sustainable fashion

July’s Featured Sustainable Fashion Products

If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you know that I’ve been rolling out a new project in collaboration with Boston photographer Joyelle West.

Each month I’m featuring a series of sustainable fashion brands — some that were past Factory45’ers — and others that I wear, use and love.

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.

As part of this project, I’ll send out monthly emails to highlight some of the brands that I’ve featured, as well as the stories behind them.

(If you’re a sustainable fashion brand that would like to be featured in this project, you can get in touch with me at

So, without further ado, here are the July products:


In 2016 Factory45’er Hanna Baror-Padilla launched Sotela, a body-positive womenswear brand, with a fully-funded Kickstarter campaign.

In the past two years, she’s grown a loyal customer base by championing body appreciation, natural beauty and focusing on fit rather than size labels (the brand never references small, medium or large).

All Sotela garments are made of eco-friendly fabrics that have minimal environmental impact, such as tencel and modal. And every piece is handmade from start to finish in their California studio.

Hanna recently announced that she’s opening her own LA-based factory so that Sotela will operate under a vertically-integrated production model. And the factory will manufacture for other independent brands with similar business values.

My favorite thing about the Remy Dress (pictured above) is the button-down front that is breastfeeding-friendly. This dress is my go-to when I’m out with the baby and need to look put together.

You can shop the Remy Dress and the newly launched Sand Collection here.


VETTA is another Factory45 brand that was founded by Cara Bartlett in 2016. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Cara launched “The Ultimate Capsule Collection | 5 Pieces = 30 Outfits” and raised nearly $90,000 to fund her first production run.

Since then, VETTA has gone on to release five more capsule collections in colors and styles that can be mixed and matched to make an easier, more thoughtful wardrobe.

The woven garments are sewn by a family-owned factory in New York City and the sweaters are knitted by a production partner in Los Angeles that runs on 70% solar power.

VETTA has been featured by Vogue Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Who What Wear, The Wall Street Journal and has won the Sak’s Fifth Avenue Emerging Designer Showcase.

My favorite thing about The Shift Dress is the versatility of creating multiple outfits. As pictured above, it can be worn as a dress or you can unbutton the top from the skirt so the top can be worn alone.

You can shop The Shift Dress and all of the past capsule collections here.


I’ve been wearing Nisolo footwear since the brand first launched in October 2011. Back then it was a lot harder to find ethically-made shoes than it was to find clothing.

Nisolos are handcrafted by artisans with a lifetime of experience in shoemaking, having been raised in the center of the shoemaking capital of Peru. According to the company’s impact report each shoemaker earns 27% higher than fair trade wage requirements, as well as health care and a safe working environment.

All of the leather is sourced as a byproduct of the meat industry, which means that the leftover hides are being used instead of wasted. It also means that no animals were killed for the sole purpose of creating the shoes.

Nisolo is committed to a transparent supply chain by introducing each of their factory partners in detail and publishing an annual impact report that can be read here.

My favorite thing about the Smoking Shoe is how high quality it is. I knew as soon as they arrived in the mail that I would be able to wear them forever. It was a timeless investment purchase that I could feel good about.

You can shop the Smoking Shoe and other Nisolos here.

To see the rest of July’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.

Should You Tell Your Boss You’re Starting Your Own Business

Should You Tell Your Boss You’re Starting Your Own Business?

A couple of weeks ago, this question came up in our private Factory45 Facebook group:

“Does anyone have tips for communicating your ‘side hustle’ to your current employer? I want to start talking about my business online, but my bosses follow me and I am worried about their perception…”

If you’ve started a business or plan to start a business, while also working a “real job” to pay the bills, then you’ve probably pondered this same question.

While everyone’s situation is unique, I thought it would be helpful to hear from three past Factory45’ers who launched their companies while also working for someone else.

We’ll start with one Factory45’er (who wishes to remain anonymous) and launched a line of womenswear in 2016. She has not told her employer about her business.

How long did you work at your day job while you were starting your company?

Anonymous: I currently still work at a “day job” while also running my company on the side.

How did you feel about your employer potentially finding out about your business? Why did you decide not to tell them?

Anonymous: I decided not to tell my employer because I didn’t want to risk losing my means of salary that was crucial to funding my own venture. I also thought it would create unnecessary tension that I wanted to avoid.

Did you do anything to keep your business secret?

Anonymous: A couple of my coworkers who are close friends know about my business. For everyone else, I mostly refrain from connecting on social media where they may see postings about my clothing line.

What was the ultimate outcome?

Anonymous: It honestly hasn’t been difficult for me to keep my business a secret from my employer. For over a year I’ve been able to continue gaining professional experience from another company while also developing my own clothing line.

Should You Tell Your Boss You’re Starting Your Own Business

On the other side of the spectrum, Tiffany and Colleen who launched in 2015 and 2017 respectively, both told their employers about their “side hustles.”

How far along were you in starting your company when you told your employer about it?

Tiffany: I didn’t have an intentional conversation with my employer about starting my own business, but I didn’t make any great efforts to hide it either. I’m friends with so many colleagues, including supervisors, on social media (and in person) and it would have been pretty impossible to keep it a secret from them. That said, they found out when the rest of my social media network did and I launched my website online.

Colleen: I was about three months into Factory45 before I told my boss. I eventually had to because I often had to stop at my pattern maker in the AM or had to leave early to pick up fabrics, etc.

How did you feel about it before you told them and why did you end up deciding to tell them?

Tiffany: I was pretty nervous about the idea of them finding out, but I also knew that as long as I was doing my job well, it shouldn’t be a problem and I always made my “real” job the priority. I’m a pretty open person and it would have ultimately been harder for me to keep it from them in the long run.

Colleen: I felt a little nervous because I didn’t want them to think I was slacking at my current job as a project manager.

How did your employer react?

Tiffany: There was a point that one supervisor expressed that, while she didn’t mind that I had my own business, others in the company could take issue with it. She cautioned that I should be as discreet as possible about it. Another supervisor, while I know he knew about it, never spoke to me about it. Another supervisor willingly gave me tips on how to pitch media and was super supportive. The reactions were all pretty predictable and mostly encouraging.

Colleen: They were understanding, but made it a point that my project management position came first. I always felt a little on pins and needles, juggling both jobs and feeling a little timid about asking to leave early.

What was the ultimate outcome?

Tiffany: Several of my co-workers, including one of my supervisors, ended up buying beach towels. A couple of them (myself included) even kept them handy at our desks and used them as a light blanket in our freezing office. I’d take off days here and there for trade shows and pop ups and really liked that I didn’t feel like I had to be sneaky about what I was doing. A year after I launched my business, I was a part of a series of layoffs. There had been a lot of movement in the company, so I wasn’t surprised, and truly don’t think it had anything to do with me having my own business. While money has been tight, it’s also been the most freeing thing to happen to me.

Colleen: I ended up quitting the full-time project management job and moved on to be a consultant. Now, I occasionally go into the office and work from home. Definitely not always a consistent paycheck, but I have much more time and a flexible schedule. It just got to be too challenging to stay on top of my project management position and start a clothing company.



So, there you have it — three different scenarios and outcomes.

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” decision to be made about whether or not to tell your employer, you probably already know in your gut what’s best for you.


factory45 owner shannon



The Crowdfunding Factory Launches Next Week!

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

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

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

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

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

Were we naive?

Um, yeah.

Did our original idea pan out?

Not even a little bit.

Did we learn something more valuable in the process?


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

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

I could have thought:

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

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

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

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

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

Start before you’re ready.



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

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

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

And I’m going to show you how.

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

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

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

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

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





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!



50+ Ethical Fashion Companies to Support on Black Friday

For Black Friday last year, I wrote an article for The Huffington Post with a list of 50 ethical businesses to support on Black Friday.

This year, I’ve revised that list to bring you more options for shopping sustainably and ethically while supporting small businesses. Whether you choose to #OptOut of Black Friday this year or not, save this list for your holiday shopping — or even future shopping.

At the least, the perceived stress of the holiday season won’t be about whether you’re supporting slave labor and unethical manufacturing practices.

It’s fun to give — but it’s important to make sure that somewhere someone else isn’t paying for it.


factory45 owner shannon


Note! The brands with asterisks are companies that either came through the Factory45 accelerator program or were past clients of mine.


Brass | transparent manufacturing. less is more.

Cuyana | fewer, better things. superior quality.

* Eenvoud | minimalist & sustainable womenswear. made in NYC.

Green Line by K | sustainably-made yogawear.

Hackwith Design House | limited edition. short run. made in the USA.

La Fille Colette | day-to-night dresses, ethically made in the USA.

Nicole Lenzen | chic day to night womenswear. made in NYC.

Piece x Piece | luxury. salvaged fabrics. made in San Francisco.

Pima Doll | sustainable. less waste. made in Peru.

Prairie Underground | for independent women. made sustainably in Seattle.

Reformation | killer clothes that don’t kill the environment. made in LA.

Seamly | sustainable. versatile. made in Colorado.

StudyNY | seasonless. contemporary. made in Brooklyn.

Synergy Clothing | organic, fair labor womenswear. supports artisans in Nepal.

Vaute Couture | vegan. recycled fibers. made in NYC.



Apolis | socially motivated to empower communities.

Bluff Works | wash less. wrinkle free. made in NYC.

Brave Gentleman | for ethically handsome men.

Flint & Tinder | made in America & built to last.

Jed & Marne | family business + sustainable practices. made in Guatemala.

Peter Field | men’s accessories made in the USA.

Tuckerman & Co. | organic cotton buttondowns. made in New England.



* Be Kind Vibes | american-made apparel for the conscious adventurer.

Everlane | modern basics. radical transparency.

* Forest and Fin | screen-printed tees. non-toxic ink. handmade in Savannah.

Loomstate | organic & sustainable designer apparel.

NAU | outdoor apparel made from sustainable materials.

Victor Athletics | organic, vintage-inspired athletic wear. made in the USA.

PACT Apparel | organic cotton. socks, underwear & basics.

Zady |a lifestyle destination for conscious consumers.



Aventyr kidswear | unisex, eco-friendly kidswear. made in the USA.

* Citizen Smalls | sustainable, soft, modern kids apparel. made in the USA.

* Cuckoo Children’s Co. | sustainable children’s clothing. made in North Carolina.

Dhana | organic, fair trade fabric. low impact dyes.

* Noble Carriage | organic cotton baby goods.

* Petite Marin | upcycled heirloom children’s products. made in California.

* Princess Awesome | gender-busting girls clothes. made in the USA.

* Ruth & Ragnar | online store selling colorful 100% organic cotton kidswear.

* Wildly Co. | ethically made, family-owned childrenswear. made in the USA.

* Wynn Ruby | online children’s boutique supporting small businesses + handmade.



* Alter UR Ego | blue jeans for men and women in wheelchairs. made in North Carolina.

Gamine | selvedge denim dungarees. american-made.

Imogene + Willie | husband / wife team making blue jeans in Nashville.

Noble Denim | responsibly-made jeans. makers of quality.

Raleigh Denim | old-school denim crafters. made in the USA.



* Bhava | cruelty-free. conscious. vegan.

Nisolo | handmade. ethically-sourced leather.

Sseko Designs | sandals that empower & employ women.

Veja | transparently-made sneakers from organic, fair trade materials.



* Activyst | athletic bags that fund girls’ sports worldwide.

* Alesya Bags | responsibly-sourced leather goods made in the USA.

* Fair Seas Supply Co. | round, organic beach towels. made in California.

Hera By Day | handcrafted turbans for the modern bohemian.

* Mamachic | the do-it-all accessory for the do-it-all-mama.

Malena | ethical goods that tell a story and empower people worldwide.

MULXIPLY | fair trade. artisan craftsmanship. made in Nepal.

Looptworks | repurpose excess textiles into new products.

Project Repat | upcycle your memorable t-shirts into a blanket. made in the USA.

Raven + Lily | ethical fashion brand dedicated to empowering women worldwide.

sarah oliver handbags | handmade bags, employing senior citizens.

Stone + Cloth | canvas bags provide scholarships to students.

Sword & Plough | recycled military fabric upcycled into bags. made by veterans.

The Giving Keys | made from repurposed materials in Los Angeles.

Wild Mantle | hooded scarves. handwoven with sustainable materials.


>>>It’s easy to share this post using the social media buttons to your left!

Photos courtesy of Eenvoud, Apolis, Victor Athletics, Wildly Co., Gamine, Nisolo & Mamachic.

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About the Most Frightening Part of Amazon Handmade?

This month, retail behemoth launched Amazon Handmade, a new online products store touting wares from invite-only artisans and makers.

Since the announcement, the only thing anyone seems to care about is how much competition it will bring to Etsy, the reigning king of crafts sites.

In the wake of Etsy’s April IPO and the public knowledge that it’s bleeding money ($37 million in its first quarter, to be exact), a competitor as big as Amazon is certainly newsworthy.

But it’s not the only story.

If you are a maker, artisan or designer selling on Amazon Handmade, there seems to be a lot to benefit from the platform at first glance. Amazon is the world’s largest retailer, attracting 244 million active users. It would be next to impossible to try to duplicate that kind of traffic for your own eCommerce store.

But much of the benefit ends there.

To begin unraveling what you could gain and what you could lose by selling on Amazon Handmade, you have to first look at the risks of building your business on a platform that you don’t own.

It’s nothing new for Amazon to “partner” with small businesses. Since 2012, Amazon Marketplace has invited Third Party Sellers to sell anything from pillows to jewelry to clothing that is mass produced in factories around the world.

Over time, though, these sellers have seen Amazon increasingly use its Marketplace to undercut third-party sellers using their own sales data, as reported by The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. Many of these seller have been driven out of business in the process.

Joanne Nelson of Nelson Beads has been a seller on Amazon for 15 years. She developed a profitable business selling overstock books until Amazon purchased from the same suppliers and created their own Bargain Book section. They could buy the books for less and offer them at steep discounts, undercutting the prices third-party sellers were asking for and thereby lowering their margins.

“Amazon has made it possible for I-don’t-know-how-many people to create businesses or just bring in a little extra cash,” said Nelson. “But make no mistake: if you list on Amazon, you are essentially a drop shipper for them. You are selling to THEIR customers, not your own. Bottom line, don’t ever build you business on someone else’s platform.”

So that begs the question:

Why should we expect anything different from Amazon Handmade?

What’s stopping Amazon from using this platform to track the newest trending products by emerging artisans and designers, as they’ve done to other sellers in the past?

Do we really expect them to sit on that data, instead of using it to immediately offer copies or near-copies of bestselling products at a lower price point?

As someone who works with entrepreneurs and makers, I know firsthand that copies and counterfeits are rampant in this industry — it’s an unfortunate part of doing business.

But combine that with offering Amazon real-time, firsthand access to your sales data, as well as direct communication with all of your customers, and you’re virtually handing over your business on a silver platter.

Sarah Resnick, the artist and maker behind Advah Designs, considered applying to sell on Amazon Handmade and ultimately decided against it.

“As an artist who runs a niche business creating Jewish prayer shawls and wedding canopies, I have little concern that my own work would ever reach Amazon’s radar or be worth their effort to copy and sell,” said Resnick.

“But as a consumer who thinks a lot about how to support small businesses that nurture my community, I am sad at how much we are willing to give up for the siren call of free shipping, or the convenience of ordering toilet paper, extension cords and a new painting from the same online shopping cart.”

We know that Amazon’s policies are bad for its workers, bad for writers, bad for local businesses — and now, it’s bad for artisans and designers, too.

We don’t need the world’s largest retailer to control access to the ideas and designs of some of our most creative people. They already own enough of everything else.

I originally wrote this article for The Huffington Post. If you’d like to join me in educating artisans and designers about the realities of selling on Amazon Handmade, please like and share here.


Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder & Designer of Kallio

I was driving through Williamsburg with my friend Sumeera, founder of Madesmith, when I first met Karina Kallio. From across the street, we saw Karina walking down the sidewalk in a black shift dress that perfectly flattered her midterm baby bump. As I got to know more about Karina over dinner, I learned of her design background, her Australian roots, and her growing children’s company, Kallio.

After recently reaching her Kickstarter goal, Karina will soon be opening a workSHOP space in Brooklyn to act as both a studio and a retail space to accompany her children’s line. As she just delivered a baby boy about two weeks ago, it was especially lucky to be able to feature her story on the blog this week. Enjoy.

Factory45: How did you come up with the idea to turn men’s dress shirts into children’s garments?

Kallio-SS14Kallio: I worked as a menswear and womenswear designer for 10 years, and was inspired to create Kallio because I saw first-hand how much waste we were creating as an industry. In creating Kallio, it was really important to consider the line’s entire lifecycle, without compromising on quality or style. Kallio is 100 percent made from men’s shirts, and is sourced, designed and manufactured in New York to support local industry and reduce our carbon footprint. Once in the hands of our customers, the label on our clothes encourages them to consider how they care for it: “Wash only when stinky. Machine wash cold and line dry. No bleach nor dry clean. Repair holes. Hand it down.”

There are several reasons why men’s shirts work so well for us. First, they’re usually made from high-quality fabrics in great patterns and colors, and those details are really important to our brand. We also only use materials that are 100 percent cotton or denim (so they can be easily recycled too), and you can find that quality more readily in men’s shirts. They are also less fitted than women’s tops, and the loose shape works really well to create our line of unexpected, modern classics that kids can be kids in. Lastly, I thought it would be nice to bring dads into kidswear in an unexpected way; we preserve the shirts’ original detailing to hint at each garment’s story, and encourage conversation about where our clothes come from.

F45: What has been the biggest challenge in your supply chain?

Kallio: The biggest challenge was finding a factory that would sew our garments — as each garment is truly ‘one of a kind’ made from a particular upcycled piece, many of the factories wanted to charge sample prices, which wasn’t sustainable for us.

F45: How did you find the sew shop you currently work with? What has your experience been like?

DSC_0161_grandeKallio: It was a total happy accident. I was supposed to meet with another factory owner and she was late for our meeting. Just down the hall was another factory that I went to ask for a piece of paper to leave a note for the lady I was meant to meet. That factory owner asked me what I did, and I showed her my work. She immediately saw the potential of the brand.  She told me that only the week before, a 300 shirt order had been rejected by a customer as the grading had been incorrect. So she was left with 300 shirts and no place for them, so they went into the trash. She did me a favor by taking on my business, and we’ve been working together ever since.

F45: What has been the best method of marketing for Kallio? What hasn’t worked as well?

playtime2014-kallioKallio: Over the years, through our trade shows and from my experience working as a fashion designer, I’ve been really fortunate to work with and meet wonderful people around fashion and lifestyle, including writers and bloggers. Their support, as well as the support of family and friends via simple word of mouth has been really great for us and gotten our name out there. A host of writers and bloggers have also been generous with their support and featured Kallio in their publications and blogs. But it has definitely taken a lot of time on our end to reach out to each contact directly with interesting updates about Kallio that will appeal to their specific angle and target demographic. If you’re asking for (free) coverage of your brand, it’s really important to demonstrate to the writer that you’ve taken the time to craft a story unique to them. It’s also nice to check in every once and a while just to say hi, or share an article they may find interesting.

F45: What is your best advice for aspiring designer entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Kallio: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people who have “been there and done that.” You may be an expert in your field, but a business has many facets and the more minds you can glean the better. But at the end of the day, you are the boss and so it’s important to follow and listen to your gut and heart.


Want more from Kallio? Check out the e-commerce store here.

[Photo credit: Brooklyn Makers, Kai D Utility, Kallio, Renegade Craft]



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

So what actually happened?

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

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

So what’s a seller to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Etsy logo

Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder of Porcelain & Stone

I first met jewelry designer and maker Kimberly Huestis over dinner and drinks in Boston. I, and the two other women we were with, found ourselves keeled over in laughter by Kim’s stories and refreshing outlook on life. Somehow, Kim seems to perfectly straddle the line between “zany creative” and “successful artist” mixed in with a lot of business savvy. 

For these reasons, I thought she would be the perfect entrepreneur to feature in our new “Making It” series. In the interview below, Kim shares her thoughts on starting a business and making it as a maker. 

Tell us about your background. Were you always a jewelry designer? What prompted you to start Porcelain and Stone?

I grew up in Vermont. I used to skip rocks along the lakefront and hammer at stones, trying to find out what they looked like inside. I eventually got into rock sculpting and (strangely) that turned into a more formal education in architecture. I like to know how things work. My professional background is in 3D graphic design and animation, environmental consulting, as well as building design.

There was never a strong intention to become a jewelry designer. I had always made my own jewelry since I could never find anything to wear (due to skin sensitivity issues) or not feeling like the piece was unique enough to want to buy. Who wants to wear what everyone else is wearing? Apparently, even as a tomboy-ish kid, I was interested in fashion and didn’t even know it.

Starting Porcelain and Stone all happened in about a week in the summer of 2012. At first, I didn’t know if I really wanted to do it, or if it was possible to do full-time. I spent a vacation at home while taking time off work, and in that one week, I got interest from two boutiques who wanted to sell my jewelry. I realized it was something I couldn’t see myself not doing. So, I jumped in with both feet… which seems a bit crazy now! But, it was the best decision. I should have had the guts to do sooner!


What have been some of the biggest challenges in starting your own business?

Confidence and wondering if I’m not wasting my time on the wrong things. Lacking confidence is perhaps the toughest thing to deal with because everything else can be figured out with a little problem solving or work-around. I’ve realized it’s never very productive to place energy in worrying or anxiety. It’s normal to worry and not always fantastically believe in yourself. But it’s better to acknowledge the feeling and move on.

I love setting small, very achievable milestones that eventually lead to greater goals. It’s good to feel like you are making progress when things aren’t exactly laid out in front of you like a predictable road map.


You’ve been able to get some pretty amazing press (most recently British Vogue) — how did that happen? What tips do you have for getting media attention?

Everyone will probably hate it if I say, oh, by accident! But there I was, minding my own Instagramming and Twittering business…

I believe in sharing your day-to-day via social media. It isn’t even about entertaining others — I think of it as a little “maker” diary of my day. It’s recorded proof for myself that I have done something, anything, with my day while involving my love of porcelain and sculpting. I focus a lot on sharing what happens in my studio or what I’m up to at work in a visual, story-telling way.

That focus, I think, is what prompts potential customers into deciding if they like the content I’m sharing. If they do, then they end up subscribing to get more! I have social media to thank for not only giving me a small sense of community support, but also for connecting me to fantastic writers that will feature my work.

The simplest tip I can give is: show off what you’re doing, and make your content interesting. I believe HubSpot coined the term “remarkable content.” Don’t always post fluff. It’s transparent, and humans are smarter than that. Share the things that you actually care about sharing and consciously consider the intelligence of your viewers. Communicating clearly is great, but so is having a little fun!


What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned from this venture?

You don’t need to read books or go to school to be a maker / start a business. It’s more important to talk to others and hear what they have to share. Learning from others is a great way to set up your expectations in a responsible way while protecting your business, and possibly your emotions.

People frequently call my business “my baby,” but I don’t think of it that way. It’s a project that I am infatuated with, but I don’t recommend your business being your life. I like that my life includes my business.

I love the startup culture, most especially on the product/artisanal side of things. The tech scene is great, but there is a greater focus on money that seems to consume most ventures once they take on investors. I’m more in favor of bootstrapping. I prefer creating a self-sustaining business that grows in response to my consumers’ needs.


If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of designers and makers, what would it be?

Don’t sacrifice quality or integrity. You have something you believe in — find your target niche and help them find you. There is a slippery slope in lowering your prices again and again, and it can be very enticing in the early stages when you’re desperate for sales. It is very easy to price yourself out of business if you fall into that trap.

Set high standards for a quality product, make strategic decisions that allow you to grow, and balance your financial growth along with it. I spent time learning to price my products correctly from the very beginning. I did not want to be confused with plastic or base-metal makers.

Even when your designs get knocked off, focus your energy on being a top product and there will be no confusion as to what your business strives to provide. People can copy, but they will always be one step behind you. Focus on creating a strong brand, because that is what draws people to you. Are you trying to compete with Target or are you aiming to be something special?




Kimberly and the Porcelain & Stone online shop can be found here.

[Photo credit: Porcelain & Stone]


Meet the Inaugural Class of Factory45: Part II

perrellis-thumbnail jpegJON & ALEXANDER PERRELLI | DINOSAURUS

Brooklyn, NY

Jon and Alexander are two brothers who have been building a brand that makes science fun for kids. Through a dinosaur-inspired storyline and products that transform kids’ imaginations, the Perrelli’s are committed to zero plastics and made in the USA production. We’ll be working together to streamline their prototypes, set up an efficient supply chain, and explore marketing strategies through wholesale and e-commerce.


Heidi-thumbnail jpegHEIDI MCKENZIE | ALTER UR EGO

Mt. Sterling, KY

When Heidi was 21 years old she was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. In the past few years, she has been a driving force for other young women with disabilities and has realized there is a way to make life easier (and more fashionable) for herself and her peers. She will be creating prototypes, setting up a supply chain, and building an online store that will be  the first of its kind.


lara-thumbnailLARA NEECE | FOREST & FIN

Savannah, GA

Lara has a successful brand on Etsy that she has grown slowly and steadily based on consumer demand. Her business model clearly aligns with the values behind Factory45, and we’ll be working together to scale her production and expand her line into other pieces, namely a wrap skirt. Lara is an adventurer at heart, smart entrepreneur and artistic creative.




Berkeley, CA

Sharon is the most experienced entrepreneur in the group, having previously launched and sold a successful handbag company. This time around, she is reiterating with sustainability in mind by creating a line of leather bags from repurposed and recycled materials. Sharon’s experience in the industry will be an asset as she continues to navigate a new entrepreneurial path.


Jenn Lak thumbnail jpegJENNIFER LAK | BLU VERDE

Clearwater, FL

Jenn is an executive in the spa industry who has found a hole in the market that she wants to fill. She has been holding onto a vision for her company for years and now feels ready to make it happen. With a strong business background and experience working and leading groups, she’ll be a valuable asset to the Factory45 dynamic. In the next six months, Jenn will finalize her prototypes, design her brand, and create a strategy for going to market through wholesale and direct-to-consumer.


If you missed Part I of the Factory45 introductions you can meet everyone else here.