Posts

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.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 


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.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728


“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.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728


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.


crowdfunding cta

 

A few years ago, I went to Bali and wrote two versions of a book.

I know, how obnoxiously “Eat, Pray, Love” of me.

My former co-founder and I had decided to close our doors at {r}evolution apparel (after completely burning out our relationship) and it was an impulse purchase I made with my portion of our leftover funds.

I left Boulder, CO, moved in with my parents in Boston, and a month later hopped a flight halfway around the world.

After the success of our Kickstarter campaign, people were constantly saying, “You guys need to write a book.”

“Write about your journey,” they said.

“Write about the success of your Kickstarter.”

“Write about the changes needed in the fashion industry.” The suggestions were endless.

So, with the mixed emotions of heartbreak and relief that happen when you walk away from a business that seems to have such a bright future, I went to Bali to write the book that everyone said we should write.

I booked a private room for $500/month on Airbnb and found myself two miles from the nearest town surrounded by rice paddies and oxen.

For 30 days I followed the same rigid schedule. Wake up with the sun, follow the dirt road into town for yoga, eat lunch at a local cafe, walk 30 minutes home, stop for a fresh coconut, sit out on my front porch — write 2,000 words.

bali-two copy

I reasoned that if I could average 2,000 words a day, then I would have 60,000 words by the time I left. And you only need 60,000 words for a full-length book.

The process was both grueling and therapeutic as I sifted through three years of memories.

Why we decided to start a clothing company.

How we got interested in sustainability.

An account of our first fight.

What we learned from botching our first prototype.

What it’s like to spend two months driving a conversion van around the country.

By day 15, I was ready to delete the whole file. Just burn it. Not a trace of evidence.

Instead, I opened a new document and started over.

bali-three copy

By the time I flew back to the States, I had written two 30,000 word drafts with no intention of either seeing the light of day.

Three years later, they’re still sitting on my old, mostly-broken laptop — without a backup file.

Now I’m not going to tie this all back into the importance of creating a routine to reach goals. Or a lesson on how goals change. Or how everything happens for a reason. I’m not a personal development coach.

But I do have something to say about the “journey.”

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to expectations and outcomes. Most of us start businesses with the intention of making a living off of it.

Yes, passion and joy can be the driving motivators in getting started, but the desired outcome is to be able to support yourself off of that passion and joy.

The danger — the thing to look out for — is when you realize you’re only focused on the outcome.

Because that’s when you miss the journey.

About a year into starting {r}evolution apparel, I remember writing a post for our first blog – it was a letter to myself, and I’ll never forget the last sentence:

“You’re not going to be a 25-year-old bartender trying to start a clothing company forever.”

That sentence has been embedded in my brain for the past five years and as time passes, I find myself adjusting the words to fit my current age and situation.

You’re not going to be here, right now, doing this… forever.

bali-four copy (1)

It may seem painfully obvious, but I think it’s something that a lot of us entrepreneurs tend to forget.

Starting a business is one of the most challenging endeavours a person can take on — it’s a complete mind game, a lonely road, and can be uncomfortably risky. Are you going to enjoy every single moment of it? No.

But if you aren’t stopping every so often to appreciate what you’ve built, what you’ve created and what you’re going through — that 99% of the world never will — then what’s it all for?

When I look back at the month of my life spent writing a book, I can easily see it as time and money wasted.

Did I have big plans to pitch to publishers? Yes.

Did I have more realistic plans to self publish and sell it on Amazon? For sure.

Instead, I showed myself that I was capable of committing to a routine, to seeing a project through and being okay with a different outcome.

Entrepreneurs have to be courageous, committed and adaptable. But more than anything, they need to be able to see a vision for the future —

with an even greater appreciation for the present.


Sustainable Fashion Advice

Raise your hand if you've seen more fashion Kickstarter campaigns than you can count and you're feeling kind of “over it”…

Considering that I dedicate an entire module of Factory45 to teaching entrepreneurs how to launch successful crowdfunding campaigns, I'm sure it sounds weird for me to say that.

But I’m going somewhere with this.

I regularly get emails from people who want me to share the news about their upcoming Kickstarters. Oxford button downs, dresses for the working woman, lingerie, kids clothes, you name it.

The problem isn’t in launching a Kickstarter.

I think crowdfunding is awesome – it reduces the risk of production, alleviates startup costs and provides free marketing and customer feedback.

The problem lies in the way the story is being told.

For the most part, the sustainable fashion projects going through Kickstarter aren’t saying anything different from the last one. The majority are riding the same wave:

  • We manufacture in the USA.
  • We use only the most sustainable fabrics.
  • We say ‘no’ to fast fashion.
  • We believe in a better planet.

Sound familiar?

As the same thing is being said over and over again, do you know what’s happening?

Consumers are shutting off and becoming numb to the same “our fashion saves the planet” mantra.

 

We’re now in a time when being asked to support a Kickstarter is becoming more common than contributing to the neighborhood kid’s bake sale (yum, do those still exist?)

If you’re going to ask people to support, share and back your campaign, then your story has to be unlike anyone else’s.

Yes, consumers are now more willing to pay a small premium for ethically-made products, but saying so shouldn’t be your marketing tactic. It should be an afterthought.

Kind of like, “Well yeah, of course our company manufacturers ethically and transparently.”

Or:

“Well yeah, of course we’re always pushing to use the most sustainable materials possible.”

The ethics and sustainability of a company should be embedded into the business model as a non-negotiable, not a strategy for saying: “Aren’t we so great? You should pledge to our Kickstarter.”

As the fashion industry becomes more and more accessible to new designers who want to launch their own collections, there is going to be more competition in the market.

As I tell my Factory45’ers, the best way to stand out from the competition is to say something new — something memorable.

Here are a few examples of Kickstarter campaigns that are telling a different story about ethical and sustainable fashion and are doing it well:

VICTOR ATHLETICS

Organic, vintage-inspired athletic wear for men & women, made by small-town American factories and delivered directly to you.

What they do well:

  • The organic materials of their new athletic line is mentioned briefly in the description, but the story focuses on the small-town American factory as the victor.
  • They created a hero or protagonist to pull for.
  • They’ve made organic cotton and made-in-the-USA “sexy” with appealing visuals and a brand aesthetic that isn’t crunchy, hippie or rustic.

victor

FLINT & TINDER

A premium sweatshirt built for life, designed for a decade.

What they do well:

  • Jake Bronstein has done multiple Kickstarter campaigns for his company, Flint & Tinder, but this was the most successful. This is Kickstarter’s only fashion project that raised over a million dollars.
  • The story is focused on a hooded sweatshirt that will last 10 years. If it doesn’t, you can send it in to be mended.
  • Fast fashion thrives on the idea of planned obsolescence which is exactly what this campaign is combatting. What Jake did really well was put the focus on the consumer's desire instead of the same old fast fashion story. Who wouldn’t want a sweatshirt that will last 10 years?

10-year-hoodie

SWORD & PLOUGH

A quadruple bottom line bag company that works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish bags.

What they did well:

  • The labor story is focused on military veterans who are employed to make the bags.
  • The materials story is focused on surplus military materials that would otherwise be wasted.
  • Most compelling of all is the story of two sisters, one who is in the army, starting a business together.

sword-plough

If you’re getting ready to launch a Kickstarter campaign or are thinking about it for the future, this is the best advice I can give you: say something new.

If you do that, I’m certain you’ll get a better response from potential customers, from the press pitches you send out, and from the industry at large.

 

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 


crowdfunding cta

A while back, I wrote a post about entrepreneurship and the real downfall of failure.

I argued that it isn’t the act of failing itself that’s the most terrifying, it’s the external connections we make to it.

If we fail, we’ll lose our dignity.

If we fail, we’ll lose our life savings.

If we fail, we’ll lose our home.

While these are extreme examples, I know our thinking can often go to “worst-case-scenario.”

I remember a conversation was brought up by one of the entrepreneurs in this year’s Factory45 program. She wrote:

I'm looking for advice: Having just finished my master's degree, it may come as a surprise to some family and friends who don't know about my project yet that I'm going the entrepreneurship route. Anyone have tips on how to introduce a significant career change to family, friends, and/or even an employer (I plan to keep my full-time job for a while)?

This got me thinking about the “pre-failure phase.”

Before the fear of failure is even an option, first there is the fear of getting started.

It’s the fear of taking the plunge. Of not knowing what’s going to happen. Of worrying what your family and friends are going to think.

The greatest inhibitor to becoming an entrepreneur or pursuing a great idea or moving forward with your true life’s work is — never getting started in the first place.

When we make it public and declare our idea to the world, we simultaneously have to face the feeling of being seen.

Being seen means you open yourself to critics, you open yourself to the doubters, and you open yourself to vulnerability in a way you probably haven’t before.

Throw in the visibility of the modern-day Internet to the mix and the stakes get a whole lot higher.

I’m no stranger to critics. While the supporters in my life far outweigh the cynics, it doesn’t make the occasional negativity sting any less.

I’ve been called an asshole, a “self-aggrandizing bitch,” a piece of shit and other equally flattering names (I don’t read the comments section of The Huffington Post anymore).

I’ve had outsiders call Factory45 just another “expensive online course” (I won’t even dignify that with a rebuttal).

And year after year, I’ve faced family and friends at Christmas parties, dinner parties and happy hours, wondering when I’m going to get a “real job.”

Over the past five years as an entrepreneur, I’ve had practice dealing with the “gremlins” (yep, you cross me, I dub you a gremlin).

While an off-putting email or comment can still throw off my day at times, I can tell you it does get easier.

If you’re one of those people, who is tinkering with a great idea, a new business or an alternative career path, remember this:

The critics, the doubters, the cynics only have power if you give them the power.

As hard as it may be, you can consciously accept that there will always be some degree of negativity coming at you, but you can also consciously choose how you react to it.

Power is energy. And you get to decide where to put that energy. It can either be your demise or… your strength.

Like I said, I loved some of the other responses from this year’s Factory45 crew, so I want to close by sharing a few pieces of their advice in opening yourself up to getting started:

  • Stay close to those who support your dreams and let you blab on and on, even though they don't understand what you’re talking about.
  • Speak from a place of vulnerability. Don’t predict the reaction you’re going to get, because it will come out in your tone.
  • At the end of the day, our opinion is the only one that matters. It really is. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your life.
  • I feel that when I do get the occasional negative reaction, it's usually from people that have never tried to make their own dreams a reality.
  • Walk into the conversation with the knowledge that approval is not the goal – information is. You want those around you to be part of the vision, to be in inquiry with you… and I would recommend making it a two-way and engaging conversation.
  • “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs

If you’ve been a Factory45 reader for a while you know I’m a big fan of Dr. Brene Brown, who is a researcher on vulnerability and shame.

You may know her from her two viral TED talks. She did another talk that’s not as well known called, “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count.” It’s a must watch — even if you’re the most confident guy/gal on the planet.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728