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sustainable fashion

December’s Featured Sustainable Fashion Products

This is the final part of a six-month photography series, featuring sustainable fashion products on Instagram. You can see July’s products here, August’s products here, September’s products here, October’s products here and November’s products here.

December has come and gone… but with the holiday break, I didn’t get a chance to share the sixth (and final!) part of my Instagram project with Boston photographer Joyelle West.

All of the brands below are past Factory45’ers. Two of them are available to shop on Market45 now and one of them is coming to the site next month!

This has been such a fun project to take on for the past six months. It ended up being an awesome way to promote Market45 brands and a great way to push me out of my comfort zone : )

I’m currently working on some different content for Instagram (that won’t involve me in front of the camera!) and I’m very excited to share it with you in the coming months. If you’re not already following Factory45 on Instagram you can do so here.

Now, keep reading for December’s featured sustainable fashion products:

NOVEL SUPPLY CO. | CABIN CREW

Founded by Factory45’er Kaya Dorey, Novel Supply Co. is a lifestyle brand for the urban adventurer. Designed with the West Coast lifestyle in mind, the collection of crewneck sweatshirts, muscle tanks and t-shirts are ethically made in Canada from hemp and organic cotton.

The Cabin Crew (pictured above) is made of the coziest hemp fleece and printed with non-toxic dyes. I’ve been living in it all winter and it’s as warm as it looks.

You can shop the Cabin Crew and other apparel for the urban adventurer here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase


HARLY JAE | FLORES BLOUSE

Harly Jae is another Canadian brand that was created in Vancouver, B.C. Factory45’er Laïla Bédard-Potvin designs feminine and vintage-inspired garments that aim to be simple without being basic.

Inspired by her father who passed away when Laïla was 11, Harly Jae has set out to shake up the fashion industry and create its own path.

You can shop other feminine and vintage-inspired designs from Harly Jae here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


REPRISE | LACE-UP LEGGINGS

Founded by Factory45’er Mary Bemis, Reprise is a line of plant-based activewear that’s addressing the widespread use of synthetics in workout clothing.

Every time you wash synthetic fabrics, typically used for activewear, it sheds thousands of microplastics into the water, eventually ending up in the ocean.

Reprise uses fabric made out of eucalyptus trees, eliminating the micro-plastics problem and giving you a much “cleaner” workout.

You can shop the lace-up leggings and other plant-based activewear here (and you’ll find Reprise on Market45 soon!)


To see the rest of December’s featured products (like Vesta and Mamachic), come on over to Instagram by clicking here.

And don’t forget, you can now shop other sustainable and ethical fashion brands on Market45 here!

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

 

 

P.S. When you use the discount code MARKET45 I receive a 5% referral commission. I only promote products and brands that I personally wear and believe in.


Oh! And my friend Nicole just opened enrollment to her membership site, StartUp Fashion

There are many past Factory45’ers who are now part of the StUF community and it’s an amazing way to connect with other fashion entrepreneurs, get mentorship and tap into expert resources.

Enrollment is only open for a week, so make sure to check it out here.

sustainable fashion

November’s Featured Sustainable Fashion Products

This is the fifth part of a six-month photography series, featuring sustainable fashion products on Instagram. You can see July’s products here, August’s products here, September’s products here and October’s products here.

‘Tis the season for ethical shopping and in case you missed it, Market45 went live on November 1st!

Featuring 20 brands that have launched through the Factory45 program, Market45 is a platform to shop sustainable and ethical fashion, all in one place.

You can use code MARKET45 on all orders and receive 10% off your total purchase.

Now keep reading for November’s featured sustainable fashion products:

BE KIND VIBES | “TO THE SEA” T-SHIRT

Founded by Factory45’er Matt Hickey, Be Kind Vibes is ethical apparel for the conscious adventurer. What started as a message to be kinder to the planet, BKV has evolved into a lifestyle brand that promotes kindness, unity and positivity.

The “To The Sea” tee is made in the USA from 50% organic cotton and 50% recycled polyester. It’s a tribute to Mother Ocean and a reminder to think consciously about how we treat her.

You can shop clothing for the conscious adventurer here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


PURE COLOUR BABY | ALLIGATOR HOODIE & HAREM PANTS

PURE COLOUR BABY | ALLIGATOR HOODIE & HAREM PANTS

Pure Colour Baby was started by Factory45’er Lindsay Down, who handcrafts organic baby clothing in Canada. Founded on a “grow-with-me” philosophy, all Pure Colour Baby pieces last comfortably through multiple sizes.

My son is wearing their adorable alligator print hoodie that’s made of a medium-weight organic cotton jersey. The matching organic cotton harem pants make it the perfect set or can be worn separately.

You can shop the Alligator Hoodie, as well as other Pure Colour Baby pieces here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


LIZ RIDEN | SLIM WALLET & TALL TOTE2

LIZ RIDEN | SLIM WALLET & TALL TOTE

Factory45’er Liz Riden creates handcrafted leather goods, using vegetable-tanned leather that’s a byproduct of meat industry waste. This is above and beyond the standards of conventional leather goods brands.

Made by hand in Pennsylvania, you can also add custom monograms making these accessories the perfect gift this holiday season.

You can shop handcrafted leather goods from Liz Riden here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


To see the rest of November’s featured products (like La Fille Colette and Bokk Baby), come on over to Instagram by clicking here.

And don’t forget, you can now shop other sustainable and ethical fashion brands on Market45 here!

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

P.S. When you use the discount code MARKET45 I receive a 5% referral commission. I only promote products and brands that I personally wear and believe in.


Market45

October’s Featured Sustainable Fashion Products

This is the fourth part of a six-month photography series, featuring sustainable fashion products on Instagram. You can see July’s products here, August’s products here and September’s products here.

As I mentioned last week, Market45 launches tomorrow, November 1st!

Featuring 20 brands that have launched through the Factory45 accelerator program, you’ll be able to shop sustainable and ethical fashion, all in one place.

You can sign up here to be the first to know when Market45 goes live.

Now keep reading for October’s featured sustainable fashion products (once again, they’re all Factory45’ers!):

THOM KELLY MEN’S & WOMEN’S BUTTON-DOWNS

THOM KELLY | MEN’S & WOMEN’S BUTTON-DOWNS

When Factory45’er THOM KELLY launched in 2017, it seemed like every person in my family bought a shirt. My mother-in-law bought one for my husband… my mom bought one for my dad… I bought one for myself…

Needless to say, we’re big fans around here. THOM KELLY is a collection of men’s and women’s plaid shirts that are made from 55% organic cotton and 44% tencel (a closed-looped fiber derived from eucalyptus).

Every shirt is ethically made in North Carolina where the husband and wife co-founders live. THOM KELLY is also part of the organization 1% for the Planet, so every shirt sold saves 30,000 square feet of threatened habitat.

You can shop men’s and women’s button-downs in multiple colors here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


SIXCHEL THE KATHERINE CROP PANTS

SIXCHEL | THE KATHERINE CROP PANTS

There are so many reasons I love these cropped pants from Factory45’er SixChel. To start, they’re high-waisted (flattering) and have pockets (convenient).

The fabric is made from hemp and organic cotton — they also come in a vegan leather option — and they’re ethically made in the USA.

I’ve also found them to be very versatile, as I wore them all summer and have since transitioned them into fall. If you’re in the market for a durable and flattering pair of trousers, these fit the bill.

You can shop The Katherine Crop Pants, as well as other SixChel pieces here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


PONYBABE THE PLEATED PANTS

PONYBABE | THE PLEATED PANTS

Speaking of pants, these are the pair I throw on when 8pm rolls around, the baby is asleep and it’s time to unwind.

Factory45’er PonyBabe makes organic loungewear that is ultra comfy and designed and manufactured in Brooklyn.

Using the softest eco-friendly fabrics, the entire collection makes up “The 24 Hour Outfit” for yogis, creatives, dancers, massage therapists and entrepreneurs.  

You can shop The Pleated Pants, as well as other PonyBabe pieces here. Use code MARKET45 for 10% off your total purchase.


To see the rest of October’s featured products, come on over to Instagram by clicking here.

You’ll also be able to shop all of these brands tomorrow on Market45!

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

P.S. When you use the discount code MARKET45 I receive a 5% referral commission. I only promote products and brands that I personally wear and believe in.


Market45

sustainable fashion

September’s Featured Sustainable Fashion Products

This is the third part of a multi-month photography series, featuring sustainable fashion products on Instagram. You can see July’s products here and August’s products here.

I started this project to help integrate more ethical and sustainable fashion into the multi-million dollar Instagram shopping scene.

It’s also in preparation for the upcoming launch of Market45, an ethical fashion marketplace.

Featuring 20 invite-only brands that have launched through the Factory45 program, this online marketplace will be an easier way to shop sustainable and ethical fashion all in one place.

If you’d like to request early access for holiday season 2018, click here.

Now keep reading for September’s featured sustainable fashion products (all of them are Factory45’ers!):

DALLAS DAWS DESIGNS SLOAN JACKET

DALLAS DAWS DESIGNS | SLOAN JACKET

With what began as a creative outlet, Factory45’er Dallas Daws started experimenting with minimalist silhouettes that aimed to be both timeless and multi-purpose.

She wanted to create clothing that her customers could throw on to run errands, but still look put together for work. Over the years, Dallas has refined her aesthetic and developed the business she runs today, Dallas Daws Designs.

The Sloan Jacket that I wore for this month’s shoot is part of the new Linen Collection. It has pockets (win!), three-quarter sleeves for multi-season wear and is perfect for layering.

All Dallas Daws Designs are thoughtfully designed, sustainably sourced and handmade to order in the USA.

You can shop the Sloan Jacket, as well as other Dallas Daws pieces here.


FAIR SEAS SUPPLY CO. THE SAN CLEMENTE ROUND BLANKET

FAIR SEAS SUPPLY CO. | THE SAN CLEMENTE ROUND BLANKET

Inspired by the beaches of California, Factory45’er Tiffany Shown launched Fair Seas Supply Co. in 2015 with a collection of organic cotton round beach blankets.

Over the past three years, she’s expanded her product offering, added new collections and built a brand that’s been featured by The Boston Globe Magazine, Elle and other media. The Charleston Collection was also one of the featured products in CauseBox this summer.

One of my favorite things about Tiffany’s story is that when she joined Factory45 in 2015 she had no idea what she wanted to create. She only knew that she wanted to start a business, so when she landed on the idea of Turkish towels she ran with it.

Fair Seas blankets can now be found in retailers across the country, including the Four Seasons Hotel in Hawaii.

You can shop organic cotton Turkish towels and other accessories here.


MILO + NICKI THE SIESTA DRESS

MILO + NICKI | THE SIESTA DRESS

With a mission to empower women to go after their dreams, Factory45’er Nicki Patel started milo+nicki, an ethically-made, cruelty-free womenswear line.

The brand got its start in 2016 with a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $20,000. Launching with a six-piece capsule collection that was ethically made in NYC, Nicki has continued to grow her product line.

The Siesta dress (pictured above) is made from handwoven banana fabric (yes, that kind of banana!), hand-dyed with plant-based dyes and has GOTS-certified organic cotton lined pockets.

milo+nicki has been featured in the print version of Vogue, as well as Darling Magazine, Eluxe Magazine and other notable press.

You can shop the Siesta Dress and other milo+nicki pieces here.


REGENEROUS DESIGNS | BIG BRAIDED HEADBAND

REGENEROUS DESIGNS | BIG BRAIDED HEADBAND

During the production process of making your clothing, pounds and pounds of perfectly good fabric goes unused and is thrown away.

Factory45’er Alyssa Bird started Regenerous Designs as a way to use this discarded designer fabric, before it’s thrown out, and make versatile accessories.

Each piece is handmade in the USA of high quality fabric remnants — that means everything is limited edition and made to last.

You can shop all Regenerous Designs accessories here.


To see the rest of September’s featured products, come on over to Instagram by clicking here.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

P.S. I am not an affiliate of any of these brands and do not receive any financial gain if you make a purchase. My only goal to bring more sustainable and ethical fashion options to your wardrobe.

August’s Featured Sustainable Fashion Products

I mentioned last month that I’ll be featuring a series of sustainable fashion brands and products here and on Instagram.

This is all in an effort to help integrate more ethical and sustainable fashion into the multi-million dollar Instagram scene where, for the most part, fashion bloggers and “influencers” are touting fast fashion and cheap deals.

But it’s also in preparation for the upcoming launch of the newest Factory45 project:

Market45, an ethical fashion marketplace.

Featuring 20 invite-only brands that have launched through the Factory45 program, this online marketplace will be an easier way to shop sustainable and ethical fashion all in one place.

If you’d like to request early access for holiday shopping 2018, click here.

And then keep reading for August’s featured sustainable fashion products below:

VESTA STUDIO HALF MOON WRAP DRESS

VESTA STUDIO | HALF MOON WRAP DRESS

In 2017 Factory45’er Kendall Wilson launched Vesta Studio, a collection of 100% vegan womenswear.

Born out of a love of high quality, luxurious textiles — that are also cruelty-free and eco-friendly — Vesta Studio is inspired by the philosophy of “buying less, but better.”

Each piece is made one at a time to reduce waste, lessen sitting inventory and to offer an affordable price point to customers.

Vesta boasts “versatile clothing for a life of simple beauty,” and the Half Moon Wrap Dress has been exactly that for me.

I wore this dress when I was seven months pregnant, and I’ve continued wearing it in the months after giving birth. It’s incredibly comfortable, very flattering (if I do say so myself), and I absolutely love the drape, texture and color of the fabric.

You can shop the Half Moon Wrap Dress, as well as pre-orders for the new collection here.


BOOB DESIGN ‘CHARI-TEE’ MOTHER

BOOB DESIGN | ‘CHARI-TEE’ MOTHER

I was first introduced to BOOB Design when my web designer gifted me with one of their maternity shirts for my birthday last year.

The Scandinavian company puts sustainability at the forefront of their business model, and I ended up purchasing several other maternity garments throughout the course of my pregnancy.

The thing that sets BOOB above and beyond other maternity wear (besides their fabrics and manufacturing) is that almost all of their garments convert into nursing wear.

So when BOOB reached out to ask if I’d be apart of their “Chari-Tee” campaign I jumped at the chance.

For every one of these tops sold, they donate 5 percent of proceeds to Every Mother Counts, a non-profit dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere.

You can shop the ‘Chari-Tee’ and other sustainable maternity and nursing wear here.


GOOD ON YOU ETHICAL SHOPPING APP

GOOD ON YOU | ETHICAL SHOPPING APP

So, this isn’t a sustainable fashion product you can wear but it’s an amazing product you can use the next time you ask yourself: “How do I know if a brand is ethical?”

Good On You is an ethical shopping app that rates over 2,000 brands so that you know exactly where they stand in ethics and sustainability.

The app uses a five-star rating system to assess the sourcing practices of each retailer or brand using the following labels: “We Avoid,” “Not Good Enough,” “It’s a Start,” “Good” and “Great.”

If you’re just starting out in your ethical fashion journey, this is a great tool to keep in the palm of your hand.

You can download the Good On You app and install the desktop plug-in here.


To see the rest of August’s featured products, come on over to Instagram by clicking here.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

P.S. I am not an affiliate of any of these brands and do not receive any financial gain if you make a purchase. My only goal to bring more sustainable and ethical fashion options to your wardrobe.

How to Stand Out as a Sustainable Fashion Brand

Last week I was on “workcation” with my family in Croatia.

And one day, while we were driving on the winding island roads of Hvar, I saw a sign for a restaurant that caught my eye.

(This isn’t the first time that’s happened.)

The sign for the restaurant said:

Mostly homemade food.”

I looked at my husband and said, “Well, you have to appreciate their honesty…”

And then it got me thinking about the sustainable fashion world — and all of the new brands launching with sustainability at the forefront of their business models.

The good news is that in the past 10 years the term “sustainable fashion” has become more and more recognizable and well known.

The bad news is that the term is now often overused and sometimes even greenwashed.

Companies claim to be “a sustainable fashion brand,” but they use it as an overarching brand mark instead of explaining exactly how their company implements sustainability into their supply chain.

There’s really no such thing as “perfectly sustainable,” and I see red flags anytime a brand claims to be so.

With many of you being the future of this industry, I’d encourage you to think more deeply about the words you use to describe your sustainable fashion brand.

Because I think we can do better.

Yes, there are words like “conscious,” “socially-driven,” “eco” and “ethical” but how can you describe your brand’s ethos in a way that stands out from the rest?

And even more so, in a way that is transparent and honest?

One way is by getting specific.

Think about the words that your target customer cares about. Sift through the phrases that would peak their interest.

Because the truth is,

A sign for “homemade food” wouldn’t have caught my attention.

My mind would have just categorized it as another cute local restaurant.

Adding the word “mostly” not only piqued my curiosity but made me feel trust.

I knew that if I went into that restaurant to eat, I would know exactly which items on the menu were homemade and which ones weren’t.

And that same thought process can be applied to your own customers.

Because ultimately, that’s what they want to feel. A customer who cares enough to seek out sustainable fashion wants to be able to trust you.

To trust that what they’re buying is mostly sustainable.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


Sew Shop Talk: Introducing APaDS

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!

 

 


5 Tips for Creating a “Made in the USA” Apparel Company

So, I’ve laid it out before — new designers tend to have a bad reputation. Not to say it’s your fault, it’s just that some have, unfortunately, ruined it for others.

Suppliers and manufacturers here in the U.S. have been in this game for a long time. And they’ve seen it all — from NAFTA to their neighboring factories shutting down to the early days of a shaky revival.

They’ve also seen every type of designer and aspiring entrepreneur, and most have come to the assumption that 9 times out of 10, it isn’t worth their time to take on work with someone who is new to the industry.

While navigating the world of sewn manufacturing may be new and probably a little intimidating, there are ways to set yourself up so that you don’t come off as the “new kid on the block.”

Let me break it down for you:

>> First and foremost: Set goals. So you have an idea – that’s great. Now, get it all out of your head and put it down on paper. While keeping in mind the vision of your product, you’ll want to set both long and short term goals. This will not only help to keep you motivated (long term), but also allow you see the little wins (short term) along the way.  

>> Research. Creating your own apparel company takes a lot of time and money. You want to take all the time you need to ensure you have several reliable options for both fabric sourcing and cut and sew. Do all the research you can before narrowing down your list, this usually requires multiple prototypes, and check out any online reviews or references of past clients who have worked with the factories you’re hoping to partner with. 

>> Budget. Not only are you going to need time and a lot of patience, but you will also need startup capital. You can likely negotiate with suppliers, but err on the side of caution and take the time to figure out what your budget is for each phase of development. If money isn’t growing on the trees outside of your house, I would strongly consider launching a Kickstarter campaign.

>> Organize your construction methods. Before you approach a supplier or factory, you want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Ideally, you will have a very detailed description of the fabric and materials you need (including weight, weave and fabrication) or a detailed spec sheet. This should include measurements, materials, colors, trim, hardware, grading, labels, tags, etc. and any other important information that would be needed to create your design. This will show that you know what you’re doing, have thought things through, and are a serious potential client.

>> Communication. You want this to be a two way street and effective communication is critical to your success. When you reach out to a project manager, there are some important “do’s and don’ts”:

DO: Provide a sample, pattern, spec sheet.

DON’T: Say things like “patent,” “sign an NDA,” or “What steps do I need to take?” These are all red flags to the production partner, indicating that youre a newbie.

Above all, be polite, professional, responsive and appreciative. The world of domestic manufacturing is complicated but once you get your foot in the door, other doors will open.


Market45

Using Your Voice When the Words Aren’t Perfect

Today I had originally planned to share the process behind creating a sustainable and zero-waste wedding.

But in light of everything going on in the U.S. right now, the idea of talking about ethically-made wedding dresses and locally-sourced food is not something I could stomach.

This place of paralysis is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past week.

How do we write, market, message and sell our businesses and brands when all of it seems so trivial to the very real issues that are unfolding around us?

Is it a betrayal to offer a sale, feature a product, post an Instagram, promote ourselves when so much of the world is grieving?

I’m not sure.

There are platforms like Design*Sponge that took a hiatus over the weekend from posting anything. D*S founder Grace Bonney shared a heartfelt letter explaining the decision for the two-day pause in content.

Other brands have continued with regularly scheduled programming but have also used their platforms to share posts of allegiance and words of support.

And then other companies have chosen to be silent, for whatever reason feels true to them.

Tragedy occurs all around the world, every day, and if we paused every time something bad happened, we would get nothing done at all.

But the past week has felt different. And I’ve felt different about what I wanted to say to you today.

As an American-born, white female, I not only have the privilege that came with the lottery of my birth, but I also have the privilege of being an entrepreneur with a modest platform to voice my opinions.

As fellow entrepreneurs, no matter what race or gender you are, you also have a platform in which to express your beliefs.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to figure out what you want to say.

Last week my good friend and I were texting back and forth about how to address the murders in Minnesota, Baton Rouge and Dallas, as business owners.

The conversation went something like this:

“WTF is happening to our country?”

“I feel guilty doing other things and not saying something, but I don’t know what to say.”

“Isn’t it better to say nothing at all than to say something uninformed?”

“I feel like anything that comes out of my mouth sounds like I’m trying to be a better white person than the next.”

“Agreed. But then it’s like, get over how it makes you feel. This isn’t about you.”

And so it went…

I fully recognize how unfair it is that my friend and I are able to have (and leave) this conversation at all. For many Americans, this is the life they’re living. They can’t escape it.

For the past week, I’ve gone back and forth about what to write and what to say.

And yes, I considered saying nothing.

But what I came to realize is that it’s not so much about having the perfect words as it is about having a voice.

There are writers far more articulate than I, who are far more versed on these issues, and my instinct is to tell myself, “Leave it to them. They know more. They’ll say it better.”

But that’s not the point.

As entrepreneurs, we hold the expectation and the responsibility of being the changemakers, the freedom fighters, the revolutionaries.

If you have a public platform, then you are privileged in a way that so much of the world isn’t. And I want you to know that bringing your voice to this conversation, despite how awkward or scary it may be, matters.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

We can take action together towards fighting for justice and the fair treatment of our fellow humans — in a way that doesn’t sacrifice our brand, or go off message or lead customers astray.

Because when it comes to having a message, acceptance, tolerance and love are universal.

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 

Additional resources:

This is the best piece I’ve found on the tangible action steps that can be taken to create change via The Huffington Post

Why do we stay silent when racism is all around us? By Nisha Moodley

Code Switch is a podcast that explores race and culture.


Photo credit: Molly Belle

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.


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