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Introducing the Entrepreneurs of Factory45 Spring 2015: Part II

A few weeks ago, I introduced some of the entrepreneurs in this season’s cohort of Factory45. If you missed it, that post is here.

Moving right along, I want to introduce you to several other entrepreneurs in the program — from San Diego to New York, handbags to lingerie, meet five Factory45’ers I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past two months:

matt-hickeyMatt Hickey is the founder of Be Kind Vibes and we met through Mikaela Clifford, a Factory45’er from last year’s program. Matt came into Factory45 already having an online storefront and physical pop-up shop — he also has a dedicated and growing Instagram following. Currently selling hemp and organic cotton shirts that are sourced wholesale, Matt is working to expand the Be Kind Vibes product line with original designs that are all sustainably sourced and manufactured in the U.S.

sarah-davisSarah Davis found early success as an entrepreneur by creating a childcare service called Olive You Nanny. Based in Austin, TX and the mother of three, Sarah started searching for her next venture and found inspiration in her children’s closets. From day one of Factory45, Sarah sprinted out of the starting gates to create Citizen Smalls, “apparel for kiddos.” She is currently in the pattern-and-samplemaking process, in addition to building a killer brand identity, and will launch in Fall 2015.

ginger-bunnGinger Bunn lives a few towns over from me and we first met for coffee right as applications to Factory45 were opening. Ginger is one of the rare entrepreneurs in this year’s cohort who already has experience selling. She has become a fan favorite at handbag trunk shows in her area and applied to Factory45 looking to set up a supply chain so she wouldn’t have to make all of her products herself. Ginger is relaunching her brand as Bevy Goods this year.

tiffany-shownTiffany Shown first came onto my radar when she asked to cover Factory45 for her lifestyle blog, Organically You. She then ended up applying to Factory45 in pursuit of creating a sustainable beach towel. Tiffany took on one of the toughest fabric sourcing pursuits this year and not only found the material she needed, but also negotiated to a more competitive price with her supplier. Fair Seas Supply Co., a line of round, handwoven, organic cotton beach towels, will be entirely made in the USA.

mariana-ristMariana Rist is one of the youngest Factory45’ers and also one of the most committed. After she was accepted into this year’s program, she took on a second job to supplement her startup costs and Factory45 tuition. Mariana is based in New York City and is creating a line of sustainable lingerie and women’s intimates. Finding a company name that isn’t already being used has been Mariana’s biggest challenge, but her branding and vision for her line is as solid as it gets.

If you didn’t catch the update on the previous year’s program here is a summary post of some of the success stories coming out of Factory45.

 

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

Copycats, Knock-Offs & What to Expect from the Competition

“What if I tell someone about my product and they steal my idea?”

One of the most common questions that comes up with my entrepreneurs in the beginning of Factory45 is the concern about copycats.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “Should I have my production partner / patternmaker / samplemaker sign a nondisclosure agreement?”

I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have spent thousands of dollars on patents and trademarks without ever having their first customer.

There is a lot of concern churning around the fashion industry about being ripped off. And with the latest scandals coming out of Etsy, Urban Outfitters and others, I can’t really blame them.

It’s not unheard of for a designer to replicate a design someone else is selling and get away with it just by adding a few buttons or changing the length of the sleeves.

When brought to court the copycat designer would win the case simply by changing a few minor specs.

Unfortunately in fashion, that’s the way the (entrepreneurial) cookie crumbles.

In Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, he says early-stage entrepreneurs spend too much time worrying about their idea being stolen and not enough time telling as many people about it as possible.

As a startup, Ries says you should focus on talking about your idea to anyone and everyone willing to listen. That’s the only way to get early customer feedback, hear what your potential customers actually want and find out if your idea is a viable business.

There is a big difference between someone saying you have a great idea and actually getting out their wallet to pay for it.

Believe me, I get it. I perfectly understand how fragile and vulnerable it feels to be in the early stages of a fledgling idea.

I’ll never forget an email I got from one of my Factory45’ers last year who was stressed out over another company she had come across:

“…They are basically doing what I’m doing, like sourcing fabric in North Carolina, being ethical, unisex, drawing inspiration from travels and all of a sudden I don’t feel so original anymore.”

I talked her off the ledge and we laughed about it afterward, but feelings of panic and self-doubt are normal to every startup.

When early stage entrepreneurs worry too much about protecting their idea, Eric Ries calls this “stealth mode.”

He says: “Part of the special challenge of being a startup is the near impossibility of having your idea company, or product be noticed by anyone, let alone a competitor.”

Makes sense, right? Stealing an idea is a lot different than stealing an idea and actually implementing it — especially an idea that hasn’t proven to be successful yet.

If you do reach a degree of success down the road, then competitors are bound to enter the market. People see something that works, and they want to have a piece of it — this comes with the territory.

I recently went through this with Factory45 when I found out that a friend and close colleague had ripped off, rebranded and launched her own version of a sustainable fashion incubator.

So much so that a mutual colleague asked her, “Isn’t this the same program that Shannon is running?”

Should I feel flattered? Maybe. But that’s definitely not how it feels in reality. And anyone who has gone through it will likely agree.

The thing is, as hard as it may be to take it gracefully in the moment, competition is a good thing — it pushes us to continue innovating and prevents us from getting stagnant.

After all is said and done, here’s what I’ve found to be helpful when dealing with competition, copycats and knock-offs:

1.) Before trying to get all Zen about it, spend 20 minutes screaming into your pillow. It will help you move past the anger and frustration faster.

2.) Seek to understand and assume positive intent. This can be applied to so much in life. As hard as it may be, give the benefit of the doubt and assume the similarities were not intentional.

3.) Believe in abundance. There is enough to go around. The universe offers ample opportunity for all of us to succeed. Talk yourself out of scarcity and into abundance.

4.) On the flip side, no one ever won by being a second-rate version of someone else (thanks, Judy). This is where strong brand identity comes into play.

5.) And then — there’s karma.

 

 

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Photo credit: Notemaker