Posts

the mask project featured image

The past five days have been a whirlwind — to put it lightly.

It started on Friday when I received three emails from people interested in sewing masks for medical workers.

As the day went on, I kept hearing from our factory partners that they wanted to help, but they didn’t know where to send the masks.

So much of my experience through Factory45 is based on connecting entrepreneurs with manufacturers. 

It got me thinking about how I could translate that into connecting hospitals with manufacturers.

And that’s how The Mask Project was born.

The Mask Project

In record time, we launched a website on Saturday night (thanks to Emily Belyea Creative) and with the help of a 70-person email chain of sustainable fashion influencers, we started spreading the word about the project on Sunday.

Kathryn and her team at Good Clothing Company got to work designing a more efficient pattern for the mask.

JOANN Fabrics stepped in to donate thousands of yards of fabric and as of Tuesday afternoon, we have 54 factories willing to sew medical masks. 

We’ve also received requests for over 100,000 masks from hospitals all over the country.

I’ve estimated that with our factory network, we could manufacture over 500,000 masks per week — two million masks per month — for medical professionals across the U.S.

But here’s the thing: right now, these factories are donating their time and labor.

While they’re pivoting their business models to help with the mass shortage of medical supplies, they also need to keep themselves in business.

This is different from the home sewers and hobbyists making 100 masks a week and donating them. It’s still amazing, but it’s different.

The real impact in this mask shortage can be made by our network of U.S. factories that want to keep their sewers employed.

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve learned more about hospital supply chain, government funding and the intricacies of budget restrictions than I ever thought I would.

It’s clear that the city government and hospital funds are maxed out. The money that they do have should be spent on N95 respirators and ventilators directly in contact with COVID-19.

The masks that we’re making are meant to be used in sterile environments and operation room settings to free up the “real masks” for treating contagious disease.

And while I’m working on strategic partnerships with influencers who can amplify the message for funding, it’s ultimately going to come down to individual donations.

So, in what I thought would be a very different blog than what I’m posting today, I’m asking you to consider supporting these factories that want to help and that also want to stay in business.

You’ll see a “Donate” button on The Mask Project website here.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on alternative ways to get mass amounts of funding for our manufacturing partners, while continuing to research hospital supply chains (if this is your area of expertise, please email me!)

Thank you to so many of you who have already spread the word and supported the project on Instagram this week.

Our community is the best.

Gratefully,

 


 

Do you know the number one reason that new fashion brands lose money or go out of business in their first year?

Manufacturing mistakes.

From over-ordering inventory to garment construction errors, starting production is the most vulnerable time for new fashion brands.

I’ve heard the stories.

The brand blames the factory… the factory blames the brand… and when all is said and done, only a fraction of the production order is good enough to sell.

And both parties lose money.

In the case of the new brand, it’s enough of a loss to put them out of business — before they’ve even started.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Because the primary reason for manufacturing mistakes is a lack of communication.

The tech pack isn’t specific… the sew-by sample isn’t perfect… the brand and project manager haven’t had enough conversations about the end goal of the product.

The good news is: Communication is something that can be improved upon.

And while yes, the factory manager could probably be quicker about responding to your emails or returning your phone calls, effective communication is the responsibility of you — the founder and designer of your brand.

Can you control the skill set of the sewers? No.

Can you control the attention of the quality control manager? No.

But you can control the clarity of your expectations and needs up until production begins.

And that’s everything.

Between the free resources in books, blogs and YouTube, there’s really no excuse anymore to go into apparel manufacturing knowing nothing at all.

So, I’ve put together a little quiz for you, so you can better understand where your knowledge lies… 

Which of these questions can you answer?

  1. What is a “time study” sample?
  2. Name the three things you need to be able to start product development.
  3. What’s the most important question to ask a pattern/samplemaker before you hire them?
  4. What’s the number one way to save money in production?
  5. Should your production partner sign an NDA?

If you were able to confidently answer four out of these five questions, then you’re in good shape!

But if you know that you’re new to the manufacturing industry and you have plans to start an apparel or accessories brand, then it’s imperative that you arm yourself with the knowledge and know-how to get through production without losing money.

And that’s why I created The Manufacturing Kit for you.

It includes eight resources that will answer the questions above, as well as teach you other valuable information like:

  • The 14 things you need before starting product development. 
  • How to translate your sketch to a spec sheet template so you don't have to pay to have one made.
  • 9 questions to ask a pattern/samplemaker before you hire them.
  • 9 questions to ask a manufacturer before signing a contract.
  • And more…

You can check out The Manufacturing Kit in more detail here.

And if you have any questions about it, just reply to this email — I’ll personally get back to you.

As they say, “knowledge is power” and my goal with The Manufacturing Kit is for you to be able to confidently and calmly go into production without wasting time and losing money.

To your success,

 

 


If you’re like most of the entrepreneurs I work with, then you know this:

  • You want to start a fashion brand that’s socially-conscious
  • You want to do something to combat the “fast fashion problem” 
  • You don’t want to be just another fashion brand

In your heart, you are committed to building a sustainably-made and ethically-manufactured brand, but where do you even start?

While I run an entire six-month accelerator program to help with exactly that, I want to get you started with the first four things to consider right now.

In today’s episode of Factory45 TV, I’m sharing where to begin when you’re building a sustainable fashion brand from scratch.

These four things are not generic answers like, start a business plan or research your competition or trademark your business name.

Click the button above and in four minutes you’ll have four steps to building your sustainable fashion brand right now.

Enjoy!

 

 


manufacturing kit

Want to know how fun I am at the ripe old age of 34…? 

I spent most of the past weekend live-streaming an entrepreneurship conference.

Party. Time. Amiright?

While this isn’t something my 21-year-old self would ever understand about who I’ve become, this is genuinely my version of a rip-roaring good time.

I just said “rip-roaring,” so yeah.

Anyway, of the entrepreneurs on stage at this conference — all of whom we’d categorize as successful — there seemed to be one common thread of advice.

The vast majority said something like this:

“I wish that I had invested in my business sooner.”

And they weren’t talking about hiring or outsourcing or seeking VC money.

They were talking about education.

One of the business owners said she’s spent tens of thousands of dollars on courses, programs, masterminds, digital products, coaches and mentors over the years and only wishes she had done it sooner.

Because every time she made a single investment in her knowledge, her business improved.

As someone who is a huge advocate for online education (for obvious reasons), I also spend a significant part of my own revenue each year on learning something new about my business.

I’ve taken courses on digital advertising, email marketing, Instagram, media outreach, YouTube, business law and a multitude of other topics at different times over the years.

And what I’ve noticed is not only does this investment in your business give you the inspiration to learn, but it also gives you insight into what you’re capable of doing yourself and what makes sense to outsource.

After the digital advertising course, I knew I wanted to hire someone to do it for me. (Numbers… do not compute…)

But email marketing, Instagram and YouTube? Those programs empowered me. They made me feel like I could conquer those important parts of my business on my own.

And that’s what The Factory45 Shop is all about — it’s why I created it. 

Because if you’re ready to start now, then I want you to feel empowered to take action.

If you’re waiting for Factory45 applications to open in May, then The Fabric Sourcing Kit is for you.

If you’re getting ready to go into product development and production, then The Manufacturing Kit is for you.

If you’re ready to start building your brand with the goal of a pre-sales launch campaign, then The Crowdfunding Factory is for you (enrollment closes tonight at midnight ET!)

And if you’re facing a specific challenge that you just can’t seem to conquer, then I’m offering 1-on-1 strategy sessions until December 20th.

The chance to invest in your own business education is here for you.

And according to over a dozen seasoned entrepreneurs speaking to a packed audience, you won’t regret taking it.

 


Crowdfunding

To the person hustling through nights and weekends to launch their brand,

To the person waiting for applications to Factory45 to open,

To the person not knowing where to start…

I made something for you.

The Factory45 Shop is a new platform exclusively created for startup fashion entrepreneurs.

Over the past 5+ years of running Factory45 once a year, from May to December, I kept getting the same requests…

“I’m ready to start now!”

“I don’t want to wait until May of next year!”

“What can I work on while I wait?”

And now I have an answer.

I’ve created three digital products that offer immediate access, so you can start working on your fashion brand right now.

Whether you plan on applying to Factory45 in May 2020 or not, these three resources will answer some of those immediate questions you have about starting a fashion brand.

Not feeling confident about reaching out to fabric suppliers?

The Fabric Sourcing Kit is for you.

Want to avoid costly mistakes in product development and apparel production? 

The Manufacturing Kit is for you.

Need to raise money to launch your brand — without giving up equity? 

The Crowdfunding Factory is for you.

There is also an opportunity for established brands to connect with me for a 1-on-1 strategy session through December 20th.

It’s all here.

Read through the details and if you’re not sure which kit or course is right for you, then just email me at shannon@f45staging.wpengine.com — I’m happy to offer recommendations.

Wherever you are in your fashion business, this is an opportunity to take action. Grab onto it.

I’m cheering you on,


Factory45 Shop

In the last episode of Factory45 TV, I shared five ways to find a clothing manufacturer for the first time. If you missed it, you can watch it here.

Moving forward, you’ll eventually come to a point when you think you’ve found the right factory partner and you’re ready to start production… 

What questions do you want to make sure you ask?

What mistakes do you need to avoid?

What questions should you be prepared to answer?

And what do you really need to be able to start production?

In this video, I’m going to answer all of those questions for you (and more), so that you don’t end up wasting money on the wrong things, or turning off a factory from working with you or realizing that you sent a factory inquiry too soon (that happens all the time).

Click the video above to watch Cut & Sew Manufacturers: How to Work with Them.

Enjoy!

 

 


Manufacturing Checklist

How do you find a manufacturer for your clothing line?

…especially as a new brand without many industry contacts?

In today’s episode of Factory45 TV (!), I’m sharing 5 tips to finding a clothing manufacturer for the first time.

My best tip — that I haven’t shared before — is saved for #4 so make sure you watch all the way to the end.

It’s never too soon to start making a list of potential production partners that you can contact when you’re ready.

This video will help you begin (or continue) your search. Enjoy!

 

 


clothing manufacturer

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!

 

 


important product testing

Consider this scenario.

You spend years dreaming up the perfect apparel product.

You spend months meticulously creating it.

You tweak and stitch and hem and haw over it until…

It’s perfect.

To you.

But what about the lady on the other side of the country, who really wishes the zipper slid up and down a little easier?

Have you tested it to make sure it’s also perfect for your customer?

There are two phases of product development that I would say are a must.

1.) To test your product in the pre-product development process.

2.) To test your product in post-product development.

First, you want to test your concept.

The easiest way to do this is by sending out a survey to your target market (ideally through your email list). This should help you identify your ideal customer, as well as let you know how likely they are to pay for your product.

Once you receive the feedback, consider every bit of it. Make any necessary changes before you move on to develop your patterns and samples.

An important note here: People may not know what they want, but they definitely know what they don’t want. Phrase your survey questions in a way that provokes your future customer to tell you what they don’t like about similar garments on the market and how they feel they could be improved.

The second test is a user test of the product after the sample has already been made.

Start this process by checking to see what is federally mandated by your country for the manufacturer. For example, in the United States, baby clothing has required testing.

If you aren’t sure what testing may be required by law, use this page on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website to find out. (Note that this is specific to the U.S.)

You want to ensure that you’re offering a product of quality, value and safety. You need go that extra mile to make sure what you believe to be perfect, is actually perfect.

Don’t let this overwhelm you. Testing agencies are out there who specialize in a wide variety of consumer products. Many of these tests are budgetfriendly, as well. Do the research, find out what you need and factor it into your budget.

Your other product testing outlet is going to be much easier

Your family and friends.

This has proven by many first-time entrepreneurs to be the most honest and easiest form of feedback. Reach out to someone in your target market who will be brutally honest and let you know what they like and what can be improved.

Once those two tests are completed, you’ll feel ready and confident to move into production.


Fabric Supplier

As a new business owner, it is vital that you know how to write an effective email that will earn a response.

Depending on who you’re writing to, it can be easier said than done.

When it comes to reaching out to fabric suppliers, especially, there are seven key rules to remember:

1.) Consider the audience you’re reaching out. The supplier is likely receiving hundreds of emails per week, so you want to make sure your inquiry gets straight to the point. The supplier does not care about your background or the mission of your company. At the end of the day, they just want to make a sale.

2.) Keep the email short and sweet. Yes, you will want to include a nice “Hello” and an appropriate “Thank you.” But again, make sure you are not wasting the recipient's time.

3.) Do your due diligence. Make sure you do your own research on the supplier’s website before you reach out. Oftentimes, you can get many of your questions answered on the supplier’s About, Shop and FAQ pages.

4.) Know your stuff. Many fabric suppliers are going to want to see that you actually know what you’re talking about, so they don’t risk wasting their own time. One great way to show that you’re serious about being their customer is to send over a design, spec sheet or a visual example of the piece you’re needing the fabric for.

5.) Don’t ask about MOQ’s. Especially not in your first email. This mistake will make you come off as overly frugal and price-conscious before even making initial contact.

6.) Foster the relationship. Once you’ve received an initial response, take your time in building a relationship with the sales rep. While being courteous of their time, you want to cultivate the relationship and make it easy for them to help you. Down the road, they’ll be much more likely to negotiate MOQ’s with you later on.

7.) Stay persistent. Be mindful of not overwhelming the supplier, but don’t give up. Finding sustainable and low-impact fabrics is not an easy task for anyone. Stick to your values and keep up your search. Fabric sourcing is one of the steps in product development that can take the longest, so be patient.


supplier email cta