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5 Myths About Starting a Fashion Brand

What to Believe? 5 Myths About Starting a Fashion Brand

If you’ve been in the fashion industry for a while or if you’re thinking about launching your own brand, you’ve likely heard advice, or maybe even rumors, that have stopped you in your tracks.

What’s true, what’s outdated and what’s simply false? Today I’m going to touch on five of the big myths that I hear most often:

1.) I can’t talk about my idea because someone will steal it.

It always makes me a little sad when I hear this because it’s fear-based thinking. And this type of mindset has no place in entrepreneurship.

The truth is, 99% of ideas never see the light of day. The chances of someone hearing about what you’re working on, stealing the idea and then actually launching and selling it, are slim.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen on occasion, but your energy is so much better spent focusing on executing your vision and doing it your way. After all, your unique way of doing things is what is going to set it apart from the competition.

If you’re still not convinced, I’ve written about copycats and competition extensively here and here.

2.)  If you build it, they will come.

As nostalgic as this expression may be for baseball fans, it simply doesn’t hold up when it comes to starting an apparel brand.

That’s all to say, just because you complete a sample run, finalize your patterns and find a production partner, doesn’t mean that you’re set up to sell.

It’s estimated that about 75% of your pre-launch work should be dedicated to building an audience before you launch. That’s right, pre-production only makes up a quarter of your overall business strategy.

One of my most overused expressions is, “Don’t launch to crickets.” In other words, if you haven’t been building up buzz around your launch for months – yes, months – then it’s likely your sales will reflect that.

Within the Factory45 program, we dedicate 11 weeks to pre-launch marketing alone. In fact, Factory45’er Morgan Wagstaff says:

“The greatest gain for me was Shannon’s insight into marketing and launch strategy. I was able to connect with and get my brand in front of like-minded people because of the concepts and tools laid out in the course and that made a world of difference.”

There are lots of other “myths” I’ve heard over the years and one of the things I love most about my work is being able to bust those myths

3.) Suppliers will tell you what type of fabric you need.

Not true, and to be honest, they shouldn’t have to. Despite what you may think, it is not a supplier’s or manufacturer’s job to educate you. And you’ll start off on the wrong foot if you’re expecting that.

If you don’t know how the manufacturing industry works, how to place a fabric order, what you need for production, etc., then you should go back to the drawing board, do some research, read some blogs, books or hire someone to help you.

There are some surefire ways to shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve even really started and you need to learn what those are before you expect suppliers to give you their time. The sourcing network within the U.S. is relatively small, too, so you want to do whatever you can to avoid getting a reputation as *that* person.

4.) If you want to be taken seriously, then you have to go to fashion school.

I wrote about this last week and was happy to hear so many positive reactions. If you missed it, you can read it here.

5.) You need at least $500,000 or a celebrity endorsement to get started.

That may have been true years ago, before the internet and crowdfunding, but nowadays the average Factory45’er has been able to launch their first collection with just $20,000.

If that sounds like a lot, remember that this isn’t $20,000 you’re expected to have lying around in your bank account.

Through the work we do in Factory45, I teach all of my entrepreneurs how to raise money in a way that allows you to test the market and get your early customers to finance your first production run for you.

Too good to be true?

See for yourself here, here and here. (There are many other examples on our Alumni Stories page here.)


There are lots of other “myths” I’ve heard over the years and one of the things I love most about my work is being able to bust those myths.

The Factory45 philosophy proudly goes against fashion convention, and I’m excited to work with a new group of entrepreneurs this year who aren’t afraid to think outside the box, too.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

two fold, capsule clothing, sustainable fashion

Introducing Not-So-Basic Basics, Sustainably & Ethically Made in the USA

This is an interview with Factory45’er Morgan Wagstaff about the launch of her brand Two Fold. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Morgan is raising money for the production run of her first collection.

Give us a brief overview of your brand and the pieces you’re pre-selling.

Two Fold is a womenswear brand of sustainably and socially-conscious designs made here in the USA. Two Fold aims to encourage mindfulness and simple living by offering minimalist and timeless silhouettes that flow perfectly into any woman’s wardrobe.

We are a small batch clothing label made in Charlotte, North Carolina. All of our clothing is made to order, created in house, and released in capsule collections twice a year opposed to the continual release cycle to ensure quality over quantity.

Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I decided to launch my brand through Kickstarter because I was familiar with the platform and it’s such a great way to reach new people. When starting a clothing line, you have to have funds in order to fulfill the first production run.

Kickstarter is a great crowdfunding platform that allows you to put your idea out there and see if there is a want or need for your idea. I also love how easy the site is to navigate and interactive it is with backers.

Two fold, ethically made, capsule clothing, sustainable fashion

What was the most challenging aspect of creating your campaign?

One of the challenges I have faced has been finding my “sticky message.” There are a few brands out already that are similar and are doing well.

It’s so important to find what sets you apart and what makes your brand different. I recommend spending a lot of time on this to really hone in on it and tease through it.

 

You’ve done months of prep. What helped you keep up your momentum and motivation?

I’ve had to continually remind myself of why I’m doing this. Keeping the “why” in the forefront of my mind has helped to keep me headed in the right direction. Also, my family and friends have played a big part in keeping me motivated. They’ve continued to support and believe in me and I couldn’t do this without them.

Two Fold, ethically made, capsule clothing, sustainable fashion

Can you give us a little insight into your campaign strategy? What has been working and what hasn’t worked as well?

I have made some of the best connections throughout this campaign. I’ve had some amazing women style my pieces and they’ve had some great things to say about them. I’ve also had a few essays published in some great online blogs which has brought some exposure. I’ve also noticed that the emails I’ve been sending to my awesome tribe has been positive. They’ve loved seeing the pieces closer up with details about the fit and fabric and how to style them.

I tried running a couple Facebook ads and one did well, and the other two did not. I know a lot of people recommend them and I was glad I tried it out, it just didn’t work for me.

What do you do when self doubt starts to creep up?

Oh, does self-doubt creep up! This has been one of the biggest struggles for me during the campaign. You are watching your numbers daily and it’s so easy to doubt what you’ve created. I love to spend time with the people that mean the most to me. There are people who support me and they have continued to keep me uplifted during the tough patches. I’ve had to learn to give myself some grace. Have a good cry, let out all my feelings and get back up and keep pushing forward.

Two Fold, ethically made, capsule clothing, sustainable fashion

What’s your favorite reward being offered in your campaign?

My favorite reward is the Reese Dress. It’s the most comfortable piece I’ve ever worn while still feeling well dressed. It’s also the ultimate transitional piece – a knee length, easy, unfussy, slim fit accentuates the body without being too clingy. The comfiest thing you’ll wear all season. I promise you’ll never want to take it off. It’s made from a soft handwoven cotton and fits just right, not too tight, not too loose.

If you had one piece advice for someone considering launching a Kickstarter, what would it be?

Shannon, you gave me some great advice early on and it’s stuck with me. You told me it’s called a ‘campaign’ for a reason. You have to campaign throughout the entire days of the Kickstarter. It isn’t easy and the only one that is going to make it happen is you.


To check out Morgan’s Kickstarter campaign and the pre-sale of Two Fold, click hereTo read more about Morgan’s experience in Factory45, read her alumni story here.

 

 


Market45

 

minimalism

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Over two years ago, I got an email from an old “blogger friend.”

My {r}evolution apparel co-founder and I had written a guest post for his blog during our 2011 Kickstarter and doing so had catapulted our campaign from around $40K to over $64K.

His large and dedicated fanbase of readers had been the exact target market our clothing company was trying to attract. And thanks in large part to them, we became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at that time.

The blog was called The Minimalists.

Several years later, it was a surprise to hear from him again and even more surprising to receive the following request:

Howdy! Long time no see. Do you have any interest in doing an interview for our minimalism documentary?

minimalism-film-2

On May 3, 2016 I attended the Boston screening of Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things in a jam-packed, sold-out theater.

Joshua and his co-creator Ryan now have a following of over four million readers and have been featured on ABC News, BBC, The Today Show, NPR and The New York Times, among other notable press.

The film, directed by Matt D’Avella, was named the number one independent documentary of 2016, won pre-screening awards at international film festivals, and has shown in 400+ worldwide screenings.

In the film, I was able to talk about the marketing messages that the fast fashion industry feeds us, why we look to fashion to make us happy, and how our clothing choices play into global consumption.

The documentary also asks, How might your life be better with less?

And it examines the many flavors of minimalism by taking the audience inside the lives of minimalists from all walks of life — families, entrepreneurs, architects, artists, journalists, scientists, and even a former Wall Street broker.

You can get a taste of Minimalism by watching the trailer here:

As my mother-in-law said after she saw the film, “Minimalism isn’t for me, but I get it,” the point is not to transform into a minimalist overnight.

I do hope that the messages in the documentary provoke deeper thought about what we really need to make us happy, how our purchasing decisions impact the rest of the world and what it would feel like to find happiness from within.

To watch the film in full, the online screening is available here.

 

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3 Podcasts for Sustainable Fashion & Startup Inspiration

Has anyone else jumped on the podcast train? I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I’ve shared before that podcasts have been apart of my morning routine since 2014. It’s usually the first thing I do when my alarm goes off.

Recently, though, I’ve had the opportunity to get in front of the microphone myself. So today, I wanted to share three different interviews I’ve done (about three different topics) in case you’re like me, and are constantly looking for more content to tune into:

The Creative Giant Show: How to Sew Business Success in the Fashion Industry with Sustainable Apparel Strategist Shannon Whitehead.

I connected with host Charlie Gilkey back in 2010 when I was just starting to explore the world of entrepreneurship. And I was recently invited on his podcast to talk about:

  • Why I decided to start a sustainable apparel company, despite the risks involved.
  • Which challenges to consider if you’re thinking about starting a clothing company.
  • Which business trends are disrupting the fashion industry.

>> Listen here 

Conscious Chatter: Made in the USA

I mentioned this new podcast in my blog post from last week — it was started by my friend Kestrel Jenkins who has been in the sustainable fashion industry for years. Our interview focuses on “Made in the USA” and Kestrel and I discuss:

  • How outsourcing affected the U.S. economy after NAFTA was signed.
  • Why localized manufacturing is important for every country.
  • How the movement is growing because of small, independent brands.

>> Listen here

Bootstrapping It: Creating an Online Accelerator Program for Apparel Startups with Shannon Whitehead, Founder of Factory45

Host Vince Carter interviews entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their companies rather than trying to raise VC funding. So, of course, we had a lot to talk about. In the interview, we cover:

  • Why you should be honest with yourself about your business ambitions.
  • How to use Kickstarter and pre-sales to fund your business startup.
  • How to strategize so that you spend your startup funds on the right resources.

>> Listen here

Enjoy!

 

 

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Market45

apparel production

Preparing for Apparel Production: A Video Interview with Clothier Design Source

The question that so often comes up for new designers is about production. For anyone who is new to the industry, the apparel manufacturing process is something of a mystery.

With every production partner having its own way of doing things, this isn’t surprising. Production is one of those parts of creating a physical product that, until you’re in it, there’s no way to fully prepare.

Challenges will come up for you that won’t come up for your peers. Questions will go unanswered until you’re in the thick of the production line. And truthfully, the best way to learn is by going through it.

With that said, there are ways to prepare yourself, knowledge to obtain and lessons to learn before you dive in. The better prepared you are with the concepts, terms and order of production, the better off your first production run will be.

With this in mind, I interviewed Mindy Martell, the owner and president of Clothier Design Source, an apparel production house in St. Paul, Minnesota. In this 20 minute video interview, Mindy and I talk about:

  • Some of the early mistakes that new designers make in the production process.
  • A list of the 7 most important things you need in place before you can start production.
  • An explanation of what grading is, why you need it and what’s involved in grading a garment.
  • What a new designer should know about ordering labels.
  • How production cutting works, what “yield” is and how different colorways can affect your cost.
  • What to expect when you start production.
  • How to control your quality.
  • And Mindy’s most important piece advice for new designers.

Watch the whole interview here.

If you thought the interview with Mindy was helpful, we’d love for you to share — click to tweet here or use the social share buttons on the left.

To receive the Manufacturing Checklists mentioned in the interview, you can get CDS’ here and Factory45’s here.

 

 

fashion brands

6 Fashion Brands Weigh in on “What I Wish I Had Known Sooner”

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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true cost

The True Cost of Fast Fashion: Continuing the Conversation

“People aren’t going to care until it hurts them personally.”

That was the last comment in the closing discussion of The True Cost movie screening I co-hosted in Boston this summer.

The documentary has been sweeping film festivals and fashion media across the world with a no-holds-bar narrative of fashion’s effect on people and planet.

As I sat in the audience that night, surrounded by 100+ students, designers, entrepreneurs, mechanical engineers and concerned consumers, I could see and hear the emotions around me.

There’s something about watching a female garment worker being beaten with a club on the streets of Phnom Penh that can really grip you.

As strong as the emotions were, though, some of the most insightful comments in the post-discussion focused on how we will respond now that we’ve seen the footage and the movie is no longer playing in front of our eyes.

“We’re so detached,” one audience member said. “It’s just so hard to care about people on the other side of the world who you don’t know. Especially when there are so many other problems in the world.”

This sentiment resonates with many consumers: When there is so much to fight for in this world, how do you choose your battles?

When you’re the mom in Missouri with four mouths to feed and the cheapest store is a Wal-Mart, how do you say ‘no’ to the five dollar t-shirts that your kids will grow out of in a few months?

When you’re the university student drowning in debt, how do you make ethical fashion a part of your lifestyle?

In an ideal world, the industry execs profiting off of cheap labor would choose to change things on their own. Then consumers wouldn’t have to make a choice — it would either be ethically-made or not made at all.

But that’s not the reality we live in. The reality is that the fashion industry is a 3 trillion dollar a year business and only two percent of apparel companies source from suppliers that pay their workers a fair and living wage.

fast fashion

The reality is that industry giants can claim negligence because they don’t technically “own” their factories and thus don’t have to take responsibility for fair compensation.

The reality is that until consumers start making demands and asking for change, the fashion industry has no reason to clean up its act.

We’ve heard all of this before. It’s a classic chicken and the egg. A vicious cycle of rock bottom prices and consumer expectation that it should be this way. We expect the five dollar t-shirt — I’d even go so far to say, we feel entitled to it.

And that’s where the root of the problem lies. On the surface, the issues are obvious to us: pay the workers a better wage, change the supply chain, improve working conditions.

“…But I still want clothing to be cheap.”

We deflect the responsibility with the same negligence that fast fashion shareholders deflect it.

There’s nothing I can do as one person. The problem is too great to solve. The issues are too complicated. There is someone more qualified to tackle this. There are only so many hours in a day…

Why should the medical student in Boston care about the garment worker in Bangladesh?

Maybe the answer lies in actually remembering, as True Cost director Andrew Morgan says, that there are people behind the clothes we wear.

Maybe if we saw that with a different stroke of luck in the gene pool, it could be us in front of that sewing machine — we wouldn’t be so apathetic.

I don’t have the answer. Or a solution. The best I can do is lead by example and encourage others to do the same.

The best you can do is to start asking questions, educating yourself, sparking non-judgmental conversations with your friends while doing whatever you can to shine light on yet another fundamental flaw in our society —

That when it comes to the bottom line, the underdog never wins.

If you haven’t seen The True Cost documentary yet it’s streaming on Netflix for free right now.

Photo credit: The True Cost

 


Market45

How I Ended Up on Live Television Last Night, Talking about Fast Fashion

What do you do when you’re sent a live interview request for international television?

You say, no, of course. Who would ever subject themselves to that kind of stress?

I was walking home from a morning of co-working when I got an email from a producer at CCTV America.

She had found an article I wrote for the Huffington Post and wanted me to talk about fast fashion for their primetime news show, Global Business America.

The segment would air live at precisely 8:22pm that night. Was I available?

As someone who is perfectly happy to stay in my little home office, taking interviews by phone and email, my first instinct was to ignore it.

She wants me on live TV in less than 7 hours? That’s nuts. That’s not enough time to prepare…. I’d have to be crazy to do that….

And yet, as my stream of conscious is screaming, “Shannon, don’t do it! Too scary, too scary!” I find my fingers typing:

I’d love to come on the show tonight. Let me know about next steps.

(I like thinking about this sequence as a scene from Pixar’s “Inside Out” – if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

Fast forward, and all of the sudden I’m on the phone with the producer, doing a pre-interview and she is arranging for a car service to pick me up and take me to the satellite studio in downtown Boston later that night.

Of course, the rest of the day fell to shit as I prepared for the segment and tried to talk myself off the ledge from what I had agreed to.

“Sustainable Fashion Advocate Has Massive Meltdown on Live Television, Bringing Shame to a Fledgling Industry” was the headline I was preparing myself for.

By 7:40pm, there was a black car sitting outside my house to take me to the studio. And for reasons unbeknownst to me, I got in it.

Sitting in the green room, I was taking deep breaths, using the pointer to index finger technique used in yoga and meditation, and telling myself that no one would be watching so it didn’t matter if I sucked.

“Just because it streams to 85 million viewers in over 100 countries doesn’t mean that anyone actually watches it…”

Before I know it, I’m in the studio, in front of a fake Boston skyline, hooked up to a microphone and earpiece and staring into a black screen. The audio tech says “good luck,” closes the door and leaves me the in the room by myself.

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Shortly after, a producer in DC comes into my ear and says, “Shannon, you’re on in 90 seconds.”

All the curse words.

“Shannon, you’re on in one minute.”

And that’s when I hear the pre-recorded segment go live. I hear a reporter talking about Bauble Bar and fast fashion and how great the business model is for consumers and companies.

In my ear:  “The fast fashion model is successful because it gets the consumer what they want, at an appropriate price, in the time frame that they want.”

Cut to my brain waves: Uhhhh, do they, like, know I’m against fast fashion?

“Shannon, you’re on in 30 seconds.”

More curse words.

In my ear: “For just under 40 dollars, you can buy a chic bra and underwear set.”

As I hear the anchor segue into introducing me, I give myself one last chance to panic and blackout.

A few seconds later, I’m on live television talking about the topic that I’m most passionate about.

Showtime.

You can watch the first segment here and the interview here:

And just like that it was done. And I didn’t flop, or freeze up, or accidentally say “shit” instead of “shift.” I flipped the script on how the business of fast fashion is typically portrayed and even had some fun doing it.

Moral of story? Sometimes things are scary and they do flop (case in point: my speaking engagement at ECO Fashion Week three years ago…)

But sometimes, they’re awesome. Sometimes, they’re more important than your fears.

Here’s to losing your shit and winning it back,

 

 

 


The Reason New Designers Get a Bad Rep

I’m in the business of working with startups and new designers. A lot of the people I work with don’t have a fashion design background. They’re entrepreneurs with a cool idea, but other than that, they don’t have much knowledge on how to get started.

One of the reasons I started Factory45 was because I know there aren’t many industry veterans who want to “deal with” new designers. I’ve had three people in the past week say, “Oh yeah, so-and-so doesn’t even attempt to work with college grads / newbies / design students / etc.”

The fact is, new designers have a bad reputation. If you’re starting to squirm a little, just hear me out.

I’m not saying that you are necessarily to blame for the bad rep, but there are other people who have “spoiled it” for others.

For the most part, suppliers would rather not work with you, sew shops would rather not work with you, factories would rather not work with you. And this is why fashion startups have such a hard time getting started.

Manufacturers in the States have been doing this long enough to know that 9 times out of 10 it just isn’t worth their time to take on the additional baggage of someone new to the industry. They have a responsibility to the construction and production of a product, but they don’t have a responsibility to educate you.

Let me give you an example of an all-too-common email that the vast majority of project managers have probably received:

“Hello – I have a patent for an innovative new apparel product. I’m looking for a production partner to work with – do you do apparel? Are you willing to sign an NDA? What next steps do I need to take? Thanks, [name]”

If you don’t see anything wrong with this example please keep reading.

I want to break this down because there are few different pieces that we should look at:

“PATENT”: If you are trying to patent an apparel product, you are wasting your money. The only person who will tell you otherwise is a lawyer (for obvious reasons). There are .01% of apparel products in the world that are unusual enough to legally protect. Even then, someone else could come in, rip off the design, change one button and your product is no longer protected.

I know the warm and fuzzy feeling you may get from “legitimizing” your company, but trust me, you’re wasting valuable time and money that could be spent on finding out if your customers even want your product.

“INNOVATIVE NEW APPAREL PRODUCT”: This says nothing. There is no sew shop, factory, manufacturer or supplier that is going to take you seriously (or even know how to respond to you) if you don’t give a description of the product you’re trying to make. Ideally, you will be able to tell them the type of garment, the type of fabric you’re using, how many units you’re looking to produce and what your timeline is.

“SIGN AN NDA”: Asking a manufacturer to sign an NDA is akin to writing “amateur hour” on your business card. If your product is good enough to be ripped off or stolen, it won’t be your production partner who does it. Many of the manufacturers in the U.S. have been in this industry for decades. If they were in the business of screwing over designers, then they wouldn’t have lasted this long. I don’t know anyone who would sign an NDA, so please, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by asking.

“WHAT STEPS DO I NEED TO TAKE”: Oh lordy. This has to be the biggest pet peeve of all. And it’s probably the most common question asked. I’m just going to go ahead and put out a PSA for every manufacturer out there: Again, it is not your production partner’s job to educate you. If you don’t know what the next steps are, then you need to go back to the drawing board, do some research, read some blogs, books or hire someone to help you. (I have 30 people coming through Factory45 this spring, because they were smart enough to do that.)

If this all sounds a little harsh, I know you would never do this — I just want to make sure you know why ; )

The thing is, I really want you to succeed. We need entrepreneurs creating products that solve a problem for people. We need new designers working with manufacturers in the U.S. and keeping the momentum up.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to make that happen. I want to make sure you’re doing it the right way.

Here are the things you need in place to approach a potential production partner:

  • A sample
  • A pattern
  • A spec sheet
  • (A good head on your shoulders)
  • (Good communication skills)

Some will require more than that, but at the most basic level, that’s what you need before you should even send out an inquiry email.

If a production partner agrees to take your project on, then you’ll also need:

  • Fabric (don’t wait to source it, but wait to purchase it)
  • Materials
  • Capital

Production will not start until you have all of those items and can pay 50% upfront.

 

I remember reading Kathleen Fasanella’s book several years ago, and she went so far to say: Because designers have a bad rep, don’t call yourself a designer — call yourself a manufacturer.

So now you know — it’s not just me saying it.

 

 

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

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Francis 


Mistakes & Breaking Points in Trying to Start a Clothing Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desperation puts you in interesting situations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quit now.

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

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

Thank goodness, I decided to keep going.

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

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

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

I hope I can be that someone for you.

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

 

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