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live without

How I Run My Business: The People & Tools I Can’t Live Without

Whether it’s the solopreneur working from home with two kids or the startup founder running a team of 40 in Brooklyn, I’m fascinated by the systems that entrepreneurs create to grow and maintain their businesses.

On that note, I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to the tools and people I rely on every day to keep Factory45 running as smoothly as possible.

Before I get started, you should know that it wasn’t until the Fall of 2014 that I felt financially secure enough to make my first hire. So, in case you’re just starting your business now, remember that this doesn’t happen overnight.

THE PEOPLE

Rather than hiring full-time employees, I prefer to stay lean and hire contractors to help with critical components of my business. With sites like Upwork and HireMyMom.com it’s easy to hire part-time contractors, making it a win-win for you and for the person you’re hiring.

The contractor has the autonomy to run their own freelance business, set their own schedule and work from anywhere. The perk for you is that you can hire someone who specializes in the 1-2 skills you’re looking for.

I currently work with seven part-time contractors, who have (thankfully) become a well-oiled machine. I can act as project manager between each moving part, knowing that every person is doing their job as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

It helps that every single one of them is also an ace at what they do, so building up trust happens quickly.

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Erika (Phoenix, AZ) manages the publishing of blog posts and the scheduling of emails for Factory45. So, for example, what you’re reading right now? She made it happen. After I write the content in a Google doc, I send the link to her with the photos to accompany it, and she designs it all on WordPress and ActiveCampaign.

 

Inaina (Atlanta, GA) designs the Keynote presentations that eventually become video lessons in the Factory45 program. She’s a former Apple employee with a profound knowledge of anything related to a Mac, and I was able to snag her off of Upwork nearly two years ago.

 

Shaunshaun (Seattle, WA) is the graphic designer for the Factory45 program. He creates the PDF’s, exercises, to-do lists and visual elements of the online course. I’m always telling him he’s fast as lightning (really, the man can whip up a PDF quicker than anyone I know).

 

Joshjosh (San Diego, CA) is the video editor for the Factory45 program and hiring him has saved me hours of time. After I record a video lesson for the course, I’m able to send Josh the draft so he can edit out any bloopers or mistakes. Rather than starting over every time I misspeak, hiring Josh allows me to record just one run-through.

 

Emilyemily (San Francisco, CA) has done all of the web design and development for the main Factory45 website and blog, as well as the private portal where my entrepreneurs are able to access the Factory45 program. She is the workhorse of the whole online operation and makes sure everything runs smoothly and looks beautiful.

 

Jerodostermeier-cpa copy (West Plain, MO) is my accountant and has managed the financial side of Factory45 as the business has continued to grow over the past two years. I’ve worked with Jerod since 2011 when I was making a poverty-line wage, so it’s been exciting to have him along for this ride. His help has also been invaluable in keeping all of my ducks in a row.


I know a lot of entrepreneurs hire people to do their blog writing and social media posting, but I’m pretty adamant about writing all of the content myself. You’ll never see a blog post with my name on it that wasn’t written by me. And every single word of the Factory45 program was written by me over many, many months.

There are only so many hours in the day, so hiring out “specialists” to take over the work that isn’t my strength, allows me to grow without burning out.

In addition to written content, I take the reins on strategic marketing, relationship building and most importantly, working with my entrepreneurs through Factory45.

THE TOOLS

  • Asana: Seriously, can’t live without it. It’s the ultimate task management resource. I was first introduced to it when I worked a brief stint for Danielle LaPorte in 2013 and I’ve relied on it ever since.
  • WordPress: I use WordPress for the Factory45 website, the blog and the program portal. I know how to create a blog post, but under Emily’s strict orders, I’m not allowed to touch anything else ; )
  • Google Drive: This is where all of my written content lives. I have close to 30 different folders for blog posts, launch strategies, marketing, each of my contractors, media outreach, etc. During the rare times that Google Drive crashes, my brain crashes too.
  • Dropbox: I use Dropbox as a collaborative sharing tool between myself, Emily, Shaun, Ina and Josh. It’s easy to transfer finished content from person to person so that it all ends up where it needs to be.
  • Edgar: For $49 a month, Edgar will save all of the social media posts that you schedule, and recycled them at a later date. Only a fraction of your audience sees a tweet or Facebook post when you send it out, so this ensures that your content doesn’t go to waste after one use.
  • ActiveCampaign: At the beginning of 2016, I made the transition from MailChimp (the email marketing platform I had been using since 2010) to ActiveCampaign. I wanted a fresh start and to clean house with my list, and with more advanced capabilities, I made the decision to migrate and I haven’t looked back.

I want to reiterate again that I bootstrapped for a long time and did everything by myself until I was ready to hand over some control.

When you’re first starting out it’s expected that you run all operations and stretch yourself thin so you have an understanding of everything that goes on in running your business.

 

 

 


 

How to Define the “Why” Behind Your Business

Last week, I was having celebratory drinks with a friend right around the time applications to Factory45 were closing.

“So…” she asked. “How did it go?! Did you have a lot of awesome people apply?”

When I told her yes, that I doubled the applicant pool and grew by 156%, her next question was:

“What’s next then? Are you going to blow this thing up or what?”

I took a sip of my drink, giving me time to try and come up with an answer that wouldn’t disappoint her.

“I don’t think so…” I said. “I like keeping things relatively small and manageable. I like having work / life balance and not being overwhelmed by a ton of other commitments.”

As the words came out of my mouth, I knew how they sounded.

Unambitious, at best.

Lazy, at worst.

My friend, on the other hand, runs a women’s clothing brand and is gunning for an IPO.

Her and her business partner dream of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, having hundreds of employees to manage, and working out of a big corporate headquarters.

Me? I just want to be able to go to yoga at noon on a Tuesday.

While there was once a time that I dreamed of running a 7-figure business, the “why” behind my work has changed over the years.

And having been on both sides of the spectrum, I can tell you there isn’t a right or a wrong motive for doing business.

What can get you in trouble is deciding to start a company and not having a “why” at all.

Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, the “Lean In” movement, feminism and the amazing work that female executives are doing to boost leadership, women business owners are being pushed to want it all.

Yes, we hear, you can be a CEO and be a really great mom.

And while I believe that’s absolutely true, it doesn’t mean that you have to want it.

Is it okay to start a business so your family has an extra $1,000/month in spending money? Yes.

Is it okay to start a business so you can quit your full-time job and be at home when your kids are done with school? Absolutely.

Is it okay to start a business so you can work remotely and travel the word? Of course.

And YES, it’s also okay to want to be the next Tory Burch.

At the very beginning of the Factory45 program, I ask all of my entrepreneurs to write down the “vision” for their company in a one-page business plan.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we should all be asking ourselves to write down the “vision” for our lives, as the owners and creators of our businesses.

As you take this big step and make the commitment to embark on entrepreneurship, ask yourself:

What is my “why?”

What are the personal reasons for wanting to start a business?

Is it for fame, for glamour, for wealth, for freedom, for security, for flexibility, for fun?

As time goes on, your answer can change. But it’s your “why” that’s going to keep you moving past the hurdles and the hard times.

It’s your “why” that’s going to define you as an entrepreneur.

And whether you’re the entrepreneur who comes home at 10pm every night, fulfilled by a hard day’s work, or the entrepreneur who works 30 hours a week and has afternoon dance parties in her home office, only you know what will move you and drive you forward.

Define your “why” and you’ll be that much closer to defining your business.

 

 

Photo credit: Bench Accounting


From Journalism Student to Fashion Entrepreneur: What They Won’t Tell You

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.

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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.

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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.

production

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.

-the-versalette-lookbook

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

 


Important Marketing Tool

The Most Important Marketing Tool for Fashion Brands & How to Use It

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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Factory45

christine-concepcion

Introducing the Entrepreneurs of Factory45 Fall 2015: Part II

These are always my favorite posts to write. I love introducing you to the entrepreneurs who are coming through the Factory45 program right now. If you missed the last introduction to the Fall 2015 crew it’s here.

We are three modules into the program, having already focused on fabric/materials sourcing, branding and pre-production and there is already so much progress being made. From landing page launches to samples being sewn to production partners being visited.

In no particular order, here are the next six entrepreneurs I’d love for you to get to know, follow and support.

Christine Concepcion and I connected in 2014 right after I launched the pilot program of Factory45. We followed each other on Instagram and then this past September, I was so excited to see her application come through. Christine already launched her brand Tsoia with a small run of sustainably-made tees, but she’s diving into the even bigger feat of launching an outerwear brand. Based in Los Angeles, Christine is exploring the world of custom wool knits to create sustainable options for unisex outerwear that is made in the USA.

colleen-monroeColleen Monroe first reached out to interview me for her design podcast Cloth&Cube. When applications opened to Factory45 in September I was surprised to learn that she was looking to launch her own brand. With a background in costume design and experience working in film and TV, Colleen is starting out by creating the perfect pants for working women. Her plan is to design a new kind of professional wardrobe that can take women through all facets of her day.

 

peg steleyPeg Steley is a jewelry-maker-now-clothing-designer creating the perfect travel dress for women. Launching Margo Polo, Peg is creating the new go-to destination for women who want to read travel advice and browse through travel products curated specifically for them. Deeming this a travel product rather than a fashion product, Peg says the dress fits into a 6×6 pouch and minimizes packing. After spending her early career producing large scale events and then another 20 years raising her children, Peg is taking entrepreneurship by the horns inspired by her travels around the world.

katie-hallKatie Hall is the founder and curator of Wynn Ruby, an e-commerce boutique for children’s clothing. Based in Austin, TX, Katie is now designing her own line of infant clothing to add to her shop. She is the mother of two little girls and still finds time to get involved with the local small businesses in Austin through pop-up shops and markets.

 

 

ashley-lovellAshley Lovell graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and is now an actress in New York City. An inherent creative, Ashley plans to shake up the fashion industry by repurposing and upcycling old garments into new ones. Having as close to a zero footprint on the environment as possible, Ashley is looking to take the waste from other ethical design companies to create one-of-a-kind pieces.

 

sarah-valinSarah-Valin Bloom is an artist based out of New York and New Jersey who is a former trauma therapist specialized in PTSD. She graduated from Columbia University and is looking to pivot her career path by creating a line of womenswear. Through her line, Sarah-Valin wants to bring about an increased consciousness, joy and peace to the women who wear her clothes.

 

 


 

factory45 owner shannon

 

entrepreneur

Introducing the Entrepreneurs of Factory45 Spring 2015

We’re five weeks into the spring session of Factory45, and I want to give you an inside look into some of the projects coming through the program.

This year’s cohort is made up of 32 companies from all over the continent and we’re working together to source fabric, set up manufacturing, create a launch strategy and raise money to fund production.

Over the next few months, I’ll be introducing you to some of the entrepreneurs coming through the program, as well as the different products they’re working on.

In addition to the startup stories I’m highlighting today, we created this infographic to give you an overview of the group.

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Today, I want to introduce you to a few Factory45’ers who are working on very different products and serving a variety of markets. If you see entrepreneurship in your future, I hope they inspire you to see that ideas can come from the most unlikely of places.

laurie-landsness1Laurie Landsness is an interior designer, mom of twins and immensely passionate about skin health. Because of her daughter’s skin condition that causes extreme sensitivity to sunlight, Laurie joined Factory45 to create a line of children’s clothing with built-in UV ray protection.

As Laurie told me in her Factory45 application, the majority of skin damage happens before the age of 20. It’s imperative that parents start thinking seriously about daily skin protection for their kids, and Laurie wants to make it easier for them with her company, Mack & G.

hanna-baror-padillaHanna Baror-Padilla and I first met through her sustainable fashion blog, Sotela. Highlighting and photographing many different designers’ pieces, Hanna was inspired to create a clothing company of her own.

What started as maternity wear, has evolved into a line of womenswear to be worn through every phase of life. Taking on a bohemian chic aesthetic, with inspiration from popular lifestyle blogger Kelli Murray, Hanna is out to prove maternity wear doesn’t have to be discarded after nine months.

sarah-resnickSarah Resnick lives a mile down the street from me and we met last year when Factory45 had just launched. She was already running a wildly successful baby wrap company, but was looking to expand to a different market where she saw a bigger market need to fill.

Sarah joined Factory45 this year to grow her new company, Advah Designs, a line of Jewish prayer shawls and wedding chuppahs. Entering one of the oldest industries in the world, Sarah is injecting a freshness and new light to the Judaic community with brightly colored prints and original artwork.

rachel-schon-and-melinaRachel Schohn and Melina Harper are friends, moms and business partners in Marin County outside of San Francisco. Seeking timeless, durable clothing that could be passed down from one son or daughter to the next, they started to experiment with their husband’s old dress shirts. As their friends caught on and started asking for pieces of their own, Petite Marin was born.

Through Factory45, Rachel and Melina have set out to scale production by working with a sew shop in the Bay Area. They’ll also be upping their ecommerce game, creating a marketing strategy and building a crowdfunding campaign for a full-scale launch of their first production run.

dyan-reevesDyan Reeves fell in love with Japanese kimonos at the age of 8. Years later, she’s now stationed in Japan with her military husband and has been creating scarves, bags, ties, passport holders, clothing and other pieces from upcycled kimonos. Her company is called Cultural Detour.

She will begin manufacturing with a production partner in the U.S. when her husband is relocated — until then, she is working to fill the current demand from her neighbors and local military wives while setting up an online presence and determining the best way to scale.

This is just a small sampling of some of the projects coming through Factory45 this year, and I’ll be sharing other stories sporadically over the coming months.

In case you’re considering Factory45 for the fall or in the future, here is what some of the current cohort are saying about the program:

“Worth every penny. The format is perfect – you lay it out for us brick by brick.” – Laurie

“I have to say joining Factory45 has made such a difference! I’m so glad I joined :)” – Mariana

“I am loving how this process pushes us to think more deeply…” – Niki

“I have really been enjoying Factory45 thus far! I love the videos and how easy and clear they are to understand and follow.” – Kaya

“Loving the class so far, btw. You really break things down for us newbies and help me from feeling overwhelmed. This group is AWESOME too. Loving all the resources everyone brings.” – Tiffany

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

 

The Reason New Designers Get a Bad Rep

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.

 

 

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Are you an aspiring entrepreneur or designer who’s new to the apparel industry? Get the free “Manufacturing Checklist” from Factory45 here.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Francis 


Factory45 6 Months Later… Where Are They Now?

The Factory45 2014 program officially ended yesterday, and it’s been hard to find the words to describe the past six months.

Challenging? Yes.

Rollercoaster? Oh, yeah.

Personally fulfilling and potentially life-changing? No doubt about it.

When I started brainstorming the concept of the program at the beginning of 2014 I threw myself in without a backup plan. I outlined what the program would look like on paper, made a billion to-do lists, and mapped out a timeline of when and how I could launch what was only sitting in my brain.

Following a track record of unpredictable situations I get myself into (silent meditation retreat in Thailand, anyone?), I put my head down, focused on the goal at hand and didn’t give much thought to all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work out.

It seemed that with each step — outline a program, build a website, open applications, tell the media about the program, review applications, accept 10 applicants, launch the program — I found myself reaching the next step not really knowing how I got there. It was kinda like, “Well I guess that worked. I should probably keep going.”

And while this thought process may sound a bit flippant and borderline irresponsible, it’s the only way I would have been able to move forward with something as colossal as what I was about to take on.

So come June, I found myself with 10 companies under my guidance, a 26-week program in the works, and the promise that my plan would work for everyone. Six months later, here I am (thankfully), having done what I said I would do.

The best part is that 11 entrepreneurs have also successfully made it through the program. Because honestly, they are the ones who did the heavy lifting. And throughout it all, they have been the ones responsible for moving their companies forward.

Teach a (wo)man to fish, if you will…

While some of the entrepreneurs in the program have made giant leaps, others have made smaller bounds. Many were going through the program with full-time jobs or taking grad school classes or in the case of one, planning a destination wedding.

Originally, I had envisioned everyone launching crowdfunding campaigns now, but I’ve since learned that you can’t rush the process. People work at different paces, certain tasks take longer than others and if you’re not enjoying the journey, then what’s the point?

Regardless of where each company is in comparison to one another, every single one of them now has the tools, structure, resources and community to successfully launch a company. And that’s not something most people can say.

For those of you who are interested in the tangible results of the past six months, here are a few examples of some of the progress that has been made:

JESSE

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Where she started: Jesse had been working on her women’s apparel company, Eenvoud, since she graduated from Parsons School of Design two years ago. She had created sketches of her first collection, done some draping, and had started looking for sustainable fabrics but was unable to make much traction.

Where she is now: All of the patterns and samples for Eenvoud’s first collection have been completed and are production ready. Jesse has sourced the perfect fabric that fits her sustainability guidelines. She has created a defined and targeted brand vision and is launching her new website in the next few days. She has written and created a strategy for a Kickstarter campaign and will be launching it early spring.

MIKAELA

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Where she started: Mikaela joined Factory45 in June with no fashion background, very little tech experience, and zero knowledge of manufacturing. She came to me with an idea for organic cotton children’s clothing and wanted to print her own photographs onto each piece in a “non-toxic” way. I was hesitantly optimistic, knowing how difficult it would be to find the printing option she wanted at the minimums she was looking for, but I encouraged her to keep after it.

Where she is now: After being told “no” by supplier after supplier, printer after printer and factory after factory, Mikaela has set up a supply chain within the U.S. that has never before existed. She also found a textile printer to work with on a special process that doesn’t require PVC plastic or plastisol. Mikaela also set up her own Shopify website, has production-ready patterns and samples, sourced 100% U.S.-grown organic cotton and has already been contacted by bloggers wanting to write about her. Ruth & Ragnar will officially debut February 2015.

HEIDI

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Where she started: When Heidi was crowned “Miss Wheelchair Kentucky” in 2012 she had the opportunity to speak to physically disabled youth all over the country. Time after time, she empathized with her peers about the lack of fashionable clothing that was also functional and comfortable for people in wheelchairs. She knew she wanted to create what she and her friends couldn’t find on the market, but she had no idea where to start.

Where she is now: With the help of a talented designer within my network, Heidi has created two prototypes of blue jeans for both men and women in wheelchairs. She has sourced American-made denim and her entire supply chain will be set up within a 100-mile radius in North Carolina, reducing the carbon footprint of her company to a fraction of most companies. She has written and created a crowdfunding campaign that will launch early spring 2015.

ANGELA

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Where she started: Angela and her husband, Mike, started working on their product, the Mamachic, three years ago. They trademarked and registered their company name and logo, created a projected production budget, and worked with consultants to source materials and design a prototype. And then, as can often happen, they hit a standstill.

Where she is now: Angela has four samples of a newly designed prototype that is more functional, sustainable and durable than the original. She can’t leave the house wearing one of the samples without someone stopping her and asking about it. She has sourced all of her materials, launched a brand new website, is working with a production partner in Colorado and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in early 2015.

TINA

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Where she started: Tina has also been working on her product, The Spark Board, for the past two years. She says she did all of the “fun” stuff first (like branding) and when she reached her launch deadline this time last year, she realized there were some holes in her supply chain so she hit the brakes.

Where she is now: Tina was the only furniture maker in Factory45 but through sustainable fashion connections, I was able to connect her with a reclaimed wood supplier. From there, she put all of the other pieces into place for her supply chain, set up her manufacturing and fulfillment center, and relaunched her blog and social media presence. She will launch a Kickstarter campaign for The Spark Board in February 2015 in addition to her brand new Shopify site.

LARA

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Where she started: Lara was the only person in Factory45 who already had an established business. She came into the program wanting to grow her existing sales and also launch a new piece that better fit the long-term vision of her company.

Where she is now: Lara has redesigned and relaunched two beautiful websites (one for her company Forest and Fin and one for her artwork). She has a completed design and prototype of her “bicycle wrap skirt” that she’ll launch with a Kickstarter campaign in spring 2015. The sales for her Forest and Fin tees have gone up, she’s writing regularly on her blog and she is steadily growing her social media presence. She has also grown her community of entrepreneurs in Savannah and is one of the featured makers in a month-long holiday pop-up shop this year.

I could go on and on about everyone (and I will in blog posts to come) but for now, that’s a quick recap featuring a selection of Factory45’ers whose finish was much different than their start. Jenn, Emily, Sharon, Jon & Alexander, I am just as impressed with the progress you have all made and will make sure everyone knows about it, too. : )

A personal note: to everyone in Factory45, I am blown away by your dedication, hard work and persistence throughout the past six months. It amazes me that you were all so willing to put your faith in me, knowing that I had never done this before, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Whatever Factory45 becomes in the future, I will always owe it to the 11 of you for helping me get started and for making the inaugural year so memorable.

With deepest gratitude,

Shannon

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing the Carolina Textile District

This weekend I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit designers, sewers, project managers, and other industry professionals I’ve only before had a chance to speak with by phone or email.
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It never fails to amaze me how much goes into making our clothes, and I’m always grateful to get an inside look at the process. After a weekend exploring downtown Asheville, I started Monday morning bright and early in Burnsville, NC to meet designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell of Be Well Designed.

Three Factory45’ers are working with Kristin on concept designs, samples and patterns, so it was a long overdue treat to meet in her studio. Kristin has an extensive background in design, patterning and samplemaking, and it was awesome to see where all of the magic happens.

carolina-3 copyFrom Burnsville, I headed to Morganton to visit Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned cut and sew facility that has been able to successfully change the traditional business model to one that is as empowering for the sewers as it is for the project managers.
carolina-4 copyMolly Hemstreet, who oversees Opportunity Threads, has been an amazing resource and connection for me throughout the past year, and it already felt like I knew her when I walked inside. She gave me a tour of the facility, shared their plans for expansion, and showed me some of the products they’re working on. OT has been able to steadily grow since they opened their doors in 2008 and are nearly busting at the seams six years later.
carolina-5 copyThere is a prominent Mayan population in Morganton and several of the skilled sewers have come into OT with factory experience from Guatemala. Through the Opportunity Threads model, they have autonomy to track their own output and have a direct stake in profit and losses. From an outsider’s perspective, this balance of independence, leadership and collaboration was something I hadn’t seen in similar facilities before and it was incredibly refreshing.
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Both Be Well Designed and Opportunity Threads are members of the Carolina Textile District, a network of textile manufacturers, sewers, printers and professionals that help entrepreneurs start made in the USA businesses when they’re ready to go into production. I was able to also meet with Tanya Wade and Dan St. Louis who are two of the key players in making The District a long-term solution.

At the Manufacturing Solutions Center in Conover, NC, Tanya gave me a tour of the facility where they test everything from furniture to fibers to baby products, and house two 3-D printers. MSC is a non-profit that also serves as an incubator to product-based entrepreneurs in both the textile and tech spaces.
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Both Tanya and Dan are collaborating with community leaders in NC, like Kristin and Molly, to “reshore” jobs back to the States and further grow the Made in the USA movement. They are the incredibly hardworking people behind the scenes, moving forward everyday to bring jobs back home.

So where does Factory45 fit into all of this? Based on conversations with Molly and Tanya, The District gets 5-8 emails a week from entrepreneurs looking for fabric suppliers and production partners. About 30-50 percent of those inquiries are from people who do not yet have a solid business plan, marketing strategy or brand vision.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Does a manufacturer really care if I have my marketing plan together?” the answer is is a resounding “YES.” Every project they take on is a personal investment, and The District does not take on entrepreneurs who do not have an initial business strategy in place.

With Factory45, I’m offering a solution for entrepreneurs to become “production-ready,” preparing them to work with resources like The District.

To learn more about the incredible people working in the Carolina Textile District, you can check out Be Well Designed, Opportunity Threads, Manufacturing Solutions Center & The District.

 

10 Companies Prepare for Launch: A Factory45 Update

It’s strange to say, but when Factory45 started in June I couldn’t envision getting to early October. It seemed so far away, to be two-thirds of the way through the program, and I had no idea what to expect from the months leading up to it. The worst-case-scenario questions going through my mind were silenced just enough to not paralyze me into inaction, but they were there all the same:

“What if all 10 companies drop out before the program is done?”

“What if I realize it was a terrible idea?”

“What if this doesn’t work?”

With both Modules 1 and 2 now complete, I can (gratefully) say the past four months have exceeded all expectations. Four months in, all 10 companies are still pushing through and making measurable progress with their products.

Looking at some of the numbers: 8 out of 10 are currently in the pattern-and-sample-making phase, 7 out of 10 have finalized their fabric sourcing, and 9 out of 10 have or are close to having finished websites.

Isamplemaking-2n their own words (from the mid-program feedback survey I sent out):

“I have made more progress since I started F45, than I have in 2 years trying to do this on my own.”

“I’ve accomplished so much more than I would have on my own and feel very accountable to the program, which has caused me to pull the trigger on decisions that I would have otherwise dilly dallied on. The biggest benefit for me is the weekly structure; it keeps me super focused and organized. Although I do often feel overwhelmed working on all of the different aspects of my business simultaneously, F45 has made the process so much clearer and more manageable.”

“I remain so impressed. Your organization and presentation are that of someone who has been doing this for years. I have loved this and am a bit afraid of it ending.”

That’s not to say everything has been rainbows and butterflies or that I wouldn’t change anything. The group has collectively had to overcome a lot of “imposter syndrome,” fear, and self doubt. For many of them, it has taken time to trust themselves and to navigate their way through the high’s and low’s of the entrepreneurial rollercoaster.

There have been tears on 1-on-1 calls, “freak out moments” via email, and high-pressure moments of angst. Very little is happening on the timeline I had planned for, which has simply meant I’ve had to adapt and adjust my expectations of how things “should” be progressing.

samplemakingWhen I think back on the past four months, though, I am incredibly proud of what has been accomplished. It’s those moments that are celebrated together, whether it’s on a Wednesday night group call or when I get a text at 8:30 on a Friday night asking for a “quick chat,” that I hold in my memory with immense gratitude. To have a small part in creating 10 new businesses, that could effectively make real, marked change, is not something I’ve taken for granted.

As we enter into Module 3 next week, I’ll prepare my Factory45’ers for launch and for the next phase of their journey without me. To have an accelerated start, the support of peer mentorship and the tools and resources to keep forging ahead is something that I wish everyone could have when they’re first starting out.

The challenge in the next two months will be preparing everyone to leave the proverbial “nest” that has become as much a routine as it has a safe haven. The challenge will be in ensuring 10 new entrepreneurs that they have what it takes to finish what most people only dream of starting.

Photo credit: Jesse Syswerda and Angela Tsai