This is an interview with Factory45’er Rachel Fernbach about the launch of her brand PonyBabe (update: rebranded to Farbrook Studio). With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Rachel is raising money (update: has raised money) for her first production run of The 24 Hour Outfit.

What are you pre-selling on Kickstarter?

PonyBabe is a line focused on creating ultra comfy, versatile wardrobe staples for women. The clothing is made from premium super soft eco-friendly fabric and manufactured in Brooklyn, NY.  

The 24 Hour Outfit, now available for pre-sale on Kickstarter, is a collection of 4 pieces: a large wrap, a racerback tank top, a cardigan, and a pair of delicately pleated pants. Meant to be mixed, matched, layered, and worn on repeat – the 24 Hour Outfit is ideal for creative professionals, expecting/new mamas, yogis/meditators/dancers, minimalists, and travelers.

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Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I started PonyBabe with personal savings, and did not have the cashflow to fund my first production run. I needed to raise money to get that going, and also wanted to make sure there was a demand for the clothing before getting any deeper into the process. As a new label, Kickstarter is an ideal way for me to raise money while also testing the waters, and it's an effective way to spread the word about PonyBabe.

What was the most challenging aspect of creating your campaign?

Oh my goodness. I'm not going to lie: If I had known how challenging this all would be, I… still would have done it, but at least I would have been emotionally prepared for the insanity of doing so many new things for the first time!

I would say that what has been most challenging is simply the fact that I came into this industry with very little knowledge, and have had to learn so many new things, on a constant basis. (How to get samples and patterns made, how to produce a photoshoot and video shoot, how to use social media, how to build a website… the list goes on.)  It's tiring, exhilarating, exciting, and also super cool to learn new things — but some days my bandwidth runneth low…

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You've done months of prep. What helped you keep up your momentum and motivation?

I started building my email list very early, and though it has grown slowly, having a supportive circle of dedicated and caring people has been priceless… each time I sent out an update (even if it was to say that things weren't going as planned), I received back an email here and there encouraging me to keep it up and make those clothes. Those little love notes really kept my spirits up when things were hard.

 

Can you give us a little insight into your campaign strategy? What has been working and what hasn't worked as well?

The clothes I'm making are a great fit for a lot of different lifestyles. With that in mind, I honed in on a few niches – yoga, dance, minimalism, eco-fashion, American-made, and maternity – and researched blogs, boutiques, magazines, and influencers who might have an interest in seeing PonyBabe get funded. It's pretty early in my campaign, so I'm still waiting to see what winds up working best!

What seems helpful is connecting through my networks – i.e., friends of friends seem much more likely to want to help… but I'm not letting that stop me from reaching out to others as well.  As in all arenas of life, relationships are key: it's important to make personal connections, and make offers to give instead of just making requests to receive.

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What do you do when self doubt starts to creep up?

Notice it, allow it to have some space, then choose to focus on the positive. I actively shift my attention to what is going well, while also acknowledging that this is a stressful experience, and it's normal and healthy to feel a little nervous or worried from time to time.

My nerdy self-encouragement mantra right now is “People love me and want me to succeed.”  It's surprisingly motivating! 🙂

What's your favorite reward being offered in your campaign?

The Whole Outfit, of course! Each piece is great on its own, but putting on the whole outfit is pretty much a perfect recipe for instant comfy cozy bliss. I love how it makes me feel like cuddling up with a mug of tea and a good book.

If you had one piece advice for someone considering launching a Kickstarter, what would it be?

Go for it! And ask for help from people, because it's a lot for one person to take on.

You can check out Rachel’s campaign for The 24 Hour Outfit by PonyBabe hereTo read more about Rachel's experience in Factory45, read her alumni story here.

 

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Market45


 

minimalism

Over two years ago, I got an email from an old “blogger friend.”

My {r}evolution apparel co-founder and I had written a guest post for his blog during our 2011 Kickstarter and doing so had catapulted our campaign from around $40K to over $64K.

His large and dedicated fanbase of readers had been the exact target market our clothing company was trying to attract. And thanks in large part to them, we became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at that time.

The blog was called The Minimalists.

Several years later, it was a surprise to hear from him again and even more surprising to receive the following request:

Howdy! Long time no see. Do you have any interest in doing an interview for our minimalism documentary?

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On May 3, 2016 I attended the Boston screening of Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things in a jam-packed, sold-out theater.

Joshua and his co-creator Ryan now have a following of over four million readers and have been featured on ABC News, BBC, The Today Show, NPR and The New York Times, among other notable press.

The film, directed by Matt D’Avella, was named the number one independent documentary of 2016, won pre-screening awards at international film festivals, and has shown in 400+ worldwide screenings.

In the film, I was able to talk about the marketing messages that the fast fashion industry feeds us, why we look to fashion to make us happy, and how our clothing choices play into global consumption.

The documentary also asks, How might your life be better with less?

And it examines the many flavors of minimalism by taking the audience inside the lives of minimalists from all walks of life — families, entrepreneurs, architects, artists, journalists, scientists, and even a former Wall Street broker.

You can get a taste of Minimalism by watching the trailer here:

As my mother-in-law said after she saw the film, “Minimalism isn’t for me, but I get it,” the point is not to transform into a minimalist overnight.

I do hope that the messages in the documentary provoke deeper thought about what we really need to make us happy, how our purchasing decisions impact the rest of the world and what it would feel like to find happiness from within.

To watch the film in full, the online screening is available here.

 

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Factory45 Success Story

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

“How did they move so fast?!”

“Their campaign was incredible!”

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

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

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

So… how did they do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of VETTA and Sak’s Fifth Avenue


manufacturing kit

Has anyone else jumped on the podcast train? I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I’ve shared before that podcasts have been apart of my morning routine since 2014. It’s usually the first thing I do when my alarm goes off.

Recently, though, I’ve had the opportunity to get in front of the microphone myself. So today, I wanted to share three different interviews I’ve done (about three different topics) in case you’re like me, and are constantly looking for more content to tune into:

The Creative Giant Show: How to Sew Business Success in the Fashion Industry with Sustainable Apparel Strategist Shannon Whitehead.

I connected with host Charlie Gilkey back in 2010 when I was just starting to explore the world of entrepreneurship. And I was recently invited on his podcast to talk about:

  • Why I decided to start a sustainable apparel company, despite the risks involved.
  • Which challenges to consider if you’re thinking about starting a clothing company.
  • Which business trends are disrupting the fashion industry.

>> Listen here 

Conscious Chatter: Made in the USA

I mentioned this new podcast in my blog post from last week — it was started by my friend Kestrel Jenkins who has been in the sustainable fashion industry for years. Our interview focuses on “Made in the USA” and Kestrel and I discuss:

  • How outsourcing affected the U.S. economy after NAFTA was signed.
  • Why localized manufacturing is important for every country.
  • How the movement is growing because of small, independent brands.

>> Listen here

Bootstrapping It: Creating an Online Accelerator Program for Apparel Startups with Shannon Whitehead, Founder of Factory45

Host Vince Carter interviews entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their companies rather than trying to raise VC funding. So, of course, we had a lot to talk about. In the interview, we cover:

  • Why you should be honest with yourself about your business ambitions.
  • How to use Kickstarter and pre-sales to fund your business startup.
  • How to strategize so that you spend your startup funds on the right resources.

>> Listen here

Enjoy!

 

 

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Market45

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.

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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.

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

The result is our company Sword & Plough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are a few key things we learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Ask for feedback every step of the way.

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

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

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

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

7. Constantly developing relationships is essential for business growth.

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

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

10. Always thank people and express gratitude.

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


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