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.


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.




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

Factory45 6 Months Later… Where Are They Now?

The Factory45 2014 program officially ended yesterday, and it’s been hard to find the words to describe the past six months.

Challenging? Yes.

Rollercoaster? Oh, yeah.

Personally fulfilling and potentially life-changing? No doubt about it.

When I started brainstorming the concept of the program at the beginning of 2014 I threw myself in without a backup plan. I outlined what the program would look like on paper, made a billion to-do lists, and mapped out a timeline of when and how I could launch what was only sitting in my brain.

Following a track record of unpredictable situations I get myself into (silent meditation retreat in Thailand, anyone?), I put my head down, focused on the goal at hand and didn’t give much thought to all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work out.

It seemed that with each step — outline a program, build a website, open applications, tell the media about the program, review applications, accept 10 applicants, launch the program — I found myself reaching the next step not really knowing how I got there. It was kinda like, “Well I guess that worked. I should probably keep going.”

And while this thought process may sound a bit flippant and borderline irresponsible, it’s the only way I would have been able to move forward with something as colossal as what I was about to take on.

So come June, I found myself with 10 companies under my guidance, a 26-week program in the works, and the promise that my plan would work for everyone. Six months later, here I am (thankfully), having done what I said I would do.

The best part is that 11 entrepreneurs have also successfully made it through the program. Because honestly, they are the ones who did the heavy lifting. And throughout it all, they have been the ones responsible for moving their companies forward.

Teach a (wo)man to fish, if you will…

While some of the entrepreneurs in the program have made giant leaps, others have made smaller bounds. Many were going through the program with full-time jobs or taking grad school classes or in the case of one, planning a destination wedding.

Originally, I had envisioned everyone launching crowdfunding campaigns now, but I’ve since learned that you can’t rush the process. People work at different paces, certain tasks take longer than others and if you’re not enjoying the journey, then what’s the point?

Regardless of where each company is in comparison to one another, every single one of them now has the tools, structure, resources and community to successfully launch a company. And that’s not something most people can say.

For those of you who are interested in the tangible results of the past six months, here are a few examples of some of the progress that has been made:



Where she started: Jesse had been working on her women’s apparel company, Eenvoud, since she graduated from Parsons School of Design two years ago. She had created sketches of her first collection, done some draping, and had started looking for sustainable fabrics but was unable to make much traction.

Where she is now: All of the patterns and samples for Eenvoud’s first collection have been completed and are production ready. Jesse has sourced the perfect fabric that fits her sustainability guidelines. She has created a defined and targeted brand vision and is launching her new website in the next few days. She has written and created a strategy for a Kickstarter campaign and will be launching it early spring.


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Where she started: Mikaela joined Factory45 in June with no fashion background, very little tech experience, and zero knowledge of manufacturing. She came to me with an idea for organic cotton children’s clothing and wanted to print her own photographs onto each piece in a “non-toxic” way. I was hesitantly optimistic, knowing how difficult it would be to find the printing option she wanted at the minimums she was looking for, but I encouraged her to keep after it.

Where she is now: After being told “no” by supplier after supplier, printer after printer and factory after factory, Mikaela has set up a supply chain within the U.S. that has never before existed. She also found a textile printer to work with on a special process that doesn’t require PVC plastic or plastisol. Mikaela also set up her own Shopify website, has production-ready patterns and samples, sourced 100% U.S.-grown organic cotton and has already been contacted by bloggers wanting to write about her. Ruth & Ragnar will officially debut February 2015.



Where she started: When Heidi was crowned “Miss Wheelchair Kentucky” in 2012 she had the opportunity to speak to physically disabled youth all over the country. Time after time, she empathized with her peers about the lack of fashionable clothing that was also functional and comfortable for people in wheelchairs. She knew she wanted to create what she and her friends couldn’t find on the market, but she had no idea where to start.

Where she is now: With the help of a talented designer within my network, Heidi has created two prototypes of blue jeans for both men and women in wheelchairs. She has sourced American-made denim and her entire supply chain will be set up within a 100-mile radius in North Carolina, reducing the carbon footprint of her company to a fraction of most companies. She has written and created a crowdfunding campaign that will launch early spring 2015.



Where she started: Angela and her husband, Mike, started working on their product, the Mamachic, three years ago. They trademarked and registered their company name and logo, created a projected production budget, and worked with consultants to source materials and design a prototype. And then, as can often happen, they hit a standstill.

Where she is now: Angela has four samples of a newly designed prototype that is more functional, sustainable and durable than the original. She can’t leave the house wearing one of the samples without someone stopping her and asking about it. She has sourced all of her materials, launched a brand new website, is working with a production partner in Colorado and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in early 2015.



Where she started: Tina has also been working on her product, The Spark Board, for the past two years. She says she did all of the “fun” stuff first (like branding) and when she reached her launch deadline this time last year, she realized there were some holes in her supply chain so she hit the brakes.

Where she is now: Tina was the only furniture maker in Factory45 but through sustainable fashion connections, I was able to connect her with a reclaimed wood supplier. From there, she put all of the other pieces into place for her supply chain, set up her manufacturing and fulfillment center, and relaunched her blog and social media presence. She will launch a Kickstarter campaign for The Spark Board in February 2015 in addition to her brand new Shopify site.



Where she started: Lara was the only person in Factory45 who already had an established business. She came into the program wanting to grow her existing sales and also launch a new piece that better fit the long-term vision of her company.

Where she is now: Lara has redesigned and relaunched two beautiful websites (one for her company Forest and Fin and one for her artwork). She has a completed design and prototype of her “bicycle wrap skirt” that she’ll launch with a Kickstarter campaign in spring 2015. The sales for her Forest and Fin tees have gone up, she’s writing regularly on her blog and she is steadily growing her social media presence. She has also grown her community of entrepreneurs in Savannah and is one of the featured makers in a month-long holiday pop-up shop this year.

I could go on and on about everyone (and I will in blog posts to come) but for now, that’s a quick recap featuring a selection of Factory45’ers whose finish was much different than their start. Jenn, Emily, Sharon, Jon & Alexander, I am just as impressed with the progress you have all made and will make sure everyone knows about it, too. : )

A personal note: to everyone in Factory45, I am blown away by your dedication, hard work and persistence throughout the past six months. It amazes me that you were all so willing to put your faith in me, knowing that I had never done this before, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Whatever Factory45 becomes in the future, I will always owe it to the 11 of you for helping me get started and for making the inaugural year so memorable.

With deepest gratitude,


An Inspiration Board for Creatives: Meet Tina of Factory45

This is a guest post from Factory45’er, Tina Hofer Medico.

I’m Tina Hofer Medico, an interior designer for highly-creative businesses and the people who run ‘em — and the creator of The Spark Board.

As a designer, I love having the freedom to play, scribble, scrawl and make a total mess — when I’m in creative mode. But I also appreciate having a chic, tidy and sophisticated workspace at the end of the day — especially since I’m usually working from home!

I’ve also learned that I need to SEE my dreams, goals and intentions, right in front of my eyes, every single day. If they’re tucked away in a drawer (or filed away on my hard drive) they’re never going to get the attention they deserve.

One day, a bolt of brilliance hit me — what if there was a functional tool that could serve as a beautiful inspiration board by day, and transform into a modern art piece, by night?

An inspiration board that represents so much more — a life of creative passion and productivity, but also balance & work-life proportion.

I searched high and low, but I couldn’t find what I wanted.

So I decided to invent it, myself.

And with that, The SPARK Board was born.

the-spark-board copy

The Spark Board is a dedicated space for the projects that make you come alive. In a world filled with mundane tasks and endless to-do lists, it is a respite – a sacred space where you can keep your flame burning bright – a place where you come to renew your sense of possibility and engage in the act of creating your dreams and bringing your vision to life.

Follow along as I document The Spark Board Story at I’m diving into the details of how the idea was born, the process of creating it over the last two years and the serendipity of mentors, suppliers & manufacturers that have helped transform this from an idea in my imagination to an actual piece of furniture going into production just a few months from today!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


5 Brands Effectively Telling the Sustainability Story

There’s no denying it: “sustainability” is one of the hottest branding buzz words out there. From Nike to Ikea to H&M, it seems like everyone is attempting to jump on the “eco-train.” But as time goes on, consumer response is proving that the giants can learn a thing or two from the smaller players.

I looked at five brands telling their sustainability stories effectively and authentically. The biggest takeaway? None of these companies are pushing “green” or “eco” branding outright. Each of these different methods empowers the consumer in subtle ways, while encouraging involvement and engagement.

1.) Kings of Indigo

In 2011, Amsterdam-based Kings of Indigo (K.O.I.) launched as a small, sustainably-minded denim brand. Three years later, its fourth collection is hitting stores and selling in 160 retailers worldwide.

Operating on the belief that a pair of jeans should be worn for as long as possible, K.O.I. implements a “Triple-R” philosophy: recycle, repair, reuse. Customers are given special K.O.I. repair kits and pop-up events are hosted for in-person “repairing parties.”

While K.O.I. uses organic materials and fair trade labor, the brand flourishes on one message of sustainability that customers can get personally involved in. The story is in the denim. By promoting recycle, repair, reuse, K.O.I. customers are investing in much more than one pair of jeans — they’re investing in a garment with a story.

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2.) Pima Doll

This Pima cotton collection is designed in New York and hand-made in Peru. Sensitive to the waste of the traditional fashion industry, Pima Doll uses the cotton scraps and upcycles them into one-of-a-kind hand-knit pieces.

Pima Doll has a sustainable mission of transparency, sharing the details of both its workers and its materials. Despite its upstanding ethics, the clothes speak for themselves and can hold their own with the most “fashion forward” brands.

Pima Doll has been featured in mainstream fashion magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue and a multitude of editorial spreads. While the sustainability story is clear, it’s the design that makes an impression on consumers. The most successful “eco” brands are the ones whose products sell first and sustainability sells second. twitter-bird-light-bgs1 

pima doll

3.) imogene + willie

With 20 years of experience in the denim industry, Carrie and Matt Eddmenson launched their own label of blue jeans in 2009. Inspired by their grandparents and the heritage of U.S. manufacturing, imogene + willie was born from a desire to bring a lost art back to its original culture.

Each pair of jeans is handmade in the USA using indigo-dyed selvage denim. With modest roots, the founders have integrated family and history into its brand seamlessly — and it resonates with their customers. The imogene + willie messaging is authentic, genuine and feels as easy as a broken-in pair of dungarees.

imogene and willie

4.) Prairie Underground

Founded by designers Davora Lindner and Camilla Eckersley, this independent womenswear line has been manufacturing in the USA for almost a decade, while also using sustainable fabrics in every collection since its inception. And yet the founders admit to doing very little in the way of marketing.

By leaving the marketing to a loyal following of unofficial brand ambassadors, the popularity of Prairie Underground is owed to word-of-mouth from end users. Sustainability has been embedded in the DNA of the brand since its first days and that in itself is a story worth engaging in.

As the founders said in a past interview, “We approach this activity in the most human way; we’re proud of what we do and want to share it with others.”

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5.) Zady

Recently named one of Fast Company’s 10 Most Innovative Companies in Retail, Zady has already made its mark in sustainability having only launched in August 2013. A lifestyle destination and shopping platform for conscious consumers, founders Maxine Bedat and Soraya Darabi founded Zady on the premise of purpose, heritage and prosperity.

Zady combats fast fashion by supporting domestic and locally-sourced handmade products of the highest quality. The story is in the maker and Zady engages the consumer by communicating the beauty and substance that comes with style.

The founders are conscious about not appearing “preachy” in their messaging. Instead, they focus on providing engaging material that demonstrates the devastating impact of fast fashion while providing a beautiful alternative. Their positive, no-shame policy has been well received by shoppers and has likely attributed to Zady’s success.


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Images courtesy of ZadyFelix Photography, Pima Doll, Henry & June, Seattle Mag, and Forbes.

Ignore the Hype: Eco-Fashion Can Be Easy

This is a guest post from Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh.

There are so many things that people are expected to do as ‘eco-minded’ individuals – buy organic, not eat meat (or eat only certain kinds), ride a bike everywhere, take five minute showers, etc – it can be overwhelming. In addition, people are becoming more and more aware of the perils of fast fashion and the detrimental effects your purchasing choices can have on both humanity and the planet.

Redress_ResponsiblyMade_SquareGraphic - smallAs I have mentioned before, there is also a substantial amount of greenwashing or mixed messaging being spread through the media about what “eco-fashion” is and who is doing it.

However, dressing responsibly and making responsible apparel choices may not be as complicated as you think. There are many different aspects to consider when picking out your outfits and accessories – from water usage to chemicals to human ethics to type of material to location of production … just to name a few. As with every industry, there are trade-offs within fashion and textiles as well.

Luckily there are more and more fantastic options popping up for the ecochic customer. Consider these categories the next time you are shopping for clothing and accessories:

  • Upcycled
  • Made in USA
  • Handcrafted
  • Vintage or resale
  • Natural dyes
  • Fair trade
  • Organic or eco-friendly fabrics
  • Little to no-waste patternmaking

Honestly, the best approach is to ask yourself: “What matters to me the most?”

Is it using the least amount of resources?

Consider buying vintage, resale, upcycled, or products that are created using little to no-waste patternmaking. In addition to Goodwill, many communities have resale or consignment stores where you can find gently-used clothes at bargain prices. High-quality vintage sellers can be found in online shops. Raleigh Vintage is a personal favorite and they ship all over the country. Upcycled goods are often tagged on social media too and sites like Etsy lend themselves to more one-of-kind pieces. Zass Design is doing fantastic things with upcycled jewelry pieces.

Or perhaps you strongly believe in supporting the organic movement and avoiding chemicals that pollute waterways?

Consider looking for organic fabrics and natural dyes. Gaia Conceptions uses organic fabrics and natural or low impact dyes. And Patagonia continues to innovate both in recycled and new eco-friendly textiles and materials.

Or maybe you want to purchase items from a more-established standard that is working toward making sure people are treated fairly and receive decent wages for their work?

Then Fair Trade is a good option. Indigenous and Synergy Clothing incorporate both fair trade practices and organic fabrics in their designs. Symbology also works with artisans in India to create most of their textile designs.

Or is it that you delight in getting to know individual designers and supporting the local community?

Consider looking for handcrafted, Made in the USA items. Companies like Lumina and Appalatch produce their goods solely in the U.S. Lisa Stewart handcrafts gorgeous leather accessories. Many cities host periodic marketplaces like The Handmade Market, The Big Crafty, or Northern Grade featuring exclusively handcrafted and/or American-made goods. Find one in your city.

Regardless of what you decide, keep in mind that the industry is continuously striving to be and do better, just like you. Another way you can help move the industry forward is to continue asking questions and seeking information on who makes your clothes and what they’re made from.  twitter-bird-light-bgs1

Currently, there is no one perfect eco-fashion line out there. However, we are fortunate that there is an amazing variety of eco-chic fashions available! This allows us each to dress with our values and our style in mind.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” – Coco Chanel

Photos courtesy of Redress Raleigh and Shecky’s

From Humanitarian to Mompreneur: Meet Mikaela of Factory45

This is a guest post from Factory45’er Mikaela Wallinder Clifford, founder of children’s clothing line, Ruth & Ragnar. You can view the original post here

My name is Mikaela and I have a story to tell.

My intention is for the story to end with “…and that’s how fun, funky and color-popping kidswear changed the fast fashion industry forever.“ I can’t write that just yet because we are still at the beginning of the story. But, I would love for you to join me on the journey, and be here with me when we reach our goal. It will be like my favorite children’s movie “The NeverEnding Story”. I’ll be Atreyu (I’ve always wanted to be Atreyu!) and you’ll be Bastian reading about Atreyu’s journey only to find yourself eventually inside the story by helping me shape it.

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Follow me back to my hometown in Northern Sweden, back to my graduation day where I’m standing with my diploma in one hand, a one-way plane ticket in the other and my whole body filled with passion and determination to make a change in the world. We’ll go to Africa, Asia, Europe, and America where I first realized the global impact of our consumption. Follow me back to the day my worldview and my life changed forever — the day my daughter Milou was born.

Join me in all that happens next, from the frustration of learning what chemicals were in the clothes my daughter wore, to the idea of trying to make a change, to the initial spark that shaped the mission for Ruth & Ragnar.

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Join me in the determination to support manufacturing at home – we will proudly be sourcing and creating everything right here in the USA. I hope you’ll join me as I meet the pattern maker, the Texas cotton farmer and the inspiring North Carolina printer who took quite a few extra steps to help me as I shape my brand.

Join me as I introduce you to the designers of the organic Scandinavian brands soon to be available right here as I launch Ruth & Ragnar’s web store.

Join me while I’m learning how to turn an idea into reality, how to get back up and keep going when experts tell me it can’t be done. Stay close as I launch Ruth & Ragnar, a socially-responsible apparel company for kids and conscious parents alike. Finally, join the roller coaster ride that is the everyday life with a toddler, the most wonderful, exhausting, educational, provoking, spiritual, humbling and loving experience I have ever had.

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Join the story, Share your story, Shape the story. Let’s change the fast fashion industry — one funky garment at a time.twitter-bird-light-bgs1

Welcome to Ruth & Ragnar.

All photos courtesy of Ruth & Ragnar.

Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder of

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, 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


 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