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Francisca Pineda is the founder and designer of Bhava, a conscious footwear company. We first met in NYC last year for lunch, and I learned that not only is she a designer, but she also organizes sustainable fashion retreats in Costa Rica and teaches ethical design classes at FIT.

Today, Francisca is digging deep into her advice for new designers and giving us an insider’s perspective into what it’s like to be a business owner in the fashion industry. From sourcing to sketching to marketing, Francisca is a pro at what she does and it shows. Enjoy!

How did you get started launching Bhava?

I think like most other designers, it started because I couldn’t find what I wanted in the market place. After graduating from Parsons, I started working for a high-end apparel brand and was in charge of all of their accessories. By the time I launched Bhava I had experience in every category of accessory design.

Launching Bhava was something I had actually started planning back in 2009. We had the name and logo ready but the timing wasn’t right and I had gotten a job offer I couldn’t refuse. At that time, I knew I wanted to make an ethical collection but didn’t truly understand “ethical fashion” or the importance of using environmentally-conscious materials.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started learning about the devastation caused by the leather industry, as well as fast fashion manufacturing. This “awakening” happened after I personally witnessed the disabling effects of the toxic chemicals used in the majority of leather production. Soon after, I became obsessed with learning about all aspects of the chemicals being used, the workers who were exposed, and the “dead zones” that this industry creates.

I started taking all the  Ethical Fashion classes offered at FIT, and attending any sustainability or ethical fashion events that I heard of to continue to learn and connect with others. Once you learn the importance of our decisions as designers and consumers, it’s pretty difficult to go back. I made a personal promise to myself to make a change, because the thought of profiting from such a destructive system was no longer an option for me. And this is ultimately what gives me the drive to keep going with Bhava.

I believe we are all drawn to our unique causes and experiences. I chose to embrace the challenge and proceed full steam ahead. When the time was right we started slowly testing only a few styles at a time. You have no idea what you don’t know until you start! Sizing, fit, pricing, and what colors or materials people respond to are what I feel are really important to test in the beginning. Although it sounds so risky to start a fashion brand these days, it is possible to be cautious and thoughtful in planning a collection so there is as little risk as possible involved.

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What does a “typical” day look like for you?

Every day is different, but in general I am not a morning person. I prefer to start work later in the day and into the night and spend the beginning of my day on self-care. This includes a short focus meditation, oil pulling, some light core yoga, and fresh turmeric tea with lemon.

Usually, I try to get through the urgent e-mails with production, delivery, sales, and customer service first.  I work with manufacturers in different time zones so it’s important for me to reply to them right away. All of this usually takes half of my day.  When it’s time to sketch and look at materials (my favorite part) it’s usually in the afternoon when I am more relaxed.

Lately, I am most excited about bringing beautiful new materials to the market. I spend about a third of my year traveling to find new and exciting materials. Last season, I was in Europe and next week I will be away for a month in India, and the UAE.  I never know what I will find, it is always an adventure and that excitement and spontaneity translates into each collection.

Tell us about your supply chain. How did you go about sourcing materials and finding a production partner?

Finding a production partner in footwear and accessories is probably the most time consuming and costly part of launching.  Since I had many years of working in the industry, I had contacts that trusted me and my aesthetic and knew that I understood the business. I started there.

Now that the brand is a little more established, it’s easier to get in the door with a new supplier but it still takes time and trial and error to find the right manufacturing partner. If you start out too demanding they will be turned off, but if you are too soft, production may be delayed or poorly executed. It is a fine balance.

I also recommend working within the strengths of each manufacturer, and not pushing them too quickly into new production techniques without enough time to test. Every material reacts differently in each design — this is the trial and error part that can get costly and time consuming — but is extremely important for a brand seeking longevity in the market.

Because our mission is to work with responsibly-sourced and environmentally-conscious materials, I feel I need to source myself as I know my manufacturers will not ask the same questions that I will. We invest a lot in our materials because that is what differentiates our brand from the others in the market. I’ve had to take very expensive trips into little, tiny towns with no transport just to meet with a supplier. Often those with the most beautiful and exciting materials are the most difficult to find. Sometimes it’s not worth it, but the more effort you put in the more it will show. Materials are the first thing a customer sees and feels about your product. That first touch will connect them with your brand in a real way that words or images cannot.

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What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?

Marketing is important, but it can be a waste of time and resources if there is no demand for your product.  I recommend designers make a first sample of their product and try to sell that (to a stranger) before spending a year on a business plan. Once you know that you have a market that is in tune with your aesthetic and price point, then go all out with your marketing strategy.

When marketing it’s important to start testing because I found that I accidentally stumbled upon some of my most effective communication strategies. We recently collaborated on a small capsule collection for the holidays with NYC-based Vaute Couture. It was our first collaboration with another brand and it came about very naturally from having met Leanne (the founder) at an event that we were both speaking at.

It was something that was exciting for both brands because it was new and our products complimented each other.  This natural excitement and anticipation was evident in our social media and e-mail marketing communication, it wasn’t forced. Customers are more savvy than ever. I think they can tell when a brand has been over-strategic and a message is over-explained.  I think it’s important to embark upon projects and events that truly excite you.

For me, marketing is exciting and an area for entrepreneurs to truly show their creativity and ingenuity. If this is not your strength, you need to find someone who does love telling your story and partner with them. Someone has to hear about you somehow. Overall, you need to trust your gut, and if you see too many people trying the same approach like the same website style, or e-mail pop-up, then it’s important to think of a new way to do it, you never know what you’ll create!

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own ethical apparel / accessories companies?

This may seem a bit harsh, but it’s something that has stuck with me through my career as a designer.  While attending Parsons, I had one the most notoriously critical professors. He felt he was doing his students a favor by showing them how tough the industry was, often making them cry and drop out.  I actually don’t think this technique would probably be too welcomed these days, but back then it was one of the aspects that gave Parsons their reputation of graduating the best.

Anyway, when we would present our designs for a critique, his term for bad design was “markdown.” Meaning, you may think you have just created the coolest design ever, but if you truly think about it, is it possible that what you love most about your design could cause it to end up on the “markdown” rack at Century21?

Try to visualize your customer walking into a store, trying on your design, and loving the way it feels. If you can’t see this happening, or have too many design details that would create what is referred to in marketing as “friction” or too many doubts from making the purchase, you may have a “markdown” on your hands.

To run a company, you need a balance of “best sellers”  and some “editorial” pieces. This balance is something we are still figuring out, but it gets easier as you go along. I can think of a design or two that I was personally so in love with when I should have been more critical. But you learn as you go. It’s one thing to design something we would love to see someone wear, but it’s quite another to get someone to spend a good amount of their hard earned money on your vision of how to dress.

To check out the Bhava online store and upcoming spring collection click here.


Lisa Hackwith is the designer, founder and creator behind Hackwith Design House, a women’s apparel company that offers limited-run garments. In HDH’s own words:

“Instead of designing for mass production, we immerse ourselves wholeheartedly in the process and create every piece with the intention of it becoming that special highlight of your closet. We create less than 25 of each piece, which makes all of them uniquely rare and special.”

Starting out as a one-woman show who now has a team of sewers and a partner to run operations, Lisa is proving that independent design and conscious business is possible — as well as profitable.

With an Instagram following of 85K, a recent feature in Design*Sponge and a loyal fan base of customers, Hackwith Design House is well on its way to leading the independent design movement.

I spoke with Lisa about how she got started, her best marketing strategy and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

How did you get started launching your own apparel company?

I taught myself to sew after I graduated from college with an studio art degree. I took a year off to research MFA programs when I discovered my medium – designing and making clothes. Over the next five years, I sewed daily. I had some success with my Etsy shop and getting wholesale orders, but in order to make the business sustainable, something had to change.

In February 2013, I took a few months off to re-work my business model; I re-launched Hackwith Design House in September 2013. The new model centered on my priorities: staying in Minneapolis, manufacturing all the clothing in the U.S., and making sure I love everything with my name on it. Thus the limited-edition model was born: 2-4 designs are released every Monday, no more than 25 pieces of each.

Since September 2013, I’ve hired 3 seamstresses and have partnered with Erin Husted to run operations. In August 2014, we added the HDH Basics line, and in January 2015, we added HDH Swim.  It’s been so fun (and so much hard work!) to see the company grow the way it has.

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What does a “typical” day look like for you?

As any small business owner knows, a typical day is anything but. Each day presents new challenges, new opportunities, and constant work.

I usually come into the studio around 8:30 each morning and spend the day designing, making patterns, making sample pieces, instructing my lead seamstress on new pieces, and going over wholesale orders, marketing or business strategies with Erin.

I leave anywhere from 6-7pm and sometimes do some work at home. I appreciate that each day is a little different yet all still within working at what I love.

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How did you set up your supply chain at first? How has it changed since you started out?

The fabrics I work with are all sourced from a local, family-owned fabric store that specializes in purchasing run-off fabrics. I love going to the fabric store and feeling each new fabric until I find the right ones. I also love the idea of using fabrics that may not get used otherwise. We are in the middle of sourcing fabrics for Basics so that it can be a consistent fabric option. Our goal is to find a sustainable source for fabric, which is still harder than it should be.

What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?

I really enjoy partnering with bloggers by gifting them items that they can take photos of and use for styling.  It’s great to see how different women wear HDH pieces.

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What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own ethical apparel companies?

When we are trying to make a decision, we do our best to think about more than the bottom line. We like to call ourselves a company with a conscience. But in doing so, one has to remember to weigh a variety of factors, from where fabrics are made, to how much we pay our employees, to creating garments that are quality.

We have found it to be helpful to think about solutions as being placed on a spectrum: on one end you have “the evil corporation” that cares about nothing other than increasing profit, on the other end you have the idyllic company that hurts no one and makes only good decisions. Most companies are somewhere in the middle. We try our best to make decisions that get us closer and closer to the good.

To learn more about Lisa, Erin and the team at Hackwith Design House, check out the HDH website here

Photo credit: Hackwith Design House


Not everyone can take the dive on the first impulse to start a business. There are responsibilities: bills to take care of, student loans to pay off, and commitments to keep.

If you’re one of those people, though, who knows that you were meant to be an entrepreneur — and it’s only a matter of time before you’re ready — then there are a few things you can be doing in the months (or years) leading up to taking the plunge:

1.) Make sure there is a market need for your idea

Do you have a few ideas brewing for a future business? Recognize the ones that keep you up at night — the ideas that you just can’t stop thinking about. Once you’ve narrowed down what you think are your best ideas, get laser focused. The best ideas are the ones that have a distinct market need. This means that you’re filling a void, solving a problem, or relieving a painpoint for people.

One of my favorite entrepreneurial quotes is something along the lines of: Startups must sell painkillers. Not vitamins.

2.) Write a one-page business plan

Once you’ve determined your best idea with a distinct market need, write a one-page business plan. This is something you can do on your lunch break or after work with a glass of wine. The one-page business plan should include:

– Your vision (2 sentences)

– Your target market (2 sentences)

– Your competitive advantage (3-4 sentences)

– Your business model (2-3 sentences)

– A financial summary (3-4 sentences)

A good business plan should always be changing, so the best thing to do is get your first draft on paper. Remember that you aren’t bound to anything. The goal is to start thinking about your idea as a financially-viable product.

3.) Use social media to connect with others in the industry

Set up a personal Twitter account with a professional photo of yourself and write a brief bio that describes the things you’re interested in that relate to your future business. Follow people within your niche (for example: sustainable fashion, fashion entrepreneurship, American makers, etc.) by searching similar hashtags. Start a conversation with those people by sending out friendly, personalized tweets and try to start an ongoing dialogue.

Don’t get discouraged if they don’t respond at first. Sometimes it takes a few retweets of something that person has written for them to notice that you’re awesome and someone worth getting to know.

When my co-founder and I were first starting {r}evolution apparel we built almost all of our early following through Twitter. Some of those people are still friends today. Twitter is a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people in the entrepreneurial world without spending a huge amount of time sending out individual emails.

4.) Cultivate the “entrepreneurial mindset”

Because traditional education (and the corporate world) don’t do much to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking, you will have to unlearn a lot of the beliefs that have been embedded in your mind through conventional thinking.

There are books, blogs and podcasts available to show you that you are not limited by your preconceived notions of what is possible. Some of my favorites are:

Books

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Blogs

The Blog of Tim Ferriss

The Middle Finger Project

The Art of Non-Conformity

Podcasts

The Unmistakable Creative

The Lively Show

No one wants to feel like they’re not living their purpose. By focusing on these preliminary business-building steps, you can know that you’re moving forward in the direction of eventually creating your dream business.

And then I’ll be here waiting when you’re ready to take the plunge.

 


As an entrepreneur myself, it’s been fascinating to watch the highs and lows of the entrepreneurs who have come through Factory45 in the past two years. It’s cliche to say, but starting a business is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Digging into some of those observations, I want to share the ones that I think could benefit any aspiring entrepreneur who is considering starting a company:

1.) No one ever really feels “ready.”

Just ask Factory45’er Angela who has two toddlers and travels around the country full time. As with most big decisions, timing is rarely perfect. But unless you have the confidence of Beyonce, it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel fully prepared to start a business. You can come up with a million excuses to talk yourself out of it, and yes it is scary, but doesn’t it help to know that no one else feels ready either?

2.) Networking is one of the most powerful resources you can leverage.

I can’t count the number of times we’ve been on a Factory45 group call when someone says they’re looking for X and someone else says they know someone who has X. Whether it’s a garment factory in Brooklyn or a natural dyeing contact or a suggestion for a rare type of “seaweed” fabric, the Factory45 crew does an incredible job of leveraging the network.

Going further, I’ve seen first-hand the power of the referral. Doors have opened for fabric options and production partners, simply by saying “so-and-so” referred me. The response rate is tenfold.

3.) You’ll know when to keep pushing for “better.”

Factory45’er Mikaela wasn’t sure it could be done. Multiple fabric suppliers told her that the fabric she wanted was impossible to get and “didn’t exist.” Refusing to take no for an answer, she continued to contact every person in the supplier database she received through Factory45, while also calling and “nicely harassing” (as she says) anyone else who would listen.

The result? She found affordable U.S.-grown organic cotton that fit her sustainability guidelines. There is a time to push and there is a time to concede. You’ll know when you should keep pushing.

4.) Let go of perfectionism.

All three cohorts of Factory45 entrepreneurs have had a heavy presence of self-prescribed perfectionists. Coming from all different career backgrounds, there’s been a steep learning curve to adjust to the idea that “good enough” is really “good enough.”

In the case of entrepreneurship, perfectionism can hold you back. It keeps you from clicking “publish” on a blog post. It inhibits you from ordering the sample yardage. It tempts you to throw in the towel over a minor technical glitch.

The most effective entrepreneurs know that it’s more important to get your message / brand / product out into the world than it is to wait until everything is perfect.

5.) The fashion industry is changing.

This has never been clearer to me than it is now. The revival of “Made in the USA” is real. And I’m so excited for the companies coming through Factory45 to be part of it.


Sustainable Fashion Advice

This a guest post by Angela Tsai, Factory45’er and co-founder of Mamachic.

There’s a lot that changes when you have a baby.

I curse less — at least out loud. I eat better. I scrutinize labels. I forego makeup. I’m alternately more patient with kids, but less patient with other adults. I’m more assertive. I take deeper breaths. I wear yoga pants even when I’m not doing yoga. I ask for help more. I’m grateful for the little things. I’ve become environmentally-conscious.

Upon having a baby, I suppose I became a grown-up.

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I’m not gonna lie. I often miss the “old” me, or at least parts of me, when I used to have the energy and motivation to be social, dress up and want to look my best. I love being a mom, but I do I miss that confidence that I once had in my pre-baby body.

I once felt I could be amazing, each and every day.

So, mix all of these changes that motherhood brings, with traveling full-time with your kids? When you have to pack and unpack all of your family’s worldly possessions every month from a minivan, you realize real quick what it is you want versus what it is you need. Two years ago, when my son Max and I joined my husband Mike on the North American tour of The Lion King, we learned what really constitutes “worldly possessions.” (Here is a photo of Mike in full stage-makeup as “Scar” when I went into labor during a show.)

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As a former TV host and broadcaster, I used to have a revolving rack of clothes to choose from; now, my day-to-day wardrobe has been winnowed down to anything that can be versatile and durable — oh, and nursing friendly. We discovered with Baby Max that we were in need a foolproof burp cloth that could protect our clothes from spit-up and drool. Max was a vomiter, and we were getting tired of changing our shirts what seemed like every hour. Most burp cloths are literally glorified dish towels, and they’d constantly slip off our shoulders or soak through.

Angela Tsai

Neither Mike nor I have any experience with garment design, so we sat down with some plain muslin and went to town. What sort of garment shape would not slip off easily and provide enough coverage, while perhaps also doubling as a sort of accessory so we didn’t have to pull it out of a bag or hunt around for it? What if it was something we were already wearing, even if we weren’t physically holding our baby?

So three years ago, we formed our company Too Cool For Drool, and the “Mamachic” was born — or as we initially called it, “The Barf Scarf.”  In a nutshell, it’s a scarf with a neck slit. It allows you to wear the fabric without it slipping off, and covers your shoulders and upper arms, the big baby “splash zone.”

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It’s taken some time for our product to get made. Our design is constantly evolving, and with our nonstop traveling and parenting, our business has been a part-time effort at best. On top of it all, I just had another baby a year ago, and Eva’s not a vomiter like Max. In fact, with her, what I’ve needed is more of a nursing cover, so we’re playing around with scarf shapes so it can be used easily as such.

I’m hoping the Mamachic can accomplish three things:

1.) Streamline motherhood. Make the task of caring for my baby convenient and seamless with feeling and looking good.

2.) Lighten my travel load and only own items that can accomplish multiple tasks. The Mamachic could be an all-in-one burp cloth / nursing scarf / blanket.

3.) Be made with sustainable materials. If I can be good to the environment so that my kiddos won’t have to someday wear hazmat suits out in public, isn’t that the proverbial organic icing on the gluten-free cake?

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Through Factory45, we’re headed down an educational and supportive road to get our product made. It’s daunting and exciting to put real wheels in motion. We’re working on an updated sample using deadstock bamboo and organic cotton, and putting numbers together to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the new year to fund our first production-run.

Beautiful. Versatile. Durable. Good to the earth. Confidence-inspiring. I’m talkin’ about both the Mamachic and you mamas out there. We are amazing. We deserve to feel it, each and every day.

You can follow Angela and her family on the road here. To stay up-to-date about the launch of the Mamachic, sign up here.


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