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A few years ago, I went to Bali and wrote two versions of a book.

I know, how obnoxiously “Eat, Pray, Love” of me.

My former co-founder and I had decided to close our doors at {r}evolution apparel (after completely burning out our relationship) and it was an impulse purchase I made with my portion of our leftover funds.

I left Boulder, CO, moved in with my parents in Boston, and a month later hopped a flight halfway around the world.

After the success of our Kickstarter campaign, people were constantly saying, “You guys need to write a book.”

“Write about your journey,” they said.

“Write about the success of your Kickstarter.”

“Write about the changes needed in the fashion industry.” The suggestions were endless.

So, with the mixed emotions of heartbreak and relief that happen when you walk away from a business that seems to have such a bright future, I went to Bali to write the book that everyone said we should write.

I booked a private room for $500/month on Airbnb and found myself two miles from the nearest town surrounded by rice paddies and oxen.

For 30 days I followed the same rigid schedule. Wake up with the sun, follow the dirt road into town for yoga, eat lunch at a local cafe, walk 30 minutes home, stop for a fresh coconut, sit out on my front porch — write 2,000 words.

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I reasoned that if I could average 2,000 words a day, then I would have 60,000 words by the time I left. And you only need 60,000 words for a full-length book.

The process was both grueling and therapeutic as I sifted through three years of memories.

Why we decided to start a clothing company.

How we got interested in sustainability.

An account of our first fight.

What we learned from botching our first prototype.

What it’s like to spend two months driving a conversion van around the country.

By day 15, I was ready to delete the whole file. Just burn it. Not a trace of evidence.

Instead, I opened a new document and started over.

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By the time I flew back to the States, I had written two 30,000 word drafts with no intention of either seeing the light of day.

Three years later, they’re still sitting on my old, mostly-broken laptop — without a backup file.

Now I’m not going to tie this all back into the importance of creating a routine to reach goals. Or a lesson on how goals change. Or how everything happens for a reason. I’m not a personal development coach.

But I do have something to say about the “journey.”

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to expectations and outcomes. Most of us start businesses with the intention of making a living off of it.

Yes, passion and joy can be the driving motivators in getting started, but the desired outcome is to be able to support yourself off of that passion and joy.

The danger — the thing to look out for — is when you realize you’re only focused on the outcome.

Because that’s when you miss the journey.

About a year into starting {r}evolution apparel, I remember writing a post for our first blog – it was a letter to myself, and I’ll never forget the last sentence:

“You’re not going to be a 25-year-old bartender trying to start a clothing company forever.”

That sentence has been embedded in my brain for the past five years and as time passes, I find myself adjusting the words to fit my current age and situation.

You’re not going to be here, right now, doing this… forever.

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It may seem painfully obvious, but I think it’s something that a lot of us entrepreneurs tend to forget.

Starting a business is one of the most challenging endeavours a person can take on — it’s a complete mind game, a lonely road, and can be uncomfortably risky. Are you going to enjoy every single moment of it? No.

But if you aren’t stopping every so often to appreciate what you’ve built, what you’ve created and what you’re going through — that 99% of the world never will — then what’s it all for?

When I look back at the month of my life spent writing a book, I can easily see it as time and money wasted.

Did I have big plans to pitch to publishers? Yes.

Did I have more realistic plans to self publish and sell it on Amazon? For sure.

Instead, I showed myself that I was capable of committing to a routine, to seeing a project through and being okay with a different outcome.

Entrepreneurs have to be courageous, committed and adaptable. But more than anything, they need to be able to see a vision for the future —

with an even greater appreciation for the present.


Sustainable Fashion Advice

The winter of 2011 was a tough one. I had been trying to set up a supply chain for my clothing company for five months and by February, my co-founder and I had hit a mental and logistical standstill.

Looking back, five months seems like nothing. But for two driven, go-getter types, every ignored email and unanswered phone call was a mini blow to our motivation.

We simply couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. How was it possible that not one fabric supplier, factory or sew shop would give us the time of day?

We were at our wits end when we got a reply from a designer who said he could make our first samples. We didn’t have fabric or materials yet, but at least samples would feel like progress.

When we got on our first phone call with him he was adamant that we should fly to North Carolina to meet him. We could go over everything, work face to face and make a plan of attack for moving forward.

Resting our hopes on the chance that this person could also introduce us to a fabric supplier or a manufacturer, we booked flights for the following weekend.

All things considered, our weekend in North Carolina was weird.

We checked into a hostel in downtown Asheville and immediately went to a nearby bar where the designer had told us to meet him.

What ensued was a three hour “happy hour” in which he continued to slug beer after beer while not once mentioning our business, our design ideas or why we were there.

Promising that he would get to “it” eventually, we arranged to meet the following day at his home.

If this sounds sketchy, remember that a lot of designers / samplemakers / patternmakers work out of their homes. Also, remember that we had flown 1,000 miles, spent our savings on flights, and felt like we had no other option.

Desperation puts you in interesting situations.

We spent several hours the next day in his basement going over our sketches, spec sheets and designs and we decided that we would start with just one sample to test the waters.

He said he would create a prototype for our “maxi dress” design and ship it to us in two weeks. We left North Carolina feeling hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

Turns out, we didn’t receive our sample in two weeks.

It showed up in four weeks and when I pulled it out of the box, it looked nothing like our original design.

Instead of being full length, it was knee-length.

Instead of a sweetheart neckline, it had a scoop neck.

Instead of spaghetti straps that tied around the neck, it had thick straps that went straight back.

To top it off, he had included a “sash” to be tied around the waist in a bow!

My co-founder and I got on Skype (we didn’t live in the same city) and I showed her a dress that couldn’t have looked more different than the one we designed.

We had just spent hundreds of dollars on flights, hotels, a rental car and other travel expenses and we still owed money to pay for a sample we couldn’t use.

It was a critical moment and I had reached a breaking point.

I was mad at myself for not listening to my gut, I was mad at the designer for making us fly across the country, and I was mad that we listened to him.

All signs pointed to: You’re crazy for thinking you could do this.

Quit now.

And that would have been a much easier option — except that’s not how dreams work.

I was either going to do this, despite how freaking hard it would continue to be, or I was going to walk away.

Thank goodness, I decided to keep going.

To be fair, it didn’t get any easier in the following eight months. But we did make some big decisions and changes to simplify our business idea from a line of 10 pieces to just one piece that could be worn multiples ways.

We launched our Kickstarter, becoming the highest-funded fashion project, and found the mentorship from someone who had done it before. That partnership single-handedly helped us push forward and go into production with 4x the capital we had planned on.

When I was wandering through this industry uncertain about what to do next, I found someone to help me.

I hope I can be that someone for you.

Everything you need to launch the business of your dreams is within your reach.

 

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Francisca Pineda is the founder and designer of Bhava, a conscious footwear company. We first met in NYC last year for lunch, and I learned that not only is she a designer, but she also organizes sustainable fashion retreats in Costa Rica and teaches ethical design classes at FIT.

Today, Francisca is digging deep into her advice for new designers and giving us an insider’s perspective into what it’s like to be a business owner in the fashion industry. From sourcing to sketching to marketing, Francisca is a pro at what she does and it shows. Enjoy!

How did you get started launching Bhava?

I think like most other designers, it started because I couldn’t find what I wanted in the market place. After graduating from Parsons, I started working for a high-end apparel brand and was in charge of all of their accessories. By the time I launched Bhava I had experience in every category of accessory design.

Launching Bhava was something I had actually started planning back in 2009. We had the name and logo ready but the timing wasn’t right and I had gotten a job offer I couldn’t refuse. At that time, I knew I wanted to make an ethical collection but didn’t truly understand “ethical fashion” or the importance of using environmentally-conscious materials.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started learning about the devastation caused by the leather industry, as well as fast fashion manufacturing. This “awakening” happened after I personally witnessed the disabling effects of the toxic chemicals used in the majority of leather production. Soon after, I became obsessed with learning about all aspects of the chemicals being used, the workers who were exposed, and the “dead zones” that this industry creates.

I started taking all the  Ethical Fashion classes offered at FIT, and attending any sustainability or ethical fashion events that I heard of to continue to learn and connect with others. Once you learn the importance of our decisions as designers and consumers, it’s pretty difficult to go back. I made a personal promise to myself to make a change, because the thought of profiting from such a destructive system was no longer an option for me. And this is ultimately what gives me the drive to keep going with Bhava.

I believe we are all drawn to our unique causes and experiences. I chose to embrace the challenge and proceed full steam ahead. When the time was right we started slowly testing only a few styles at a time. You have no idea what you don’t know until you start! Sizing, fit, pricing, and what colors or materials people respond to are what I feel are really important to test in the beginning. Although it sounds so risky to start a fashion brand these days, it is possible to be cautious and thoughtful in planning a collection so there is as little risk as possible involved.

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What does a “typical” day look like for you?

Every day is different, but in general I am not a morning person. I prefer to start work later in the day and into the night and spend the beginning of my day on self-care. This includes a short focus meditation, oil pulling, some light core yoga, and fresh turmeric tea with lemon.

Usually, I try to get through the urgent e-mails with production, delivery, sales, and customer service first.  I work with manufacturers in different time zones so it’s important for me to reply to them right away. All of this usually takes half of my day.  When it’s time to sketch and look at materials (my favorite part) it’s usually in the afternoon when I am more relaxed.

Lately, I am most excited about bringing beautiful new materials to the market. I spend about a third of my year traveling to find new and exciting materials. Last season, I was in Europe and next week I will be away for a month in India, and the UAE.  I never know what I will find, it is always an adventure and that excitement and spontaneity translates into each collection.

Tell us about your supply chain. How did you go about sourcing materials and finding a production partner?

Finding a production partner in footwear and accessories is probably the most time consuming and costly part of launching.  Since I had many years of working in the industry, I had contacts that trusted me and my aesthetic and knew that I understood the business. I started there.

Now that the brand is a little more established, it’s easier to get in the door with a new supplier but it still takes time and trial and error to find the right manufacturing partner. If you start out too demanding they will be turned off, but if you are too soft, production may be delayed or poorly executed. It is a fine balance.

I also recommend working within the strengths of each manufacturer, and not pushing them too quickly into new production techniques without enough time to test. Every material reacts differently in each design — this is the trial and error part that can get costly and time consuming — but is extremely important for a brand seeking longevity in the market.

Because our mission is to work with responsibly-sourced and environmentally-conscious materials, I feel I need to source myself as I know my manufacturers will not ask the same questions that I will. We invest a lot in our materials because that is what differentiates our brand from the others in the market. I’ve had to take very expensive trips into little, tiny towns with no transport just to meet with a supplier. Often those with the most beautiful and exciting materials are the most difficult to find. Sometimes it’s not worth it, but the more effort you put in the more it will show. Materials are the first thing a customer sees and feels about your product. That first touch will connect them with your brand in a real way that words or images cannot.

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What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?

Marketing is important, but it can be a waste of time and resources if there is no demand for your product.  I recommend designers make a first sample of their product and try to sell that (to a stranger) before spending a year on a business plan. Once you know that you have a market that is in tune with your aesthetic and price point, then go all out with your marketing strategy.

When marketing it’s important to start testing because I found that I accidentally stumbled upon some of my most effective communication strategies. We recently collaborated on a small capsule collection for the holidays with NYC-based Vaute Couture. It was our first collaboration with another brand and it came about very naturally from having met Leanne (the founder) at an event that we were both speaking at.

It was something that was exciting for both brands because it was new and our products complimented each other.  This natural excitement and anticipation was evident in our social media and e-mail marketing communication, it wasn’t forced. Customers are more savvy than ever. I think they can tell when a brand has been over-strategic and a message is over-explained.  I think it’s important to embark upon projects and events that truly excite you.

For me, marketing is exciting and an area for entrepreneurs to truly show their creativity and ingenuity. If this is not your strength, you need to find someone who does love telling your story and partner with them. Someone has to hear about you somehow. Overall, you need to trust your gut, and if you see too many people trying the same approach like the same website style, or e-mail pop-up, then it’s important to think of a new way to do it, you never know what you’ll create!

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own ethical apparel / accessories companies?

This may seem a bit harsh, but it’s something that has stuck with me through my career as a designer.  While attending Parsons, I had one the most notoriously critical professors. He felt he was doing his students a favor by showing them how tough the industry was, often making them cry and drop out.  I actually don’t think this technique would probably be too welcomed these days, but back then it was one of the aspects that gave Parsons their reputation of graduating the best.

Anyway, when we would present our designs for a critique, his term for bad design was “markdown.” Meaning, you may think you have just created the coolest design ever, but if you truly think about it, is it possible that what you love most about your design could cause it to end up on the “markdown” rack at Century21?

Try to visualize your customer walking into a store, trying on your design, and loving the way it feels. If you can’t see this happening, or have too many design details that would create what is referred to in marketing as “friction” or too many doubts from making the purchase, you may have a “markdown” on your hands.

To run a company, you need a balance of “best sellers”  and some “editorial” pieces. This balance is something we are still figuring out, but it gets easier as you go along. I can think of a design or two that I was personally so in love with when I should have been more critical. But you learn as you go. It’s one thing to design something we would love to see someone wear, but it’s quite another to get someone to spend a good amount of their hard earned money on your vision of how to dress.

To check out the Bhava online store and upcoming spring collection click here.


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.

 

 


 

Lisa Hackwith is the designer, founder and creator behind Hackwith Design House, a women’s apparel company that offers limited-run garments. In HDH’s own words:

“Instead of designing for mass production, we immerse ourselves wholeheartedly in the process and create every piece with the intention of it becoming that special highlight of your closet. We create less than 25 of each piece, which makes all of them uniquely rare and special.”

Starting out as a one-woman show who now has a team of sewers and a partner to run operations, Lisa is proving that independent design and conscious business is possible — as well as profitable.

With an Instagram following of 85K, a recent feature in Design*Sponge and a loyal fan base of customers, Hackwith Design House is well on its way to leading the independent design movement.

I spoke with Lisa about how she got started, her best marketing strategy and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

How did you get started launching your own apparel company?

I taught myself to sew after I graduated from college with an studio art degree. I took a year off to research MFA programs when I discovered my medium – designing and making clothes. Over the next five years, I sewed daily. I had some success with my Etsy shop and getting wholesale orders, but in order to make the business sustainable, something had to change.

In February 2013, I took a few months off to re-work my business model; I re-launched Hackwith Design House in September 2013. The new model centered on my priorities: staying in Minneapolis, manufacturing all the clothing in the U.S., and making sure I love everything with my name on it. Thus the limited-edition model was born: 2-4 designs are released every Monday, no more than 25 pieces of each.

Since September 2013, I’ve hired 3 seamstresses and have partnered with Erin Husted to run operations. In August 2014, we added the HDH Basics line, and in January 2015, we added HDH Swim.  It’s been so fun (and so much hard work!) to see the company grow the way it has.

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What does a “typical” day look like for you?

As any small business owner knows, a typical day is anything but. Each day presents new challenges, new opportunities, and constant work.

I usually come into the studio around 8:30 each morning and spend the day designing, making patterns, making sample pieces, instructing my lead seamstress on new pieces, and going over wholesale orders, marketing or business strategies with Erin.

I leave anywhere from 6-7pm and sometimes do some work at home. I appreciate that each day is a little different yet all still within working at what I love.

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How did you set up your supply chain at first? How has it changed since you started out?

The fabrics I work with are all sourced from a local, family-owned fabric store that specializes in purchasing run-off fabrics. I love going to the fabric store and feeling each new fabric until I find the right ones. I also love the idea of using fabrics that may not get used otherwise. We are in the middle of sourcing fabrics for Basics so that it can be a consistent fabric option. Our goal is to find a sustainable source for fabric, which is still harder than it should be.

What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?

I really enjoy partnering with bloggers by gifting them items that they can take photos of and use for styling.  It’s great to see how different women wear HDH pieces.

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What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own ethical apparel companies?

When we are trying to make a decision, we do our best to think about more than the bottom line. We like to call ourselves a company with a conscience. But in doing so, one has to remember to weigh a variety of factors, from where fabrics are made, to how much we pay our employees, to creating garments that are quality.

We have found it to be helpful to think about solutions as being placed on a spectrum: on one end you have “the evil corporation” that cares about nothing other than increasing profit, on the other end you have the idyllic company that hurts no one and makes only good decisions. Most companies are somewhere in the middle. We try our best to make decisions that get us closer and closer to the good.

To learn more about Lisa, Erin and the team at Hackwith Design House, check out the HDH website here

Photo credit: Hackwith Design House


If you’ve ever tried to source fabric you know it can be, how do I put this…

…an arduous process.

Suppliers don’t answer your emails. They definitely don’t call you back. And sometimes there isn’t even a voicemail to leave a message.

Whether you’ve gone through this or you haven’t started sourcing yet, there are a few things you can do to raise your chances of getting a positive response.

And it starts with avoiding these four big mistakes:

1.) Writing a long inquiry email

I can’t tell you how many people make the mistake of writing a multi-paragraph email that is so long-winded your own mother wouldn’t even read it.

A fabric inquiry is not the time to go into an explanation of your company mission or your core values or your plan to single-handedly change the fashion industry.

The supplier doesn’t care about that stuff!

What does the supplier care about?

Sales.

What does he or she need to make a sale from you?

A very specific one-sentence description of the exact fabric you’re looking for.

What should that sentence include?

The fiber, the fabrication, the weight and the color.

The end.

(Yes, you can include a “hello” and “thank you.”)

2.) Immediately asking a sales rep for MOQ’s and pricing

MOQ stands for “minimum order quantity.” In other words, the amount of one type of fabric that you’re expected to order to meet the supplier’s requirements.

Of course you need to know if the MOQ is attainable for you (20,000 yards would be a bit ambitious when you’re first starting out…) And of course you need to know how much a yard of fabric costs so you can factor it into your Cost of Goods Sold.

But don’t ask.

When it comes to sourcing fabric, a significant part of the process is getting swatches in the door so you can feel them, put them in the wash, and compare them to one another.

The sales rep wants you to see the value and quality in the fabric just as a car dealer would want you to test drive the car before talking about price.

Let the rep offer the information or wait to ask until you have received the swatches.

There’s nothing worse than appearing overly price-conscious and frugal when you’re already looking for low minimums.

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3.) Not building a relationship with the sales rep

You can’t even imagine the awesome things a supplier or sales rep will do for you if you take the time to build a relationship.

Most days a sales rep is dealing with huge amounts of pressure. A big client needs a rush order. A new client received a bad roll. Throw in a handful of inquiry calls from newbies who don’t know what “fabric weight” is and the sales rep is tackling a pretty high-maintenance day.

If you respect their time by knowing exactly what you’re looking for, and you make it easy for them to help you then you’ll see a return.

Building a relationship can happen gradually over the course of a few emails here, a few phone calls there, but if you’re explicit about what you need you never know when a sales rep will call you up out of the blue and say, “We’ve got 300 yards of excess that just came in and we’ll sell it to you at a discount.”

4.) Not being persistent

Fabric sourcing is not for the faint of heart — especially when you’re looking for sustainable and low-impact fabrics.

The mainstream supplier will try to talk you out of sourcing organic cotton or wonder why you’re trying to source Tencel when rayon is so much cheaper.

Stay true to your values and the reasons you have for wanting to create a sustainably-sourced garment. Don’t try to convince them of all the reasons why sustainability is important for the future of fashion.

Keep looking, keep persisting and don’t give up until you get what you’re looking for. It may not happen immediately, but at some point, you’re going to find it.


 

 

 

This weekend I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit designers, sewers, project managers, and other industry professionals I’ve only before had a chance to speak with by phone or email.
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It never fails to amaze me how much goes into making our clothes, and I’m always grateful to get an inside look at the process. After a weekend exploring downtown Asheville, I started Monday morning bright and early in Burnsville, NC to meet designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell of Be Well Designed.

Three Factory45’ers are working with Kristin on concept designs, samples and patterns, so it was a long overdue treat to meet in her studio. Kristin has an extensive background in design, patterning and samplemaking, and it was awesome to see where all of the magic happens.

carolina-3 copyFrom Burnsville, I headed to Morganton to visit Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned cut and sew facility that has been able to successfully change the traditional business model to one that is as empowering for the sewers as it is for the project managers.
carolina-4 copyMolly Hemstreet, who oversees Opportunity Threads, has been an amazing resource and connection for me throughout the past year, and it already felt like I knew her when I walked inside. She gave me a tour of the facility, shared their plans for expansion, and showed me some of the products they’re working on. OT has been able to steadily grow since they opened their doors in 2008 and are nearly busting at the seams six years later.
carolina-5 copyThere is a prominent Mayan population in Morganton and several of the skilled sewers have come into OT with factory experience from Guatemala. Through the Opportunity Threads model, they have autonomy to track their own output and have a direct stake in profit and losses. From an outsider’s perspective, this balance of independence, leadership and collaboration was something I hadn’t seen in similar facilities before and it was incredibly refreshing.
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Both Be Well Designed and Opportunity Threads are members of the Carolina Textile District, a network of textile manufacturers, sewers, printers and professionals that help entrepreneurs start made in the USA businesses when they’re ready to go into production. I was able to also meet with Tanya Wade and Dan St. Louis who are two of the key players in making The District a long-term solution.

At the Manufacturing Solutions Center in Conover, NC, Tanya gave me a tour of the facility where they test everything from furniture to fibers to baby products, and house two 3-D printers. MSC is a non-profit that also serves as an incubator to product-based entrepreneurs in both the textile and tech spaces.
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Both Tanya and Dan are collaborating with community leaders in NC, like Kristin and Molly, to “reshore” jobs back to the States and further grow the Made in the USA movement. They are the incredibly hardworking people behind the scenes, moving forward everyday to bring jobs back home.

So where does Factory45 fit into all of this? Based on conversations with Molly and Tanya, The District gets 5-8 emails a week from entrepreneurs looking for fabric suppliers and production partners. About 30-50 percent of those inquiries are from people who do not yet have a solid business plan, marketing strategy or brand vision.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Does a manufacturer really care if I have my marketing plan together?” the answer is is a resounding “YES.” Every project they take on is a personal investment, and The District does not take on entrepreneurs who do not have an initial business strategy in place.

With Factory45, I’m offering a solution for entrepreneurs to become “production-ready,” preparing them to work with resources like The District.

To learn more about the incredible people working in the Carolina Textile District, you can check out Be Well Designed, Opportunity Threads, Manufacturing Solutions Center & The District.


 

This is a guest post by Lara Neece, founder of Forest and Fin. You can read the original version here.

What happens when you love wearing skirts, love riding bikes, and like to make everything yourself? A Bicycle Wrap Skirt, of course – a skirt that’s dressy enough for the office or going out with with friends, but with a few simple adjustments, is ready to hop on a bike and be on the move in minutes. I spent years biking in skirts, and years trying to find the perfect skirt that I could wear just about anywhere without a second thought. My husband can tell you that there have been many, many days in which I’ve made him wait, while I changed clothes, just so we could bike to lunch or dinner or to the park because I didn’t want to worry about my skirt on the bike. The perfect skirt just didn’t exist.

forestandfinskirt2Forest and Fin began back in 2009, when I first started screen-printing, moved onto a sailboat, and decided to become an artist. Back then, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (you could still argue that’s true now! ), but I had the passion and desire to learn. In the beginning, I screenprinted my drawings of plants and animals onto tshirts, and you can still purchase them in my shop today. But Forest and Fin is undergoing an evolution. It’s adapting and growing; my mission and goals are becoming clearer. I’m an artist and a designer, not just a screenprinter. My screenprinted designs and apparel were the starting point and a way for me to support myself while I developed my art and business, but now I am branching into new products that better embrace my mission, a mission to help people spend more time outside.

Over the past few years, in my search for blank items to print on, I ran into problems sourcing items that were both affordable and fit my aesthetic vision. In addition to being sustainable and earthy, I wanted my products to be functional, efficient (multi-use), and give back to the planet in some small way. I am focusing on a line of sustainably-made-in-the-USA everyday wear and household items, starting with a functional wrap skirt (the Bicycle Wrap Skirt) that includes bicycle friendly features and extra pockets. I am planning to dye the skirts blue or green and depending on the color will donate a small percentage of profits towards ocean (blue) or forest (green) conservation efforts.

forestandfinskirtWhile I’m still in the early phases of product development, I have a prototype that works (really!) and I plan to document the rest of the journey here. I hope that you’ll join this discussion and weigh in on features of the design to help me streamline the perfect skirt. This is going to be a staple in my wardrobe (and maybe yours too!), so it needs to be durable, high quality, sustainable, classy, fun, and above all functional. I’ve put together a short survey with questions about design features, colors, pricing, etc. and would love for you (yes, you!) to weigh in on the design while I am still in the development stage. Your input will be essential in shaping the final outcome.

Take the Bicycle Wrap Skirt Design Survey here.

For more about Forest and Fin, check it out here.

(Photo credit: Forest and Fin)


fast fashion, truth, industry, hiding

The fast fashion industry gets a lot of flack these days. The excess, the overtly sexual advertising, the humanitarian issues, the waste, the lawsuits, the list goes on.

The industry giants have dedicated millions of dollars to massive PR campaigns, going so far as to launch “conscious collections” and donate proceeds to worthy causes. Yet despite these efforts, the truth remains — fashion is one of the dirtiest industries in the world. Here’s what they don’t want you to know:

1.) The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.

Once upon a time, there were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fast forward to 2014 and the fashion industry is churning out 52 “micro-seasons” per year. With new trends coming out every week, the goal of fast fashion is for consumers to buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible.

According to Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, fast-fashion merchandise is typically priced much lower than the competition, operating on a business model of low quality / high volume.

Cline points to the Spanish retailer Zara for pioneering the fast-fashion concept with new deliveries to its stores coming in twice per week. At the time of writing, she says H&M and Forever21 both get daily shipments of new styles, while Topshop introduces 400 styles a week on its website.

With designers creating new looks on a weekly basis, the fashion calendar for these companies is set up to deliberately make the customer feel off-trend after the first wear.

2.) “Discounts” aren’t really discounts.

The thriftiest fashionistas love the idea of going into an outlet store like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s and coming out with designer labels at a fraction of the price. Unfortunately, the “excess” or unsellable items we think we’re buying often have never seen a designer label before.

“Despite common belief, outlet clothing never enters a ‘regular’ store and is most likely produced in an entirely different factory than the ‘regular’ clothing,” writes Jay Hallstein in “The Myth of the Maxxinista.”

The reality is that outlets broker deals with designers so they can put designer labels on the cheaply made clothing manufactured in their own low-quality factories.

An article featured on Jezebel confirms: “The jig is up: Big brands like J. Crew, Gap and Saks’ Off 5th aren’t selling you discounted or out of season merchandise at their outlet locations. You’re just buying lower quality cardigans and patterned pants.”

3.) There is lead and hazardous chemicals on your clothing.

According to the Center for Environmental Health, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, Forever21 and other popular fast-fashion chains are still selling lead-contaminated purses, belts, and shoes above the legal amount, years after signing a settlement agreeing to limit the use of heavy metals in their products.

An article in The New York Times says the Center for Environmental Health is focusing on reducing the lead content in products marketed to young women because lead accumulation in bones can be released during pregnancy, potentially harming both mother and fetus.

Lead exposure has also been linked to higher rates of infertility in women and increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Many scientists agree there is no “safe” level of lead exposure for anyone.

The lead contamination is all in addition to the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, flame-retardants and other known carcinogens that reside on the clothes we wear.

4.) Clothing is designed to fall apart.

Fast fashion giants, such as H&M, Zara and Forever21, are concerned with the bottom line and the bottom line alone. Their business models are dependent on the consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear — which is instinctive if the clothing falls apart in one wash.

“A store like H&M produces hundreds of millions of garments per year,” author Elizabeth Cline says on NPR. “They put a small markup on the clothes and earn their profit out of selling an ocean of clothing.”

So why should we care? Because the average American throws away over 68 pounds of textiles per year. We’re not talking about clothing being donated to charity shops or sold to consignment stores, that 68 pounds of clothing is going directly into landfills. Because most of our clothing today is made with synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, it will take decades for these garments to decompose.

“You see some products and it’s just garbage. It’s just crap,” says Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design, on NPR. “And you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you’re going to wear it Saturday night to your party — and then it’s literally going to fall apart.”

5.) Beading and sequins are an indication of child labor.

Industry estimates suggest that 20 to 60 percent of garment production is sewn at home by informal workers, according author Lucy Siegle in her book, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

While there are machines that can apply sequins and beading that look like handiwork, they are very expensive and must be purchased by the garment factory. According to Siegle, it’s highly unlikely that an overseas factory would invest in the equipment, particularly if the clothing being made is for a value-driven fast-fashion label.

Carrying out her own investigation, Siegle learned that millions of desperate home-workers are hidden in some of the poorest regions of the world, “hunched over, stitching and embroidering the contents of the global wardrobe … in slums where a whole family can live in a single room.”

Often with the help of their children, the home workers sew as fast as they can and for as long as daylight allows to embellish and bedazzle the clothes that end up in our closets. Siegle goes on to say, “They live hand to mouth, presided over by middlemen, tyrannical go-betweens who hand over some of the lowest wages in the garment industry.”

So how can you become a more conscious consumer? It starts by educating yourself, buying local, buying less, buying used, and buying from independent designers. You can start by joining a growing movement of fashion changemakers here.

Originally published as a guest post on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator blog.

[Photo credit: www.theretailnews.fr]