What I’m about to tell you is going to sound completely counterintuitive but I swear to you, it is a big reason I’m still in business.

And it applies to virtually every startup — whether it’s physical products, online products, a service-based business, a subscription business, etc.

Start niche.

In other words, narrow down your audience to a very specific type of person, or a very specific type of product — or ideally, both.

I know, I know, why wouldn’t you want to broaden your audience and products to sell to as many people as you possibly can?

Because if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.

Broad does not equal better, and I’ve written about why appealing to less people will result in more sales before here.

One of the best things I did in 2014 when I launched Factory45 for the first time was narrow down my niche to “sustainable fashion made in the USA.”

I didn’t try to appeal to every single person on the planet who wanted to start a fashion brand.

There were already other general fashion accelerator programs out there, and I probably would have been swallowed up.

It worked in my favor that I was only interested in sustainable and ethical fashion, and it allowed me to attract the type of people that shared my same ethos.

If you’re thinking, okay, that’s great but physical products are different…

I’m here to tell you, the rule still applies.

You will increase your likelihood of success exponentially if you start narrow and widen your offering over time, as your company grows and your cash flow increases.

Why?

Because starting very specific 1.) Ensures that your ideal customer finds you faster, 2.) Makes them feel like your brand was made for them, 3.) Creates clarity for you every time you write any sort of marketing copy, create brand imagery, make design decisions, etc.

You know exactly who you’re creating for.

Look at brands like Eileen Fisher, Reformation and Patagonia. These are pretty big companies and they’re still appealing to niche audiences.

Brands like Spanx, Nike and Coach started with one product offering and then expanded that niche offering as they grew.

So while yeah, this isn’t exactly a “secret” per se, you wouldn’t believe how many people overlook this advice when they’re first starting out.

And it kills me when I see new entrepreneurs making their first year of business even harder than it has to be.

Because another benefit of starting niche is that it allows you to simplify, in every way.

So while most new brands are spending countless hours trying to cast a wider net (that in 99 percent of cases isn’t going to yield better results), you’ll already have a very clear focus allowing you to move forward quickly and efficiently.

And if you ask any successful entrepreneur, the ability to simply move forward is half the battle.

 


For the past three nights, I haven’t been able to fall asleep.

(Sleeping is one of my best talents, so this is highly unusual.)

And as I’m laying there, I end up doing the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing when you can’t fall asleep:

I start scrolling through Instagram.

(I know, I know… I’m only human!)

But last night, as I was scrolling, I started to pay attention to which captions I clicked to read.

And I realized something…

There is one very crucial skill that I see many new fashion brands lacking.

And that’s the ability to write compelling sales copy.

If you’re not familiar with the term “copy” it refers to any text you write to represent your brand.

In other words, your emails to your list, subject lines, blog titles, any “call to action,” Instagram captions, blog posts, the “About” page of your website, the product descriptions on your shop pages, your social media bios, etc.

To be honest, if you asked me why some fashion brands are successful and others aren’t, I would boil it down to two main marketing components:

#1 Great product photography

#2 Great sales copy

And it’s #2 that I want to talk about today, because I think this skill is detrimentally overlooked by startup fashion brands.

To be able to sell *anything* online, you need to be a strong writer.

Before you throw your hands up in the air and tell me, “It’s just something you’ve never been good at!” hear me out:

I’m not talking about the type of writing you learned in high school English class.

The writing skills that are required for the internet are far more attainable than learning how to construct a 42-page essay analyzing Jane Eyre.

(Bleh, aren’t you glad those days are over?)

To write compelling sales copy, it simply requires you to write how you talk.

Back in high school, Mrs. Sullivan would have called this “the vernacular.”

That’s where I want you to start.

I want you to write in a way that’s conversational.

And as with anything you practice over and over, you’re going to get incrementally better at it.

Even if you think you “can’t write.”

But here’s what I would not recommend:

Hiring someone to write your copy for you.

(Unless you have endless amounts of money that you can pay this person for as long as your brand exists… and who really has that?)

Copywriting is a “teach a woman to fish” type of situation.

You really and truly do not want to rely on someone else to be the voice of your brand when you’re just starting out.

Sure, if you reach $1M in revenue, then go ahead and hire a marketing team — but in the beginning, your brand is relying on you to hone your chops at writing.

There are courses out there to teach you how to improve (CopyHour is run by my friend Derek and Marie Forleo has a program called The Copy Cure.)

There is also plenty of free content if you google, “How to become a better copywriter.”

But the bottom line is this:

You need to be able to effectively communicate what your brand has to offer.

That requires you to be clear, genuine, persuasive and most of all, compelling.

Because if you aren’t, then you’re going to train your followers (i.e. potential customers!) that your words aren’t worth reading.

And if your words aren’t worth reading, then how will they know that your products are worth wearing?

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


If you’ve been in the fashion industry for a while or if you’re thinking about launching your own brand, you’ve likely heard advice, or maybe even rumors, that have stopped you in your tracks.

What’s true, what’s outdated and what’s simply false? Today I’m going to touch on five of the big myths that I hear most often:

1.) I can’t talk about my idea because someone will steal it.

It always makes me a little sad when I hear this because it’s fear-based thinking. And this type of mindset has no place in entrepreneurship.

The truth is, 99% of ideas never see the light of day. The chances of someone hearing about what you’re working on, stealing the idea and then actually launching and selling it, are slim.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen on occasion, but your energy is so much better spent focusing on executing your vision and doing it your way. After all, your unique way of doing things is what is going to set it apart from the competition.

If you’re still not convinced, I’ve written about copycats and competition extensively here and here.

2.)  If you build it, they will come.

As nostalgic as this expression may be for baseball fans, it simply doesn’t hold up when it comes to starting an apparel brand.

That’s all to say, just because you complete a sample run, finalize your patterns and find a production partner, doesn’t mean that you’re set up to sell.

It’s estimated that about 75% of your pre-launch work should be dedicated to building an audience before you launch. That’s right, pre-production only makes up a quarter of your overall business strategy.

One of my most overused expressions is, “Don’t launch to crickets.” In other words, if you haven’t been building up buzz around your launch for months – yes, months – then it’s likely your sales will reflect that.

Within the Factory45 program, we dedicate 11 weeks to pre-launch marketing alone. In fact, Factory45’er Morgan Wagstaff says:

“The greatest gain for me was Shannon’s insight into marketing and launch strategy. I was able to connect with and get my brand in front of like-minded people because of the concepts and tools laid out in the course and that made a world of difference.”

There are lots of other “myths” I’ve heard over the years and one of the things I love most about my work is being able to bust those myths

3.) Suppliers will tell you what type of fabric you need.

Not true, and to be honest, they shouldn’t have to. Despite what you may think, it is not a supplier’s or manufacturer’s job to educate you. And you’ll start off on the wrong foot if you’re expecting that.

If you don’t know how the manufacturing industry works, how to place a fabric order, what you need for production, etc., then you should go back to the drawing board, do some research, read some blogs, books or hire someone to help you.

There are some surefire ways to shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve even really started and you need to learn what those are before you expect suppliers to give you their time. The sourcing network within the U.S. is relatively small, too, so you want to do whatever you can to avoid getting a reputation as *that* person.

4.) If you want to be taken seriously, then you have to go to fashion school.

I wrote about this last week and was happy to hear so many positive reactions. If you missed it, you can read it here.

5.) You need at least $500,000 or a celebrity endorsement to get started.

That may have been true years ago, before the internet and crowdfunding, but nowadays the average Factory45’er has been able to launch their first collection with just $20,000.

If that sounds like a lot, remember that this isn’t $20,000 you’re expected to have lying around in your bank account.

Through the work we do in Factory45, I teach all of my entrepreneurs how to raise money in a way that allows you to test the market and get your early customers to finance your first production run for you.

Too good to be true?

See for yourself here, here and here. (There are many other examples on our Alumni Stories page here.)


There are lots of other “myths” I’ve heard over the years and one of the things I love most about my work is being able to bust those myths.

The Factory45 philosophy proudly goes against fashion convention, and I’m excited to work with a new group of entrepreneurs this year who aren’t afraid to think outside the box, too.

 

factory45 owner shannon


When I tell people about Factory45 their first curiosity is about the companies I work with:

“What products are you most excited about?”

“Which company is your favorite?”

“What startups have been the most successful?”

Outsiders will assume there’s a unicorn in the group that I love above the rest, so sometimes they’re surprised by my answer:

“The entrepreneurs I love working with are the ones who… ‘get it.’”

It’s not that they know the most about starting a business, or have the best product idea, or have the most money in the bank.

Instead, they “get” that the most important quality of being an entrepreneur is the ability to take action.

That’s it.

They understand that when it comes to success, aspiration holds very little clout next to perspiration.

They don’t hold back from calling fabric suppliers, they dive into the scary-technical-internet stuff, they don’t worry about their social media marketing being perfect the first time.

They live with this mantra in mind:

Entrepreneurship is so much more about following a series of daily habits, than it is about creating big goals.

If you know the end vision but you’re not able to take the small steps to get there, then a big goal really doesn’t matter.

It’s like wanting to have clear, glowing skin but instead of drinking your green smoothie every morning, you continue eating chocolate donuts.

Whether you’re a startup or a serial entrepreneur, you’re going to have times when it will be so much easier to do nothing than to do something.

I know this firsthand.

Over the past few months, I’ve been wanting to learn more about Facebook advertising so I signed up for an online course that would teach me how to do it effectively.

I completed the program at the beginning of January, and I gave myself a week to start implementing it.

It’s now January 27th and that task is still sitting on my to-do list waiting to get checked off.

Procrastination is a beast, and it’s mostly because it stems from fear.

I fear wasting money on the wrong ads. I fear appearing too “sales-y.” I fear not accomplishing the goal I’ve set for the strategy.

The thing is, if I don’t try, then I’ll never know what good could have come out of it.

I’ll never know all of the awesome people I could have introduced to Factory45. I’ll never know the potential new companies I could have helped get started.

I know enough about entrepreneurship to say, it’s just one big experiment. You have to be willing to be both an artist and a scientist.

Which means you have to be willing to scrap the Kickstarter video, reshoot and strive for better.

You have to be willing to spend days writing a guest post without knowing if it will get published.

You have to be willing to sit on the phone for hours with GoDaddy tech support to get your website up and running.

It’s not glamorous and there are no guarantees. But your chances of success are increased if you’re methodical about the daily and weekly habits you follow.

“The biggest danger to success isn’t failure, it’s doubt.” (I saw that on the door of a coffee shop the other day.)

Don’t let fear and doubt leave you paralyzed from the thought of trying. Because there really is only one certainty in entrepreneurship —

Without action, an idea is nothing.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 


Sustainable Fashion Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 


Over the years, I’ve attended a lot of textiles expos in New York City. I go to to network with suppliers and potential Factory45’ers and get an insider’s view of the “non” sustainable fashion world (it looks a lot different).

Below is a nod to the newest wave of innovation coming out of the textile industry with a focus on sustainability:

1.) CRAiLAR is a flax fiber that drastically reduces chemical and water usage. It was named a 100% BioPreferred product by the USDA in April 2012. In fabric form, it looks and feels almost identical to cotton.

qmilch

2.) Qmilch is a 100% natural and renewable fiber derived from a protein in sour milk. (Yes, like the milk in your fridge.) The result is a fabric similar to silk, but less expensive, while being durable enough to withstand wash and care. Qmilch is naturally antibacterial and can regulate temperature, making it ideal for sports and activewear.

qmilch

3.) “Recyclon” is a recycled nylon from Unifi’s Repreve that uses pre-consumer and post-industrial nylon waste. While the makeup of the blend is not 100% recycled, the innovation has been widely celebrated by those who have been wanting a recycled nylon option since recycled polyester became available years ago.

repreve

4.) S.Cafe is a new fiber coming out of Taiwan that uses recycled coffee grinds. Big names like North Face, Puma and Timberland are already using it, while coffee sellers like Starbucks and 7-11 are said to be some of the suppliers. Apparently coffee grinds have natural odor-masking properties without making the entire garment smell like your morning brew. It’s said that coffee grinds require less energy in the fiber-making process, making it an “earth-friendly” alternative to traditional fabrics.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image132765

5.) EcoCircle Plant Fiber is a plant-based PET (polyester). The new fiber contains 30% sugarcane, which replaces 30% of the oil needed for traditional polyester. Teijin, the company behind the fiber, said it will have a closed-loop recycling system at the end of the fabric’s life. Nissan is one of the first companies to use the fabric for the car upholstery in the 2014 Nissan Leaf electric car.

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6.) Evrnu is an innovative new technology that recycles cotton garment waste to create a premium, renewable fiber. More than 12 million tons of garment waste is disposed of every year in the U.S. alone. Evrnu emerged from a new way of thinking about the apparel and textile industry, by textile specialists who love fashion. The Evrnu team is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to bring the technology to a larger scale.

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