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The Crowdfunding Factory Launches Next Week!

Six years ago, I told my friends and family that I was starting a business.

The kicker was, I didn’t have an idea yet.

I had found someone crazy enough to start the “business” with me, and I figured that was enough of a reason to keep going.

The first idea we came up with was to start an import / export business of fair trade textiles and artifacts, so we booked one-way tickets to Guatemala.

My then co-founder and I arranged to live with a host family so that we could learn Spanish in a month and start building partnerships with artisan cooperatives around the country.

Were we naive?

Um, yeah.

Did our original idea pan out?

Not even a little bit.

Did we learn something more valuable in the process?

Absolutely.

A year after we returned from Central America, we did in fact launch a business but it looked nothing like our original vision.

In retrospect, I could look back on the costs of flights, room and board, Spanish lessons, transportation and other travel expenses as money down the drain.

I could have thought:

“If only we had just known from the beginning that we’d end up designing a piece of clothing, manufacturing in the U.S. and launching with a Kickstarter campaign… Think of all of the money we could have saved!”

But for all of that money lost, you couldn’t put a price on what I learned.

It’s the one piece of advice that I’ve taken with me over the years.

It’s the one piece of advice that I tell all of the entrepreneurs I work with.

And it’s the one piece of advice that I hope you’ll take to heart today:

Start before you’re ready.

 

Why?

Because starting before you’re ready isn’t about being underprepared or unsure of yourself.

Starting before you’re ready is actually a marketing strategy.

It’s a strategy that you can use to build a business and generate customers before you’ve even launched.

And I’m going to show you how.

Next week, on Tuesday, November 15th, I’m opening enrollment to The Crowdfunding Factory. (Update: Enrollment is now closed.)

This online training program is for fashion entrepreneurs who want to launch or grow their brands with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.

I’m going to show you how to raise money for your brand in a way that ensures you have an audience to launch to —

And guarantees that you have customers before you go into production.

If you know you need to raise money for your fashion startup, then make sure you’re signed up to be notified about early enrollment here.

 

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Market45

 

How Much Money Do You Really Need to Launch a Fashion Brand?

A few weeks ago you may remember I sent out a questionnaire to all of you, asking one question:

What is your SINGLE biggest challenge right now when it comes to launching your clothing company?

And not too surprisingly, most of you said the exact same thing…

“I don’t have any MONEY!”

(Or something along those lines.)

A lack of funds can be a huge problem for a startup brand that has the vision and dedication to succeed but simply doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to invest upfront.

Even more significant is the fact that many of us have a lot of fear-based thinking when it comes to money.

Whether it’s because of the way we were raised or a feeling of lack throughout our lives, many of us operate in a cycle of scarcity rather than abundance.

When it comes to building an apparel brand there’s also a lot of confusion around how much you really need for product development. We say we want to pay the people we work with an “ethical” wage but most of us don’t really know what that means.

In the second interview for Factory45 LIVE, I talked to Nicole Giordano, founder of StartUp FASHION, about the money topic that most people don’t want to touch.

In addition to answering questions from the audience, Nicole and I covered:

  • How much money you should realistically expect to spend during product development.
  • Our top recommendations for funding your first production run without the risk.
  • Ways to determine your stage of business, develop a budget, create a financial plan — and STICK to it.
  • The personal stories of how we funded our businesses from the beginning without going into debt.
  • And other creative ways to raise money, with management advice about how to be less afraid to spend it.

The truth is, if you’re creating a physical product then it requires some money — there’s no way around that.

But whereas 10 years ago, you had to have all of that capital sitting in your bank account (or have some rich relatives), the industry has changed. There are now easier and smarter ways to start your brand with very little risk to your own finances.

Listen to Factory45 LIVE with Nicole Giordano of StartUp FASHION.

 

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If you know someone who would benefit from attending Factory45 LIVE, please share the recording link.

P.S. The next Factory45 LIVE will be with Michael Riddering, co-founder of Trendly.  : )

 

Making It: Start-up Advice from the Co-Founder of Sword & Plough

I was first introduced to the founders of Sword & Plough during their Kickstarter campaign in the spring of 2013. Sisters Betsy and Emily Nunez launched a campaign (that blew their goal out of water) to produce a quadruple bottom line company that works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish bags.

A year later, I met Betsy in Boston to hear more about the behind the scenes of growing Sword & Plough. Since our coffee chat, S&P has seen some amazing traction with its debut on The Today Show, as well as features in Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, Refinery29 and many more.

Having started from ground zero and building the company into what it is today, Betsy is sharing her best start-up advice for early-stage companies that are ready to embark on their journey.

1.) What inspired the creation of Sword & Plough? What are the ethics and values behind your company?

My sister, Emily, and I grew up in a military family. After hearing so many meaningful stories from our father, uncle, and cousin about their time in the service, Emily was inspired to serve herself. She was particularly inspired by the humanitarian missions that our dad was deployed on and the counterinsurgency research he conducted that was put into action. She knew she wanted to serve in the military, and we both knew at a young age that we wanted to make a positive impact in the world, just as our family members had.

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As a result of Emily’s time in Army ROTC during college and growing up in a military family, she was keenly aware of the incredible amount of military surplus waste, as well as the state of veteran unemployment. This inspired her to take something that is often wasted and upcycle it into a beautiful product with a powerful mission.

The result is our company Sword & Plough.

Today, our team re-purposes military surplus materials into stylish bags that are made by American manufacturers that are veteran owned or operated. We also donate 10 percent of the profits to veteran organizations that align with our mission to strengthen civil-military understanding, empower veteran employment, and reduce waste.

We are a quadruple bottom line fashion and accessories business focused on people, our purpose, care for the planet, and profitability (a key component that allows us to further our impact). Our team has built our business model to reflect a life cycle and we’ve worked hard to shape the brand’s ethos with impact at every stage. To date, Sword & Plough has up-cycled over 15,000+ pounds of military surplus, supported 38 veteran jobs, and sold over 5,000 products. twitter-bird-light-bgs1

2.) What was the most difficult part of setting up your supply chain? What hurdles did you have to get over in the process?sword-plough

The most challenging part of setting up our supply chain was learning everything from scratch, setting it up, and ‘putting out fires’ or problem solving as issues arose. We knew from the beginning we wanted to do our manufacturing in the U.S. and work with U.S. partners and suppliers, but no one on our team had specific knowledge or experience with manufacturing or creating a supply chain. Building our long term supply chain for large scale S&P production happened after launching on Kickstarter, all while the majority of our team was located in different time zones — Emily, our CEO, was deployed and serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan at that time.

First hand experience taught us that relying on so many different pieces (manufacturing, shipping, expenses, other people and even the environment) can create surprises or ‘speed bumps.’ What you thought was going to take one month to implement can quickly extend to two or even three months!

These ‘speed bumps’ were the sort of setbacks that if not corrected the second time around, can quickly crush an early stage business, or best (of the worst) case scenario, lead to unhappy customers.

We worked hard to absorb as much information as possible and then make adjustments and implement new strategies as we moved forward.

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Here are a few key things we learned:

  • Find sources that are a match for large scale production regardless of the stage you are at.
  • Find sources or partners that carry items that are consistently re-stocked or are regularly available in large quantities.
  • Ensure that the companies you are working with are in good financial standing and will be a long term partner.
  • Ask the supplier or partner to fill out a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility survey) or ask them questions to ensure their processes meet your values.
  • Do test runs for time, cost, etc.
  • Get quotes, samples, shipping timelines, lead times, and cost in writing prior to purchasing.
  • Find an effective and diligent way of communicating with your manufacturer (Whether it be planned calls, weekly/daily visits, having them regularly update a master spreadsheet with production progress).
  • Find mentors specifically skilled and experienced in retail distribution, operations, logistics, and supply chain.

Manufacturing within the U.S., communicating with all parties in the same language, as well as being located in the same country has helped us do all of the above, act or react in a very timely manner, and has allowed us to feel a lot more comfortable with our processes once we were set up.

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3.) What mistakes or challenges have you learned from while setting up and running Sword & Plough?

We knew there would be a lot of challenges and new roles, facets, and foundations that were going to be essential to fulfilling our dream of turning S&P into a well functioning business.

When building a startup, you haven’t learned how to do everything yet and you’re likely going to be very limited with resources and working capital. A lot of the advice and help we received early on is still priceless today.

We’ve never been afraid to ask for help or to ask the questions that will help us problem solve or plan our vision further. It wasn’t easy (early on) to be focused on an idea that hadn’t gained momentum yet, or something that people weren’t aware of or didn’t understand. We’ve learned through early challenges that nothing worth doing comes easy and there’s a lot to learn when you’re building something from scratch. It’s your ability to work when work isn’t easy that makes the difference.

The best part about our business life is the uniqueness and pride that comes with seeing our idea through and gaining momentum. Each and every day, regardless of the challenges that present themselves, we feel like we’ve won the lottery because our team gets to build something that is our owntwitter-bird-light-bgs1, through our vision and share it with the world.

Sword-and-Plough-Repurposed-Bags4.) What is your main marketing strategy? You’ve also gotten some great press – how did those opportunities come about?

Our main marketing strategy is to build engaged groups through word of mouth, social media, press, and email marketing. A lot of the opportunities and features that we have received to date have come from a very strong launch when we entered the market on Kickstarter in April 2013.

Here are  three things that we found helpful to think about when launching our brand and getting the word out:

1. Define your goal and create your pre-launch, launch and post-launch plan. Define your vision for your audience, brand, community, and story. Be as detailed as you can and think about what you need in terms of funding and your goals for marketing, branding, production and customer experience.

2. Activate and engage your network. Make an early, large, public and online announcement to your commitment to build your product or launch. From that point on, commit to building as much awareness as possible around your product, campaign, or launch.

3. Ensure a wide audience for your campaign (to expand even beyond your network):

  • Share your product or idea with as many friends, family and acquaintances as possible.
  • Organize feedback sessions and ask for their advice, opinion and real time feedback. Collect as much information as possible and listen.
  • After you’ve connected with someone in your target market, ask if there’s anyone they think you should meet or speak with who could provide additional support, and don’t be shy about asking for a direct introduction.
  • As you’re having the conversations, give people the opportunity to sign up for launch alerts or updates.
  • Create engaging content and tell every aspect of your story.
  • Develop brand evangelists who will talk about your product and story.
  • Create and build your brand’s resources (social media platforms, media packet, press release, business cards, pitch postcards, text lists, email lists, photography and campaign videos).
  • Build a media list of bloggers and publications that have synergy with your idea, mission and product. Keep in mind that many of the bloggers you reach out to are getting hundreds of emails each day. You need to make your story stand out, and the easiest way to do that is often with a direct introduction.
  • Create new contacts outside of your own network by attending meet-ups, events, presentations, pitch competitions, events in the industry you’re looking to enter, and be an active member of communities that have synergy with your mission
  • We highly encourage you to reach out to your already existing network — your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network and ask for support, in the form of help or pledges, but perhaps more importantly, contacts.

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5.) What advice do you have for designer entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

If we could pass along advice, our top ten would be…

1. Take your ideas seriously from the start. Every idea is worth serious consideration (at least a five minute brainstorm), no matter how absurd or impossible it may seem at first. Believe in the power of an idea. Test your idea continuously and ask questions. Push yourself to drive the idea from concept into reality.

2. Ask for feedback every step of the way.

3. Dream up the biggest vision possible, start wherever you are and start small. twitter-bird-light-bgs1

4. Nothing is impossible or out of reach for people that continuously try and go after what they want.

5. Push through the challenges and overcome any sized obstacles by gathering information, seeking help and broadening your perspective.

6. Find mentors that are successful and experienced within your industry.

7. Constantly developing relationships is essential for business growth.

8. Build your own community or seek out the ones that will either be very supportive and the most critical of your idea. Both will make you better.

9. Seek out opportunities. They are fuel for gaining momentum, and opening the door for communication between your business and audience is key.

10. Always thank people and express gratitude.

Photos courtesy of Sword & Plough, So Freaking Cool, Druammons, Made Close, Go Verb & Super Compressor.


Market45

11 Indie Designers Making a Mark in Ethical Fashion

In an industry of bottom lines, shareholders and cut corners, it’s refreshing to find the people who still view fashion as art. Rather than churning out millions of identical garments, there are designers who have chosen to stay true to the beauty of what fashion can truly be.

Given that these designers still have to compete (in some capacity) with the H&M’s of the world, it’s even more admirable to find those who have also integrated ethics and sustainability into their business models.

These indie designers are staying true to their art form while trying to make the industry a little better along the way.

Moriah Carlson and Alice Wu of Feral Childe | I only recently discovered this bi-coastal design duo, and I’m so glad I did. Moriah and Alice work from studios in Brooklyn and Oakland, respectively, and manufacture their label in NYC’s Garment District. Each garment from the line meets at least two of the sustainability guidelines listed on their website.

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Julia Kastner of Eva & Paul | I was introduced to Julia over email a few months ago and instantly devoured her website. If there’s one thing I struggle with in my own wardrobe, it’s finding sustainably-made jeans, which is why I always resort to buying a stretched out second-hand pair. Julia has found a way to produce 98 percent organic cotton jeans while keeping the price-point under $200. The rest of the materials are fair trade and everything is sewn in the USA.

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Elizabeth Brunner of Piece x Piece | I’ve been a long-time fan of Elizabeth Brunner’s since first meeting her in San Francisco in the summer of 2012. Elizabeth uses sample fabric swatches that are discarded by the pounds from design houses and pieces them together to create one-of-a-kind garments. By making use of what would otherwise be waste, Elizabeth has created a stunning collection made by hand in San Francisco.

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Britt Howard and Rosemary Robinson of PGF House Line | Britt and Rose are the joint-genius behind the Portland Garment Factory. I spent some time with them in 2012 while revamping the design for the “Versalette 2.0.” Although they primarily work on other designer’s products, they have found the time to put together their own line of unique designs being sold all over the country. Everything is manufactured in their self-owned factory in Portland.

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Kristin Glenn of Seamly.co | My former partner-in-crime at {r}evolution apparel, Kristin now designs her own label of versatile clothing made in Denver from deadstock fabric. I swear by the Seamly high-waisted leggings (as I’ve told many of my friends), and the revamped and redesigned Versalette is still being sold under the Seamly label.

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Nicole Bridger of Nicole Bridger | Last year, I heard Nicole Bridger speak at ECO Fashion Week in Vancouver. She founded her company on the belief that fashion doesn’t have to sacrifice a commitment to the environment, so she puts a personal emphasis on transparency. All Nicole Bridger fabrics and materials are ethically-sourced, and are often renewable or biodegradable. Ninety percent of the collection is manufactured in Vancouver while the other 10% is produced in Fair Trade certified factories overseas.

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Betsy & Emily Nunez of Sword & Plough | I’ll never forget the splash that sisters Betsy and Emily made with the launch of their Kickstarter campaign in May 2013. With a goal of raising $20,000, their quadruple-bottom-line bag company that uses reclaimed military fabrics, raised over $300K. All S&P bags are made in the USA with upcycled materials that use 95% less energy than conventional bags.

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Tara St. James of Study N.Y. | Study is a sustainable womenswear label based in Brooklyn. Because it doesn’t adhere to the typical fashion calendar (which is now up to 52 seasons a year), all of the designs are seasonless. Much of the brand’s focus revolves around the story of each garment, the hands that made them, and the ethical materials that were used.

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Although the price points of some of these brands may seem higher than you’re used to, it’s important to consider the timelessness and durability that comes with clothing that is ethically made. All of these designers create garments that will last season after season, and most will stand the test of time as the trends change.

Thank you for supporting ethical and independent design.

This post originally appeared on ShannonWhitehead.com. You can see it here.

Photo credit: Feral Childe, Eva & Paul, Piece x Piece, Portland Garment Factory, Seamly.co, Nicole Bridger, Sword & Plough & Study NY.


Market45

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How Etsy Changed the Rules & What It Means for Indie Designers

I’m a conscious consumer. I shop second-hand, I limit my consumption of “stuff,” and I try to keep my purchases local. I believe in voting with my dollars, and I’ve gone so far as to dedicate my career to figuring out what that means.

On occasion, though, when I’m hankering for a new piece of jewelry or a unique gift I can’t find in my local thrift shop, I’ll look to Etsy. If I’m going to dish out the cash on a new item, I know that my purchase has more impact if it goes to the local makers who are working on their craft.

As someone who is directly involved in the maker movement, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I didn’t pay much attention when Etsy changed its policies last fall. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, CEO Chad Dickerson announced that Etsy sellers could use outside manufacturers to produce their designs. In other words, items sold on Etsy no longer had to be handmade.

It wasn’t until a few months ago, when looking on Etsy for a new watch that I realized the implications of this change.

I had a specific brown, repurposed leather, wrap-watch in mind. I knew the one I wanted was handmade by a seller in Ohio, but I didn’t know his name. Typing in a simple search for “wrap watch” into Etsy, I proceeded to spend nearly an hour sifting through 50+ pages of three-dollar “wrap watches” from China.

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My eyes scanned over page after page of items I would have expected to find in the kiosks of Daytona Beach, not on a website for handmade goods. I sat at my computer with my jaw on the keyboard, wondering what had just happened. When I eventually found what I was looking for I purchased the handmade watch, for significantly more than three dollars, and moved on. I didn’t think much more about the experience after that.

A few months later, I met an Etsy seller through Factory45. Among other reasons, she applied to my program looking for business guidance on restoring her Etsy shop sales.

She recently told me, “Last year my Etsy sales tripled in the spring and then again in the fall, so I figured things were still looking good. But in May, my views dropped off to about one-third of what they were in the previous months and as compared to last year. I thought they just dipped because of the holiday weekend and the nice weather, but in June they did not pick back up.”

She went on to explain that several message boards had popped up about similar drops in traffic for other Etsy sellers. When I went on the site to see for myself I found threads with titles like, “Are most of you feeling the low traffic, views and sales?” “Can Etsy stop letting Chinese factories sell here?” and “Your Stuff: Made in China?” with diplomatic responses from Etsy administrators encouraging the sellers “to take advantage of the downtime.” (Interesting advice when downtime could mean the difference between paying and not paying your rent.)

Aside from the issue that independent designers are now competing with full-scale production operations, there is the issue of sheer volume — Etsy now has over 1 million shops. When a seller is competing in a sea of 999,999 other shops, the odds aren’t good.

Now that Etsy shoppers have the option of buying from middlemen selling three dollar watches, finding that handmade wrap watch you’re looking for will undoubtedly be more difficult. From the seller’s perspective, no matter how many times they change their “tags,” SEO or refresh their storefront, the traffic just isn’t going to come like it used to.

So what actually happened?

In the fall of 2013, Etsy shifted its loyalty from the maker to the shareholder as it made plans to further scale its business model. How did this change things?

Because Etsy’s policy changes happened at the maker’s expense, many of the people who were once making a living off of their shops are now seeing a fraction of the sales. The difference between Etsy, and let’s say, Wal-Mart just got a whole lot smaller. At the core, Etsy changed its mission. No longer is it a website for makers of one-of-a-kind, original goods. Instead, it has become yet another website for the mass-produced and cheaply made goods that satisfy our insatiable culture of mindless consumption.

So what’s a seller to do?

If you’re an independent designer or maker with an Etsy shop, there are a few ways to try and get your traffic back up.

  • Create a small network of fellow sellers. Etsy offers the “team” feature but going beyond that, find five other sellers who have a similar target market and non-competing products. Work together to promote each other’s shops using your individual social media outlets and outside networks.

  • Narrow down your niche and create very specific tags. “Screen printed t-shirt” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. The competition is too high. Use tags and keywords you know would appeal to your target market and get specific.

  • Guest post on the Etsy blog. The blog run by Etsy is “consumer facing,” meaning the content is written for shoppers. It’s an entire platform where your potential customers could be hanging out. Come up with a few article ideas that would appeal to Etsy shoppers and pitch the editorial team.

  • Move marketing efforts away from Etsy to Pinterest, Instagram and a personal blog. Etsy ads are not going to be as effective as they used to be, so save your money. Focus your marketing efforts on creating compelling content through your social media outlets. Host contests on Pinterest, run giveaways on Instagram, and write about the “behind-the-scenes” of your business on your blog.

As someone who supports the manufacturing movement in the USA, I believe that Etsy sellers should be able to scale production when their sales numbers get too high to manage on their own. My issue with Etsy lies in the lack of a discerning gatekeeper.

It comes down to this: the world doesn’t need another eBay. It needs the old Etsy.

Photo credit: Etsy logo