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shannon lohr founder of factory45

How to Launch a Fashion Line Without Fashion School

Can you really launch a fashion line without going to fashion school?

YES.

Right around this time every year, I start to hear from many of you who want to apply to Factory45.

The biggest concern?

I don’t have a fashion background!
I didn’t go to fashion school!
I don’t know how to design or sew!

I ONLY have an idea!

And what do I have to say to that?

Great!

To be the right fit for the Factory45 program, you only need an idea in your head.

We’ll figure out the rest.

And today, to celebrate the launch of the Factory45 YOUTUBE channel — I’m sharing 3 reasons you can absolutely launch a fashion line without going to fashion school.

fashion school

I’m going to use this channel to share tips and advice for every stage of running a sustainable fashion brand.

So, if you’re into video and want to see more of them, please click here and “Subscribe” to the Factory45 channel. You’ll simply get pinged when new videos go up (every Wednesday!)

And if you have suggestions or topics you’d like me to cover in a 3-5 minute video, then I’m ALL ears – simply email me at shannon@factory45.co.

Thank you so much for your support in this latest creative endeavor… and don’t forget, applications to the 2019 program of Factory45 open NEXT WEEK!

I’ll send out an email on Wednesday, 5/15 to let you know that applications are open.

If Factory45 is the right fit for you this year, I’d love to hear from you.

More next week and in the meantime,

Check out the first two videos here >>

 

 


Factory45 CTA

The *Most* Important Lesson I Learned in Five Years of Business

Last month, on a whim, I decided to start a YouTube channel.

I know, I sound like a 17-year-old beauty blogger.

The reasons for creating videos were obvious (which I won’t get into right now) but beyond filming the actual content, I had no idea where to start.

So, I bought an online course that teaches YouTube for entrepreneurs.

While I thought I could probably figure it out on my own, I didn’t want to.

I knew there was so much more that went into the strategy behind YouTube, and I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do step by step.

So, I got to work.

And as I started going through the course, researching content ideas, writing scripts, sifting through Google Keywords, I started to wonder:

What did I get myself into?

Because, to be honest, the whole process not only felt unnatural to me, but very uncomfortable.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars creating the highest-quality video content for the Factory45 program and now I was supposed to sit in front of my laptop webcam and not try to make it look perfect?

Every ounce of my being wanted to shoot and reshoot and have multiple camera angles and great lighting and a professional set.

But guess what? When you have zero YouTube subscribers and haven’t made one video yet, you don’t get a professional set.

You start where you are — with what you have.

As I filmed the first four videos, I had to remind myself over and over: Progress over perfection, progress over perfection, progress over perfection.

I could come up with every excuse to procrastinate:

“I shouldn’t shoot today because the ring light hasn’t arrived.”

“I shouldn’t shoot today because there’s construction noise outside.”

“I shouldn’t shoot today because I’m getting a haircut on Friday…”

Instead, I told myself: Just get the first four videos out there, see if they help your people and then see if they help other people discover Factory45.

Because here’s the thing:

If I spend months creating videos and never grow my viewership past my mom and my mother-in-law, then at least I’ll know it was a “failed” experiment that isn’t worth pursuing.

That’s the only way to know if an idea is truly worthwhile — by putting it out into the world and testing it.

The timing is never going to be perfect, you’re never going to feel ready and yes, it’s going to feel vulnerable and scary as hell.

But what’s the alternative?

The alternative is playing small, never taking a risk and being too afraid to put yourself out there.

So, secret #5 is this: To build a successful business, you have to be willing to start before you’re ready.

Whether it’s launching a first-time fashion business, a brand new collection or a YouTube channel of all things, there is never going to be a better time than now.

Because whether you wait another month, or another year or another five years, you’re going to wish you had started today.

There is always a small step you can take now to set you up for bigger steps tomorrow — especially since everything takes longer than you think it will,

So, the most important thing I’ve learned in the past five years is this: Success comes from experimenting with new ideas and not being afraid to feel uncomfortable.

When you push the limits and stop waiting for perfection or permission, then that’s when incredible things happen.

 

 


If you’re willing to start before you’re ready and launch your sustainable fashion brand this year, let’s do it together. Applications to Factory45 open on May 15th…


This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed it, the past four posts are here:

Secret #1 on starting niche is here.

Secret #2 on dealing with competition is here.

Secret #3 on the myth of “following your passion” is here.

Secret #4 on spending money is here.


Factory45

How to Know If You’re Ready to Invest in Your Fashion Brand

So, here’s an unpopular (secretly popular) topic:

Money.

More specifically, how to start a business when you don’t have a lot of money.

If you scour the internet, you can find enough stories of multi-millionaires who started from zero, eating chickpeas out of the can while sleeping on their friend’s futon.

But there’s a less extreme version of this, and it’s far more common.

It’s the story of the woman craving a creative outlet. She’s managed to save a small “safety net” of cash and even has some disposable income at the end of the month.

She sees acquaintances on Facebook breaking out on their own.

And she wonders to herself, how did they do it?

What do they know that I don’t?

So she starts to research.

“How to start a clothing line,” she types into Google.

From Marie Claire to WikiHow to “Startup Bros,” she faces 938,000,000 search results.

Overwhelm begins to set in, but she makes one conscious choice:

To take the first step.


This was my reality in 2010.

I was just starting out, trying to launch a sustainable fashion brand, and I had no idea what was what or who was who.

The entire industry was a mystery to me with limited access.

Nevertheless, I committed to putting $5,000 into a business bank account as an investment in a company I didn’t yet have.

I’ll never forget transferring that hard-earned cash as one lump sum, knowing that it was all of my savings and probably money that I would never see again.

It was a calculated risk, and there were no guarantees.

When I look back on that first bank transfer I remember it as the first of many times I took a risk for my business without knowing how it would turn out.

Nine years later, I now know it’s the name of the entrepreneurial game.

Whether it was investing money into a Kickstarter campaign I wasn’t sure would be successful or hiring a business coach or buying the numerous online courses I’ve enrolled in, what I’ve learned is this:

You have to be willing to invest in your business before you know it’s a sure thing.

I don’t mean that you should take out a second mortgage or drain your 401K, but you have to be willing to spend money to start or grow a business.

There is no way around it.

So, how do you do this without succumbing to the fear of bankruptcy and homelessness?

Create a “worst case scenario” plan.

Over the years, I’ve always told myself that if I lost all of my savings I could jump behind a bar and start pouring drinks again. As much as I hoped my bartending days were over, I knew that I could make cash quickly if I had to.

For you, it might be nannying or waitressing or admin or cleaning houses or freelancing.

Depending on how dire your “worst case scenario” plan is, having one can do two things:

  1. Be an indication that you’re not ready to take action on your business.
  2. Or liberate you.

It’s the litmus test you need to make a big financial decision.

So, secret #4 is this: To start a successful business, you must be willing to invest in uncertainty.

Because there is not an entrepreneur I know who got their company off the ground for free.

 

 

If you’re ready to invest in your idea and start your dream business, let’s do it together. Applications to Factory45 open on May 15th…


This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed “secret #1” you can read it here, if you missed “secret #2” it’s here and “secret #3” is here.

 

Factory45 CTA

Introducing the Market45 SS19 Lookbook!

When I launched the Factory45 accelerator program in 2014 I couldn’t have dreamed that we would eventually create an online marketplace, selling some of the brands that have launched through the program.

In creating Market45, an ethical fashion marketplace, my goal is to showcase the small, independent brands that are moving the fashion industry forward in a more conscious way.

The Market45 SS19 Lookbook is a way to celebrate that.

Each page showcases nine brands that have graduated from Factory45 and are selling on Market45. Their collective goal is to lessen their environmental impact, educate shoppers and provide better clothing choices to consumers.

As you flip through the pages, I invite you to get to know the products as well as the female founders behind them.

If you see something you know you’ll wear for years to come, you can find everything on Market45.co and get 10 percent off your purchase.

So, without further ado, click on the cover page below to meet the brands of the Market45 Spring/Summer Lookbook!LOOKBOOK

woman at desk working on computer

This is Why “Follow Your Passion” is a Myth

There is a lie being told in the entrepreneurial world.

It’s a false narrative that’s being targeted at people who are unhappy with their current work life and are looking for a change.

Maybe you’re one of those people.

The lie is this:

Follow your passion.
Quit your job and chase your dreams.
Do work you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

We see it every day: the Facebook and Instagram ads promising your “dream life” by people who look like they’re living their dream life.

It’s all palm trees and perfectly-foamed lattes and bright, white lighting. It’s breakfast trays in bed and bouquets of peonies and red painted lips.

But do you know what’s behind those beautiful photos and “dream lives?”

Many, many, many months (probably years) of it not looking that way.

Because the truth is, to become the picture of success — while creating a business that lasts — it requires this:

Doing work you don’t want to do.

In fact, when you’re first starting out, you can expect to do more work that you don’t want to do than work you actually enjoy.

And usually, it requires running your business as a side hustle while *still* going to your “real job.”

We all know there’s no such thing as overnight success.

But what I don’t think we always remember is that there’s so much more to the story than what we see on social media.

Chances are:

The fashion brand with the perfectly curated Instagram feed started with an iPhone and a Dropbox folder of stock photos.

The designer working in a beautifully-lit studio started in a converted home office that barely fit a desk.

The CEO flying first class to a paid speaking gig spent years sitting in the back of the plane to speak for free.

If you’re ready to start your own business, you should absolutely do it. It’s one of the most rewarding journeys you can take.

But there should be no illusions.

It will require “grunt work” — the things you think everyone else is outsourcing to interns — are the things you need to do yourself when you’re first starting out.

Packing and fulfilling orders, writing and scheduling your own social media posts, creating your emails and blog posts, going to networking events, dealing with tech issues that make you want to pull your hair out.

Those “annoying” tasks that tempt you to procrastinate or abandon them all together are the things you’ll look back on with genuine appreciation.

They’re the things that will make you grow, build new skills and realize that you’re capable of more than you think.

Because every successful entrepreneur I know has a similar story of doing work they didn’t want to do.

That’s what it takes.

So secret #3 is this: Successful entrepreneurs do things they’re not passionate about because they know that it’s not about passion.

It’s about purpose.

 

 

If you’re ready to put in the work to start your dream business, let’s do it together. Applications to Factory45 open on May 15th…


This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed “secret #1” you can read it here, if you missed “secret #2” it’s here.

Competition

How Successful Fashion Businesses Deal with Competition

I felt like I was going to throw up.

My stomach churned and my heart raced as I stared at my computer in disbelief.

It had only been six months since I stayed at her apartment, attended a documentary screening together and went out for ice cream with her sister and husband.

I thought we were friends.

And now, as I stared at her newly-launched website, it hit me hard.

“Sustainable Fashion Business Incubator,” it said in big, bold typeface.

My friend — someone who I trusted and supported and grown close to — had launched a competing (almost identical) program to Factory45.

As I scrolled down her site, the similarities between the two programs were nauseating. There were even entire paragraphs taken from my website and plagiarized.

When I got on the phone to ask her why she would launch such a similar program — one that I had already been running for two years — she insisted her course was different.

Five minutes into the conversation, there wasn’t anything left to say


There is nothing that can quite prepare you for discovering your first real competitor.

I’ve gotten more than one late-night email from Factory45 grads along the lines of:

“Shannon, do you know about this brand? It’s so similar to mine! What do I do?”

The first time it happens, you’re allowed to freak out.

It’s normal to enter a state of panic.

As long as you don’t quit.

Because that’s likely going to be your first instinct.

“Well!” *throws hands up in the air* “If she’s doing it, then there’s no point in me doing it! Guess that dream is OVER.”

As soon as those words come into your mind, here’s what I want you to do:

Walk away.

But only for a day.

Go to yoga, play with your kids, have dinner with your partner, call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

The next day, come back.

Because you’re going to find that the initial disappointment of discovering a competitor will have diminished — at least slightly.

Gradually, you’re going to feel reinvigorated by your idea and your business and you’re going to be glad you didn’t give up on it. For all of these reasons.

And as your business progresses and your customer-base grows, the concern about competition is going to fade.  

You’re going to become more certain about your place in the industry and more confident that you’re the person to pull it off.

You’re going to realize that there really is room for all of us.

Let me repeat that, there is room for all of us.

Having been through that experience with my friend and seeing even more competitors come into the space since then, I’ve been able to get a grip on how competition makes me feel.

While I’m aware of it, I generally don’t worry about it anymore. Not because I don’t still have fears, but because I know it doesn’t serve me in any positive way.

So, this is Secret #2: Successful businesses aren’t derailed by competition. They don’t slow down, they stay the course and they don’t get distracted.

Most of all, they keep showing up.

 

 

P.S. If you’re wondering what happened to my friend’s competing program, she went out of business after a year. While I did come to terms with there being enough room for both of us, I also saw firsthand how hard it is to stay in business if it’s a direct replicate of someone else’s idea. Needless to say, I learned a lot of lessons.

This is a multi-part series, celebrating the five-year business anniversary of Factory45. If you missed “secret #1” you can read it here.


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stand out

5 Ways to Stand Out as a New Fashion Brand

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is competitive.

There are so many brands vying for attention that it can often feel like it’s “all been done.”

Especially when you’re starting from zero… as a one-person show… with a limited marketing budget.

I feel you.

The good news is that there is still plenty of opportunity. 

If you’re in the early stages of launching your brand, here are five different strategies (with examples!) that will help you set you apart.

Dudley Stephens

SCARCITY | Dudley Stephens

Dudley Stephens is an American-made fleece brand for women and children — and let me tell you, these things sell like hotcakes. I was on their list for months waiting for the Cobble Hill turtleneck to come back in ice blue.

When I was notified that they had restocked I made a purchase immediately — and then scooped up another color for my mom.

That’s all to say, Dudley Stephens has made an outstanding product and whether it was intentional or not, the scarcity model works for them.

Why? Because it creates urgency to buy. You know that you can’t wait too long to make a purchase or your size, color or style preference will go out of stock. And that can be a really powerful business model.


Shit That I Knit

BRANDING | Shit That I Knit

In the middle of a snowstorm, founder Christina Fagan posted a photo on Instagram of herself wearing a bathing suit and one of her brand’s red knit hats.

She then challenged her following: Post your “bikini and beanie” pic, and you could win a free hat. Within hours, she had over 50 submissions from followers wearing their Shit That I Knit beanies.

This is just one example of how Christina has created a cult following and a million dollar business through the power of stand-out branding.

As The Boston Globe recently noted, the STIK brand tells a story — Christina, as the founder, is the main character, and the progress of her business is the plot.

The result? Brand obsession from fans who feel a connection to her.


Alter Ur Ego

ONE-OF-A-KIND | Alter UR Ego

In 2007, Heidi McKenzie was in a car accident that resulted in traumatic head and spinal cord injuries, leaving her a T4 paraplegic (she can’t feel from the chest down).  

Since then, she has become an advocate for other young people who are paralyzed and joined the first-ever Factory45 program in 2014 to launch a functional denim brand for men and women in wheelchairs.

While she says there is other “wheelchair clothing” on the market, almost all of it is designed for the elderly. Alter UR Ego is the only denim brand providing jeans for young, fashionable people like her.

When you’re the only product on the market providing a solution to a specific problem… well, that’s a good place to be.


Project Repat

PRICE | Project Repat

The product is simple: Send Project Repat your memorable t-shirts and they’ll turn them into a t-shirt quilt.

There are other companies that make t-shirt quilts but Project Repat leads the pack, in large part, because they’re able to offer the most affordable price.

They spent years perfecting their supply chain and manufacturing process so that they’re able to make t-shirt quilts in the most efficient amount of time possible, while still manufacturing in the USA and working with factories that pay a living wage.

With over 300,000 customers and thousands of five-star reviews, it makes it difficult for other competitors to come into the market if they can’t match the price. And that makes a big difference when it comes to staying ahead and continuing to grow.


Nisolo

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE | Nisolo

If you’re still reading and thinking, “Uh oh… my brand isn’t any of these things!” then this is for you.

Every single business in the history of entrepreneurship can achieve the stand-out quality of incredible customer service. In fact, there’s no reason not to.

Nisolo, a brand of ethically handcrafted shoes and accessories, has created a memorable customer experience that keeps people coming back for more.

My friend Claire still talks about her experience with Nisolo with heart eye emojis. She said they responded quickly over the holidays and honored a lower price after there was a price discrepancy with a product on sale.

Customer service is still one of the easiest ways to encourage word-of-mouth marketing and there’s no marketing method more powerful than that.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


Factory45 CTA

Will a Kickstarter Campaign Work for your Fashion Brand?

Will a Kickstarter campaign work for your fashion brand?

This is one of the most common questions holding people back from using crowdfunding to launch their brand.

Whether you have one signature product or a full 10-piece collection, today I’m going to show you that it’s absolutely possible to raise money for your brand no matter how many products you have.

With the help of crowdfunding, these four Factory45’ers successfully launched their brands through Kickstarter:

kickstarter

1 PRODUCT

The World’s Most Comfortable Blazer by Trace Fashion

Founder Kristin Salat launched her Kickstarter campaign based on one signature piece, the Kimono Blazer. Similarly to how I launched the Versalette in 2011, this approach lives and breathes one product that’s presented in a variety of colors.

If you look at the rewards column of Kristin’s campaign, you’ll see that she was able to create multiple rewards even though she was only selling one piece.

She raised $32,949 in pre-orders to fund the first production run of Trace Fashion.

kickstarter

2 PRODUCTS

The First Leggings Inspired to Dress Up or Dress Down by Parallel Connection

Mother-daughter co-founders Allie and Carol Levy took it a step further by creating a Kickstarter around two products. They designed two styles of leggings that were only slightly different from each other — a classic legging and a slim pant legging.

By offering two different styles, they were able to appeal to a wider audience of women including those who wouldn’t typically buy leggings. Additionally, Carol and Allie made a conscious decision to offer a larger than normal size range from XXS to XXL, as well as multiple prints.

They raised $19,518 in pre-orders to fund the first production run of Parallel Connection.

kickstarter

6 PRODUCTS

The Ethical Women’s Capsule that Redefines Loungewear by Nine56 Studio

The capsule collection is the most popular approach I’ve seen from the entrepreneurs I work with. Whereas the two campaigns above offered multiple colorways, founder Meg Rohs launched her capsule collection with only two colors — black and white.

Because of fabric minimums, some brands choose to limit the color options so that they can offer more products and styles.

Meg raised $15,510 in pre-orders to fund the first production run of Nine56 Studio.

kickstarter

10 PRODUCTS

Naturally Dyed & Size Inclusive Lingerie by Unity Outfitters

And then there’s the 10+ product approach that is the least popular campaign choice, but definitely still possible. Founder Katina Gad is a trained seamstress so she was able to create all of her samples and patterns without outsourcing and paying the upfront cost.

She pre-sold a range of products, styles and colorways, while also offering a size-inclusive range for all body types. Because naturally-dyed lingerie is more niche, it was important that Katina expand her offering to reach as many women as possible.

She raised $8,626 in pre-orders to fund the first production run of Unity Outfitters.


So there you have it, crowdfunding can work for one signature piece and it can also work for a full collection.

Although I only shared examples of womenswear brands, it’s important to note that there are plenty of men and childrenswear brands that successfully launched on Kickstarter.

If you’re ready to raise money for your fashion brand, enrollment my self-study course The Crowdfunding Factory is now open here.

This is the course that teaches you the complete strategy to create a fully-funded Kickstarter campaign.

If you’re considering joining Factory45 in May but don’t want to wait to get started, this self-study course is a great way to get ahead.

It’s open for one week only.

Click here to enroll.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 


Market45

left edit

Spotlight on Factory45’er Left Edit, Essentials that Make an Impression

What do you get when you pair two style-obsessed women with a shared passion for sustainability?

You get a womenswear brand with bold colors, custom-designed prints and fashion-forward silhouettes.

Meet Left Edit, essentials that make an impression.

You may recognize Kestrel Jenkins as a longtime sustainable fashion advocate and the voice behind the Conscious Chatter podcast.

Teaming up with Holly Stavnes, formerly the founder of accessories brand Hera By Day, the duo has created a responsibly-manufactured and sustainably-sourced fashion brand for women.

At the end of last year, Holly and Kestrel successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign to pre-sell their first collection of five dresses.

In 30 days, they raised over $20,000 to fund their first production run.

Left Edit 1

The five dresses were designed, prototyped and tested to ensure ease of movement, versatility, longevity, quality and community — putting responsible manufacturing at the forefront.

The fabrics are lower-impact than conventional fabrics, including Tencel linen, 100% Tencel and Cupro, and they boast bold colors and bright prints in an industry that’s already thriving in the basics and neutrals department.

Over two years ago, I met Kestrel and Holly for drinks in San Diego where they first presented the idea of Left Edit to me.

Shortly after, they joined the Factory45 program and spent over a year establishing a brand presence on Instagram, growing a following, designing and redesigning their first collection, sourcing fabric, meeting with factories, and more.

Leading up to their Kickstarter campaign, Holly and Kestrel seamlessly “teased out” the brand reveal so that by the time they launched, there was an eager fan-base of customers waiting to pre-order.

As they gear up to ship their first batch of garments this spring, the five debut dresses are still available for pre-sale on the Left Edit website here. (I pre-ordered The Eve : )  

You can also follow along and connect with Left Edit on Instagram: @leftedit

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

P.S. If you’re considering a Kickstarter to launch your own brand, you’ll want to look at Left Edit’s campaign for inspiration (it really was seamlessly executed.)

And if you want access to the strategy used to create a fully-funded Kickstarter, I’m opening enrollment to The Crowdfunding Factory on Monday. Sign up to the waiting list here to find out more about this course.


factory45

This is the Most Overlooked Skill by Fashion Startups

For the past three nights, I haven’t been able to fall asleep.

(Sleeping is one of my best talents, so this is highly unusual.)

And as I’m laying there, I end up doing the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing when you can’t fall asleep:

I start scrolling through Instagram.

(I know, I know… I’m only human!)

But last night, as I was scrolling, I started to pay attention to which captions I clicked to read.

And I realized something…

There is one very crucial skill that I see many new fashion brands lacking.

And that’s the ability to write compelling sales copy.

If you’re not familiar with the term “copy” it refers to any text you write to represent your brand.

In other words, your emails to your list, subject lines, blog titles, any “call to action,” Instagram captions, blog posts, the “About” page of your website, the product descriptions on your shop pages, your social media bios, etc.

To be honest, if you asked me why some fashion brands are successful and others aren’t, I would boil it down to two main marketing components:

#1 Great product photography

#2 Great sales copy

And it’s #2 that I want to talk about today, because I think this skill is detrimentally overlooked by startup fashion brands.

To be able to sell *anything* online, you need to be a strong writer.

Before you throw your hands up in the air and tell me, “It’s just something you’ve never been good at!” hear me out:

I’m not talking about the type of writing you learned in high school English class.

The writing skills that are required for the internet are far more attainable than learning how to construct a 42-page essay analyzing Jane Eyre.

(Bleh, aren’t you glad those days are over?)

To write compelling sales copy, it simply requires you to write how you talk.

Back in high school, Mrs. Sullivan would have called this “the vernacular.”

That’s where I want you to start.

I want you to write in a way that’s conversational.

And as with anything you practice over and over, you’re going to get incrementally better at it.

Even if you think you “can’t write.”

But here’s what I would not recommend:

Hiring someone to write your copy for you.

(Unless you have endless amounts of money that you can pay this person for as long as your brand exists… and who really has that?)

Copywriting is a “teach a woman to fish” type of situation.

You really and truly do not want to rely on someone else to be the voice of your brand when you’re just starting out.

Sure, if you reach $1M in revenue, then go ahead and hire a marketing team — but in the beginning, your brand is relying on you to hone your chops at writing.

There are courses out there to teach you how to improve (CopyHour is run by my friend Derek and Marie Forleo has a program called The Copy Cure.)

There is also plenty of free content if you google, “How to become a better copywriter.”

But the bottom line is this:

You need to be able to effectively communicate what your brand has to offer.

That requires you to be clear, genuine, persuasive and most of all, compelling.

Because if you aren’t, then you’re going to train your followers (i.e. potential customers!) that your words aren’t worth reading.

And if your words aren’t worth reading, then how will they know that your products are worth wearing?

 

factory45 owner shannon