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The Story of How I Got Started

Six years ago, I was 24 and had just gotten back to the States after spending two years “bartending my way around the world.”

I had once been the girl who envisioned herself in the corner office — but after two years abroad, I knew that I would never get a “real job.”

I wanted to create something bigger than myself. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to wake up every morning and go after my dreams. In typical GenY fashion, I didn’t want to help build someone else’s dream.

It was a divine twist of fate when I got a Facebook message from a friend shortly after I got home. She said she was going through a “quarter life crisis,” dreading the possibility of sitting in a cubicle all day, and suggested we start something together.

That “something” turned out to be a sustainable apparel company.

Of course, it didn’t happen immediately.

Our plan was to create a company that would be 100% made in the USA, using fabrics and materials that did the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

But we quickly found out that having a plan wasn’t enough. We were naive, unversed in industry lingo, and had zero connections in the fashion industry. It became obvious very early on that what we were trying to accomplish wouldn’t be easy.

We spent money on the wrong things, made every mistake possible, wasted time pursuing leads that ended in dead ends and continuously took two steps back with every one step forward.

Looking back at the emails I sent to fabric suppliers, I now know that my inquiries surely got a swift click of the delete button. I didn’t know how to talk to industry veterans, I had no idea how to walk “the walk,” and it showed.

But after a year and a half, having nearly depleted both of our savings accounts, the stars aligned.

We received a response about a private label inquiry we had sent to a contact form. After a few meetings, we made the decision to source and manufacture our first production run under the guidance of a company who had done it before.

The company was a startup itself but was farther along and had the production infrastructure that we lacked. They also had the knowledge, connections and reputation. After pushing forward solo for so long, we had found someone to take us by the hand and walk us through the process.

We had finally found the mentorship we needed.

A month later, we broke records launching the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history.

We quadrupled our first production order, were featured in The New York Times, and started our business with 1,400 customers.

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Fast forward to today and I’ve been able to acquire the knowledge, skills, connections and reputation that I didn’t have when I was first starting out.

In the last few years, I’ve helped over 70 entrepreneurs set up supply chains in the U.S., source sustainable materials and bring their products to market.

Factory45 is the program I created for entrepreneurs, like me, who have a vision and a plan but need the mentorship and resources to get started.

I’ll be looking for a crew of committed designers, makers and entrepreneurs who want to join me in creating a more ethical and transparent fashion industry. If that sounds like you, mark your calendar.

 

 


 

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing Good Clothing Company

Kathryn Hilderbrand has an infectious enthusiasm. Follow her on Facebook and you’ll see what I mean. She is three parts designer, tailor and entrepreneur, simultaneously selling her own clothing line, GreenLinebyK, and running a tailor shop on Cape Cod called Stitched. This year, she’s going for the trifecta and launching an apparel manufacturing facility in Mashpee, MA.

Kathryn emailed me shortly after she found out about a certified “green” facility that had become available for rent. It was the perfect space to open a sew shop for small batch apparel production. She would have to go through a lot of red tape and get approval from the city, but she was ready to take it on.

Just a couple of months after that first conversation, Kathryn has a two-year lease on the building and is starting production for her first client, a country music singer. I interviewed Kathryn about the nuts and bolts of Good Clothing Company and how it can help small designers.

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Tell us about your latest venture, Good Clothing Company.

Good Clothing Company is a sustainable and ethical apparel production facility on Cape Cod. Our focus is small runs and quality craftsmanship.

What inspired you to open your own production facility?

I had reached a point where I needed to go into production for my own label, GreenLinebyK, but I couldn’t find any apparel production facilities offering minimums that were in line with my principles and worked with my budget. A US based facility was very important to me because I believe in supporting our local economy, and I wanted to be able to be hands-on when needed.

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Why is a venture like this important to the fashion industry at large?

By making apparel production available on a local level, we create jobs for displaced sewing industry workers and give many emerging fashion designers the opportunity to grow their businesses.

What type of products / designers are a good fit for Good Clothing Company?

We can deliver on most apparel and soft home goods products. Although we can aid designers with pattern making and sourcing, it’s best for a designer to be well prepared with each piece of the puzzle they need to go into production.  A designer with a solid plan, sourced textiles and a commitment to sustainable production is our ideal client.

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Why is this venture personally important?

As an industry professional for 30 years, I have seen and weathered the storm that fast fashion so furiously wrought upon the apparel industry in the US. I am committed to engaging in positive change, bringing back industry jobs and producing quality products in a way that is true to my set of principles: ethical and sustainable goods made by well paid people.

If you’re a designer or consumer who believes in similar ideals about fair employment opportunities, ethical manufacturing and sustainable business practices, Kathryn is launching an Indiegogo campaign to buy additional machines for Good Clothing Company. Additional machines means more employed sewers and that means added capacity to work with more designers. 

To support and share Kathryn’s campaign, check it out here.

UPDATE: Kathryn’s Indiegogo campaign was successfully funded!


Market45

5 Tips for Building Brand Exposure

This is a post I wrote for the Ethical Fashion Forum. The original version can be read here.

How do you get your brand noticed? It’s an over analyzed topic. The Internet is oozing with headlines that claim to hold the golden ticket. While viral marketing videos and giveaway contests are obvious answers, they don’t always apply to the startup brand with 46 Twitter followers.

So how can you build your brand for the best chance of big exposure? It starts the moment you begin — when you’re just laying out the groundwork and building the foundation of your company.

I looked at four different companies building brand exposure the right way:

1.) Create a remarkable customer experience.

Walk into a Warby Parker store and you’re instantly hooked. Pristine, white shelves, bright lights, crystal clear mirrors, and eyewear with names like Baxter, Malcolm and Chamberlain calling your name. Try on a pair, any pair, the frames beckons from their shelves.

Once you’ve chosen your style, a spritely salesperson appears with an iPad to instantly take your order. One quick fitting, the exchange of your prescription and information — and voila, your glasses arrive at your address in seven business days.

For those who don’t live near a Warby Parker store? Well, they’ll ship you a box with five different choices and give you five days to pick your favorite. All for free. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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2.) Know your target market. (Know them so well that you talk like them.)

If you’ve seen the social media accounts of The Reformation label you’ve remembered them. The company has taken on the role of the “cool girls” of sustainable fashion. Founded by designer Yael Aflalo initially as a side project, Reformation has garnered a cult-like following from some of the hottest names in fashion.

With edgy images, bold messaging, and a distinct voice that speaks directly to its ideal consumer, Reformation is more than a clothing company — it’s a brand that embodies everything its customer wants to be.

The bottom line is: know exactly who you want wearing your brand and speak directly to her — the clothing will sell itself.

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3.) Have one clear, memorable message.

“Modern basics. Radical transparency.” That’s the tagline of luxury clothing brand, Everlane, a sustainable apparel label; that blew up in 2013. If you’ve explored the Everlane brand, then you know what it’s all about — high-quality basics at low price points by cutting out the middleman.

Everlane has found success not by parading itself around as another sustainable clothing company, but by being very clear about what it does and what it offers. It prides itself on being a collection of essentials without crazy designer markups. While most consumers won’t pay the premium that comes with the “ethical fashion” label, Everlane has flipped its messaging to make shoppers feel as though they’re actually getting a deal.

While utilizing a strong Facebook and Instagram following, the brand is clear, defined, and seemingly irresistible.

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4.) Do one thing really well.

Flint & Tinder knows underwear. Founder Jake Bronstein proved it when he raised nearly $300K on Kickstarter for a line of American-made, Supima cotton men’s underwear.

From the beginning, Bronstein didn’t set out to make anything other than underwear. He found a hole in the market and figured out a way to fill that hole. Then he did everything he could to become an expert on the fit, comfort and quality of men’s underwear.

It wasn’t until he found success doing one thing really well with Flint & Tinder that he expanded to a more robust line of men’s clothing. F&T will most likely always be remembered for its underwear because of how it started.

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5.) Word-of-mouth is massively effective.

Each of these four brands has one thing in common. Their primary area of success has been found through word-of-mouth marketing. Brand exposure was built into the early foundations of each company, simply because their customers had something to talk about.

When you find something good you want to share it with the world. That’s what these companies were counting on — and by knowing that from the start, it’s exactly what they got.

Photos courtesy of  , , , , Brand Driven Digital

 

Making It: Start-up Advice from the Co-Founder of Sword & Plough

I was first introduced to the founders of Sword & Plough during their Kickstarter campaign in the spring of 2013. Sisters Betsy and Emily Nunez launched a campaign (that blew their goal out of water) to produce a quadruple bottom line company that works with veterans to repurpose military surplus fabric into stylish bags.

A year later, I met Betsy in Boston to hear more about the behind the scenes of growing Sword & Plough. Since our coffee chat, S&P has seen some amazing traction with its debut on The Today Show, as well as features in Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, Refinery29 and many more.

Having started from ground zero and building the company into what it is today, Betsy is sharing her best start-up advice for early-stage companies that are ready to embark on their journey.

1.) What inspired the creation of Sword & Plough? What are the ethics and values behind your company?

My sister, Emily, and I grew up in a military family. After hearing so many meaningful stories from our father, uncle, and cousin about their time in the service, Emily was inspired to serve herself. She was particularly inspired by the humanitarian missions that our dad was deployed on and the counterinsurgency research he conducted that was put into action. She knew she wanted to serve in the military, and we both knew at a young age that we wanted to make a positive impact in the world, just as our family members had.

Betsy-Emily

As a result of Emily’s time in Army ROTC during college and growing up in a military family, she was keenly aware of the incredible amount of military surplus waste, as well as the state of veteran unemployment. This inspired her to take something that is often wasted and upcycle it into a beautiful product with a powerful mission.

The result is our company Sword & Plough.

Today, our team re-purposes military surplus materials into stylish bags that are made by American manufacturers that are veteran owned or operated. We also donate 10 percent of the profits to veteran organizations that align with our mission to strengthen civil-military understanding, empower veteran employment, and reduce waste.

We are a quadruple bottom line fashion and accessories business focused on people, our purpose, care for the planet, and profitability (a key component that allows us to further our impact). Our team has built our business model to reflect a life cycle and we’ve worked hard to shape the brand’s ethos with impact at every stage. To date, Sword & Plough has up-cycled over 15,000+ pounds of military surplus, supported 38 veteran jobs, and sold over 5,000 products. twitter-bird-light-bgs1

2.) What was the most difficult part of setting up your supply chain? What hurdles did you have to get over in the process?sword-plough

The most challenging part of setting up our supply chain was learning everything from scratch, setting it up, and ‘putting out fires’ or problem solving as issues arose. We knew from the beginning we wanted to do our manufacturing in the U.S. and work with U.S. partners and suppliers, but no one on our team had specific knowledge or experience with manufacturing or creating a supply chain. Building our long term supply chain for large scale S&P production happened after launching on Kickstarter, all while the majority of our team was located in different time zones — Emily, our CEO, was deployed and serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan at that time.

First hand experience taught us that relying on so many different pieces (manufacturing, shipping, expenses, other people and even the environment) can create surprises or ‘speed bumps.’ What you thought was going to take one month to implement can quickly extend to two or even three months!

These ‘speed bumps’ were the sort of setbacks that if not corrected the second time around, can quickly crush an early stage business, or best (of the worst) case scenario, lead to unhappy customers.

We worked hard to absorb as much information as possible and then make adjustments and implement new strategies as we moved forward.

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Here are a few key things we learned:

  • Find sources that are a match for large scale production regardless of the stage you are at.
  • Find sources or partners that carry items that are consistently re-stocked or are regularly available in large quantities.
  • Ensure that the companies you are working with are in good financial standing and will be a long term partner.
  • Ask the supplier or partner to fill out a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility survey) or ask them questions to ensure their processes meet your values.
  • Do test runs for time, cost, etc.
  • Get quotes, samples, shipping timelines, lead times, and cost in writing prior to purchasing.
  • Find an effective and diligent way of communicating with your manufacturer (Whether it be planned calls, weekly/daily visits, having them regularly update a master spreadsheet with production progress).
  • Find mentors specifically skilled and experienced in retail distribution, operations, logistics, and supply chain.

Manufacturing within the U.S., communicating with all parties in the same language, as well as being located in the same country has helped us do all of the above, act or react in a very timely manner, and has allowed us to feel a lot more comfortable with our processes once we were set up.

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3.) What mistakes or challenges have you learned from while setting up and running Sword & Plough?

We knew there would be a lot of challenges and new roles, facets, and foundations that were going to be essential to fulfilling our dream of turning S&P into a well functioning business.

When building a startup, you haven’t learned how to do everything yet and you’re likely going to be very limited with resources and working capital. A lot of the advice and help we received early on is still priceless today.

We’ve never been afraid to ask for help or to ask the questions that will help us problem solve or plan our vision further. It wasn’t easy (early on) to be focused on an idea that hadn’t gained momentum yet, or something that people weren’t aware of or didn’t understand. We’ve learned through early challenges that nothing worth doing comes easy and there’s a lot to learn when you’re building something from scratch. It’s your ability to work when work isn’t easy that makes the difference.

The best part about our business life is the uniqueness and pride that comes with seeing our idea through and gaining momentum. Each and every day, regardless of the challenges that present themselves, we feel like we’ve won the lottery because our team gets to build something that is our owntwitter-bird-light-bgs1, through our vision and share it with the world.

Sword-and-Plough-Repurposed-Bags4.) What is your main marketing strategy? You’ve also gotten some great press – how did those opportunities come about?

Our main marketing strategy is to build engaged groups through word of mouth, social media, press, and email marketing. A lot of the opportunities and features that we have received to date have come from a very strong launch when we entered the market on Kickstarter in April 2013.

Here are  three things that we found helpful to think about when launching our brand and getting the word out:

1. Define your goal and create your pre-launch, launch and post-launch plan. Define your vision for your audience, brand, community, and story. Be as detailed as you can and think about what you need in terms of funding and your goals for marketing, branding, production and customer experience.

2. Activate and engage your network. Make an early, large, public and online announcement to your commitment to build your product or launch. From that point on, commit to building as much awareness as possible around your product, campaign, or launch.

3. Ensure a wide audience for your campaign (to expand even beyond your network):

  • Share your product or idea with as many friends, family and acquaintances as possible.
  • Organize feedback sessions and ask for their advice, opinion and real time feedback. Collect as much information as possible and listen.
  • After you’ve connected with someone in your target market, ask if there’s anyone they think you should meet or speak with who could provide additional support, and don’t be shy about asking for a direct introduction.
  • As you’re having the conversations, give people the opportunity to sign up for launch alerts or updates.
  • Create engaging content and tell every aspect of your story.
  • Develop brand evangelists who will talk about your product and story.
  • Create and build your brand’s resources (social media platforms, media packet, press release, business cards, pitch postcards, text lists, email lists, photography and campaign videos).
  • Build a media list of bloggers and publications that have synergy with your idea, mission and product. Keep in mind that many of the bloggers you reach out to are getting hundreds of emails each day. You need to make your story stand out, and the easiest way to do that is often with a direct introduction.
  • Create new contacts outside of your own network by attending meet-ups, events, presentations, pitch competitions, events in the industry you’re looking to enter, and be an active member of communities that have synergy with your mission
  • We highly encourage you to reach out to your already existing network — your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network and ask for support, in the form of help or pledges, but perhaps more importantly, contacts.

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5.) What advice do you have for designer entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

If we could pass along advice, our top ten would be…

1. Take your ideas seriously from the start. Every idea is worth serious consideration (at least a five minute brainstorm), no matter how absurd or impossible it may seem at first. Believe in the power of an idea. Test your idea continuously and ask questions. Push yourself to drive the idea from concept into reality.

2. Ask for feedback every step of the way.

3. Dream up the biggest vision possible, start wherever you are and start small. twitter-bird-light-bgs1

4. Nothing is impossible or out of reach for people that continuously try and go after what they want.

5. Push through the challenges and overcome any sized obstacles by gathering information, seeking help and broadening your perspective.

6. Find mentors that are successful and experienced within your industry.

7. Constantly developing relationships is essential for business growth.

8. Build your own community or seek out the ones that will either be very supportive and the most critical of your idea. Both will make you better.

9. Seek out opportunities. They are fuel for gaining momentum, and opening the door for communication between your business and audience is key.

10. Always thank people and express gratitude.

Photos courtesy of Sword & Plough, So Freaking Cool, Druammons, Made Close, Go Verb & Super Compressor.


Market45

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.

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

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

 

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

It was at least 60 seconds before Taylor Johnston and I realized we were both in the same coffee shop to meet but had sat down at different tables.

“Are you Shannon?” she asked from the table across from mine. Sipping on our morning caffeine fix (her’s hot, mine iced), we talked shop and connected over the (very limited) sustainable fashion scene in Boston.

Taylor is the designer and founder of Gamine, a line of women’s workwear made entirely in the USA (the word ‘gamine’ means ‘a girl with mischievous or boyish charm’). Launching with the perfect pair of raw denim, durable dungarees, Taylor almost immediately sold out of her first production-run.

We began the conversation with Taylor telling me about the time a photographer from The New York Times came to photograph the Isabella Gardner Museum where Taylor works in the gardens. She said she was wearing a grubby, oversized sweatshirt and felt completely out of sorts while having her photo taken. From that experience, she realized there was a need for functional women’s workwear that was both presentable and flattering while still being able to withstand manual labor.

Throughout the conversation, we bonded over our similar starts in the fashion industry without backgrounds in fashion, our love/hate relationships with social media, and Taylor’s recent purchase of a new house in the small hometown where I grew up.

Today, Taylor is sharing her unique story with the Factory45 community and offering her best entrepreneurial advice.

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1.) Tell us about the inspiration behind Gamine. What sparked you to take the plunge and get over any uncertainty about the idea?

The inspiration for Gamine grew out of my work as a horticulturist. Over the last decade, I’ve tried everything: menswear, big box store clothes, mountaineering gear, high-end knockoffs (looks like workwear, but the quality can’t stand up to the abuse in the field), and of course, anything falling in the brown duck cloth category. I couldn’t find anything that was both functional and polished when you’re digging around in dirt all day. So I decided to fix the problem.

My only feeling of uncertainty was right before I launched — I wanted to make sure my jeans stood up to the “denim snobs” or “workwear nerds” out there. My hope was to create something that was both wearable in the field and totally lived up to the standard set for domestic denim brands. It’s important to do American workwear, especially denim, justice.

2.) What was the initial market response to your launch? Is it what you were expecting?

It’s been unreal. I never thought we would hear from so many women from around the world. We sold out almost immediately and are almost sold out of our pre-orders for our next production run. I am really grateful for the positive response and hope to continue to connect in a positive way with such an inspiring community of hardworking, creative women.

3.) What do you attribute to your early success? How do you think it can be translated to other early-stage companies?

I’m not even sure I would call what’s happening a success yet, but thanks! My hope is that the momentum we are generating is due to solving a real world problem and doing so in a thoughtful way. It’s easy to cut corners or find ways around sustainable/domestic production, but you have to take the long view and think about how your decisions play out over the lifetime of the company. It’s important to think about how you can positively affect micro-economies and hopefully improve the quality of life of someone who either produces or purchases your product.

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I also think it’s really important to connect a product or brand with a story. My good friend Chet of Big Scary Monsters created an unbelievable website for us. It’s the most effective way to show that we are a “for us, by us” type of brand. (And yeah, that was totally a FUBU reference.) But in all seriousness, a clear story and a great website are the best way for people to understand your unique perspective and worldview.

4.) What advice do you have for designers who are trying to set up a supply chain in the U.S.?

Research every aspect of your supply chain and get to know the people making your products. It’s important to form relationships with everyone contributing to your product so that there is a real life and soul to every item. I think we lucked out in working with such great folks, from our patternmaker to manufacturer, and it is the frosting on the cake to know that with each sale we’re supporting someone we care about.

5.) What mistakes did you make that yielded high-value lessons?

Where to begin! I should say I don’t really believe in mistakes — it’s all about learning to do things better. I suppose our biggest “mistake” to date has been being super conservative with getting ourselves out there.

As a gardener I’m a bit quiet and not super used to talking to so many people, so I never anticipated how many like-minded, eager, and amazing women there were out there that felt the same way I did about workwear. Even after the initial response (which was marvelous), we were still a little reluctant to fully engage. Three months in, we are starting to break down the wall and get more comfortable with outreach.

But to be real, I’m pretty sure Twitter will always be super awkward for me — it feels like I’m having a conversation with myself. In public.

I love Taylor’s candid perspective on entrepreneurship and going past her comfort zone — to get in touch with her or to check out her growing inventory of made in the USA and organic apparel, visit Gamine here.

4 Things You Can Do Before You’re Ready to Start Your Business

Not everyone can take the dive on the first impulse to start a business. There are responsibilities: bills to take care of, student loans to pay off, and commitments to keep.

If you’re one of those people, though, who knows that you were meant to be an entrepreneur — and it’s only a matter of time before you’re ready — then there are a few things you can be doing in the months (or years) leading up to taking the plunge:

1.) Make sure there is a market need for your idea

Do you have a few ideas brewing for a future business? Recognize the ones that keep you up at night — the ideas that you just can’t stop thinking about. Once you’ve narrowed down what you think are your best ideas, get laser focused. The best ideas are the ones that have a distinct market need. This means that you’re filling a void, solving a problem, or relieving a painpoint for people.

One of my favorite entrepreneurial quotes is something along the lines of: Startups must sell painkillers. Not vitamins.

2.) Write a one-page business plan

Once you’ve determined your best idea with a distinct market need, write a one-page business plan. This is something you can do on your lunch break or after work with a glass of wine. The one-page business plan should include:

– Your vision (2 sentences)

– Your target market (2 sentences)

– Your competitive advantage (3-4 sentences)

– Your business model (2-3 sentences)

– A financial summary (3-4 sentences)

A good business plan should always be changing, so the best thing to do is get your first draft on paper. Remember that you aren’t bound to anything. The goal is to start thinking about your idea as a financially-viable product.

3.) Use social media to connect with others in the industry

Set up a personal Twitter account with a professional photo of yourself and write a brief bio that describes the things you’re interested in that relate to your future business. Follow people within your niche (for example: sustainable fashion, fashion entrepreneurship, American makers, etc.) by searching similar hashtags. Start a conversation with those people by sending out friendly, personalized tweets and try to start an ongoing dialogue.

Don’t get discouraged if they don’t respond at first. Sometimes it takes a few retweets of something that person has written for them to notice that you’re awesome and someone worth getting to know.

When my co-founder and I were first starting {r}evolution apparel we built almost all of our early following through Twitter. Some of those people are still friends today. Twitter is a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people in the entrepreneurial world without spending a huge amount of time sending out individual emails.

4.) Cultivate the “entrepreneurial mindset”

Because traditional education (and the corporate world) don’t do much to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking, you will have to unlearn a lot of the beliefs that have been embedded in your mind through conventional thinking.

There are books, blogs and podcasts available to show you that you are not limited by your preconceived notions of what is possible. Some of my favorites are:

Books

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Blogs

The Blog of Tim Ferriss

The Middle Finger Project

The Art of Non-Conformity

Podcasts

The Unmistakable Creative

The Lively Show

No one wants to feel like they’re not living their purpose. By focusing on these preliminary business-building steps, you can know that you’re moving forward in the direction of eventually creating your dream business.

And then I’ll be here waiting when you’re ready to take the plunge.

 

 

Photo credit: Athena Gracee 


Market45

Let Go of Perfectionism & 4 More Lessons for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur myself, it’s been fascinating to watch the highs and lows of the entrepreneurs who have come through Factory45 in the past two years. It’s cliche to say, but starting a business is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Digging into some of those observations, I want to share the ones that I think could benefit any aspiring entrepreneur who is considering starting a company:

1.) No one ever really feels “ready.”

Just ask Factory45’er Angela who has two toddlers and travels around the country full time. As with most big decisions, timing is rarely perfect. But unless you have the confidence of Beyonce, it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel fully prepared to start a business. You can come up with a million excuses to talk yourself out of it, and yes it is scary, but doesn’t it help to know that no one else feels ready either?

2.) Networking is one of the most powerful resources you can leverage.

I can’t count the number of times we’ve been on a Factory45 group call when someone says they’re looking for X and someone else says they know someone who has X. Whether it’s a garment factory in Brooklyn or a natural dyeing contact or a suggestion for a rare type of “seaweed” fabric, the Factory45 crew does an incredible job of leveraging the network.

Going further, I’ve seen first-hand the power of the referral. Doors have opened for fabric options and production partners, simply by saying “so-and-so” referred me. The response rate is tenfold.

3.) You’ll know when to keep pushing for “better.”

Factory45’er Mikaela wasn’t sure it could be done. Multiple fabric suppliers told her that the fabric she wanted was impossible to get and “didn’t exist.” Refusing to take no for an answer, she continued to contact every person in the supplier database she received through Factory45, while also calling and “nicely harassing” (as she says) anyone else who would listen.

The result? She found affordable U.S.-grown organic cotton that fit her sustainability guidelines. There is a time to push and there is a time to concede. You’ll know when you should keep pushing.

4.) Let go of perfectionism.

All three cohorts of Factory45 entrepreneurs have had a heavy presence of self-prescribed perfectionists. Coming from all different career backgrounds, there’s been a steep learning curve to adjust to the idea that “good enough” is really “good enough.”

In the case of entrepreneurship, perfectionism can hold you back. It keeps you from clicking “publish” on a blog post. It inhibits you from ordering the sample yardage. It tempts you to throw in the towel over a minor technical glitch.

The most effective entrepreneurs know that it’s more important to get your message / brand / product out into the world than it is to wait until everything is perfect.

5.) The fashion industry is changing.

This has never been clearer to me than it is now. The revival of “Made in the USA” is real. And I’m so excited for the companies coming through Factory45 to be part of it.

 

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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

 

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

[Photo credit: Porcelain & Stone]


 

DESIGNERS, MAKERS, ENTREPRENEURS, THIS IS FOR YOU.

On one of the last nights of 2013, I sat down on my living room floor surrounded by journals, poster board, markers and post-it notes to do an “annual review.”

I started thinking about the past year. What went well? What didn’t go so well? What have I learned? What mistakes did I make? What do I know now that I didn’t know before?

What started as a personal audit, turned into a running list of 45 entrepreneurship principles that I felt have held true over the years.

For a while, those 45 concepts sat in my notebook untouched and unread. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them or how they would translate off paper.

It wasn’t until February that I started plotting out a new idea — a way to scale my business so that I wasn’t working from individual project to project and could help more designers and makers just starting out.

So, today I’m sharing the first five principles that I discovered on that night in December:

1.) Solve a problem for others, and you’ll never be expendable.

There’s a difference between products that sell and products that earn customer loyalty. In the world of fashion, your cotton tank top competes in a sea of cotton tank tops. It’s a disposable product.

On the other hand, do you sell a pair of hiking pants that can easily convert into business attire? Or give people an option for saving their t-shirts they don’t wear anymore? Or offer interchangeable straps so you only need one pair of sandals to match every outfit?

Solve a problem for your customer, and they’ll keep coming back.

2.) Sell a feeling, story, belief to sell your product.

What are you communicating? Are you building a connection between your offering and your customer? The marketing of the most successful products evoke an emotional reaction. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them nostalgic — just make them feel something.

With every sales page, social media platform, and blog post, you need to be selling something beyond your product.

3.) Social media marketing is only as strong as the community you build.

Since both Facebook and Twitter have gone public, there has been a lot of talk about whether social media marketing converts into sales. The answer has been a resounding “no.” The smartest companies focus less on pushing sales, and more on building community, creating brand recognition, and receiving feedback.

With word of mouth still being the number one way to gain new customers, a strong online community of followers and loyal supporters is more important than ever.

4.) Productivity comes in all different forms – even when you’re not working.

Sixteen hour work days, plowing through lunch, and abandoning your social life is old-school entrepreneurship. You don’t have to give up your life and ruin your relationships in order to build a successful business.

I believe that if you eat well, exercise, experience new things, and cultivate healthy relationships, then you will be far more productive and require less “work time.” Self-care is productivity in its most basic form.

5.) Working in pajamas is overrated. Being your own boss isn’t.

I remember in the early days of {r}evolution apparel, I would get home from my bartending job at 3am and wake up at 10am to get started on emails, blog posts, sourcing and design work. My computer slept on the other side of my bed, and I would pull it onto my lap with one eye open. By the time I was done with admin tasks for the day, it was noon and I still hadn’t eaten breakfast or changed out of my pajamas.

I look at that time in my life as “sacrificial.” My co-founder and I put in the long hours, leading double lives with side jobs, because we were so firmly committed to being our own bosses. I can tell you now that my workday is much more structured, healthy and energizing.

It takes time and dedication to get where you want to be, but it’s more important to feel the way you want to feel while you’re getting there.