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How the Founder of Sotela Raised Over $20,000 to Start a Womenswear Brand

Many of you know Hanna Baror-Padilla, who is one of my past Factory45 entrepreneurs and is now the founder of a womenswear brand called Sotela.

Hanna is a prime example that you don’t have to have thousands of dollars sitting in the bank nor endless amounts of free time to launch a clothing brand.

In fact, while Hanna was preparing to launch her clothing company through Kickstarter this year, she was working a full time job and commuting two hours each way.

I’ll never forget meeting her for brunch in L.A. last spring and hearing about the ungodly hour she would wake up every morning to go to work and then the equally ungodly hour she would get home from work.

Hanna is proof that if you want something bad enough, then you find a way to make time for it.

So, after a year of saving up money and dedicating her nights and weekends to building her campaign, Hanna launched Sotela with a Kickstarter this past May.

And she raised over $20,000 to fund her first production run.

As much as I can tell you how great crowdfunding is and how I know that it’s the very best option for you to launch your brand, I wanted to bring Hanna in to tell you about her own experience.

In this interview for Factory45 LIVE, Hanna and I talked about:

  • How she went from simply having an idea to actually getting started.
  • Why she chose Kickstarter as her launch platform and the other methods of raising money that she considered.
  • What she did to initially prepare for her campaign and how long she prepared for.
  • The strategies she attributes to the success of her Kickstarter.
  • What life looks like for her now… and more.

If you even have the slightest feeling that you think you might want to run a Kickstarter campaign someday, then you’ll hugely benefit from hearing the personal experience of someone who has done it before.

Watch the recording here.

 

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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

 

Introducing NOVEL SUPPLY CO: Conscious Apparel for the Urban Adventurer

This is an interview with Factory45’er Kaya Dorey about the launch of her brand NOVEL SUPPLY CO. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Kaya is raising money (update: has raised money) for her first production run of conscious apparel for the urban adventurer.

Can you give us a brief overview of your brand and the pieces you’re pre-selling?

NOVEL SUPPLY CO. is conscious apparel for the urban adventurer. My line is made up of three comfy, casual, gender neutral styles made from all natural hemp and organic cotton including:

The Cabin Crew, The Adventure Tee and The Muscle Tank.

My brand connects with adventurers who love active lifestyles and mindful living, but also care about their style. The goal for NOVEL is to provide people with conscious apparel that doesn’t sacrifice style. Rad graphics created by local artists keep our designs fresh and manufacturing locally allows for transparency throughout the manufacturing process.

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Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I chose Kickstarter because I was familiar with the platform and I had seen several other entrepreneurs (including Shannon and my fellow Factory45’ers) have success with their campaigns.

Kickstarter’s branding is super on point and their website is easy to navigate so I thought it would be the best fit for my campaign. Also, the demographic of people that use Kickstarter, or even know what it is, fit with my target market.

You’ve done months of prep. What helped you keep up your momentum and motivation?

As I am still working full-time to help fund my business and life, it was crucial that I work somewhere that was relatively flexible, with people who supported me from the get-go. I am so grateful for my team at work and their constant support and motivation.

Also, my guy – and marketing guru – has been an integral part in helping me to launch this campaign, manage my time and has been there every step of the way to cheer me on. He believes in me sometimes more than I believe in myself and has been crucial in keeping my fire stoked.

My friends and family have also helped me maintain momentum not only financially but also just by believing in my vision, connecting me with the people I need to know and constantly encouraging me to hustle.

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Can you give us a little insight into your campaign strategy? What has been working and what hasn’t worked as well?

Stoke my networks. The NOVEL tribe is made up of some of the raddest, most supportive people. They are the adventurers, they are the ones who make conscious decisions about what they buy, they are the ones who are making sustainability cool, and they love all things creative. They have also turned out to be the mavens of my campaign.

I am super lucky to have collaborated with some of the most talented and creative entrepreneurs in Vancouver and, because of that, I have a solid lineup of visual content that will help spread the word about NOVEL. Stay tuned 😉

What do you do when self doubt starts to creep up?

When self-doubt creeps up – which, I can tell you, it does – I go to the mountains, I have my friends over for a glass of wine, I have a good cry, I go stretch it out with some yoga, or take a timeout for myself and meditate. It’s the only way to tame a creative mind.

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What’s your favorite reward being offered in your campaign?

I love what I have come up with in terms of NOVEL apparel, and maybe I’m a little bit biased, but hey, my heart and soul is in The Muscle Tank, The Adventure Tee AND The Cabin Crew.

BUT, my favourite rewards being offered are the ones that I collaborated with others on! The growlers are sick! The handmade and hand-painted paddles are love at first sight! And, the designs, whether they are on the postcards, prints or NOVEL apparel are on point! It’s impossible to choose a favourite and I guess I haven’t really answered your question. Sarry.

If you had one piece advice for someone considering launching a Kickstarter, what would it be?

Adventure always!

You can check out Kaya’s campaign for NOVEL SUPPLY CO. hereTo read more about Kaya’s experience in Factory45, read her alumni story here.

 

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Introducing The 24 Hour Outfit, Sustainably & Ethically Made in Brooklyn

This is an interview with Factory45’er Rachel Fernbach about the launch of her brand PonyBabe. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Rachel is raising money (update: has raised money) for her first production run of The 24 Hour Outfit.

What are you pre-selling on Kickstarter?

PonyBabe is a line focused on creating ultra comfy, versatile wardrobe staples for women. The clothing is made from premium super soft eco-friendly fabric and manufactured in Brooklyn, NY.  

The 24 Hour Outfit, now available for pre-sale on Kickstarter, is a collection of 4 pieces: a large wrap, a racerback tank top, a cardigan, and a pair of delicately pleated pants. Meant to be mixed, matched, layered, and worn on repeat – the 24 Hour Outfit is ideal for creative professionals, expecting/new mamas, yogis/meditators/dancers, minimalists, and travelers.

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Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I started PonyBabe with personal savings, and did not have the cashflow to fund my first production run. I needed to raise money to get that going, and also wanted to make sure there was a demand for the clothing before getting any deeper into the process. As a new label, Kickstarter is an ideal way for me to raise money while also testing the waters, and it’s an effective way to spread the word about PonyBabe.

What was the most challenging aspect of creating your campaign?

Oh my goodness. I’m not going to lie: If I had known how challenging this all would be, I… still would have done it, but at least I would have been emotionally prepared for the insanity of doing so many new things for the first time!

I would say that what has been most challenging is simply the fact that I came into this industry with very little knowledge, and have had to learn so many new things, on a constant basis. (How to get samples and patterns made, how to produce a photoshoot and video shoot, how to use social media, how to build a website… the list goes on.)  It’s tiring, exhilarating, exciting, and also super cool to learn new things — but some days my bandwidth runneth low…

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You’ve done months of prep. What helped you keep up your momentum and motivation?

I started building my email list very early, and though it has grown slowly, having a supportive circle of dedicated and caring people has been priceless… each time I sent out an update (even if it was to say that things weren’t going as planned), I received back an email here and there encouraging me to keep it up and make those clothes. Those little love notes really kept my spirits up when things were hard.

 

Can you give us a little insight into your campaign strategy? What has been working and what hasn’t worked as well?

The clothes I’m making are a great fit for a lot of different lifestyles. With that in mind, I honed in on a few niches – yoga, dance, minimalism, eco-fashion, American-made, and maternity – and researched blogs, boutiques, magazines, and influencers who might have an interest in seeing PonyBabe get funded. It’s pretty early in my campaign, so I’m still waiting to see what winds up working best!

What seems helpful is connecting through my networks – i.e., friends of friends seem much more likely to want to help… but I’m not letting that stop me from reaching out to others as well.  As in all arenas of life, relationships are key: it’s important to make personal connections, and make offers to give instead of just making requests to receive.

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What do you do when self doubt starts to creep up?

Notice it, allow it to have some space, then choose to focus on the positive. I actively shift my attention to what is going well, while also acknowledging that this is a stressful experience, and it’s normal and healthy to feel a little nervous or worried from time to time.

My nerdy self-encouragement mantra right now is “People love me and want me to succeed.”  It’s surprisingly motivating! 🙂

What’s your favorite reward being offered in your campaign?

The Whole Outfit, of course! Each piece is great on its own, but putting on the whole outfit is pretty much a perfect recipe for instant comfy cozy bliss. I love how it makes me feel like cuddling up with a mug of tea and a good book.

If you had one piece advice for someone considering launching a Kickstarter, what would it be?

Go for it! And ask for help from people, because it’s a lot for one person to take on.

You can check out Rachel’s campaign for The 24 Hour Outfit by PonyBabe hereTo read more about Rachel’s experience in Factory45, read her alumni story here.

 

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How One Entrepreneur Raised $20,000 in 8 Days

This isn’t a post about how to write a press pitch or how to get the media’s attention (I save that for the Factory45 program).

This is the story of one entrepreneur who received international press attention — without even asking for it.

She didn’t have connections with a few high-brow reporters. She didn’t hound writers with a press release. And she didn’t buy one of those $500 media lists.

Instead, the press came to her.

The great news is: if you’re hoping for media features in your future —  the same can happen for you.

Here’s how she did it.

HOW IT STARTED

If you’ve been following the entrepreneurs who have come through Factory45 over the past year, you’ve read about Heidi McKenzie.

In 2007, Heidi was 21 years old when she was driving through thick fog on a curving road, hit a tree and flipped her car.

Suffering traumatic head and spinal cord injuries, she was left a T4 paraplegic (she can’t feel from her chest down).

Since then, Heidi has adjusted to her new lifestyle and has become an advocate for other young people who are paralyzed.

In 2014, she came through the first-ever Factory45 cohort to launch a line of functional denim jeans that provide a comfortable and convenient fashion option for men and women in wheelchairs.

During her time in Factory45, she created a supply chain based entirely in North Carolina, designed her jeans in collaboration with a skilled designer, built a website, perfected the messaging of her story and began to a share her brand.

Then, she launched a Kickstarter campaign… and that’s when things got really interesting.

GOING “VIRAL”

For the first half of her campaign, Heidi was steadily gaining pledges but the funds weren’t pouring in. She had set a goal of $20K and was hovering around $10K with about a week to go.

She had arranged a few small press opportunities — an interview on the local morning show, a blog feature here and there — and leveraged those opportunities by sharing them on social media.

Then, she connected with a writer for The Huffington Post and was interviewed for a feature.

The HuffPo article snowballed into an interview request from Mashable. The Mashable article got over 40,000 shares.

That story was then picked up by Yahoo News, GOOD Magazine, Hello Giggles, Digital Journal, Fox News, the list goes on. (Even a news outlet in Japan.)

Heidi says some of the press didn’t even contact her — they just wrote about her story on their own accord.

As the story continued to get picked up around the world, the pledges came flooding in. She reached her goal in a matter of days, was featured as a Kickstarter “Staff Pick” and finished with a total of $28,527.

That’s all to say, she raised nearly $20K in eight days.

 

THE REAL REASON BEHIND HEIDI’S SUCCESS

It’s clear by now that the press was instrumental in the success of Heidi’s Kickstarter campaign.

But it didn’t start there.

It started with her story.

Heidi already had a unique story to tell but as she can tell you, we spent months in Factory45 cultivating and honing in on the key parts of that story. She wrote elevator pitches, sticky messages, tag lines, and we worked tirelessly to perfect her core message.

If you want to attract the attention of the media, customers, brand ambassadors — just about anyone — you must have a compelling story.

It’s simply not enough to say, “I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign” or “I’m launching a new product.” These days, everyone and their mom is launching a Kickstarter — that’s not a good enough reason to pitch the press.

There has to be a memorable message that goes with it.

A reason to care.

Yes, Heidi has an incredible story that is inspiring and unique. But if you’re thinking, “Well there’s nothing about me (or my company) that is as interesting as that,” then you need to dig deeper.

What connects you to others?

What is it about you that makes other people’s faces light up?

What is the single most interesting thing about you (or your products)?

If you’re hoping to get press in the future, then the first thing you need to do is get answers to those questions.

Once you have those questions, you need to find a way to package the message in a memorable way.

So that it writes its own headline.

 

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

Photo courtesy of Mashable.

How to Use Storytelling to Raise Over $64K for Your Fashion Brand

Four years ago I co-created the highest funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at the time.

To fund the first production run of our product, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 30 different ways, my co-founder and I looked to Kickstarter to raise $20K in 30 days.

What happened over those 30 days far surpassed our wildest dreams. Not only did we acquire nearly 800 backers, quadruple our first production order and attract the attention of The New York Times, but we finally saw a year and a half of hard work pay off.

When we clicked the launch button we had no idea what to expect. We had an email list of less than 500 people, a Twitter following of about 800 and a Facebook following of less than 1,000.

Kickstarter wasn’t what it is today, so it had far less traffic and didn’t yet have the trust of potential backers who didn’t know what “a Kickstarter” was.

But despite the lack of internet marketing tactics, an advertising budget or a team of employees, my co-founder and I did have one thing on our side.

A compelling story.

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For a year and a half, we had been leveraging effective storytelling through blogging and social media. Four years later, branding gurus now call that “content marketing.”

Our marketing strategy wasn’t calculated or premeditated — even though it would have been a pretty smart plan. We were just two aspiring entrepreneurs in our mid-twenties who wanted to start a sustainable apparel company. And we wanted to share that journey.

We were transparent, candid, and authentic — not holding back with stories from the “entrepreneurial trenches.” We blogged weekly to share our experiences with our small readership and the more honest we were, the more our audience responded.

By the time we launched our Kickstarter campaign, our “followers” knew about our first big co-founder fight, our samplemaking mistakes, and our expectations for what we were going to create and how we were going to create it.

Do you know what happens when your followers feel like they’re invested in your past, present, and future? They get out their wallets and invest in you.

We raised $10K in 36 hours and with more than half of our campaign left, we blew past our goal of $20K to finish our last day with $64,246.

The lesson? If you have a compelling story that’s authentic and “shareable,” then the idea will spread.

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Whether you’re prepping for a Kickstarter campaign down the road, planning to bootstrap your business, or are looking to raise VC money, your brand must have an engaging story that resonates with potential customers.

The good news is, creating that story is a lot easier than you think. It’s simply a matter of being authentic, tapping into what is uniquely you, and sharing it.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re in the branding phase of starting your company and are still trying to figure out how you’re different:

  • Ask a few close friends what they think is most interesting about you and your background. What do people tell you is especially cool about who you are?
  • What problem are you solving for your customer? What is especially interesting about that problem and your solution for it?
  • What is your “one sticky message?” Meaning if you had to come up with one sentence that described your story, how would you make it super memorable and “shareable.”
  • If you were at a networking event and you had to do one of those awkward “ice breakers” what would be the interesting “fun fact” you told everyone about yourself?

These are prompts to get you thinking — the trick is to weave together the best components of your story in a way that engages others to want to know more.

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As soon as you have a foundation for your story, you have to start telling it. And that’s the hardest part. It’s scary to put yourself out there, show vulnerability, and not really know what’s going to happen.

But the sooner you do it, the closer you are to creating a brand.

And you know what happens when you have a great brand?

You start to attract customers.

And then, not only do you have a product, a story, and a brand —

You have a business.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

This article originally appeared as a guest post on Startup Fashion here.


Market45

 

Launching a Fashion Kickstarter? Consider this.

Raise your hand if you’ve seen more fashion Kickstarter campaigns than you can count and you’re feeling kind of “over it”…

Considering that I dedicate an entire module of Factory45 to teaching entrepreneurs how to launch successful crowdfunding campaigns, I’m sure it sounds weird for me to say that.

But I’m going somewhere with this.

I regularly get emails from people who want me to share the news about their upcoming Kickstarters. Oxford button downs, dresses for the working woman, lingerie, kids clothes, you name it.

The problem isn’t in launching a Kickstarter.

I think crowdfunding is awesome – it reduces the risk of production, alleviates startup costs and provides free marketing and customer feedback.

The problem lies in the way the story is being told.

For the most part, the sustainable fashion projects going through Kickstarter aren’t saying anything different from the last one. The majority are riding the same wave:

  • We manufacture in the USA.
  • We use only the most sustainable fabrics.
  • We say ‘no’ to fast fashion.
  • We believe in a better planet.

Sound familiar?

As the same thing is being said over and over again, do you know what’s happening?

Consumers are shutting off and becoming numb to the same “our fashion saves the planet” mantra.

 

We’re now in a time when being asked to support a Kickstarter is becoming more common than contributing to the neighborhood kid’s bake sale (yum, do those still exist?)

If you’re going to ask people to support, share and back your campaign, then your story has to be unlike anyone else’s.

Yes, consumers are now more willing to pay a small premium for ethically-made products, but saying so shouldn’t be your marketing tactic. It should be an afterthought.

Kind of like, “Well yeah, of course our company manufacturers ethically and transparently.”

Or:

“Well yeah, of course we’re always pushing to use the most sustainable materials possible.”

The ethics and sustainability of a company should be embedded into the business model as a non-negotiable, not a strategy for saying: “Aren’t we so great? You should pledge to our Kickstarter.”

As the fashion industry becomes more and more accessible to new designers who want to launch their own collections, there is going to be more competition in the market.

As I tell my Factory45’ers, the best way to stand out from the competition is to say something new — something memorable.

Here are a few examples of Kickstarter campaigns that are telling a different story about ethical and sustainable fashion and are doing it well:

VICTOR ATHLETICS

Organic, vintage-inspired athletic wear for men & women, made by small-town American factories and delivered directly to you.

What they do well:

  • The organic materials of their new athletic line is mentioned briefly in the description, but the story focuses on the small-town American factory as the victor.
  • They created a hero or protagonist to pull for.
  • They’ve made organic cotton and made-in-the-USA “sexy” with appealing visuals and a brand aesthetic that isn’t crunchy, hippie or rustic.

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FLINT & TINDER

A premium sweatshirt built for life, designed for a decade.

What they do well:

  • Jake Bronstein has done multiple Kickstarter campaigns for his company, Flint & Tinder, but this was the most successful. This is Kickstarter’s only fashion project that raised over a million dollars.
  • The story is focused on a hooded sweatshirt that will last 10 years. If it doesn’t, you can send it in to be mended.
  • Fast fashion thrives on the idea of planned obsolescence which is exactly what this campaign is combatting. What Jake did really well was put the focus on the consumer’s desire instead of the same old fast fashion story. Who wouldn’t want a sweatshirt that will last 10 years?

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SWORD & PLOUGH

A quadruple bottom line bag company that works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish bags.

What they did well:

  • The labor story is focused on military veterans who are employed to make the bags.
  • The materials story is focused on surplus military materials that would otherwise be wasted.
  • Most compelling of all is the story of two sisters, one who is in the army, starting a business together.

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If you’re getting ready to launch a Kickstarter campaign or are thinking about it for the future, this is the best advice I can give you: say something new.

If you do that, I’m certain you’ll get a better response from potential customers, from the press pitches you send out, and from the industry at large.

 

 

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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.

Betsy-Emily

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.


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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.

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.


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