Posts

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.

cctv-3

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,

 

 


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.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 


how I got started

Six years ago, I was 24 and had just gotten back to the States after spending two years “bartending my way around the world.”

I had once been the girl who envisioned herself in the corner office — but after two years abroad, I knew that I would never get a “real job.”

I wanted to create something bigger than myself. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to wake up every morning and go after my dreams. In typical GenY fashion, I didn’t want to help build someone else’s dream.

It was a divine twist of fate when I got a Facebook message from a friend shortly after I got home. She said she was going through a “quarter life crisis,” dreading the possibility of sitting in a cubicle all day, and suggested we start something together.

That “something” turned out to be a sustainable apparel company.

Of course, it didn’t happen immediately.

Our plan was to create a company that would be 100% made in the USA, using fabrics and materials that did the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

But we quickly found out that having a plan wasn’t enough. We were naive, unversed in industry lingo, and had zero connections in the fashion industry. It became obvious very early on that what we were trying to accomplish wouldn’t be easy.

We spent money on the wrong things, made every mistake possible, wasted time pursuing leads that ended in dead ends and continuously took two steps back with every one step forward.

Looking back at the emails I sent to fabric suppliers, I now know that my inquiries surely got a swift click of the delete button. I didn’t know how to talk to industry veterans, I had no idea how to walk “the walk,” and it showed.

But after a year and a half, having nearly depleted both of our savings accounts, the stars aligned.

We received a response about a private label inquiry we had sent to a contact form. After a few meetings, we made the decision to source and manufacture our first production run under the guidance of a company who had done it before.

The company was a startup itself but was farther along and had the production infrastructure that we lacked. They also had the knowledge, connections and reputation. After pushing forward solo for so long, we had found someone to take us by the hand and walk us through the process.

We had finally found the mentorship we needed.

A month later, we broke records launching the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history.

We quadrupled our first production order, were featured in The New York Times, and started our business with 1,400 customers.

got started

Fast forward to today and I’ve been able to acquire the knowledge, skills, connections and reputation that I didn’t have when I was first starting out.

In the last few years, I’ve helped over 70 entrepreneurs set up supply chains in the U.S., source sustainable materials and bring their products to market.

Factory45 is the program I created for entrepreneurs, like me, who have a vision and a plan but need the mentorship and resources to get started.

I’ll be looking for a crew of committed designers, makers and entrepreneurs who want to join me in creating a more ethical and transparent fashion industry. If that sounds like you, mark your calendar.

 

 


 

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

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

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

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

Angela-1 jpeg

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

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

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

IMG_2619

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

Angela Tsai

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

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

tech_drawings_mamachic

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

I'm hoping the Mamachic can accomplish three things:

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

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

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

gwyn_grey_tumblr

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

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

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


Market45

tips, challenges, opportunity

A Story

Back in 2013, before Factory45 existed, I started working with an early-stage startup in California. We committed to a one-month sourcing project in which I would help them find organic cotton jersey to create a line of eco-friendly baby clothes. They were ideal clients — focused, organized, driven and ready to move fast.

The founder already owned a successful bowtie company, and she was looking to get into a new market with ample opportunity for growth. All of her research pointed to sustainable baby clothing. It’s resoundingly popular in Europe and she figured it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. catches on.

Because I was testing out the early stages of Factory45, our work together was intensive. In addition to sourcing, we had weekly Q+A calls for troubleshooting, brainstorming and problem solving, as well as 24/7 email support for any issues that came up.

During our calls, we dug deep. We asked hard questions about market demand, considered cost and target price points, and hashed out the feasibility of competing with the ‘big guys.’ We got real about the end goal, the values and mission behind the company, and what made the most sense for where they wanted to go.

By the time we reached week three of the project the entire vision had shifted. The business model had transformed from a line of eco-friendly baby clothing to an e-commerce marketplace of curated eco-friendly baby clothing. There was newfound clarity, purpose and drive to deliver what the market demanded and to do it differently.

1.) The early stages are the easiest time to reroute. Don’t miss the turnoff.

My clients could have looked at the hours of research they had already put into sourcing swatches and contacting suppliers as a time investment they couldn’t walk away from. But instead of lamenting about the hours lost, they focused on the hours gained. In the grand scheme of their business, they had saved a lot more time abandoning the original idea rather than holding on and letting go later.

2.) Reframe challenges as opportunities. It becomes your story.

They started to look at the situation critically when they realized how difficult it would be to manufacture a line of eco-friendly baby clothing at the affordable price point and initial order number they were targeting. They would be small players in the marketplace. There were already larger and more seasoned companies in the space. And they saw an opportunity to innovate.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, openings to opportunities are often disguised as bumps in the road. Don’t hold onto the dream so tightly that you can’t see the better option on the other side.

3.) You will lose money. You will waste money. It’s all a part of the process.

Whoever said, “You have to spend money to make money” was right. You also have to lose it, waste it, and spend it the wrong way. At first glance, my clients could have realized we were more than halfway through our work together and they had paid me for a service they didn’t need anymore. Not to mention, we still had another two weeks in our contract. Instead of dwelling on it, they asked if we could update the deliverables to fit the new business model. Of course we did, and by the time we wrapped up the project, we had made enough traction to make up for the time spent sourcing.

4.) The next idea is usually better than the one before it.

The evolution of ideas usually indicates growth and improvement. In most cases, your end product will differ from your initial vision. That’s how it should be. With experience, market response, product testing and additional research, your ideas will get better if you don’t succumb to tunnel vision. One of the greatest downfalls of entrepreneurship is being so “in love” with your idea that you can’t see room for improvement.

5.) Your customers will tell you what your USP is. So get your product out into the world.

Your unique selling proposition isn’t always obvious. Or you think it’s one thing and the market tells you it’s something completely different. If you listen to the response of your customers, they will happily tell you. Oftentimes, it’s more important to get your offering out into the world, so you can gather feedback, reevaluate, adapt and rework. Done is always better than perfect.