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Can you start a fashion business without a fashion background?

Here is an email I get at least once a week:

“I’m so excited about Factory45 and really want to join this year! The only thing is, I don’t have a background in fashion – will this affect my chances of being accepted into the program?”

And every time, my answer is…

“Absolutely not!”

Going to fashion school has absolutely nothing to do with how successful you’ll be at launching your own apparel brand.

I’ve witnessed how true that is — over and over again.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs to come through Factory45 couldn’t have told you the difference between a serger and a die-cutter.

What did they have on their sides instead?

They understood the value of hard work, grit, creativity and resilience.

And believe me, those skills are far more valuable in starting your own brand than knowing how to draft a pattern or sew a garment.

Don’t believe me?

Factory45’er Angela Tsai, who designed and launched the Mamachic, was a reporter for the NBA before she set out to start her own apparel company.

Hanna Baror-Padilla, who joined Factory45 in 2015, was a transportation planner while she launched her womenswear company Sotela.

Factory45’er Tiffany Shown was working for a PR firm when she started creating Fair Seas Supply Co., a line of organic cotton, round beach blankets.

I’ve had massage therapists, Wall Street bankers, stay-at-home moms, humanitarian workers, executive assistants, advertising execs, and the like, join Factory with no knowledge of manufacturing and without any background in fashion.

That’s all to say, any dog can learn new tricks as long as they seek out the education and are willing to learn.

 

factory45 owner shannon


Introducing milo+nicki

This is an interview with Factory45er Nicki Patel about the launch of her brand milo+nicki, a cruelty-free, ethically designed fashion line derived from Indian & Zambian roots. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Nicki is raising money for the production run of her first collection.

Please give us a brief overview of your brand and the pieces you’re pre-selling.

Through our made in NY, designed in ATX pieces, we hope to empower you, the ever-evolving woman, to conquer your fears, take a leap of faith, never give up on yourself, and live a life full of color.

By combining our vibrant, cultural roots with our passion for sustainability, living cruelty-free, and our bold personalities, we hope you feel strong, confident, and empowered while tackling all things thrown your way while letting your true colors shine.

Our 6-piece collection is cruelty-free and ethically-designed, with handwoven certified Ahimsa silk and GOTS certified organic cotton blend from India, hand dyed with plant-based indigo in the US, printed with non-toxic, water-based dye in the US, and made in NY.

Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a great platform that allows small budget entrepreneurs to bring their big ideas to fruition. Being a solopreneur, I self-funded the venture thus far which includes everything behind the scenes:  sourcing sustainable fabrics, doing product development locally, creating tech packs for each design, creating samples and patterns, finalizing fit and creating another round of samples, hiring a fit model then a model to shoot the editorial images and video, setting up a shop, and marketing and miscellaneous expenses along the way.

With all these costs, when it came time to launch, I needed the extra push to bring my collection to life, and Kickstarter was the best option. It allows me to pre-sell the collection to my day 1 supporters at a lower price and fund my first run of production, all while testing the market and seeing if people love or hate what I am creating.

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What was the most challenging aspect of creating your campaign?

Honestly, creating the Kickstarter campaign has not been as tough as campaigning these past 11 days. I have been really blessed with an amazing team (shout out to Falcon Related) that shot the perfect images and created the most beautiful video. It is exactly how I envisioned and I couldn’t have done it without them.

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

Love and passion for what I am doing. I believe that our story can empower and inspire women in all walks of life. It isn’t just about what the pieces we are creating, it is about the story of what you wear and the story you create wearing the pieces while pursuing what sets your soul on fire.

But, I am not going to lie. It has been tough. Not just being a solopreneur, but the entire process. You have your highs and lows, which as an entrepreneur are expected, but I have had some major setbacks. I have lost my fabric supplier not once, not twice, but three times?! Fabric is everything to a designer and I almost crumbled when I lost my last supplier only a few weeks from when I had previously planned to launch. What kept me going was the friends and family around me, my goal to empower women, and my vision to inspire change in the sustainable and ethical fashion movement.


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

The Kickstarter campaign thus far has been tough. I believe that I have a good community of supporters that really believe in my mission and want to share my story.

Approximately 2 months prior to launch, I began to reach out to sustainable and conscious lifestyle bloggers, writers who were covering topics that pertained to my story and continued connecting with individuals through social media by sharing our story, mission, and teasers of our collection. This really has helped me build a tribe of people who really believe in what I am doing and want to share it with others.

Something that hasn’t worked so well is reaching out to nationally recognize writers and editors maybe due to lack of brand recognition and product interest. This has been the toughest part because the campaign has really slowed down in momentum and has really limited our audience and reach.

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

I feel truly blessed because I had the opportunity to work with Amber Rae, the guru and creator of the W.O.N.D.E.R  Way. When I have self-doubt, I usually use the strategies she has taught me to bring back my focus to the bigger picture and what I am truly wanting to accomplish. I also have had amazing guidance from individuals who truly care about the wellbeing of our brand such as from you, Shannon, and the production partners I have worked with. When all else fails, I look to my amazing friends, my super supportive mastermind group, the love of my family and then leave the rest up to faith. There is only so much you can do to prepare for everything, right? I am definitely learning to go with the flow through the journey of entrepreneurship.

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

I am totally biased because I love the entire 6 piece collection so I would say the All or Nothing reward. You are getting 6 pieces that are made out of 100% hand-loomed, made-to-order cruelty-free Ahimsa silk and GOTS certified organic cotton fabric which is hand-dyed with indigo, screen-printed with water-based, non-toxic dye, and cut and sewn by hand in the US, all under $1000!

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

Plan early, be prepared and don’t give up. As I am working through my Kickstarter campaign, I feel like the same thing that led me to creating milo+nicki applies to my campaign and launch. The journey is never easy, but it is important to remember to listen to your gut and follow your heart. I constantly remind myself that no dream is too big, no passion is too small, and no routine is unbreakable.

There are always going to be those naysayers or doubters trying to bring you down or days in your campaign where everything seems to be going south, but don’t listen, they don’t matter and that one day doesn’t matter. If you believe in something bigger, something different, or want to do something no one has ever imagined possible, do it. You are your only limitation. Just remember that the journey is never easy so stay persistent, think positively, have faith, and envision the bigger picture with you reaching your end goal. This will lead you to unimaginable places.


To check out Nicki’s Kickstarter campaign and the pre-sale of milo+nicki click hereTo read more about Nicki’s experience in Factory45, read her alumni story here.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


Market45

This is an interview with Factory45’er Kaya Dorey about the launch of her brand NOVEL SUPPLY CO. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Kaya is raising money (update: has raised money) for her first production run of conscious apparel for the urban adventurer.

Can you give us a brief overview of your brand and the pieces you’re pre-selling?

NOVEL SUPPLY CO. is conscious apparel for the urban adventurer. My line is made up of three comfy, casual, gender neutral styles made from all natural hemp and organic cotton including:

The Cabin Crew, The Adventure Tee and The Muscle Tank.

My brand connects with adventurers who love active lifestyles and mindful living, but also care about their style. The goal for NOVEL is to provide people with conscious apparel that doesn’t sacrifice style. Rad graphics created by local artists keep our designs fresh and manufacturing locally allows for transparency throughout the manufacturing process.

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Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I chose Kickstarter because I was familiar with the platform and I had seen several other entrepreneurs (including Shannon and my fellow Factory45’ers) have success with their campaigns.

Kickstarter’s branding is super on point and their website is easy to navigate so I thought it would be the best fit for my campaign. Also, the demographic of people that use Kickstarter, or even know what it is, fit with my target market.

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

As I am still working full-time to help fund my business and life, it was crucial that I work somewhere that was relatively flexible, with people who supported me from the get-go. I am so grateful for my team at work and their constant support and motivation.

Also, my guy – and marketing guru – has been an integral part in helping me to launch this campaign, manage my time and has been there every step of the way to cheer me on. He believes in me sometimes more than I believe in myself and has been crucial in keeping my fire stoked.

My friends and family have also helped me maintain momentum not only financially but also just by believing in my vision, connecting me with the people I need to know and constantly encouraging me to hustle.

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

Stoke my networks. The NOVEL tribe is made up of some of the raddest, most supportive people. They are the adventurers, they are the ones who make conscious decisions about what they buy, they are the ones who are making sustainability cool, and they love all things creative. They have also turned out to be the mavens of my campaign.

I am super lucky to have collaborated with some of the most talented and creative entrepreneurs in Vancouver and, because of that, I have a solid lineup of visual content that will help spread the word about NOVEL. Stay tuned 😉

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

When self-doubt creeps up – which, I can tell you, it does – I go to the mountains, I have my friends over for a glass of wine, I have a good cry, I go stretch it out with some yoga, or take a timeout for myself and meditate. It’s the only way to tame a creative mind.

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

I love what I have come up with in terms of NOVEL apparel, and maybe I’m a little bit biased, but hey, my heart and soul is in The Muscle Tank, The Adventure Tee AND The Cabin Crew.

BUT, my favourite rewards being offered are the ones that I collaborated with others on! The growlers are sick! The handmade and hand-painted paddles are love at first sight! And, the designs, whether they are on the postcards, prints or NOVEL apparel are on point! It’s impossible to choose a favourite and I guess I haven’t really answered your question. Sarry.

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

Adventure always!

You can check out Kaya’s campaign for NOVEL SUPPLY CO. hereTo read more about Kaya’s experience in Factory45, read her alumni story here.

 

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Market45

 

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


 

Ever since I graduated in 2008, I have been some sort of entrepreneur. Ironically, my worst grade in four years of college was in my “Entrepreneurship 101” class (heyo, Professor Rossi).

What I realized later on — that they don’t teach you in an academic setting — is that entrepreneurship has very little to do with getting good grades and is so much more about being able to take a risk.

My first experience with big risk-taking was during my senior year of college when I bailed on the law school entrance exam and booked a one-way ticket to Australia instead.

That one decision completely changed the trajectory of my life, and I spent two post-grad years bartending and traveling around the world, from Australia to Southeast Asia to South Africa.

When my parents thought I was coming home to get a “real job,” I would only stay for a few months, bartend every night, save up more money, and leave to travel again.

fashion entrepreneur

When I eventually returned to the States in 2010 I brought my wanderlust and relentless craving for adventure with me.

I had once been the girl who envisioned herself in the corner office — but after two years abroad, I knew that I would never get a “real job.”

I wanted to create something bigger than myself. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to wake up every morning and go after my dreams. Maybe you can’t relate… I didn’t want to help build someone else’s dream.

It was a divine twist of fate when I got a Facebook message from a friend shortly after I got home. She said she was going through a “quarter-life crisis,” dreading the possibility of sitting in a cubicle all day, and suggested we start something together.

That “something” turned out to be a sustainable clothing company.

Of course, it didn’t happen immediately. Little did we know, we were about to embark on a three-year journey into self-discovery, entrepreneurial freedom and the pursuit of living life on our own terms.

Our plan was to create a company that would be 100% made in the USA, using fabrics and materials that did the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

It was called {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists, and it prompted my early exploration of conscious consumerism and the practice of living with less.

fashion entrepreneur

I learned about the downsides of fast fashion: the environmental damage, the humanitarian violations, and the psychological effects of modern-day consumer culture.

These realizations completely changed me, and I decided to dedicate my career to creating a more conscious world where people see the power of voting with their dollars.

That’s all to say, we quickly found out that having a “vision” wasn’t enough. We were naive, unversed in industry lingo, and had zero connections in the fashion industry. It became obvious very early on that what we were trying to accomplish wouldn’t be easy.

We spent money on the wrong things, made every mistake possible, wasted time pursuing leads that ended in dead ends and continuously took two steps back with every one step forward.

Looking back at the emails I sent to fabric suppliers, I now know that my inquiries surely got a swift click of the delete button. I didn’t know how to talk to industry veterans, I had no idea how to walk “the walk,” and it showed.

But after a year and a half, having nearly depleted both of our savings accounts, the stars aligned.

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We received a response about a private label inquiry we had sent on a whim to a general contact form. After a few meetings, we made the decision to source and manufacture our first production run under the guidance of a company who had done it before.

The company was a startup itself but was farther along and had the production infrastructure that we lacked. They also had the knowledge, connections and reputation that we needed on our side.

After pushing forward solo for so long, we had found someone to take us by the hand and walk us through the process.

We had finally found the mentorship we needed.

More doors opened at the end of 2011 when we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first production run of our signature piece, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 30 different ways.

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What happened over our 30-day campaign far surpassed our wildest dreams. Not only did we acquire nearly 800 new customers, quadruple our first production order and attract the attention of The New York Times, but we finally saw a year and a half of hard work pay off.

Having gone through a unique entrepreneurial journey, I had developed a set of skills that were totally unexpected. I knew from my experience with the Versalette that breaking into the fashion industry was very difficult, and I wanted to make it easier for other aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same.

It’s my hope that I can continue to foster a space for creativity and collaboration while helping others start down their own path towards creating a business.

In the last few years, I’ve helped entrepreneurs all over the country set up supply chains in the U.S., source sustainable materials and bring their products to market.

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Factory45 is the program I created for entrepreneurs, like me, who have a vision and a plan but need the mentorship, framework and resources to get started.

If you have your own plans to launch an apparel brand, I hope you’ll consider joining me through your journey. Mentorship is the very thing that pushed my first company forward and I would love to do the same for you.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


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.

 

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Photos courtesy of VETTA and Sak’s Fifth Avenue


Market45

Important Marketing Tool

So, I’m in yoga the other day and after the final “Namaste,” my teacher starts to make her daily announcements.

Instructor training begins again on Friday… Four beginner yoga classes are being offered on Saturdays… And then this:

“I also just want to let everyone know that I’m starting an email list.”

And as I’m putting my socks back on, I’m thinking, “Yes, go girl, start that email list.”

(It’s one of the first steps towards entrepreneurship, after all.)

But what begins to unfold has me cringing on my mat:

“So, um yeah, the clipboard is at the back of the room if you want to sign up… I’ll only send out, like, two emails a year…. I probably won’t send out the first email for a few months… You don’t have to sign up if you don’t want to, but I’ll just use it to stay in touch with you…”

And on it went as people started rolling up their mats.

I hung back and waited for a bit until I was one of the last people to leave the studio. As I walked past the clipboard that was sitting by the door, I looked over to see that not one person had signed up.

I wasn’t surprised. And it got me thinking about the startup brands I see online, desperately trying to build an audience, but failing to make an effective “ask.”

I should start by clarifying that your email list is your most important marketing tool — by far. It’s more important than Instagram, more important than Facebook, more important than Pinterest, more important than any other online marketing tool you can leverage.

Your email list is the fastest and most direct way to connect with your potential customers, and it’s yours. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, that now make you pay to connect with your followers, your email list belongs to you.

In the case of my yoga teacher, she was making a verbal “ask” to her studio of aspiring yogis. In the case of your online business, your “ask” is your opt-in incentive and call-to-action (CTA).

(If these terms are starting to sound like crazy-speak, consider joining Factory45 in May. We go into extensive detail about email marketing throughout the program.)

I know this isn’t very “zen” of me, but I want to analyze what my teacher did wrong so that it can help you grow your email list more effectively.

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>> She lacked confidence. If you don’t believe in what you’re offering it will show, and she seemed nervous to come across as too “salesy.” While marketing may not be a natural skill for a yoga teacher, it must become a natural skill for you if you plan to sell your collection, designs or products online.

If you’re not confident in making the “ask” and it shows through your copy, then you might as well not have an email opt-in at all.

(And don’t even think about doing that…)

>> She didn’t incentivize. So often I see email opt-ins that are as incentivizing as an annual flu shot. If your opt-in rate is low, it might be because your call-to-action is lackluster.

“Sign up to our mailing list” is not a call-to-action! That type of language doesn’t do anything to inspire people to want to hear from you. They need to know what they’re going to get and why they should care.

You can try discount codes, free shipping, and style guides to incentivize sign-ups, but the options are endless. The bottom line is that you have to provide real value to entice people to sign up.

>> She didn’t provide an expectation. She said, “I’ll just use it to stay in touch with you.”

What does that even mean?

She doesn’t know all of her students by name and if she did, “staying in touch” is a very allusive expression.

What will I receive emails about? Will I be interested in the topic? What kind of updates will be sent out?

Again, if you’re asking someone to opt into your list, instead of the email list of a competing brand, then you have to have a damn good reason why. “Staying in touch” doesn’t mean anything.

>> She didn’t sound consistent. There is a big difference between what online marketers call a “healthy list” and an “unhealthy list.”

A healthy list is engaged. You have an open rate above 25%, you have a consistent click-through rate, and your “unsubscribes” are generally low. A healthy list comes from consistency — weekly to bi-weekly emails that provide value, interest and intrigue to your following.

If you’re only going to send out two emails a year and you’re going to wait several months to send out the first one, then why bother?

By the time she sends out her first email, anyone who opted into her list will have already forgotten. And do you know what happens when people forget that they signed up?

They unsubscribe and mark the email as spam.

If you have something of value to offer to your target audience, then you need the confidence to market it. As a new business owner, you’re likely running the show on your own, so you have to be equal parts “the creative” and “the marketer.”

Building your email list is the most effective way to grow your brand, sell more products and make your mark in the industry.

But it doesn’t come easy.

It takes experimentation, rewriting your offers, asking for feedback and figuring out what value you can provide.

 

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new entrepreneurs

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

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

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

1.) Make it easy to help you.

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

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

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

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

2.) Write thank you notes.

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

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

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

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

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3.) Start before you’re ready.

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

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

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

>> Tess, that one was for you : )

4.) Be consistent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.) Ask for help.

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

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

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

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

That’s what separates the amateurs from the pros.

 

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sustainable fashion advice

“That’s, like, pretty much what I’m doing.”

“She’s selling the same thing I am.”

“I just found out X person is also making X product, so what’s the point in me even trying?”

As someone who works with and mentors new entrepreneurs on a regular basis, I’m no stranger to panicked emails popping up in my inbox about the discovery of a competitor.

“And she’s so much farther along!”

“And they already have 3,000 followers on Instagram!”

“They’re using organic cotton and making it in the USA, too!”

As soon as we discover potential competition, our cortisol levels shoot through the roof and we imagine the worst case scenario.

EVERYONE is going to buy from HER instead of ME.

So I might as well quit.

And while yes, quitting is the easiest route to take (in any situation) there are many more reasons to keep going:

  • An idea is just an idea. Everyone has them. What sets you apart is your ability to execute. 99% of ideas never see the light of day, so if you’re able to get your product to market, then you’re already that much farther ahead than everyone else. So much of entrepreneurship is simply a matter of keeping your head down and doing the work. It’s not glamorous, but there’s really no alternative.
  • The “me versus them” mentality is the fastest way to sabotage yourself. As soon as you start thinking the world is against you and the universe is set up for you to fail, then it’s over. I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who didn’t operate with an “abundance mentality.” Repeat after me: there are enough customers for me and there are enough customers for them.
  • Competition breeds creativity. Having competitors in the market forces you to innovate, think outside the box and pushes you to do better than you would have done if you had a monopoly. While it may give you anxiety at first, you have the ability to reframe how it makes you feel. It can either deflate you or empower you — and you have the power to choose.
  • Competition shows you there is a need in the marketplace. Having other players in the game means there is a big enough pool of people who want what you’re selling. The market share is there and it’s your job to find a way to take a piece of the pie.
  • The great news about being in the clothing business is that, unless you’re selling to nudists, everyone needs it. Fashion is a $1.5 trillion dollar industry. That’s a lot of people buying clothing. And the average American buys 62 pieces of clothing a year. As fast fashion continues to gross more people out, you’re there to provide an alternative ethical option. How cool is that?
  • And this. This is the best reason of all: Despite how many people are selling (or plan to sell) something similar to you, no one is ever going to do it the same way you are. That’s just fact. There is no one else on this planet that is even remotely close to the same person as you and thus, the way you create is going to be different from everyone else. 

No matter how many new kids lines or womenswear lines or outwear lines debut, they’re all going to be unique to their creator. And that’s why it’s so important to know who your target customer is. It relieves you from having to sell to “everyone” so you can focus on selling to the special group of people it’s made for. There is so much freedom in that.

I know I’ve written about competition before, but it’s the topic that continues to come up because it’s so much scarier when you’re just starting out.

Working with mostly women entrepreneurs has taught me how sensitive most of us are. We want perfection, we want everything to go the right way the first time, and we want to show everyone around us that we can do it.

As soon as we hit a bump in the road, we tend to question our intentions.

Who was I to think I could pull this off?

When really, who are you not to?

 

 

 


Sustainable Fashion Advice

 

“What if I tell someone about my product and they steal my idea?”

One of the most common questions that comes up with my entrepreneurs in the beginning of Factory45 is the concern about copycats.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “Should I have my production partner / patternmaker / samplemaker sign a nondisclosure agreement?”

I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have spent thousands of dollars on patents and trademarks without ever having their first customer.

There is a lot of concern churning around the fashion industry about being ripped off. And with the latest scandals coming out of Etsy, Urban Outfitters and others, I can’t really blame them.

It’s not unheard of for a designer to replicate a design someone else is selling and get away with it just by adding a few buttons or changing the length of the sleeves.

When brought to court the copycat designer would win the case simply by changing a few minor specs.

Unfortunately in fashion, that’s the way the (entrepreneurial) cookie crumbles.

In Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, he says early-stage entrepreneurs spend too much time worrying about their idea being stolen and not enough time telling as many people about it as possible.

As a startup, Ries says you should focus on talking about your idea to anyone and everyone willing to listen. That’s the only way to get early customer feedback, hear what your potential customers actually want and find out if your idea is a viable business.

There is a big difference between someone saying you have a great idea and actually getting out their wallet to pay for it.

Believe me, I get it. I perfectly understand how fragile and vulnerable it feels to be in the early stages of a fledgling idea.

I’ll never forget an email I got from one of my Factory45’ers last year who was stressed out over another company she had come across:

“…They are basically doing what I’m doing, like sourcing fabric in North Carolina, being ethical, unisex, drawing inspiration from travels and all of a sudden I don’t feel so original anymore.”

I talked her off the ledge and we laughed about it afterward, but feelings of panic and self-doubt are normal to every startup.

When early stage entrepreneurs worry too much about protecting their idea, Eric Ries calls this “stealth mode.”

He says: “Part of the special challenge of being a startup is the near impossibility of having your idea company, or product be noticed by anyone, let alone a competitor.”

Makes sense, right? Stealing an idea is a lot different than stealing an idea and actually implementing it — especially an idea that hasn’t proven to be successful yet.

If you do reach a degree of success down the road, then competitors are bound to enter the market. People see something that works, and they want to have a piece of it — this comes with the territory.

I recently went through this with Factory45 when I found out that a friend and close colleague had ripped off, rebranded and launched her own version of a sustainable fashion incubator.

So much so that a mutual colleague asked her, “Isn’t this the same program that Shannon is running?”

Should I feel flattered? Maybe. But that’s definitely not how it feels in reality. And anyone who has gone through it will likely agree.

The thing is, as hard as it may be to take it gracefully in the moment, competition is a good thing — it pushes us to continue innovating and prevents us from getting stagnant.

After all is said and done, here’s what I’ve found to be helpful when dealing with competition, copycats and knock-offs:

1.) Before trying to get all Zen about it, spend 20 minutes screaming into your pillow. It will help you move past the anger and frustration faster.

2.) Seek to understand and assume positive intent. This can be applied to so much in life. As hard as it may be, give the benefit of the doubt and assume the similarities were not intentional.

3.) Believe in abundance. There is enough to go around. The universe offers ample opportunity for all of us to succeed. Talk yourself out of scarcity and into abundance.

4.) On the flip side, no one ever won by being a second-rate version of someone else (thanks, Judy). This is where strong brand identity comes into play.

5.) And then — there’s karma.

 

 

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sustainable fashion advice