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Last week marked the end of the Factory45 2019 program. One of this year’s graduates asked if she could write a guest post to share her experience with all of you. If you’re considering applying to Factory45 in 2020, you’ll want to read Amber’s post until the end.

Here she is:


Have you been wanting to create your own fashion collection, but you’re worried you don’t have any fashion experience? 

That was me.

Are you wanting to take the plunge into fashion entrepreneurship but have no idea what a “muslin” is?

That was me too.

Are you seeing white space in the market and you know the exact solution to a problem? 

That was also me.

I had no idea what a “pattern” even was.

But I developed a concept (that would later be Feel Good Swim) in the summer in 2018 when I realized I wanted to take my career a whole new direction – instead of working for someone else, I wanted to try becoming my own boss.

I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to pursue right away; just an inkling of the direction I needed to go.

And finally, the swimwear idea hit me – I was putting on my last swimsuit of the year and hating every minute of it.

I’ve always struggled finding swimsuits that fit my curvier top shape – there’s not much out there. 

So I decided that’s what I would build.

But I didn’t pursue the idea right away. I went back and forth with myself for a few months. I was plagued by my own limiting beliefs and negative self-talk.

“Who do you think you are?”

“You have ZERO experience in fashion, you can’t do this.”

“What would people think?”

“What if I fail?”

And finally, last December, I realized what I was doing to myself. I stopped thinking about the “what if,” ignored my lack of experience, and purchased a domain name. Mind you, I had never created a website before.

I researched like crazy. I googled every – little – thing.

And finally, I landed on the Factory45 website.

I read through all of the free content, saw that Shannon was focused on ethical and sustainable fashion, and knew it was the best thing for me.

It was a significant investment, but I had plenty of time to mull over the pros and cons (at that time, the program didn’t open up for a few more months). So I signed up for Shannon’s emails and continued my research.

In those months, I worked on my own — finishing my website, creating a social presence, blogging, trying to create a technical flat, more research…  

And I realized I needed help.

I didn’t find any other programs as thorough as Factory45 and knew I had to move forward. It didn’t make sense for me to spin my wheels on my own anymore.

In addition, there was a ton of social proof from the members of the StartUp Fashion community (another amazingly helpful membership, by the way). There are quite a few Factory45 alums in the group that highly recommend Shannon’s program.

Here’s a taste of what Factory45 included:

  • Demystification of the fashion industry
  • Exact steps to create an actual garment and go into production
  • Extensive databases of ethical suppliers, samplemakers, and manufacturers
  • Email templates and tactics for outreach to ensure you’re sounding like an industry pro
  • Guidance on how to establish yourself in the content and e-commerce spaces as well as how to launch to an audience ready to buy your product
  • Strategy to fund your first production run
  • And media outreach 

I didn’t have any of this prior to the program. 

And without it, I’m not sure if I’d have found my supplier or samplemaker by now. Finding the right manufacturer may have been even harder, especially when ethical practices and small minimums can be so rare.

There’s no “woo-woo” or fluff here. Every lesson is action-packed with how-tos, videos, interviews, and supplemental information. And if you need more help, Shannon is just an email away with a rapid response time.

As a business owner, it’s hard to do everything on your own. And I know that without Factory45, I’d be still trying to figure out what a “muslin” is.

So, what are the two foremost tips I can give you from one founder to the next?

First, don’t listen to your limiting beliefs – they aren’t real.

Second, of course, join Factory45 as soon as you can – you won’t regret it.


This is a guest post from Factory45’er Amber Rankin, founder of Feel Good Swim, and all thoughts are her own. To keep up with Amber’s journey of starting a swimwear company, you can subscribe here or follow her on Instagram here.

sustainable fashion advice

Note from Shannon: This is a guest post by Savannah Fender who is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. 


When you think of fashion and apparel what are some of the top cities that come to mind?

The majority of people would probably identify with New York and Los Angles or Milan and Paris. However, it is what’s hidden under our noses that can help entrepreneurs thrive.

Against popular belief, the sewn goods and textile industry is alive and well within the United States.

Many times the facilities are a lot closer to home than you think. Perhaps they are even your next-door neighbors.

Today, we are going to be touring Apparel Prototyping and Design Solutions, LLC (APaDS) in Pelzer, SC. With a population of just below 100 people, you probably weren’t taught about Pelzer in your eighth-grade geography class! Pelzer is about a 20-minute drive south of Greenville, SC.

There I met with Darlene Martin, the senior pattern maker at APaDS with 28 years of experience; and Elroy Pierce, Founder of APaDS with over 38 years of experience in apparel manufacturing.

Before we got started with an in-depth discussion about domestic production, I took a tour of APaDS. The facility was established in May 2014, as a result of Clemson University making a decision to shut down Clemson Apparel Research (CAR). APaDS, where Darlene and Elroy are today is located at 6931 Hwy 29 N, Pelzer, SC, with six office spaces, a digital patternmaking room, and an open floorplan sewing/cutting room.

Darlene got started in the industry when she was in her early 20s. She had taken a home economics course in high school and discovered her passion for sewing. Darlene went to work  at a local “blouse plant” and from there, her mentor taught her pattern work straight from fabric draping.

They worked for clients like Victoria’s Secret, Sears, and Coldwater Creek. As CAD (computer-aided design) programs became more popular, Darlene’s company encouraged her to go to Atlanta for a two-week program to learn digitizing and grading. Darlene hasn’t stopped working in the industry since.

Even in shutdowns she managed to keep pushing.

apads, sew shop talk

Today APaDS is working with about 150 different clients, including Reese Witherspoon’s brand Draper James.

When you enter APaDS you can see firsthand the passion the employees put into their work. For the people at APaDS, domestic manufacturing was what they always knew, so why move away from it?

They understand the industry has changed drastically and are willing to adapt everyday.

When asked what trades-off companies have to take to stay domestic, Elroy responded:

“There is still a large skill set in the States, it is diminishing very quickly… companies are going to have to look to semi-automation… produce smaller qualities on a faster turn time, than what they did in old production… ”

APaDS is very optimistic about the future of American manufacturing, although it will take time, they feel they are doing their part to promote domestic manufacturing and help entrepreneurs grow.

APaDS is passionate about what they are creating.

If you are looking for someone in the same time zone (or even just a few hours off) that is willing to work with you face-to-face to produce outstanding quality, this is certainly a place your products can be developed.

apads, sew shop talk

Breaking it down:

  • What can APaDS do for you?

>> They are the front people you want to be working with before manufacturing or mass-producing. APaDS can help with your sewn product needs from pattern design, pattern grading, marker plotting, garment samples, garment costing, industrial engineering, apparel consulting, and even small runs (upon request). These are some of the initial steps you MUST take before finding a manufacturer that will work with you.

  • How much do they cost?

>> They are very competitive and cost varies depending on the services and needs of a client.

  • Do I need a Tech Pack?

>> Not necessarily, however it will save APaDS some time when it comes to product development. If you don’t have a technical pack created, APaDS is more than happy to help you format exactly what you need page by page.

  • Am I allowed to visit the facility?

>> APaDS loves it when their clients come for initial consultations, or later in the process to view their work. However, if you aren’t near the area don’t let that stop you! Darlene is very accessible via phone, email, and even Skype.

  • What is the time frame for a returned product?

>> Anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

  • What if I already have a pattern ready?

>> The timeframe may be shortened a bit, but the pattern will still need to be reviewed by Darlene for marking and digitalizing.  

To learn more about the incredible people working at APaDS, be sure to check out their website here and Facebook page here.


savannah fender, apads, sew shop talk

Savannah Fender is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. She completed her B.F.A at Radford University in Fashion Design and Marketing. She is currently in her last semester at NC State working on her thesis, which focuses on domestic manufacturing within the sewn goods and  textile industry. Savannah is passionate about garment production and helping entrepreneurs thrive!