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dictate your success

I have a friend in the sustainable fashion industry who is amazing.

Out of college, she interned for an international eco-fashion brand, she’s worked for big designers in NYC, she’s helped to run a fashion-tech startup on the west coast, and she’s constantly debuting her own creative projects.

One of her most recent endeavors is a podcast with people in the sustainable fashion industry and to announce it, she sent out an email to her network.

When a big-name womenswear designer replied back my friend was awestruck.

“I can’t believe she is interested!” she said to me.

To which I replied, “Um, of course she’s interested. You’re, like, amazing. And everything you do is amazing.”

“Do you think I should ask if I can interview her?” Insert grimace of trepidation.

Me: “Uh, YES! I’m sure she would be honored! Do it!”

It took less than a week for my friend to hear back from the designer and get an interview on the books.

As an outsider looking in on the situation, it was so clear to me why this person would immediately say “yes” to my friend’s request.

My best guess is that the designer was equally thrilled and honored to be asked.

But to my friend, making the ask was scary and nerve-racking. She was the one having to make herself vulnerable to rejection and in doing so, the stakes were automatically heightened.

We all put people on pedestals (I’ve written about imposter syndrome before here). Most of us can think of at least one person we feel inadequate to. We get it in our heads that because of our [age / experience / station in life / upbringing / background / etc.] we’re not worthy of the people around us.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from one of my entrepreneurs in Factory45:

“I reached out to this patternmaker… she wrote me back once and then I never heard from her again. It really knocked my confidence.”

Fact: As entrepreneurs, we cannot let our perception of others dictate the decisions we make and how we navigate forward.

As soon as we do, we’re letting other people determine our success.

For all we know, we’re letting an unanswered email that could’ve ended up in a spam folder, hinder us from moving forward.

And yes, we all do it. Sure, there is the occasional ego-less robot whose confidence doesn’t waver, but for the rest of us mortals we can’t help but question our place among others.

Where do I belong? Am I understood? These are questions humans have been asking themselves since the beginning of time — back when we were using rocks as dishware.

But I’d argue that as entrepreneurs, those questions take on an even deeper meaning. Do my ideas matter? Am I making the world a better place?

dictate success, imposter syndrome, people on pedestals

We tend to look for outside opinions to validate those answers.

Recently, I was connected with an entrepreneur in the venture capital and development space, who has been a coach to entrepreneurs for several decades.

Originally, we were supposed to jump on call to talk through a pre-interview so I could be on his podcast, but after our call, he told me he wanted to do more.

“Shannon,” he said. “How can I support you beyond a 30-minute podcast? I really believe in what you’re doing and you’re one of the only people out there doing it. How can I help you?”

When we got back on the phone he expressed interest in mentoring me and immediately my thoughts jumped to:

“Why would he be interested in me?”

“How can I fairly compensate him?”

“I don’t want to waste his time…”

When we got on our third call it was clear how much he believed in Factory45. No strings attached. He wanted to do what he could to help me succeed.

So, why did I question my worth? Because of his LinkedIn profile? Or his bio? Or his successful company and connections to other entrepreneurs I admire?

Why do those external factors dictate our internal dialogue?

Because they shouldn’t.

If we’re all going to succeed as entrepreneurs (and yes, there is enough success for all of us), then we can’t hold back, waiting to see how others will respond.

We have to take the favor from the exec we met at a networking event. We have to click “send” on the cold pitch to Vogue. We have to accept the meeting with the intimidating industry veteran. We have to believe we’re worthy of the help we are offered.

It’s safe to say there isn’t anyone giving us gold stars or A+’s anymore. It’s our job as highly-capable, driven entrepreneurs to give them to ourselves.

The future of our businesses depend on it.

 

 

*This post was published with permission from Kestrel.


Factory45 Apply Now

When I was a sophomore in high school my best friend’s mom told me:

“Shannon, you’re not for everyone. People either love you or they don’t.”

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the best thing to say to an insecure 16 year old but in her defense, I was a pain in the ass.

When I was younger I was opinionated, bossy and vocal. There were multiple times when I was asked to leave my world history class for arguing a point too emphatically (Ms. Gillard, I owe you a drink).

Much of my formative years were spent relishing in my “individuality” and how people responded to it. I prided myself on being polarizing because no one had to guess where I stood.

Over the years I’ve chilled out and matured, but this idea of “not being for everyone” has stayed with me — and it’s taught me something about entrepreneurship.

The fastest way to sabotage your business is by trying to be everything to everyone.

Have you heard the expression: If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, then you’re actually appealing to no one?

This is one of the most valuable pieces of marketing advice you can remember.

I’m not suggesting that you start pissing people off, arguing with your customers and forcing your opinions on others. We’re not teenagers anymore.

What I am suggesting is that you get very clear on who your company is meant to serve, so that you don’t waste time trying to market to people who don’t fit that mold.

Not only will this cut down on the risk of competition (which I’ve written about before here and here), but it will ensure that the right people find you.

Market studies have proven that the better you are at establishing a niche, the faster your customers will come out to support you.

Here’s an example: I have a current entrepreneur in Factory45 who launched her company last week. VETTA is a five-piece capsule collection that can be mixed and matched to create a month’s worth of outfits.

Cara, and her co-founder Vanessa, did an excellent job of designing, positioning and marketing their first collection to appeal to a particular niche of women.

While yes, it would be nice if every woman in the world pre-ordered from their Kickstarter campaign, VETTA doesn’t try to appeal to every woman in the world.

The VETTA customer is an aspiring minimalist, conscious consumer and wants to do more with less. The majority of women in the world don’t think about their fashion choices that way, but this positioning has ensured that the right people find out about VETTA and the right press writes about them.

If it was just another run-of-the-mill women’s clothing line on Kickstarter, then I guarantee they wouldn’t have seen the success they’ve had.

That’s all to say, VETTA reached its $30,000 goal in five days and was featured by Who What Wear and Darling Magazine.

VETTA - 5 Pieces

So, how do you make sure that you’re not for everyone?

First, you have to figure out who your customer is by digging deep — in Factory45, I ask my entrepreneurs to answer over 30 questions about their ideal customer.

Where does he/she live? What kind of books does she read? Where does she hang out online? Where does she shop? Is she religious? What political affiliation does she gravitate towards?

You can’t begin to effectively market to your customers until you know who she is, how she feels and what she believes. Everything you message and market is riding on the fact that you know your customer inside and out.

As another example, we can look at my own business. Factory45 is positioned, messaged and marketed in a way that appeals to a certain type of person:

  • I believe in localized manufacturing, so I only work with entrepreneurs who are in the U.S. or Canada where my production partners are.
  • I don’t believe in making more clothing for the sake of making more clothing, so I market to entrepreneurs who want to solve problems for people.
  • Environmental responsibility is important to me so I only accept entrepreneurs who care about sustainability, too.

Factory45 isn’t the only fashion accelerator out there, but it is the only one of its kind. My business model is unique, my philosophies are different, and what I teach can’t be found elsewhere in the fashion education landscape.

This helps to ensure that the right people apply to Factory45 and the wrong people join a different fashion accelerator.

It’s that simple. And it can be that simple for your business, too.

So, the next time you find yourself writing a product description or an “about” page or a sales page that is boring and generic, just think of teenage Shannon…

What would she do? ; )

 

 

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Photo credit (second photo): VETTA


fashion brands

One of the reasons people become “serial entrepreneurs” is because of how much you learn through the process of starting your first, or second, or even third company.

It’s easier to say what you should have known or what you wish you had known when you’re looking back.

I started Factory45 with this in mind — after going through the process of starting a sustainable clothing company with my co-founder, I realized afterwards that there were so many things I wish I had known sooner. I wanted to impart those lessons learned on other aspiring entrepreneurs so they wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

On that note, I’ve asked six designers running established fashion brands to share what they wish they had known as a young fashion startup:

 

katie-rock“I wish I'd known that, no matter how much you love the product, you absolutely have to ensure that: (a) you can get it produced fairly simply/easily (to avoid loss of time/sleep and potential burnout); and (b) the margins are healthy enough that you can not just sustain, but actually grow, the business (or you at least see a clear path to get the margins to that place).  

I also wish I had understood that startups often take time! We thought we'd be an overnight hit, and we took it hard at times when we realized it would take longer than expected. Definitely be hopeful and excited and all of that good stuff, but also be realistic.”

— Katie Rock, co-founder of Activyst

 

tara-st-james“I wish I had known that fashion is about breaking the rules, not following them. That theory is applied to design all the time, but the business of fashion should also be about challenging the status quo, not following the calendar, not following what everyone else does and not doing as we're told. That's the only way change will happen in this industry and I wish I had known that sooner.”

— Tara St. James, founder of Study NY

 

colette-chretien“I wish I had known which parts of the sampling and manufacturing process would be good for me to figure out on my own and which steps are vital to have carried out by an experienced professional. There were some things I realized I should have done myself, and a few things that would have saved me time and money in the long run had I outsourced.

I also wish I knew that everything takes so much longer than you think it will. Both in terms of developing a product, and establishing a brand. Patience is important, but complacency is dangerous.”

— Colette Chretien, founder of La Fille Colette

 

taylor-gamine“I wish I had known how much clarity I had starting off—that I felt content and confident knowing what I was setting out to do and who I was trying to speak to. Had I taken stock of this intuition at that early stage, it would have been much easier as my audience grew to know when I'm being true to myself and the narrative I am trying to tell. Even now, as I slowly start to roll out new work, I realize that the hardest thing I have to do in this (post) post modern, socially nomadic world we live in is to just fiercely be myself.”

— Taylor Johnston, founder of Gamine

 

BrassClothing_©HOGGER&Co._web_013“I wish I had known just how important it is to have an audience to launch to. If you want a product-based business, first start by generating a following. This could be through a blog, via Instagram or Twitter. Build up a community of people that is in-line with your future product. When you're ready to launch you'll have an invested group of people you can turn into customers.”

— Jay Adams, co-founder of Brass

 

Delta+Leather+Tote+Bag“I wish I had known that finding great US manufacturing is kind of like speed dating. If it doesn't seem like it's going to work out, make a polite exit, but move on. Their existing operations shouldn't have to adjust much at all to achieve the product to be produced. It should be a very close fit from the very beginning.

I’ve realized over the years that in spite of a manufacturer’s best effort and enthusiasm, sometimes it wasn't enough to get a good product at the right price point in the end. Their capabilities sometimes just didn't match what I was trying to achieve. And as a designer I had to learn how to recognize the pitfalls early in the game to avoid a lot of wasted money time and effort.”

— Matt Mahler, founder of Skye Bags

Know someone who would benefit from reading these six lessons? Use the social buttons on the left of your screen to share on the platform of your choice.

 

 

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

“What products are you most excited about?”

“Which company is your favorite?”

“What startups have been the most successful?”

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

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

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

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

That’s it.

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

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

They live with this mantra in mind:

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

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

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

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

I know this firsthand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without action, an idea is nothing.

 

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Sustainable Fashion Advice

Over the past two years, I’ve worked with over a hundred fashion startups at various stages of business development.

While there are many, many things I’ve observed and learned in that time, there are four big ‘things’ I want to go over today that have the potential to directly affect the success — or downfall — of your company.

Whether you’re already selling product or only have an idea down on paper, keep these big four tucked somewhere in the back of your brain:

Mistake #1: Focusing on sustainability as a marketing tactic instead of making it an inherent part of your business model.

We all love to think the “do-gooder” angle sells, but studies are showing that’s not the case. The product — meaning the usability, functionality, and design — must always sell first. Not only that, but it must sell at a price point your target market will respond to. Supporting roles like branding, social responsibility, and packaging are important, but they’ll never have the same effect on a potential buyer as a really great product.

Taking that a step further, sustainability and ethics should be embedded into your business model as a non-negotiable, not a strategy for saying: “Aren’t we so great?”

I can’t wait for the day when all companies big and small can say, “Well yeah, of course our company manufacturers ethically and transparently” — but even now, that can’t be your main selling point.

Mistake #2: Giving away a percentage of your revenue to charities and non-profits in the first three years of being in business.

This argument isn’t going to win me any popularity points, but hear me out.

There should absolutely be a social impact component of your business, but when you’re first getting started, you need every penny to keep growing. If low-impact materials, domestic job creation, above-average wages and ethical sourcing practices are embedded into your supply chain, then the best thing you can do is invest every cent back into your business so that it doesn’t fail.

I remember when TOM’s first launched in 2006 and everyone was going bonkers over the one-to-one model. Consumers and the media were heralding its social impact without considering where the shoes were actually being made. Meanwhile, the materials were so cheap that the shoes were falling apart after a few wears. (And that was just one of its many problems.)

You ultimately have to decide on the values of your business, but if you’re bleeding cash and can’t continue to give your sewers work, then that doesn’t benefit anyone. Instate a “give-back” component when your company is stable and there is money in the bank.

Which brings me to…

Mistake #3: Not paying attention to cash flow.

You have to have your financial ducks in a row in order to run a successful business that will continue to grow.

My advice is to price your products as high as your target market will tolerate, so that your margin is wide enough to cover expenses — and more. Similar to saving for your personal bank account, you never know when a crisis is going to come up. It’s smart to start building a buffer of cash as soon as possible.

That’s all to say, one of the best things I ever did for my business was hire an accountant. Find someone who offers tiered pricing that correlates with your annual revenue, so it’s not a huge upfront expense. (Shout out to Jerod.)

Mistake #4: Not listening to your customer.

Your customer is more valuable than any other component of your business.

If you ask and listen, then they will tell you what you need to succeed. Don’t be so in love with your original idea that you’re blinded by ways to improve it. Your customer will tell you what they really want, but you need to be smart enough to ask and listen.

I’ll leave you with an example. As some of you already know, my fiancè Ross runs an e-commerce company called Project Repat.

When he was first getting started in 2011 he was traveling to Kenya and working with the second-hand sellers who sell the old t-shirts we donate to GoodWill (yep, that’s where most of our donations end up).

Ross’ idea was to buy those shirts in bulk, upcycle them into “cooler” shirts and tote bags and “repatriate” them by selling them back to “hipster” customers in the States.

Bear with me here.

As he started selling the t-shirts and gaining some attention, he kept hearing the same thing over and over:

“This is cool and all, but what can you do with my shirts?”

Hearing this enough times, Ross and his business partner started listening. They flipped their business model entirely.

Four years later, they now run a 4 million dollar company that takes people’s memorable t-shirts and turns them into t-shirt quilts.

All of their production happens in the U.S. where their sewers are paid a fair and living wage. If Ross had been so in love with the idea of traveling to Kenya and creating international impact, he wouldn’t have heard the needs of his customers.

He likely wouldn’t have created a successful business.

The best thing you can build with you customer is a two-way conversation.

 

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“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

 

Over the weekend, I boarded a ship in Miami with over 2,000 creatives, tech millionaires, celebrities and startup founders for a three-day, invite-only “conference / festival” called Summit at Sea.

In the company of Martha Stewart, John Legend, Harry Belafonte, Blake Mycoskie and the list goes on, I spent the weekend connecting with some of the leading social impact entrepreneurs in the world.

There were a lot of conversations and experiences that I took away from the weekend, but there was one in particular that I want to share today.

On our last night on board, I walked down to one of the bars on the ship by myself. (The great thing about this event was that you couldn’t go more than 30 seconds without someone saying hello and introducing themselves. For better or worse, you never felt alone.)

“I love your dress,” said a blonde-haired woman in her early forties, standing next to me at the bar.

I told her I bought it second-hand and we started chatting about thrift shopping before getting into other topics, ranging from Burning Man to the challenges that minority entrepreneurs face.

It wasn’t until 30 minutes into the conversation that she told me who she was:

A serial entrepreneur who has sold three companies for over 30 million dollars — each.

Upon realizing that I was having a one-on-one conversation with someone as successful as she was, I found myself starting to shrink.

Who was I to be taking up so much of her time?

What could I possibly say that would be interesting to her?

What was I doing here?

I mean, really, who invited me on this damn boat?

My doubts were creeping in, I was feeling like a fraud and I sensed that in any minute, she would excuse herself from the conversation.

“Do you ever get imposter syndrome?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“Oh my gosh, all of the time,” she said.

“Really? Does that feeling ever go away?”

“You know what, you fake it until you make it — and you never actually feel like you make it. I’ve sold three companies and have more money than I’ll ever need, but I still question the validity of my success.”

Instead of the conversation slipping away like I had imagined, we talked for another 30 minutes.

She opened up and told me what it was like to raise venture capital as a woman. We started talking about how we can collectively build each other up as female founders.

The conversation shifted to a place where I no longer felt inferior — I felt empowered. And it was because we were able to relate on a human level.

I realized over the weekend that this was the biggest takeaway.

As people on the “outside,” we can tend to build others up to be…

Larger than life.

summit-at-sea-speakers

I imagined the founders of companies like Google, Warby Parker, Life is Good and TOM’s to have it all together.

Articulate public speakers. Impeccably dressed. Perfectly-trained socializers.

We see power, money and success and automatically put them on a pedestal that raises them above the rest.

And while, yes, their accomplishments are generally unparalleled, our weekend together humanized everyone around me.

(Except for maybe Martha Stewart.)

The founder of Zappos was humble (and hungover) on stage. The founder of Uber was soft spoken and unassuming. Even John Legend was modest and quiet.

Maybe they weren’t all experiencing imposter syndrome, but I don’t think anyone would deny the experience of feeling uncertainty and unworthiness.

It doesn’t matter how much success you’ve seen, how much money you have, or how great your life appears to be on the outside.

We’re all just a bunch of humans doing the best we can.

Having come off of the mental and emotional high of this weekend, I’m challenging myself to appreciate where I am right now while truly believing that what I’ve done is enough.

Regardless of whether you have started your company, are currently in business or are still waiting for the right time to start, I’d encourage you to join me in this.

You are worthy. You have done enough. And you are exactly where you need to be.

When you start to doubt yourself remember that so much of the success of others was based on one overarching fact:

They didn’t stop moving forward — even when they doubted themselves. Or felt like frauds.

They kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Whether it felt like the foot of an imposter or not.

 

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sustainable fashion advice

revolution-apparel

“What happened to your first company?”

It’s a question that I'm asked a lot when people read about {r}evolution apparel and what I was working on before Factory45.

Usually the question is posed with slight trepidation — like the person doesn’t want to bring up a sore subject.

The assumption is that the company fizzled out or flopped or just straight-up failed.

But none of those are true, and I think that’s why it’s so hard for people to understand it.

How could we let go of something so good?

Believe me, it wasn’t easy — but if I know anything, it’s that dreams change. (If they didn’t, then I’d be a strung-out lawyer in downtown Manhattan right now.)

So, here it goes — three years later, the truth about why my first company ended.

It was the summer of 2012 and Kristin, my co-founder, and I had just come off the most successful fashion Kickstarter of all time. We had tripled our goal amount to raise over $64K, quadrupling our first production order of our product, the Versalette.

With the extra capital we raised, we convinced each other that it would be a great idea to embark on a “sustainable fashion tour” of the Pacific Northwest. It would help us build brand awareness, tell people about the Versalette, and film mini documentaries with the help of a film intern.

We bought a 1993 Chevy conversion van off of Craig’s List for $5K, decked it out with a new paint job and {r}evolution apparel branding and drove from Kristin’s parents’ house in Missouri to Vancouver, Canada.

Over the course of the summer, we hit up Seattle, Portland, Eugene and San Francisco, interviewing some of our industry “idols” like Lynda Grose, Kate Fletcher and Justin Dillon. We debuted mini documentaries of our travels each week, blogged about it, hosted in-person events and pop-up shops, and even secured a media sponsor.

sustainable-fashion-tour

We spent two months couch surfing, sleeping in the van when we couldn’t find a place to stay, shipping Versalettes out of our trunk, and flying back and forth to North Carolina where our production was ongoing. We secured our first paid speaking engagement and were paid $3K for a 15-minute talk.

By the time August hit, we were so burnt out that we decided to cut the tour two weeks short. I flew home to Boston to see my high school friend get married, Kristin flew back to Boulder and we agreed we would meet back up in a few weeks.

For more than 60 days, Kristin and I had been together for every waking moment. Through the stress of managing two college interns, through the stress of quality control issues with our sew shop, through the stress of hosting event after event (and keeping up with usual business obligations), our business relationship and friendship had been put through the ringer.

pop-up-shops copy

And then September rolled around and instead of listening to our intuition — slow down, enjoy the journey, don’t rush the process — we flew back to Portland to redesign the Versalette for a second production run.

We secured $30K in angel investment, finalized the “Versalette 2.0,” found a new production partner that better aligned with our aesthetic and mapped out financial projections into 2017.

“We’re going to be the next Spanx!”

“Are we really going to do this for another five years?”

“We should totally get on The Today Show!”

“Do you think we’re going to be able to sell more of these?”

The emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship was a daily mind-warp between, “We can do this!” and “Do we really want to do this?”

It was crazy even to consider letting go of what we had built (as some of our customers later told us).

We had achieved something that most startups only dream about. In our first legitimate year of business, we had surpassed more than $100,000 in sales, and we were profitable. As Kristin has said, that never happens.

We had sold out (almost immediately) of our entire inventory of Versalettes and we had 1,400 new customers who also happened to be our biggest fans.

It was terrifying to walk away from something that we had sunk so much of ourselves into.

But we craved our own identities (at the time, we were known only together as Kristin and Shannon), we craved new projects, we craved new challenges. We started to envision what life would be like on the other side of {r}evolution apparel.

So we said goodbye — knowing that, for both of us, it was more important to part as friends than to stay together as an obligation.

So there you have it: we didn’t go bankrupt or end up hating each other. The dream changed and we decided to listen to our intuition.

Whatever your dream is, I hope you follow it. Great things can happen — things you may not have been able to dream up holding onto the old.

It did for me.

shannon-signature-e1463530563728


Sustainable Fashion Advice


Every few months, I'll get hit with a lack of marketing “mojo.”

Usually, marketing is my top priority. (It should be yours, too, if you’re running a business.) I know the marketing channels that are most effective for me and I’m typically very strict with my output.

But then, all of the sudden, I'll wake up one morning and it's like some sort of whimsy, lazy fairy flew into my life to take all of the motivation away.

Especially when the Factory45 program is in session, I'll start investing more time in helping other people start their businesses and let my own business fall to the wayside. Which is all good and dandy until I'm hit with a major dose of business FOMO.

“Man, I really wish I had made that list.”

“Wow, she got that feature? I wish I had pitched that.”

“I should totally capitalize on that topic and write about it… maybe tomorrow…”

I find myself justifying my lack of motivation with thoughts like: everyone needs a break sometimes… or… I’ll do it after the holiday weekend… or (my favorite one)… it’s summer / holiday season / school vacation, no one is paying attention anyway.

While I’m all about dishing advice and sharing lessons learned, it should go without saying that my entrepreneurial journey is a work in progress just like anyone else’s.

Even writing about not having motivation makes me want to stop writing this post. The struggle is real.

The silver lining, though, is that I’m able to look at this phase as just another state of entrepreneurship — my guess is that even Richard Branson takes a hiatus on his private islands once in a while.

When you don’t have two-weeks designated vacation time or a job that ends at 5pm, it can be easy to forget that very few people push full-steam ahead 100 percent of the time.

And while this is certainly not my first time in entrepreneurial La-La land, it’s the first time I haven’t tried so hard to fight it. I’ve been conscious of not attaching negativity to it even if I would have felt immense guilt in the past.

In doing so, I’ve been able to look at this lack of motivation in a way that will make it easier to manage next time.

In case you ever find yourself in a similar boat, here’s what I’ve observed:

1.) Embrace it. I was traveling for two weeks and by the time I got back to Boston last week, I had caught some sort of illness and completely lost my voice. By Wednesday, my typical writing day, the last thing I wanted to do was write a blog post.

It’s kind of embarrassing how much I struggled with the idea of taking a week off from the blog. What if someone notices they didn’t get an email from me? What will I post on social media during that time slot? What if people unsubscribe?

Eventually, I was able to get rational about the fact that zero people will care if they don’t hear from me. That simple realization allowed me to embrace a free afternoon of laying on the couch with a box of tissues, a cup of tea and a steady line up of Netflix.

It was so much more productive when I chose to embrace the “lack of productivity” rather than waste energy on fighting it.

2.) Give your attention to your behind-the-scenes operations. Lacking the creativity for another Instagram post or quippy tweet? Use the other side of your brain and focus on the aspects that may be pivotal to your business but probably aren’t seen by your customers or audience.

For me, that means giving extra time and attention to my Factory45’ers: jumping on impromptu phone calls when they need it, fully engaging in our private Facebook group, problem solving during office hours, and giving them the best client experience possible.

It may not be direct marketing ammunition, but more important than the perfect Instagram photo is the user experience you’re giving your customers.

3.) This too shall pass. There is nothing constant about running a business. It’s always changing and evolving and depending on the season, your launch schedule, your production timeline and other factors, your marketing mojo will eventually come back to you.

Don’t let your current state convince you that it’s here to stay.

4.) Accept it. There is always going to be a colleague, another designer or a company you look up to, appearing to be multiple steps ahead of you. That’s life — running a business is no different.

The truth is, you’re not missing out. Your experience is unique to you and you’re exactly where you should be. There is always going to be another opportunity, there is enough time, and your journey should be dictated by you — not by an outside perception of someone else.

Do you and good things will happen. 

 

 


Sustainable Fashion Advice

Four years ago I co-created the highest funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at the time.

To fund the first production run of our product, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 30 different ways, my co-founder and I looked to Kickstarter to raise $20K in 30 days.

What happened over those 30 days far surpassed our wildest dreams. Not only did we acquire nearly 800 backers, 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.

When we clicked the launch button we had no idea what to expect. We had an email list of less than 500 people, a Twitter following of about 800 and a Facebook following of less than 1,000.

Kickstarter wasn’t what it is today, so it had far less traffic and didn’t yet have the trust of potential backers who didn’t know what “a Kickstarter” was.

But despite the lack of internet marketing tactics, an advertising budget or a team of employees, my co-founder and I did have one thing on our side.

A compelling story.

K&S-Bio

For a year and a half, we had been leveraging effective storytelling through blogging and social media. Four years later, branding gurus now call that “content marketing.”

Our marketing strategy wasn’t calculated or premeditated — even though it would have been a pretty smart plan. We were just two aspiring entrepreneurs in our mid-twenties who wanted to start a sustainable apparel company. And we wanted to share that journey.

We were transparent, candid, and authentic — not holding back with stories from the “entrepreneurial trenches.” We blogged weekly to share our experiences with our small readership and the more honest we were, the more our audience responded.

By the time we launched our Kickstarter campaign, our “followers” knew about our first big co-founder fight, our samplemaking mistakes, and our expectations for what we were going to create and how we were going to create it.

Do you know what happens when your followers feel like they’re invested in your past, present, and future? They get out their wallets and invest in you.

We raised $10K in 36 hours and with more than half of our campaign left, we blew past our goal of $20K to finish our last day with $64,246.

The lesson? If you have a compelling story that’s authentic and “shareable,” then the idea will spread.

Lookbook 1

Whether you’re prepping for a Kickstarter campaign down the road, planning to bootstrap your business, or are looking to raise VC money, your brand must have an engaging story that resonates with potential customers.

The good news is, creating that story is a lot easier than you think. It’s simply a matter of being authentic, tapping into what is uniquely you, and sharing it.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re in the branding phase of starting your company and are still trying to figure out how you’re different:

  • Ask a few close friends what they think is most interesting about you and your background. What do people tell you is especially cool about who you are?
  • What problem are you solving for your customer? What is especially interesting about that problem and your solution for it?
  • What is your “one sticky message?” Meaning if you had to come up with one sentence that described your story, how would you make it super memorable and “shareable.”
  • If you were at a networking event and you had to do one of those awkward “ice breakers” what would be the interesting “fun fact” you told everyone about yourself?

These are prompts to get you thinking — the trick is to weave together the best components of your story in a way that engages others to want to know more.

website screenshot

As soon as you have a foundation for your story, you have to start telling it. And that’s the hardest part. It’s scary to put yourself out there, show vulnerability, and not really know what’s going to happen.

But the sooner you do it, the closer you are to creating a brand.

And you know what happens when you have a great brand?

You start to attract customers.

And then, not only do you have a product, a story, and a brand —

You have a business.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

This article originally appeared as a guest post on Startup Fashion here.


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