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Why Competition is a Good Thing (even when it gives you a panic attack)

“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?

 

 

 

 


 

new designer, advice

What’s My One Piece of Advice for New Designers?

Whenever anyone asks me:

What’s your one piece of advice for new designers?

I always have the same answer. I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years, and I warn all of them of the same mistakes that I made when I was first starting out in the fashion industry.

Let me take you back to the summer of 2012. I’m living out of a 1993 Chevy Conversion van on a three-month “sustainable fashion tour” of the Pacific Northwest.

Van-Roadtrip, new designer, advice

Six months prior, my co-founder and I had launched the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history to fund the production of our first piece, the Versalette by {r}evolution apparel. We were on a mission to shake up the fashion industry, to prove that less is more, and to show everyone that conscious consumerism can change the world.

By working with a sew shop in the U.S., sourcing 100% recycled, U.S.-made fabric, and considering every tiny part of our supply chain, we had attracted the attention of 1,400 first customers, in addition to media outlets such as The New York Times.

But that’s not where we started.

My journey into fashion production began a year and a half earlier when my co-founder and I first came up with the idea to start a “sustainable clothing company.” We had no idea what that really meant, so we blindly began contacting any person we thought had the slightest chance of helping us.

We called organic cotton farmers in Texas, environmental studies professors in Missouri, eco-fashion models in Brooklyn, Merino wool suppliers in New Zealand and the list goes on…

Looking back at the emails I sent to suppliers, I know now 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 talk “the talk,” and it showed.

Eventually though, after a year and a half of trying, we found fabric and materials that fit our sustainability guidelines, a sew shop who would work with a fledgling startup, and that’s when we successfully funded our Kickstarter campaign.

If we thought sourcing was difficult, we couldn’t have imagined what the production process had in store for us.

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First hurdle, the organic cotton drawstrings we needed were on backorder and the sew shop couldn’t move forward until they had all materials in-house. We got bumped off their production calendar and couldn’t get back on until the drawstrings arrived.

By the time we began production, we were running four months late.

The backordered drawstrings, production delays and an additional shipping fiasco were rookie mistakes we had to live with and learn from.

But the next mistake we made was the biggest one of all — and it’s the only thing from this story that you really need to remember:

We weren’t at the sew shop when production started.

Sure, we signed off on samples and patterns, but the worst decision we made was not being with our production team when Versalettes started coming off the line.

We weren’t there to offer additional quality control, answer questions in person, build relationships with our sewers and get them invested in our project.

And it came back to bite us.

Our first shipment of Versalettes arrived and a third of them had crooked pockets, misplaced button holes, lost drawstrings or unfinished seams. We got a second shipment and it had the same problem. The sew shop was sending us batches of 40 units at a time and instead of being thrilled to open them, I was terrified.

At the time, it would have been easy to blame the sewers for being “unskilled,” but that simply wasn’t the truth.

Being completely new to the industry, we didn’t know how crucially important it was to a build relationships with our sew shop and be there at the beginning of production.

We had no one to blame but ourselves.

When you’re first starting out, trying to do design and marketing and media outreach and customer service and blogging and everything else yourself, it can be easy to take production for granted and assume someone else is handling it.

The thing is, no one is ever going to care about your product as much as you do.

new designer, advice

After we received our second batch of Versalettes, I flew to North Carolina to visit our sew shop and work out the “kinks.” I spoke to each sewer individually, shared the article about us from The New York Times, and showed them photos of our models wearing the Versalette.

Spending a few days with our team, I finally understood that relationship building in the manufacturing industry is no different than in any other industry.

Shortly after I flew back to the west coast, our third shipment arrived.

Not a mistake in the bunch.

 

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This originally appeared as a guest post on Startup FASHION here.

Photo credit: {r}evolution apparel


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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how I got started

The Story of 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.

 

 


 

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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4 Things You Can Do Before You’re Ready to Start Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

2.) Write a one-page business plan

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

– Your vision (2 sentences)

– Your target market (2 sentences)

– Your competitive advantage (3-4 sentences)

– Your business model (2-3 sentences)

– A financial summary (3-4 sentences)

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

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

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

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

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

4.) Cultivate the “entrepreneurial mindset”

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

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

Books

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Blogs

The Blog of Tim Ferriss

The Middle Finger Project

The Art of Non-Conformity

Podcasts

The Unmistakable Creative

The Lively Show

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

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

 

 

Photo credit: Athena Gracee 


Market45

From Artist to Designer: Meet Lara of Factory45

Lara Neece is the artist and founder behind Forest and Fin, a line of apparel that is hand-drawn and screen-printed by Lara herself. She uses eco-friendly, water-based inks, sustainable packaging and natural materials, using the environment as a consistent source of inspiration.

Through Factory45, we’re working to grow her Etsy sales, launch her own e-commerce site, and debut a biking-friendly wrap skirt that is currently in sample development.

Because the quality of her work can’t efficiently be explained in words, I want to introduce her to the Factory45 community through her photos. Enjoy.

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Lara and her husband were recently married on the island of Tortola. They live in Savannah, GA where they’re refurbishing a sailboat. Lara carved one of her designs into the deck of the boat.

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Lara screenprints her hand-drawn designs onto t-shirts in her studio. She is also an active part of the maker movement in Savannah’s cooperatives and artisan scene.

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Lara is an artist and creative to the core, and she experiments with mixed media when she isn’t working on her apparel company. Keep an eye out for her sustainably-made wrap skirt coming soon… In the meantime, you can show Lara some love on Facebook and Instagram.