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Factory45 Success Stories

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


sotela-copyHanna Baror-Padilla, founder of SOTELA

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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Sew Shop Talk: Introducing APaDS

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even in shutdowns she managed to keep pushing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

APaDS is passionate about what they are creating.

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

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Breaking it down:

  • What can APaDS do for you?

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

  • How much do they cost?

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

  • Do I need a Tech Pack?

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

  • Am I allowed to visit the facility?

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

  • What is the time frame for a returned product?

>> Anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

  • What if I already have a pattern ready?

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

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


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

 

 


5 Tips for Creating a “Made in the USA” Apparel Company

So, I’ve laid it out before — new designers tend to have a bad reputation. Not to say it’s your fault, it’s just that some have, unfortunately, ruined it for others.

Suppliers and manufacturers here in the U.S. have been in this game for a long time. And they’ve seen it all — from NAFTA to their neighboring factories shutting down to the early days of a shaky revival.

They’ve also seen every type of designer and aspiring entrepreneur, and most have come to the assumption that 9 times out of 10, it isn’t worth their time to take on work with someone who is new to the industry.

While navigating the world of sewn manufacturing may be new and probably a little intimidating, there are ways to set yourself up so that you don’t come off as the “new kid on the block.”

Let me break it down for you:

>> First and foremost: Set goals. So you have an idea – that’s great. Now, get it all out of your head and put it down on paper. While keeping in mind the vision of your product, you’ll want to set both long and short term goals. This will not only help to keep you motivated (long term), but also allow you see the little wins (short term) along the way.  

>> Research. Creating your own apparel company takes a lot of time and money. You want to take all the time you need to ensure you have several reliable options for both fabric sourcing and cut and sew. Do all the research you can before narrowing down your list, this usually requires multiple prototypes, and check out any online reviews or references of past clients who have worked with the factories you’re hoping to partner with. 

>> Budget. Not only are you going to need time and a lot of patience, but you will also need startup capital. You can likely negotiate with suppliers, but err on the side of caution and take the time to figure out what your budget is for each phase of development. If money isn’t growing on the trees outside of your house, I would strongly consider launching a Kickstarter campaign.

>> Organize your construction methods. Before you approach a supplier or factory, you want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Ideally, you will have a very detailed description of the fabric and materials you need (including weight, weave and fabrication) or a detailed spec sheet. This should include measurements, materials, colors, trim, hardware, grading, labels, tags, etc. and any other important information that would be needed to create your design. This will show that you know what you’re doing, have thought things through, and are a serious potential client.

>> Communication. You want this to be a two way street and effective communication is critical to your success. When you reach out to a project manager, there are some important “do’s and don’ts”:

DO: Provide a sample, pattern, spec sheet.

DON’T: Say things like “patent,” “sign an NDA,” or “What steps do I need to take?” These are all red flags to the production partner, indicating that youre a newbie.

Above all, be polite, professional, responsive and appreciative. The world of domestic manufacturing is complicated but once you get your foot in the door, other doors will open.


Market45

Introducing the Entrepreneurs of Factory45 Fall 2015: Part IV

It’s hard to believe six months have passed since Factory45 started and my third cohort embarked on this program. We will wrap up the Fall 2015 program on April 1st.

Before then, I want to introduce you to another batch of entrepreneurs I worked with this year (in no particular order). If you missed introductions to the other Factory45’ers I’ve highlighted, you can read those here, here and here.

And if you’re feeling inspired or motivated to start your own sustainable apparel company, make sure you’re on my list here.

gillian-nashGillian Nash is a bridal designer in the East Village of New York City. In addition to headpieces and hair adornment, Gillian creates gowns with three silhouettes: strapless, spaghetti and sleeved. She then overlays each gown with draped tulle and handmade silk flowers to make custom bridalwear. Each headpiece is handmade using traditional flower-making techniques that Gillians says are a lost art in the present day. Gillian Nash Bridal is “sustainably handmade with love” and will launch in Autumn 2016.

 

amy-rubinAmy Rubin is based in Indianapolis and is launching an active vintage-wear line called Polymath Apparel. Her first line, MODified, is a collection of contemporary, sustainable fabrics, as well as patterned vintage fabrics. The intention for the collection is to create looks with a “mod” touch inspired by bold colors and graphic lines of the 1960’s and 70’s. The Polymath mood board is live on Instagram and you can sign up for launch updates here.

 

ginamarie-chauntea

Ginamarie Georgees & Chauntea Foster came together as business partners in Southern California to launch Mharbana, a sustainable athletic apparel line that uses superior fabrics and embodies an empowered lifestyle. With fitness being a main focus of their daily routines, Ginamarie and Chauntea are appealing to the cross-fit and bodybuilding community that they’ve grown to know. You can sign up for launch updates here and learn more about the mission behind Mharbana on their blog.

 

heather-cucciaHeather Cuccia is the founder of Fairly Fauna, a cruelty-free and vegan boutique that promotes healthy living. As Heather was curating other lines to sell through her online store, she realized there weren’t many animal-free clothing companies to choose from. She’s now creating her own line to fill the hole in the market. Fairly Fauna works with animal rescue groups and is a partner of Being Pawsitive, an online magazine dedicated to pets. You can shop vegan and cruelty-free fashion on Fairly Fauna here.

 

Jason Ozenkoski

Jason Ozenkoski started his entrepreneurial journey one serendipitous evening when he was bartending at a community lake house. He saw a couple sitting by the lake and the man was to trying to keep his wife warm by draping a beach towel over but it kept falling down. Envisioning a better solution, Jason came up with a prototype for a convertible blanket / jacket that he later named The Thracket (throw jacket). From 2001 until now, Jason received both wholesale and direct orders, but wanted to avoid moving manufacturing overseas. He’s held out to set up manufacturing in the U.S. and rebrand the product. He’s aiming to start production in the Carolinas in 2016.

In case you missed it last week, Factory45’er VETTA is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for their five-piece capsule collection that can be mixed and matched to create a month’s worth of outfits. You can check out their campaign and order pieces for pre-sale here.

 

 

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Mistakes & Breaking Points in Trying to Start a Clothing Company

The winter of 2011 was a tough one. I had been trying to set up a supply chain for my clothing company for five months and by February, my co-founder and I had hit a mental and logistical standstill.

Looking back, five months seems like nothing. But for two driven, go-getter types, every ignored email and unanswered phone call was a mini blow to our motivation.

We simply couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. How was it possible that not one fabric supplier, factory or sew shop would give us the time of day?

We were at our wits end when we got a reply from a designer who said he could make our first samples. We didn’t have fabric or materials yet, but at least samples would feel like progress.

When we got on our first phone call with him he was adamant that we should fly to North Carolina to meet him. We could go over everything, work face to face and make a plan of attack for moving forward.

Resting our hopes on the chance that this person could also introduce us to a fabric supplier or a manufacturer, we booked flights for the following weekend.

All things considered, our weekend in North Carolina was weird.

We checked into a hostel in downtown Asheville and immediately went to a nearby bar where the designer had told us to meet him.

What ensued was a three hour “happy hour” in which he continued to slug beer after beer while not once mentioning our business, our design ideas or why we were there.

Promising that he would get to “it” eventually, we arranged to meet the following day at his home.

If this sounds sketchy, remember that a lot of designers / samplemakers / patternmakers work out of their homes. Also, remember that we had flown 1,000 miles, spent our savings on flights, and felt like we had no other option.

Desperation puts you in interesting situations.

We spent several hours the next day in his basement going over our sketches, spec sheets and designs and we decided that we would start with just one sample to test the waters.

He said he would create a prototype for our “maxi dress” design and ship it to us in two weeks. We left North Carolina feeling hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

Turns out, we didn’t receive our sample in two weeks.

It showed up in four weeks and when I pulled it out of the box, it looked nothing like our original design.

Instead of being full length, it was knee-length.

Instead of a sweetheart neckline, it had a scoop neck.

Instead of spaghetti straps that tied around the neck, it had thick straps that went straight back.

To top it off, he had included a “sash” to be tied around the waist in a bow!

My co-founder and I got on Skype (we didn’t live in the same city) and I showed her a dress that couldn’t have looked more different than the one we designed.

We had just spent hundreds of dollars on flights, hotels, a rental car and other travel expenses and we still owed money to pay for a sample we couldn’t use.

It was a critical moment and I had reached a breaking point.

I was mad at myself for not listening to my gut, I was mad at the designer for making us fly across the country, and I was mad that we listened to him.

All signs pointed to: You’re crazy for thinking you could do this.

Quit now.

And that would have been a much easier option — except that’s not how dreams work.

I was either going to do this, despite how freaking hard it would continue to be, or I was going to walk away.

Thank goodness, I decided to keep going.

To be fair, it didn’t get any easier in the following eight months. But we did make some big decisions and changes to simplify our business idea from a line of 10 pieces to just one piece that could be worn multiples ways.

We launched our Kickstarter, becoming the highest-funded fashion project, and found the mentorship from someone who had done it before. That partnership single-handedly helped us push forward and go into production with 4x the capital we had planned on.

When I was wandering through this industry uncertain about what to do next, I found someone to help me.

I hope I can be that someone for you.

Everything you need to launch the business of your dreams is within your reach.

 

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Sew Shop Talk: Introducing COsewn

Jessica Montoya is the literal boots on the ground of the ‘Made in the USA’ movement. Experienced designer, skilled sewer, project manager, entrepreneur and mother, she owns COsewn, an apparel production facility in Colorado.

She has grown from freelancing in her home to opening a full production space in just a few years, while paying all of her employees above minimum wage.

Jessica’s name has come up in various conversations with other skilled professionals in the industry, and I was thrilled when she agreed to do an interview for us. People like Jessica are pivotal to increasing the re-shoring of domestic manufacturing, and we can all learn a lot from her about what it will take.

Tell us about yourself and COsewn – how did you get started in apparel production?

I started sewing seriously in high school, which led to dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Costume Technology and Arts Management. After working in the opera world for a few years, I transitioned into freelance work, mainly custom tailoring and small run production sewing. This led to product development and production pattern making, all of which I did out of my home for a number of years.

In 2014, I moved the business into a commercial warehouse space in order to set up large production cutting tables and additional industrial machines. I’ve also hired several sewing / production assistants and have been focused on expanding our factory’s capabilities.

cosewn-jess

What types of services does COsewn offer?

We offer customized product development packages that include technical design, patterns, and sample making for apparel and accessories. Our experience spans women’s, men’s, children’s, and decor categories.

We offer low minimum cut and sew production, tagging, and packaging of lightweight knits and wovens to clients who are able to provide a production ready pattern and sample; pattern audits are required to ensure the sewing will be accurate and cost effective in a production environment.

Describe your ideal client. What kind of designer do you love working with?

The ideal client is detail oriented and prepared through each stage of the process, and demonstrates willingness and ability to follow the checklists we provide. We work with designers to outline what must be ready for each step in order to effectively manage time and meet deadlines. This process requires designers to be very involved and sufficiently plan ahead.

COsewn is a great fit for sustainable businesses that want their products to be ‘Made in the USA.’  Our clients often use a direct to consumer approach for selling, which helps offset the costs associated with retail mark-ups and the higher per unit rates of small runs.

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What are some of the biggest challenges you tackle in your work?

I am committed to paying my staff a living wage vs. minimum wage, and believe in creating local jobs for our communities. Also, Made in the USA is becoming more of a buzz word, and as larger companies are shifting production back to the States, the more established sewing factories are becoming very busy and turning away smaller runs from emerging designers, as they are more difficult to turn a profit on.

Since most of our domestic industry shifted overseas 20 years ago, there is a very small pool of American garment workers remaining with production experience, as many have either retired or moved on to other fields. Now, there is momentum building for small cut & sew shops like COsewn, but most of us are still working very hard to build up our capabilities and get workers trained and up to speed.

It is also unfortunate, but I regularly hear first hand about other domestic factories and home production sewing gigs that rely heavily on undocumented and/or immigrant workers who struggle on piece rates to barely hit minimum wage. We cannot compete with the piece rates that these factories offer, but we can guarantee that our workers at COsewn are American citizens and are treated fairly.

I am passionate about creating an environment that makes factory sewing appealing to young Americans, in order to attract young blood to a work force and skill set that is on the verge of disappearing. This effort requires significant training and investment, and comes with the pressure of keeping workers busy with tasks that are suited to their varying skill levels.

Eventually, I envision having a staff that is fully cross-trained on different machines and jobs throughout the development and production cycles.

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Why do you feel U.S. manufacturing is a positive step for the fashion industry as a whole?

There has been tremendous growth in the independent designer category, and consumers are beginning to support a movement to buy locally-made apparel just as they consume locally grown food and microbrews.

By manufacturing in the US, factories are more accessible to designers, who are able to supervise their production first hand; this ensures a higher level of transparency combined with better oversight and communication.

Also, designers have the option of lower minimums than typically offered overseas, coupled with faster turnaround times. As designers establish solid relationship with local factories, we’ll see more brands be able to respond quickly to trends and mid-season reorders at a reasonable cost.

The demand for ‘Made in the USA’ is increasing, but we are currently dealing with a shortage of skilled labor. Hopefully, this interest will create a new draw for people to once again be inspired by the value of learning the sewing trade. This resurgence in the handmade goods sector is bringing back interest and value for quality made products, which hopefully will encourage American solidarity. Thus, the handcrafted skills we possess and desire to sustain are becoming invaluable and should not be taken for granted.

You can read more made-in-the-USA startup success stories here.

Photo credit: Seamly.co, COsewn