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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!


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.

warby-parker

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.

everlane

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


 

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

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.

 


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.


Sustainable Fashion Advice