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Meet Factory45 for Fabric Sourcing at TexWorld USA

July is here… which means TexWorld USA — one of the largest fabric sourcing trade shows — is quickly approaching!

And registration is now open HERE.

This is a free opportunity for designers like you to not only see hundreds of different fabrics in person, but to also take advantage of the free fashion education happening at the show.

And I’m going to be there on July 24th!

I would love to meet you in person, so here’s what I’ll have going on:

Tuesday, 7/24 at 3pm | Financing Your Emerging Fashion Brand: A Look at New and Traditional Options.

Moderated by Nicole of StartUp Fashion, I’ll be part of a bigger conversation about financing your startup fashion brand.

I’ll cover the ins and outs of financing your production through fashion crowdfunding. Syama Meagher of Scaling Retail will talk about collection development and building a business based on cash flow and capital limitations. And Juliet Obodo, founder of FRWD Startup Solutions, will talk us through options available to founders who suddenly need capital to cover orders or unexpected expenses.

It’s free to attend but you need to register HERE.

Tuesday, 7/24 at 4pm | Independent Designer Meetup

Directly following the panel, join us for an afternoon break to connect with fellow designers and chat fashion business.

Come hang out, have a drink, compare notes and share stories with other entrepreneurs like you.You must be registered for TexWorld to join us, but it’s free to sign up HERE.

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TexWorld is so much more than just a “fabric show” with a whole slew of free education resources available at your disposal.

It will also be my first night away from the baby, so you know it has to be good : )

If you can make it, I’d love to see you there!

You can register for free HERE.

 

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Haven’t attended a trade show before? Make sure to read my free guide to sourcing fabric at a trade show here.

7 Tips For Getting a Fabric Supplier to Respond to Your Email

As a new business owner, it is vital that you know how to write an effective email that will earn a response.

Depending on who you’re writing to, it can be easier said than done.

When it comes to reaching out to fabric suppliers, especially, there are seven key rules to remember:

1.) Consider the audience you’re reaching out. The supplier is likely receiving hundreds of emails per week, so you want to make sure your inquiry gets straight to the point. The supplier does not care about your background or the mission of your company. At the end of the day, they just want to make a sale.

2.) Keep the email short and sweet. Yes, you will want to include a nice “Hello” and an appropriate “Thank you.” But again, make sure you are not wasting the recipient’s time.

3.) Do your due diligence. Make sure you do your own research on the supplier’s website before you reach out. Oftentimes, you can get many of your questions answered on the supplier’s About, Shop and FAQ pages.

4.) Know your stuff. Many fabric suppliers are going to want to see that you actually know what you’re talking about, so they don’t risk wasting their own time. One great way to show that you’re serious about being their customer is to send over a design, spec sheet or a visual example of the piece you’re needing the fabric for.

5.) Don’t ask about MOQ’s. Especially not in your first email. This mistake will make you come off as overly frugal and price-conscious before even making initial contact.

6.) Foster the relationship. Once you’ve received an initial response, take your time in building a relationship with the sales rep. While being courteous of their time, you want to cultivate the relationship and make it easy for them to help you. Down the road, they’ll be much more likely to negotiate MOQ’s with you later on.

7.) Stay persistent. Be mindful of not overwhelming the supplier, but don’t give up. Finding sustainable and low-impact fabrics is not an easy task for anyone. Stick to your values and keep up your search. Fabric sourcing is one of the steps in product development that can take the longest, so be patient.


4 Ways to Negotiate Minimums with Fabric Suppliers

There are so many moving parts that go into launching a sustainable apparel company and one of the steps that can take the longest is fabric sourcing.

As any seasoned designer knows, the moment you realize you have found the fabric can be a mixture of relief, hope and — apprehension.

The first question that will come into your mind is:

Can I meet the supplier’s minimum order quantity (MOQ)?

Maybe you’re planning to start out with 500 yards (or less) because you’re just getting your brand up and running.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for a supplier to require an MOQ of 1,000 (or more) yards, and there may be many reasons for it depending on who you’re working with.

The first thing you need to is find out why the minimums are set at the amount that they are, keeping in mind that the exact reasons will be specific to the individual suppliers.

Once you find out their “why,” you’ll be better equipped to negotiate.

And then you can devise a plan.

Before you start to propose negotiations, make sure you’re not making one of these other fabric sourcing mistakes and take a look at the supplier’s website before you call or email.

Sometimes you can find the MOQ and the company’s capabilities right on the site, and it can help set you up to make the perfect proposal for negotiation.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you devise the right plan:

>> When a supplier sets a MOQ because of time efficiency for custom dyeing your fabric, offer to pay  a flat “dye fee” in addition to the per yard cost of the fabric. This may add to the final cost of the order, but it will likely be much cheaper than ordering three times the amount you need just to meet the MOQ.

>> If the MOQ is in place because it “costs what it costs,” then you can either offer to put down a deposit, but place smaller orders at a time OR you can see if there is the option of “piggy-backing” onto one of their existing client’s orders and splitting the cost. Keep in mind that your production schedule will need to be flexible.

>> If the MOQ is in place because it’s a custom order, let’s say there’s a very particular blue fabric you want but it’s never carried in stock, it may be worth conceding to what the supplier already has available in their warehouse. If you can meet the minimums of an in-stock fabric that is only a slightly different shade of blue, then it’s probably worth settling for it. You don’t want to be so committed to your original vision, that you can’t see the “good enough” version staring you in the face.

>> And lastly, you can try offering to pay a higher price per yard, in order to purchase less than their normal MOQ.

There are many ways that you can go about this, and you will find and choose what works best for you. Go with your instincts, but don’t force it. 

If a supplier won’t budge, then it’s better to cut your losses amicably rather than burn a bridge. When one door closes another opens…

Remember, that no matter what avenue you choose for negotiation this is your journey, your brand and your company’s future.

Give it all you got.


 

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Fabric Sourcing at a Trade Show

I know a bunch of you are planning on attending the fabric trade shows in NYC this week — there’s Premiere Vision, DG Expo and TexWorld all happening in the next five days.

I remember going to my first trade show several years ago and even though it was one of the smaller ones, I recall feeling very overwhelmed.

A big venue? With tons of industry veterans? And you’re just supposed to walk up and start talking to them?

An introvert’s nightmare. 

In light of some of the questions that may be coming up for you, I thought I’d share some of my tips for having a successful trade show experience:

1.) KNOW WHAT YOUR END GOAL IS.

Many of you are flying in from out of town to attend these trade shows, which means you’re dishing out several hundred dollars on airfare, hotel rooms, taxis and overpriced food.

The last thing you want is to leave NYC regretting the trip and wishing you hadn’t spent the money. Chances are, you’re going to feel overwhelmed when you arrive at your first show — especially Premiere Vision and TexWorld — so you need to be clear on your end goal.

Are you there to find a very specific type of fabric? Are you there to browse potential fabrics to use in your next collection? Are you there to network? Are you there to attend the seminars?

Your answer should not be, “Yes, to all of the above.” Pick one or two goals to focus on, write them down on a piece of paper or in the notes app on your phone.

If you start to feel off-track over the next few days, look back at what you wrote down and it will help center you.

2.) GET A LIST OF VENDORS IN ADVANCE.

All of the shows will either have a printed list of vendors when you arrive (kind of like a program or playbill), but many of them also have a list of vendors on their websites.

Take some time to sit down with your phone or computer and Google search the vendors list.

You’re probably not going to be able to get through all of them, so you want to make sure you’re prioritizing the vendors that are most likely to have what you’re looking for. (Again, this is where your goal for the week comes in handy.)

Mark asterisks or highlight the vendors that you want to see and talk to, and then…

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3.) MAP OUT YOUR CONQUESTS.

Cross reference the list of vendors you want to visit with the map that is provided by the show.

Again, mark asterisks or highlight the locations of the vendors you’re interested in and be strategic about the route you’re going to take so you can hit up each vendor without backtracking.

4.) SHOW YOUR VALUE AS A CUSTOMER.

You’ve determined the vendors you want to talk to, you’ve mapped out a route through the venue, and you’re about to approach your first table…

First you’ll see a bunch of binders, swatch books and marketing material on the vendor’s table. If the binders are labeled properly, you can potentially find the fabric you’re looking for without asking for the help of the sales rep or supplier.

Depending on the vendor, there could be a small line of people waiting to talk to the sales rep or it could be just you at the table. Either way, when you get the chance to initiate a conversation be courteous of the rep’s time.

Yes, they’re selling to you but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people walking through the show.

The sales rep doesn’t need to hear your life story about why you’re starting your line. They don’t need to hear an explanation of the mission behind your company. And they don’t need to hear about the difficulties you’ve had finding the right fabric.

Your job is to show them that you’re a serious and professional prospective client who has the resources and money to make a wholesale purchase from them (in their minds, the larger the better). You can communicate this effectively by taking the time to…

5.) MAKE A SPECIFIC ASK.

One of the last things a vendor wants to hear is, “Do you have organic cotton?” Or “What do you have for blue fabrics?”

If you’re attending a show to simply browse around, then you can say so. But if you’re looking for something specific and you’re going to ask for help, then you need to be very clear about what it is you’re looking for.

Ideally, you’ll be able to tell the rep the fiber, weave, weight and color you want. If you already have a swatch or sample of the fabric you’re looking for, bring it and show it to the rep.

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6.) GET THEIR BUSINESS CARD.

Again, this seems counterintuitive since the vendor is supposed to be selling to you, but this industry isn’t like many others. Don’t expect for a sales rep to come running after you. It’s on you to get their information and follow up with them.

Tip: Instead of collecting a bunch of business cards that can easily get lost, take a photo of the sales rep’s business card. You can do the same thing with the swatch cards and fabric samples you’re interested in — snap a photo of the item number and fabric description.

7.) DON’T RUSH INTO ANYTHING.

As a small business owner, don’t feel pressure to make any decisions in the moment. If you have photos of the fabrics you like, as well as contact information, you can weigh your options after some thought and email the vendors when you get home.

In your follow up email, mention the show where you met them and again, keep your request short, sweet and specific.

Although overwhelming at times, trade shows are one of the most exciting parts of being in this industry. There is an energy and a vibe that is hard to replicate at other events.

If at any time it becomes too much, pop out for a cup of coffee or find a quiet corner to look back through your map and vendors list. This should be FUN! So try and enjoy yourself : )

Want more fabric sourcing tips, read 4 Mistakes to Avoid When Sourcing Fabric.

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All photos courtesy of Premiere Vision.

4 Mistakes to Avoid When Sourcing Fabric

If you’ve ever tried to source fabric you know it can be, how do I put this…

…an arduous process.

Suppliers don’t answer your emails. They definitely don’t call you back. And sometimes there isn’t even a voicemail to leave a message.

Whether you’ve gone through this or you haven’t started sourcing yet, there are a few things you can do to raise your chances of getting a positive response.

And it starts with avoiding these four big mistakes:

1.) Writing a long inquiry email

I can’t tell you how many people make the mistake of writing a multi-paragraph email that is so long-winded your own mother wouldn’t even read it.

A fabric inquiry is not the time to go into an explanation of your company mission or your core values or your plan to single-handedly change the fashion industry.

The supplier doesn’t care about that stuff!

What does the supplier care about?

Sales.

What does he or she need to make a sale from you?

A very specific one-sentence description of the exact fabric you’re looking for.

What should that sentence include?

The fiber, the fabrication, the weight and the color.

The end.

(Yes, you can include a “hello” and “thank you.”)

2.) Immediately asking a sales rep for MOQ’s and pricing

MOQ stands for “minimum order quantity.” In other words, the amount of one type of fabric that you’re expected to order to meet the supplier’s requirements.

Of course you need to know if the MOQ is attainable for you (20,000 yards would be a bit ambitious when you’re first starting out…) And of course you need to know how much a yard of fabric costs so you can factor it into your Cost of Goods Sold.

But don’t ask.

When it comes to sourcing fabric, a significant part of the process is getting swatches in the door so you can feel them, put them in the wash, and compare them to one another.

The sales rep wants you to see the value and quality in the fabric just as a car dealer would want you to test drive the car before talking about price.

Let the rep offer the information or wait to ask until you have received the swatches.

There’s nothing worse than appearing overly price-conscious and frugal when you’re already looking for low minimums.

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3.) Not building a relationship with the sales rep

You can’t even imagine the awesome things a supplier or sales rep will do for you if you take the time to build a relationship.

Most days a sales rep is dealing with huge amounts of pressure. A big client needs a rush order. A new client received a bad roll. Throw in a handful of inquiry calls from newbies who don’t know what “fabric weight” is and the sales rep is tackling a pretty high-maintenance day.

If you respect their time by knowing exactly what you’re looking for, and you make it easy for them to help you then you’ll see a return.

Building a relationship can happen gradually over the course of a few emails here, a few phone calls there, but if you’re explicit about what you need you never know when a sales rep will call you up out of the blue and say, “We’ve got 300 yards of excess that just came in and we’ll sell it to you at a discount.”

4.) Not being persistent

Fabric sourcing is not for the faint of heart — especially when you’re looking for sustainable and low-impact fabrics.

The mainstream supplier will try to talk you out of sourcing organic cotton or wonder why you’re trying to source Tencel when rayon is so much cheaper.

Stay true to your values and the reasons you have for wanting to create a sustainably-sourced garment. Don’t try to convince them of all the reasons why sustainability is important for the future of fashion.

Keep looking, keep persisting and don’t give up until you get what you’re looking for. It may not happen immediately, but at some point, you’re going to find it.

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Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder of Seamly.co

Truth be told, I know more about Kristin Glenn than any of the other designers I’ve interviewed for this series. And that’s not a huge surprise, considering she was my first (and only) business partner when I meandered my way into this crazy world of entrepreneurship.

Kristin and I ran {r}evolution apparel together from 2010 to 2013, co-created the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history (at the time), spent 2.5 months in a van together (yes, really), and simultaneously went through intense entrepreneurial burnout.

But when we made the decision to part ways at the end of 2012 it made space for more opportunity, more purpose, and the freedom that had enticed us to start a business in the first place. One of those opportunities that came about was Seamly.co, a sustainable clothing brand that Kristin launched solo in 2013. Kristin and I are proof that sometimes you have to crash and burn, even when everything seems like it’s going great, so that you can come out better for it.

Having launched two sustainable apparel brands, Kristin knows a little something about running a successful business in this industry. Today she’s sharing some of her best startup advice for new and aspiring designer entrepreneurs.

Thanks to Kristin for taking the time for us — cheers to friendship and knowing when to let go so you can make room for what’s to come.

F45: What are the values and ethics behind Seamly?

KG: I’m a big believer in sharing the process; honesty, transparency, understanding. That’s first and foremost. I strive to create a brand that celebrates the process, and creates excitement about made-in-the-USA, from fabric to sewn product.

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F45: Tell us about setting up your supply chain. Was it difficult sourcing fabric? How did you find the sew shop you work with? Did you run into any bumps in the process?

KG: Fabric is tough. I started out only using surplus fabric (excess from mills and factories). The problem with this is continuity — I had to test shrinkage on every single fabric for every single style. Sometimes we had to cut the fabric in batches, instead of all at once, because of shrinkage and different fabric widths. Using surplus is great from a social responsibility standpoint, but from an efficiency and financial perspective, it is a TOUGH way to manufacture. I certainly wouldn’t have made it this far if I’d continued to use surplus fabric from so many different (and unpredictable) sources. Plus, it takes a LOT of time to source it.

Now, I’m using fabric that’s made in the USA and Canada only. We use surplus when we can, but I always know how it’s going to react and what quality it is. I’ve found trade shows to be the best place to meet people for fabric sources, and creating relationships with them has been a huge benefit.

As for sewers, it’s all been word of mouth. I’ve been lucky to work with two small factories that are totally, completely on-point. Anytime a mistake happens, it’s because of me or my lack of clarity. They simply crush it.

A big thing that’s helped is setting expectations. I know that sewing will always take a bit longer than expected, and I have a very “that’s OK” attitude about it. I trust the people I work with completely, and know that they’re looking out for me, so it’s better to just be flexible and have a positive attitude about our deadlines than push, get upset, or stress out. I didn’t set firm deadlines for finished products for the first year in business – things just launched when they were ready – and that helped me form relationships with my suppliers without all of that pressure. Now, we can work together to set deadlines, which has been working really well so far.

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F45: What has worked for you in terms of marketing? How do customers find out about you?

KG: Here’s my marketing strategy: e-mail, e-mail, e-mail. E-mail is the best way for me to authentically communicate with my customers (and potential customers!) with their permission — and that’s important. Social media is great, and I’ve seen results from guest posting or asking a blogger to post an outfit with my pieces — but it all comes back to the e-mail list.

I’m working on growing that community by a) optimizing my website to encourage people to sign up and b) create content that drives people to the website. Much harder done than said! It’s tough to find time to create new content and get data and analytics on the Seamly.co website. It’s something I struggle with every single week. But I know that’s the way to organically build community.

Everything else I do – PR, guest posts, etc. – is ideally all a funnel into the e-mail list. Because that’s where real interaction (for me) really happens.

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F45: Tell us about your biggest “cringe” moment – a mistake or glitch that you look back on and say “oops.” How did you navigate through it?

KG: Where do I begin? All of my big mistakes are centered around production. Grading patterns before I test for shrinkage. Ordering the wrong kind of zippers. Luckily, most of these problems can be fixed before the final product is shipped to the customer, but once, I had a major oversight and only realized it AFTER shipping.

This was in the early days. I’d ordered new toggles for the 5-ways Maxi Dress (the toggle goes into the hem so the dress can be shortened or lengthened). I didn’t test them before shipping (DUH, Kristin!) because I had so many things to do, and “assumed” it would be OK. After the dresses launched and shipped, I realized that these toggles were going to be really annoying for customers, hitting the floor when they walked. So, I e-mailed them immediately, offering an exchange for a new toggle or a free return, and a discount code for future use, just to apologize for my mistake.

All of my customers were 100% cool and understanding. Most of them didn’t mind the toggle, and a few of them exchanged theirs. It’s INEVITABLE that mistakes big and small will happen, but being upfront and honest about where you went wrong is one of my biggest values and something I believe customers respect and appreciate.

What I’ve learned, and am constantly re-learning, is that testing every single thing is CRUCIAL, and assumptions are too big of a risk to take.twitter-bird-light-bgs1 For me, these are annoying steps in the process, but oh-so-critical to success.

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 F45: What has been the best thing about running your own company? The thing that gets you up in the morning.

KG: In the beginning, I was really excited about creating something new. And then I started to doubt myself and the financial feasibility, and I started working a lot more. Like, crazy hours that were totally unsustainable. The business became less fun, I was out of touch with my creativity, and wondered if I should continue at all.

I slowly started to realize that I couldn’t possibly have successful business if I didn’t take care of myself first. And I started to relax. On a normal day, I work from 10-4, then I go to yoga, then I put in another hour or so after. I don’t set an alarm and if I feel like going for a walk or calling my mom in the middle of the day, I do it.

The journey of caring for myself is, of course, lifelong, but with this shift in thinking, I’ve been able to actually enjoy building a business. Like, in a real way. Mondays do not suck. I still worry about a lot of things, but I REALLY love being able to set my own schedule and create. And as I delegate more, I get even more time to do the parts that I love – marketing, content, communication. I am creating something totally unique that exists in the world, as a representation of what I believe in and who I am. That’s the best thing. I get to be me, every day.

To shop Seamly or check out what else Kristin has going on as she transitions from a home-base in Denver to NYC, visit her online store here. (Bonus: there’s a moving sale on select styles right now.)

Photos courtesy of Seamly.co.

10 Companies Prepare for Launch: A Factory45 Update

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

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

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

“What if this doesn’t work?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Jesse Syswerda and Angela Tsai