spend about a third of my year traveling to find new and exciting materials. Last season, I was in Europe and next week I will be away for a month in India, and the UAE.  I never know what I will find, it is always an adventure and that excitement and spontaneity translates into each collection.

Tell us about your supply chain. How did you go about sourcing materials and finding a production partner?

Finding a production partner in footwear and accessories is probably the most time consuming and costly part of launching.  Since I had many years of working in the industry, I had contacts that trusted me and my aesthetic and knew that I understood the business. I started there.

Now that the brand is a little more established, it’s easier to get in the door with a new supplier but it still takes time and trial and error to find the right manufacturing partner. If you start out too demanding they will be turned off, but if you are too soft, production may be delayed or poorly executed. It is a fine balance.

I also recommend working within the strengths of each manufacturer, and not pushing them too quickly into new production techniques without enough time to test. Every material reacts differently in each design — this is the trial and error part that can get costly and time consuming — but is extremely important for a brand seeking longevity in the market.

Because our mission is to work with responsibly-sourced and environmentally-conscious materials, I feel I need to source myself as I know my manufacturers will not ask the same questions that I will. We invest a lot in our materials because that is what differentiates our brand from the others in the market. I’ve had to take very expensive trips into little, tiny towns with no transport just to meet with a supplier. Often those with the most beautiful and exciting materials are the most difficult to find. Sometimes it’s not worth it, but the more effort you put in the more it will show. Materials are the first thing a customer sees and feels about your product. That first touch will connect them with your brand in a real way that words or images cannot.

ALDEN BOOT IN NUDE HAND PAINTED CORK-4

What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?

Marketing is important, but it can be a waste of time and resources if there is no demand for your product.  I recommend designers make a first sample of their product and try to sell that (to a stranger) before spending a year on a business plan. Once you know that you have a market that is in tune with your aesthetic and price point, then go all out with your marketing strategy.

When marketing it’s important to start testing because I found that I accidentally stumbled upon some of my most effective communication strategies. We recently collaborated on a small capsule collection for the holidays with NYC-based Vaute Couture. It was our first collaboration with another brand and it came about very naturally from having met Leanne (the founder) at an event that we were both speaking at.

It was something that was exciting for both brands because it was new and our products complimented each other.  This natural excitement and anticipation was evident in our social media and e-mail marketing communication, it wasn’t forced. Customers are more savvy than ever. I think they can tell when a brand has been over-strategic and a message is over-explained.  I think it’s important to embark upon projects and events that truly excite you.

For me, marketing is exciting and an area for entrepreneurs to truly show their creativity and ingenuity. If this is not your strength, you need to find someone who does love telling your story and partner with them. Someone has to hear about you somehow. Overall, you need to trust your gut, and if you see too many people trying the same approach like the same website style, or e-mail pop-up, then it’s important to think of a new way to do it, you never know what you’ll create!

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

This may seem a bit harsh, but it’s something that has stuck with me through my career as a designer.  While attending Parsons, I had one the most notoriously critical professors. He felt he was doing his students a favor by showing them how tough the industry was, often making them cry and drop out.  I actually don’t think this technique would probably be too welcomed these days, but back then it was one of the aspects that gave Parsons their reputation of graduating the best.

Anyway, when we would present our designs for a critique, his term for bad design was “markdown.” Meaning, you may think you have just created the coolest design ever, but if you truly think about it, is it possible that what you love most about your design could cause it to end up on the “markdown” rack at Century21?

Try to visualize your customer walking into a store, trying on your design, and loving the way it feels. If you can’t see this happening, or have too many design details that would create what is referred to in marketing as “friction” or too many doubts from making the purchase, you may have a “markdown” on your hands.

To run a company, you need a balance of “best sellers”  and some “editorial” pieces. This balance is something we are still figuring out, but it gets easier as you go along. I can think of a design or two that I was personally so in love with when I should have been more critical. But you learn as you go. It’s one thing to design something we would love to see someone wear, but it’s quite another to get someone to spend a good amount of their hard earned money on your vision of how to dress.

To check out the Bhava online store and upcoming spring collection click here.


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


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.

Betsy-Emily

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.

sword-plough-2

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.


Market45

There are things every single one of us can do to help alleviate the damage done by the traditional fashion industry. Here are the big four:

1. ) Buy local

At the most basic level, when you buy from a local designer or from a local boutique more money stays in the community. According to SustainableConnections.org, “Several studies have shown that when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community.”

Not only are you investing in your own city, but you’re also reducing your individual environmental footprint, creating jobs, and putting your tax dollars to good use.

Putting that into dollars and cents, Businessweek reported “for every $100 spent at a locally owned store, $45 remains in the local economy, compared with about $13 per $100 spent at a big box store.”

2.) Buy “indie”

Support independent designers who are conscious of the production process all the way through. Many of these designers are mindful of where they source their fabric and are involved in the manufacturing from front to back. Some are even doing the sewing themselves in small independent sew shops or incubators.

The stories behind companies like Piece x Piece, Seamly and Manufacture NY are a refreshing glimpse into transparent clothing production.

thrift-shop-photo mombot3.) Buy used

Huge progress can be made by consumers purchasing second-hand. It is imperative that we start making use of the resources already available to us instead of buying new clothing.twitter-bird

Any remaining stigma against thrift shopping has gone out the window with the popularity of consignment chains like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, and the many local thrift shops popping up all over the world.

Second-hand clothing has even entered the tech scene with websites and apps such as Bib + Tuck, Twice, Poshmark and Nifty Thrifty, boasting beautiful user interfaces that encourage the purchase and reuse of someone else’s unwanted clothing.

Not only are the price tags competitive with the fast fashion giants, but many of the garments appear to be practically new. It’s a win-win for your wallet and for the planet.

4.) Buy less

Buying less is ultimately the solution that can change the world. (And no, it will not lead to an economic Armageddon.)

Considering the fact that society’s throwaway consumption habits are at an all-time high, there are ways to use our dollars more economically and efficiently than buying six H&M dresses for $9.99.

Instead, you can use that same $59.94 (6 x $9.99) to buy an ethically-produced dress from a local designer and wear it for years to come.

I’m not advocating to stop spending. I’m advocating to use your purchasing power in ways that go beyond wearing something once and throwing it away.twitter-bird

And if that’s all a piece of cake, here are a few secondary factors to keep in mind:

seamly-coLook at labels

It can’t be said enough. Do you know where your clothes came from? Who made the t-shirt on your back? Are you comfortable with the possibility that your jeans were made by a modern-day slave on the other side of the world?

Look at the labels on your clothes and ask questions. You can start here.

Wash cold & hang dry

In the United States, the average household does 300-400 loads of laundry per year. A whopping 1,000 loads of laundry are started every second of the day — that’s 13,000 gallons of water per household. Three-quarters of the carbon footprint from a load of laundry comes from drying.

And let’s not forget the amount of chemicals and phosphates that are used in laundry detergent and then leaked back into our water supply, depleting aquatic ecosystems.

To reduce your individual carbon footprint: always wash cold, hang to dry and use phosphate-free laundry detergent.

Have alternative solutions to add to this mix? Tweet me your thoughts at @factory45co.

Photos courtesy of Fashion Revolution Day and Chic Vegan.


Market45

This is a guest post by Lara Neece, founder of Forest and Fin. You can read the original version here.

What happens when you love wearing skirts, love riding bikes, and like to make everything yourself? A Bicycle Wrap Skirt, of course – a skirt that’s dressy enough for the office or going out with with friends, but with a few simple adjustments, is ready to hop on a bike and be on the move in minutes. I spent years biking in skirts, and years trying to find the perfect skirt that I could wear just about anywhere without a second thought. My husband can tell you that there have been many, many days in which I’ve made him wait, while I changed clothes, just so we could bike to lunch or dinner or to the park because I didn’t want to worry about my skirt on the bike. The perfect skirt just didn’t exist.

forestandfinskirt2Forest and Fin began back in 2009, when I first started screen-printing, moved onto a sailboat, and decided to become an artist. Back then, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (you could still argue that’s true now! ), but I had the passion and desire to learn. In the beginning, I screenprinted my drawings of plants and animals onto tshirts, and you can still purchase them in my shop today. But Forest and Fin is undergoing an evolution. It’s adapting and growing; my mission and goals are becoming clearer. I’m an artist and a designer, not just a screenprinter. My screenprinted designs and apparel were the starting point and a way for me to support myself while I developed my art and business, but now I am branching into new products that better embrace my mission, a mission to help people spend more time outside.

Over the past few years, in my search for blank items to print on, I ran into problems sourcing items that were both affordable and fit my aesthetic vision. In addition to being sustainable and earthy, I wanted my products to be functional, efficient (multi-use), and give back to the planet in some small way. I am focusing on a line of sustainably-made-in-the-USA everyday wear and household items, starting with a functional wrap skirt (the Bicycle Wrap Skirt) that includes bicycle friendly features and extra pockets. I am planning to dye the skirts blue or green and depending on the color will donate a small percentage of profits towards ocean (blue) or forest (green) conservation efforts.

forestandfinskirtWhile I’m still in the early phases of product development, I have a prototype that works (really!) and I plan to document the rest of the journey here. I hope that you’ll join this discussion and weigh in on features of the design to help me streamline the perfect skirt. This is going to be a staple in my wardrobe (and maybe yours too!), so it needs to be durable, high quality, sustainable, classy, fun, and above all functional. I’ve put together a short survey with questions about design features, colors, pricing, etc. and would love for you (yes, you!) to weigh in on the design while I am still in the development stage. Your input will be essential in shaping the final outcome.

Take the Bicycle Wrap Skirt Design Survey here.

For more about Forest and Fin, check it out here.

(Photo credit: Forest and Fin)


Not too long ago, I received this comment on one of my posts: “I want to know more about what you know. I’m such a mindful consumer when it comes to food but have never thought about how my purchasing decisions with clothes, etc could be negatively impacting the change I so emotionally pursue.”

It inspired me to go back to the basics, realizing again how new the sustainable fashion movement is to most consumers. For those of you wondering why you should care about what’s in your closet, here are the big six:

1.) There are chemicals on your clothes. And they’re often carcinogenic. (Carcinogenic = cancer-causing). While the slow food movement is starting to catch on and consumers are becoming increasingly more conscious of what they eat, we don’t yet think of clothing in the same way.

Most of us haven’t caught on that the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde and flame-retardants on our clothes are also damaging to our health. Skin is our body’s largest organ and it instinctively absorbs whatever we put on it — clothing chemicals included.

(Next time you’re browsing through the racks at your favorite big box retailer, rub your finger tips together. You’ll notice a grimey film that has transferred off the clothing and onto you.)

2.) There are 27 to 30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, slaves.

Have you ever wondered how companies like Zara and Forever 21 can sell t-shirts for 5 dollars?

There are people in countries such as Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India who are forced to work against their will. Whether they’re picking cotton or tanning leather, they aren’t being paid to make your clothing. They are literally bound to a life of enslavement with very little hope of getting out.

Factory workers who are being paid are probably who you would think of as “sweatshop” workers and are most likely earning less than a living wage — that means they can’t afford to feed or shelter themselves, let alone their families. In 2012, a Swedish broadcaster reported that workers in Cambodia were being paid so little they had to borrow money for food.

3.) Big retailers are a big problem.

Our bargain shopping, big sale seeking, cheap consumer mentality is directly related to the people making our clothing. Because we expect to be able to buy a shirt for less than 20 bucks, retailers are forced to find ways to lower costs and compete in a highly-saturated market. This usually requires cutting corners in manufacturing overseas.

In November, H&M made a public statement saying it plans to deliver a “living wage” to more than 850,000 textile workers by 2018. While it sounds like a noble gesture, it raises the question of why the giant retailer wasn’t paying its workers fairly in the first place. In the past, H&M has been accused of promoting poverty pay, unsafe working environments and malnutrition.

H&M is not alone — Forever 21, Inditex (the parent company of Zara), GAP, JC Penney, and many more, are major players in human rights and labor issues around the world.

4.) Our old clothes (and disposable behavior) are ruining Africa’s economy.

Ready to drop off a big pile of donations at your local Goodwill? While the reselling of second-hand clothes is ethically sound, it’s the massive amounts of donations that cause a problem. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the like, receive more clothing donations than they could ever resell. So what happens to the excess?

According to an op-ed in The Business of Fashion, “The majority of donated clothing is sold to second-hand clothing merchants, who sort garments, then bundle them in bales for resale, usually outside the country in which the clothing was originally donated.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where one-third of all globally donated clothes are sold, the used clothing business is undermining Africa’s own textiles and manufacturing industry. Even more, “dumping” our unwanted clothing into countries on the other side of the world gives us an unrealistic sense of security that we can continue to consume and throw away at unsustainable rates.

5.) It takes decades for your clothing to decompose in a landfill.

The fast fashion industry has turned four regular seasons into 52 “microseasons” to push new trends and encourage rapid consumption. Retailers make it easy for shoppers to buy a cheap dress, wear it once, and never wear it again. We don’t think about where those clothes go after we’re done with them.

The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing per year. Nylon, rayon, polyester and other synthetic materials are essentially plastics that will most likely be around for far longer than you will. At the rate consumer waste is piling up, it doesn’t look good for the future of the planet.

6.) We’re not helpless.

Consumers have the purchasing power. We all have the ability to change the industry by choosing which companies deserve our dollars. It comes down to educating yourself and adjusting your lifestyle in a way that doesn’t require excessive consumption of disposable clothing.

Education can be as simple as following a few ethical fashion blogs on Facebook. You’ll learn something throughout the day just from reading the headlines. (A few of my favorites are: EcouterreEcoSalonMagnifeco & Ethical Fashion Forum.)

What more can you do? Read my follow-up post, 4 Things to Remember Every Time You Shop For Clothes on the Huffington Post.


fast fashion, truth, industry, hiding

The fast fashion industry gets a lot of flack these days. The excess, the overtly sexual advertising, the humanitarian issues, the waste, the lawsuits, the list goes on.

The industry giants have dedicated millions of dollars to massive PR campaigns, going so far as to launch “conscious collections” and donate proceeds to worthy causes. Yet despite these efforts, the truth remains — fashion is one of the dirtiest industries in the world. Here’s what they don’t want you to know:

1.) The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.

Once upon a time, there were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fast forward to 2014 and the fashion industry is churning out 52 “micro-seasons” per year. With new trends coming out every week, the goal of fast fashion is for consumers to buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible.

According to Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, fast-fashion merchandise is typically priced much lower than the competition, operating on a business model of low quality / high volume.

Cline points to the Spanish retailer Zara for pioneering the fast-fashion concept with new deliveries to its stores coming in twice per week. At the time of writing, she says H&M and Forever21 both get daily shipments of new styles, while Topshop introduces 400 styles a week on its website.

With designers creating new looks on a weekly basis, the fashion calendar for these companies is set up to deliberately make the customer feel off-trend after the first wear.

2.) “Discounts” aren’t really discounts.

The thriftiest fashionistas love the idea of going into an outlet store like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s and coming out with designer labels at a fraction of the price. Unfortunately, the “excess” or unsellable items we think we’re buying often have never seen a designer label before.

“Despite common belief, outlet clothing never enters a ‘regular’ store and is most likely produced in an entirely different factory than the ‘regular’ clothing,” writes Jay Hallstein in “The Myth of the Maxxinista.”

The reality is that outlets broker deals with designers so they can put designer labels on the cheaply made clothing manufactured in their own low-quality factories.

An article featured on Jezebel confirms: “The jig is up: Big brands like J. Crew, Gap and Saks’ Off 5th aren’t selling you discounted or out of season merchandise at their outlet locations. You’re just buying lower quality cardigans and patterned pants.”

3.) There is lead and hazardous chemicals on your clothing.

According to the Center for Environmental Health, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, Forever21 and other popular fast-fashion chains are still selling lead-contaminated purses, belts, and shoes above the legal amount, years after signing a settlement agreeing to limit the use of heavy metals in their products.

An article in The New York Times says the Center for Environmental Health is focusing on reducing the lead content in products marketed to young women because lead accumulation in bones can be released during pregnancy, potentially harming both mother and fetus.

Lead exposure has also been linked to higher rates of infertility in women and increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Many scientists agree there is no “safe” level of lead exposure for anyone.

The lead contamination is all in addition to the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, flame-retardants and other known carcinogens that reside on the clothes we wear.

4.) Clothing is designed to fall apart.

Fast fashion giants, such as H&M, Zara and Forever21, are concerned with the bottom line and the bottom line alone. Their business models are dependent on the consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear — which is instinctive if the clothing falls apart in one wash.

“A store like H&M produces hundreds of millions of garments per year,” author Elizabeth Cline says on NPR. “They put a small markup on the clothes and earn their profit out of selling an ocean of clothing.”

So why should we care? Because the average American throws away over 68 pounds of textiles per year. We’re not talking about clothing being donated to charity shops or sold to consignment stores, that 68 pounds of clothing is going directly into landfills. Because most of our clothing today is made with synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, it will take decades for these garments to decompose.

“You see some products and it’s just garbage. It’s just crap,” says Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design, on NPR. “And you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you’re going to wear it Saturday night to your party — and then it’s literally going to fall apart.”

5.) Beading and sequins are an indication of child labor.

Industry estimates suggest that 20 to 60 percent of garment production is sewn at home by informal workers, according author Lucy Siegle in her book, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

While there are machines that can apply sequins and beading that look like handiwork, they are very expensive and must be purchased by the garment factory. According to Siegle, it’s highly unlikely that an overseas factory would invest in the equipment, particularly if the clothing being made is for a value-driven fast-fashion label.

Carrying out her own investigation, Siegle learned that millions of desperate home-workers are hidden in some of the poorest regions of the world, “hunched over, stitching and embroidering the contents of the global wardrobe … in slums where a whole family can live in a single room.”

Often with the help of their children, the home workers sew as fast as they can and for as long as daylight allows to embellish and bedazzle the clothes that end up in our closets. Siegle goes on to say, “They live hand to mouth, presided over by middlemen, tyrannical go-betweens who hand over some of the lowest wages in the garment industry.”

So how can you become a more conscious consumer? It starts by educating yourself, buying local, buying less, buying used, and buying from independent designers. You can start by joining a growing movement of fashion changemakers here.

Originally published as a guest post on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator blog.

[Photo credit: www.theretailnews.fr]