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minimalism

Over two years ago, I got an email from an old “blogger friend.”

My {r}evolution apparel co-founder and I had written a guest post for his blog during our 2011 Kickstarter and doing so had catapulted our campaign from around $40K to over $64K.

His large and dedicated fanbase of readers had been the exact target market our clothing company was trying to attract. And thanks in large part to them, we became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at that time.

The blog was called The Minimalists.

Several years later, it was a surprise to hear from him again and even more surprising to receive the following request:

Howdy! Long time no see. Do you have any interest in doing an interview for our minimalism documentary?

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On May 3, 2016 I attended the Boston screening of Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things in a jam-packed, sold-out theater.

Joshua and his co-creator Ryan now have a following of over four million readers and have been featured on ABC News, BBC, The Today Show, NPR and The New York Times, among other notable press.

The film, directed by Matt D’Avella, was named the number one independent documentary of 2016, won pre-screening awards at international film festivals, and has shown in 400+ worldwide screenings.

In the film, I was able to talk about the marketing messages that the fast fashion industry feeds us, why we look to fashion to make us happy, and how our clothing choices play into global consumption.

The documentary also asks, How might your life be better with less?

And it examines the many flavors of minimalism by taking the audience inside the lives of minimalists from all walks of life — families, entrepreneurs, architects, artists, journalists, scientists, and even a former Wall Street broker.

You can get a taste of Minimalism by watching the trailer here:

As my mother-in-law said after she saw the film, “Minimalism isn’t for me, but I get it,” the point is not to transform into a minimalist overnight.

I do hope that the messages in the documentary provoke deeper thought about what we really need to make us happy, how our purchasing decisions impact the rest of the world and what it would feel like to find happiness from within.

To watch the film in full, the online screening is available here.

 

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Fabric Supplier

As a new business owner, it is vital that you know how to write an effective email that will earn a response.

Depending on who you’re writing to, it can be easier said than done.

When it comes to reaching out to fabric suppliers, especially, there are seven key rules to remember:

1.) Consider the audience you’re reaching out. The supplier is likely receiving hundreds of emails per week, so you want to make sure your inquiry gets straight to the point. The supplier does not care about your background or the mission of your company. At the end of the day, they just want to make a sale.

2.) Keep the email short and sweet. Yes, you will want to include a nice “Hello” and an appropriate “Thank you.” But again, make sure you are not wasting the recipient's time.

3.) Do your due diligence. Make sure you do your own research on the supplier’s website before you reach out. Oftentimes, you can get many of your questions answered on the supplier’s About, Shop and FAQ pages.

4.) Know your stuff. Many fabric suppliers are going to want to see that you actually know what you’re talking about, so they don’t risk wasting their own time. One great way to show that you’re serious about being their customer is to send over a design, spec sheet or a visual example of the piece you’re needing the fabric for.

5.) Don’t ask about MOQ’s. Especially not in your first email. This mistake will make you come off as overly frugal and price-conscious before even making initial contact.

6.) Foster the relationship. Once you’ve received an initial response, take your time in building a relationship with the sales rep. While being courteous of their time, you want to cultivate the relationship and make it easy for them to help you. Down the road, they’ll be much more likely to negotiate MOQ’s with you later on.

7.) Stay persistent. Be mindful of not overwhelming the supplier, but don’t give up. Finding sustainable and low-impact fabrics is not an easy task for anyone. Stick to your values and keep up your search. Fabric sourcing is one of the steps in product development that can take the longest, so be patient.


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Factory45 Success Story

Over the past two months, a certain Factory45 entrepreneur has taken our community by storm.

“How did they move so fast?!”

“Their campaign was incredible!”

“I can’t believe how gorgeous their photography was!”

This community has blown me away with their support and kind words for the latest success story to come out of Factory45.

Yes, I’m talking about VETTA, the five-piece capsule collection that can make up a month’s worth of outfits. All sustainably sourced and ethically made in New York City.

So… how did they do it?

That’s what I want to share today with the hope that you’ll see inspiration and motivation in what VETTA created and take away some wisdom to apply to your own startup.

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I first met Cara Bartlett, one of VETTA’s co-founders, at a coffee shop in South Boston over a year ago.

At the time, I was in the middle of my second Factory45 cohort and Cara had recently left RueLaLa to go full time with her ethical fashion blog, Bien Faire.

We chatted about the fashion scene in Boston, she gave me some recommendations for ethically-made wedding dresses, and we parted ways with plans to host some sort of future event together.

Several months later, when I opened applications for the Factory45 Fall program, I was so surprised to see that Cara had applied for her company, “TBD.”

While she and her co-founder, Vanessa, had been brewing up dreams of starting their own line together, they needed help finding sustainable fabrics, choosing a manufacturer and coming up with creative ways to market the brand for a Kickstarter launch.

I guess you can say the rest is history. I accepted Cara into Factory45 and from day one, she hit the ground running at full speed ahead.

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Here’s what I’ve observed, after working with Cara for the past six months, that can be attributed to VETTA’s success:

>> Cara was working on VETTA full time. My philosophy and the mantra that my Factory45’ers hear over and over is: You have to take the entrepreneurial journey that’s right for you. Is it possible to launch a brand in six months? Yes. Is it possible for everyone? No.

Many of us have obligations, work, children, partner’s and other life “requirements” that take priority over our businesses. If you’re serious about launching a brand on the timeline you’ve laid out, though, then something has to give.

You either have to accept the fact that your brand will take 1-2 years to launch or you have to commit to dedicating everything you’ve got to the 6-8 month timeline you’ve laid out for yourself.

In the past, Cara has driven from Boston to New York City five weekends in a row. She’s flown to South Africa to meet with her co-founder in person. She’s traveled to Los Angeles for a whirlwind few days to shoot her lookbook and video.

When planning your launch timeline you have to figure out what’s right for you. Cara and Vanessa knew they wanted to launch a March 1st Kickstarter from the day they submitted their Factory45 application on September 21st. They kept their eye on the prize and didn’t miss their mark.

>> They built an audience before they launched. VETTA is unapologetically not for everyone. Cara and Vanessa identified a niche and an ideal target customer and invested six months into building a very specific and dedicated audience.

They grew their email list, Instagram following and Facebook page and with the help of beautiful photography, they strategically “teased” out their upcoming launch. They were able to get their target market excited about what they had to offer so that “early adopters” were ready and excited to purchase the VETTA collection as soon as it was available for pre-sale.

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>> They leveraged their network. During and after their campaign, VETTA caught the attention of some impressive press. While some of that was organic, for example The Boston Globe, Cara has told me they unabashedly called upon friends of friends of friends for help.

They networked their way into a meeting with VOGUE to start developing a relationship with the magazine. They tapped into the Factory45 network of suppliers and manufacturers to set up their supply chain. And as a result, they’re working with the same factory in NYC who creates many of Rag & Bone’s garments.

If you are creating something beautiful, intentional and good for the world, people will want to be apart of it. Don’t let fear get in the way of making the “ask.”

>> They had a “share-worthy” story. VETTA could have gone one of two ways. 1.) A collection of sustainably-and-ethically-made womenswear, 2.) 5 versatile pieces that mix + match to create a month’s worth of outfits.

Which version is more compelling? The difference in those two soundbites drastically affects your chance of becoming a “share-worthy” story. When it’s interesting, different and easy to communicate you’re much more likely to tell a friend about it.

I’ve written before about launching a Kickstarter campaign for my first company, {r}evolution apparel, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to leverage a concise message and story to represent your brand.

VETTA did just that and gained the attention of WHO WHAT WEAR, Brit + Co., Darling Magazine, BostInno, VentureFizz, The Wall Street Journal and other well-known press.

More than that, though, they gained the attention of 527 new customers.

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This is all to say that VETTA reached its $30,000 goal in five days and was featured by the Kickstarter Staff as a “Project We Love.”

By the end of their 30-day campaign, they had nearly tripled their goal to raise $88,954. Shortly after, Cara and Vanessa competed in the Sak’s Emerging Designer Showcase and won. Their second capsule collection will be available in Sak’s Fifth Avenue stores in the near future.

It goes without saying that I’m so proud of what VETTA has been able to accomplish and I want to emphasize that this kind of success is not out of reach for the aspiring entrepreneurs who may be reading.

It’s not going to be easy — but as Cara and Vanessa can attest, it will be worth it.

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of VETTA and Sak’s Fifth Avenue


manufacturing kit

Has anyone else jumped on the podcast train? I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I’ve shared before that podcasts have been apart of my morning routine since 2014. It’s usually the first thing I do when my alarm goes off.

Recently, though, I’ve had the opportunity to get in front of the microphone myself. So today, I wanted to share three different interviews I’ve done (about three different topics) in case you’re like me, and are constantly looking for more content to tune into:

The Creative Giant Show: How to Sew Business Success in the Fashion Industry with Sustainable Apparel Strategist Shannon Whitehead.

I connected with host Charlie Gilkey back in 2010 when I was just starting to explore the world of entrepreneurship. And I was recently invited on his podcast to talk about:

  • Why I decided to start a sustainable apparel company, despite the risks involved.
  • Which challenges to consider if you’re thinking about starting a clothing company.
  • Which business trends are disrupting the fashion industry.

>> Listen here 

Conscious Chatter: Made in the USA

I mentioned this new podcast in my blog post from last week — it was started by my friend Kestrel Jenkins who has been in the sustainable fashion industry for years. Our interview focuses on “Made in the USA” and Kestrel and I discuss:

  • How outsourcing affected the U.S. economy after NAFTA was signed.
  • Why localized manufacturing is important for every country.
  • How the movement is growing because of small, independent brands.

>> Listen here

Bootstrapping It: Creating an Online Accelerator Program for Apparel Startups with Shannon Whitehead, Founder of Factory45

Host Vince Carter interviews entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their companies rather than trying to raise VC funding. So, of course, we had a lot to talk about. In the interview, we cover:

  • Why you should be honest with yourself about your business ambitions.
  • How to use Kickstarter and pre-sales to fund your business startup.
  • How to strategize so that you spend your startup funds on the right resources.

>> Listen here

Enjoy!

 

 

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Market45

fashion brands

One of the reasons people become “serial entrepreneurs” is because of how much you learn through the process of starting your first, or second, or even third company.

It’s easier to say what you should have known or what you wish you had known when you’re looking back.

I started Factory45 with this in mind — after going through the process of starting a sustainable clothing company with my co-founder, I realized afterwards that there were so many things I wish I had known sooner. I wanted to impart those lessons learned on other aspiring entrepreneurs so they wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

On that note, I’ve asked six designers running established fashion brands to share what they wish they had known as a young fashion startup:

 

katie-rock“I wish I'd known that, no matter how much you love the product, you absolutely have to ensure that: (a) you can get it produced fairly simply/easily (to avoid loss of time/sleep and potential burnout); and (b) the margins are healthy enough that you can not just sustain, but actually grow, the business (or you at least see a clear path to get the margins to that place).  

I also wish I had understood that startups often take time! We thought we'd be an overnight hit, and we took it hard at times when we realized it would take longer than expected. Definitely be hopeful and excited and all of that good stuff, but also be realistic.”

— Katie Rock, co-founder of Activyst

 

tara-st-james“I wish I had known that fashion is about breaking the rules, not following them. That theory is applied to design all the time, but the business of fashion should also be about challenging the status quo, not following the calendar, not following what everyone else does and not doing as we're told. That's the only way change will happen in this industry and I wish I had known that sooner.”

— Tara St. James, founder of Study NY

 

colette-chretien“I wish I had known which parts of the sampling and manufacturing process would be good for me to figure out on my own and which steps are vital to have carried out by an experienced professional. There were some things I realized I should have done myself, and a few things that would have saved me time and money in the long run had I outsourced.

I also wish I knew that everything takes so much longer than you think it will. Both in terms of developing a product, and establishing a brand. Patience is important, but complacency is dangerous.”

— Colette Chretien, founder of La Fille Colette

 

taylor-gamine“I wish I had known how much clarity I had starting off—that I felt content and confident knowing what I was setting out to do and who I was trying to speak to. Had I taken stock of this intuition at that early stage, it would have been much easier as my audience grew to know when I'm being true to myself and the narrative I am trying to tell. Even now, as I slowly start to roll out new work, I realize that the hardest thing I have to do in this (post) post modern, socially nomadic world we live in is to just fiercely be myself.”

— Taylor Johnston, founder of Gamine

 

BrassClothing_©HOGGER&Co._web_013“I wish I had known just how important it is to have an audience to launch to. If you want a product-based business, first start by generating a following. This could be through a blog, via Instagram or Twitter. Build up a community of people that is in-line with your future product. When you're ready to launch you'll have an invested group of people you can turn into customers.”

— Jay Adams, co-founder of Brass

 

Delta+Leather+Tote+Bag“I wish I had known that finding great US manufacturing is kind of like speed dating. If it doesn't seem like it's going to work out, make a polite exit, but move on. Their existing operations shouldn't have to adjust much at all to achieve the product to be produced. It should be a very close fit from the very beginning.

I’ve realized over the years that in spite of a manufacturer’s best effort and enthusiasm, sometimes it wasn't enough to get a good product at the right price point in the end. Their capabilities sometimes just didn't match what I was trying to achieve. And as a designer I had to learn how to recognize the pitfalls early in the game to avoid a lot of wasted money time and effort.”

— Matt Mahler, founder of Skye Bags

Know someone who would benefit from reading these six lessons? Use the social buttons on the left of your screen to share on the platform of your choice.

 

 

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“That’s, like, pretty much what I’m doing.”

“She’s selling the same thing I am.”

“I just found out X person is also making X product, so what’s the point in me even trying?”

As someone who works with and mentors new entrepreneurs on a regular basis, I’m no stranger to panicked emails popping up in my inbox about the discovery of a competitor.

“And she’s so much farther along!”

“And they already have 3,000 followers on Instagram!”

“They’re using organic cotton and making it in the USA, too!”

As soon as we discover potential competition, our cortisol levels shoot through the roof and we imagine the worst case scenario.

EVERYONE is going to buy from HER instead of ME.

So I might as well quit.

And while yes, quitting is the easiest route to take (in any situation) there are many more reasons to keep going:

  • An idea is just an idea. Everyone has them. What sets you apart is your ability to execute. 99% of ideas never see the light of day, so if you’re able to get your product to market, then you’re already that much farther ahead than everyone else. So much of entrepreneurship is simply a matter of keeping your head down and doing the work. It’s not glamorous, but there’s really no alternative.
  • The “me versus them” mentality is the fastest way to sabotage yourself. As soon as you start thinking the world is against you and the universe is set up for you to fail, then it’s over. I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who didn’t operate with an “abundance mentality.” Repeat after me: there are enough customers for me and there are enough customers for them.
  • Competition breeds creativity. Having competitors in the market forces you to innovate, think outside the box and pushes you to do better than you would have done if you had a monopoly. While it may give you anxiety at first, you have the ability to reframe how it makes you feel. It can either deflate you or empower you — and you have the power to choose.
  • Competition shows you there is a need in the marketplace. Having other players in the game means there is a big enough pool of people who want what you’re selling. The market share is there and it’s your job to find a way to take a piece of the pie.
  • The great news about being in the clothing business is that, unless you’re selling to nudists, everyone needs it. Fashion is a $1.5 trillion dollar industry. That’s a lot of people buying clothing. And the average American buys 62 pieces of clothing a year. As fast fashion continues to gross more people out, you’re there to provide an alternative ethical option. How cool is that?
  • And this. This is the best reason of all: Despite how many people are selling (or plan to sell) something similar to you, no one is ever going to do it the same way you are. That’s just fact. There is no one else on this planet that is even remotely close to the same person as you and thus, the way you create is going to be different from everyone else. 

No matter how many new kids lines or womenswear lines or outwear lines debut, they’re all going to be unique to their creator. And that’s why it’s so important to know who your target customer is. It relieves you from having to sell to “everyone” so you can focus on selling to the special group of people it’s made for. There is so much freedom in that.

I know I’ve written about competition before, but it’s the topic that continues to come up because it’s so much scarier when you’re just starting out.

Working with mostly women entrepreneurs has taught me how sensitive most of us are. We want perfection, we want everything to go the right way the first time, and we want to show everyone around us that we can do it.

As soon as we hit a bump in the road, we tend to question our intentions.

Who was I to think I could pull this off?

When really, who are you not to?

 

 

 


Sustainable Fashion Advice

 

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“What happened to your first company?”

It’s a question that I'm asked a lot when people read about {r}evolution apparel and what I was working on before Factory45.

Usually the question is posed with slight trepidation — like the person doesn’t want to bring up a sore subject.

The assumption is that the company fizzled out or flopped or just straight-up failed.

But none of those are true, and I think that’s why it’s so hard for people to understand it.

How could we let go of something so good?

Believe me, it wasn’t easy — but if I know anything, it’s that dreams change. (If they didn’t, then I’d be a strung-out lawyer in downtown Manhattan right now.)

So, here it goes — three years later, the truth about why my first company ended.

It was the summer of 2012 and Kristin, my co-founder, and I had just come off the most successful fashion Kickstarter of all time. We had tripled our goal amount to raise over $64K, quadrupling our first production order of our product, the Versalette.

With the extra capital we raised, we convinced each other that it would be a great idea to embark on a “sustainable fashion tour” of the Pacific Northwest. It would help us build brand awareness, tell people about the Versalette, and film mini documentaries with the help of a film intern.

We bought a 1993 Chevy conversion van off of Craig’s List for $5K, decked it out with a new paint job and {r}evolution apparel branding and drove from Kristin’s parents’ house in Missouri to Vancouver, Canada.

Over the course of the summer, we hit up Seattle, Portland, Eugene and San Francisco, interviewing some of our industry “idols” like Lynda Grose, Kate Fletcher and Justin Dillon. We debuted mini documentaries of our travels each week, blogged about it, hosted in-person events and pop-up shops, and even secured a media sponsor.

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We spent two months couch surfing, sleeping in the van when we couldn’t find a place to stay, shipping Versalettes out of our trunk, and flying back and forth to North Carolina where our production was ongoing. We secured our first paid speaking engagement and were paid $3K for a 15-minute talk.

By the time August hit, we were so burnt out that we decided to cut the tour two weeks short. I flew home to Boston to see my high school friend get married, Kristin flew back to Boulder and we agreed we would meet back up in a few weeks.

For more than 60 days, Kristin and I had been together for every waking moment. Through the stress of managing two college interns, through the stress of quality control issues with our sew shop, through the stress of hosting event after event (and keeping up with usual business obligations), our business relationship and friendship had been put through the ringer.

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And then September rolled around and instead of listening to our intuition — slow down, enjoy the journey, don’t rush the process — we flew back to Portland to redesign the Versalette for a second production run.

We secured $30K in angel investment, finalized the “Versalette 2.0,” found a new production partner that better aligned with our aesthetic and mapped out financial projections into 2017.

“We’re going to be the next Spanx!”

“Are we really going to do this for another five years?”

“We should totally get on The Today Show!”

“Do you think we’re going to be able to sell more of these?”

The emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship was a daily mind-warp between, “We can do this!” and “Do we really want to do this?”

It was crazy even to consider letting go of what we had built (as some of our customers later told us).

We had achieved something that most startups only dream about. In our first legitimate year of business, we had surpassed more than $100,000 in sales, and we were profitable. As Kristin has said, that never happens.

We had sold out (almost immediately) of our entire inventory of Versalettes and we had 1,400 new customers who also happened to be our biggest fans.

It was terrifying to walk away from something that we had sunk so much of ourselves into.

But we craved our own identities (at the time, we were known only together as Kristin and Shannon), we craved new projects, we craved new challenges. We started to envision what life would be like on the other side of {r}evolution apparel.

So we said goodbye — knowing that, for both of us, it was more important to part as friends than to stay together as an obligation.

So there you have it: we didn’t go bankrupt or end up hating each other. The dream changed and we decided to listen to our intuition.

Whatever your dream is, I hope you follow it. Great things can happen — things you may not have been able to dream up holding onto the old.

It did for me.

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Sustainable Fashion Advice


Did you know an online shopper decides within 90 seconds whether he or she is going to buy from you?

That’s right, you have a minute and a half to make a first impression and either convert the sale or lose it.

According to Vouchercloud, over 92% of online shoppers say visuals are the most influential factors affecting a purchasing decision.

When we begin to think about those visuals and how they affect the psychology of a potential customer, we often think only of the nuts and bolts of the website:

  • Should I use a homepage slider or a “hero” image?
  • Where should my call-to-action go?
  • Is the “add to cart” button above the fold?

While layout and design details are certainly important to your conversion rate, there’s one big factor that is usually left out of the conversation. And it’s this:

It's not about the product you're selling. It's about the experience they're buying.

In other words, it’s not about you. It’s about her.

Let’s say you’re a designer of cocktail dresses for the modern Southern belle (I know, super random – it just came to me). When you stop and think about it, what is your customer actually buying?

(It’s not a cocktail dress.)

Your customer is buying the greater experience of how that dress is going to make her feel.

When she’s browsing through your site, can she see herself in Savannah on her honeymoon? Can she envision the confidence and joy she’ll exude as she sits under a patio umbrella, sipping a mint julep, staring into the eyes of her new husband…

In this case, your sales strategy needs to take your potential customer from a drab cubicle where she’s wrapped in a cardigan all day to the sun-kissed brick roads of her honeymoon destination.

The best online stores are able to connect the dots between the shopping experience and how your customer wants to feel — with your product at the forefront of that solution.

Because what you’re actually selling is an aspiration.

A few years ago, I co-founded a sustainable clothing company that broke Kickstarter records, attracted the attention of big press, and sold out almost immediately after launching pre-sales.

We offered one piece, the Versalette, that could be worn over 20 different ways — designed to be the perfect garment for female travelers and minimalists.

The Versalette wasn’t just a multi-functional scarf for any woman. We were clear and deliberate on who our true customer was, so we understood that we were selling so much more than a product.

When a potential customer visited our site and thought about purchasing the Versalette, she was really thinking about all of the places she would go, all of the new sights she would see and what it would feel like to live life as an adventure.

We were selling the experience of throwing a backpack over your shoulder, not worrying about what to pack, hopping on a plane and seeing the world. Free of responsibility, free of worry and free of obligation.

Over time, we began receiving photos from our customers:

Here I am in my grey Versalette in front of the leaning tower of Pisa!”

This is me in front of Angkor Wat in my indigo Versalette!”

I took my cherry Versalette to Kenya with me and it was a life-saver – I even used it as a blanket on the plane!”

As more of these testimonials and photos arrived, we launched a blog series called the “Versa-Letters” to highlight travel experiences of our customers. The series further communicated the idea that when you have a Versalette in your suitcase, you’re bound to encounter adventure.

When you look at your own online store, or imagine the one you’ll create someday, what is the buying experience you’re giving your customer?

How are you incorporating design, photography, video, language, customer testimonials and unique offerings that make you stand out from the competition?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, keep digging deeper. Hone in on who your ideal target customer is and get clear on how she wants to feel when she imagines herself in your designs.

It’s your ability to create this experience that will mean the difference between a genuine connection — and losing her to another store just a few clicks away.

 

 

 

This article was originally published as a guest post on Startup Fashion here.


 

“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.

 

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728


sustainable fashion advice

Four years ago I co-created the highest funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at the time.

To fund the first production run of our product, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 30 different ways, my co-founder and I looked to Kickstarter to raise $20K in 30 days.

What happened over those 30 days far surpassed our wildest dreams. Not only did we acquire nearly 800 backers, quadruple our first production order and attract the attention of The New York Times, but we finally saw a year and a half of hard work pay off.

When we clicked the launch button we had no idea what to expect. We had an email list of less than 500 people, a Twitter following of about 800 and a Facebook following of less than 1,000.

Kickstarter wasn’t what it is today, so it had far less traffic and didn’t yet have the trust of potential backers who didn’t know what “a Kickstarter” was.

But despite the lack of internet marketing tactics, an advertising budget or a team of employees, my co-founder and I did have one thing on our side.

A compelling story.

K&S-Bio

For a year and a half, we had been leveraging effective storytelling through blogging and social media. Four years later, branding gurus now call that “content marketing.”

Our marketing strategy wasn’t calculated or premeditated — even though it would have been a pretty smart plan. We were just two aspiring entrepreneurs in our mid-twenties who wanted to start a sustainable apparel company. And we wanted to share that journey.

We were transparent, candid, and authentic — not holding back with stories from the “entrepreneurial trenches.” We blogged weekly to share our experiences with our small readership and the more honest we were, the more our audience responded.

By the time we launched our Kickstarter campaign, our “followers” knew about our first big co-founder fight, our samplemaking mistakes, and our expectations for what we were going to create and how we were going to create it.

Do you know what happens when your followers feel like they’re invested in your past, present, and future? They get out their wallets and invest in you.

We raised $10K in 36 hours and with more than half of our campaign left, we blew past our goal of $20K to finish our last day with $64,246.

The lesson? If you have a compelling story that’s authentic and “shareable,” then the idea will spread.

Lookbook 1

Whether you’re prepping for a Kickstarter campaign down the road, planning to bootstrap your business, or are looking to raise VC money, your brand must have an engaging story that resonates with potential customers.

The good news is, creating that story is a lot easier than you think. It’s simply a matter of being authentic, tapping into what is uniquely you, and sharing it.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re in the branding phase of starting your company and are still trying to figure out how you’re different:

  • Ask a few close friends what they think is most interesting about you and your background. What do people tell you is especially cool about who you are?
  • What problem are you solving for your customer? What is especially interesting about that problem and your solution for it?
  • What is your “one sticky message?” Meaning if you had to come up with one sentence that described your story, how would you make it super memorable and “shareable.”
  • If you were at a networking event and you had to do one of those awkward “ice breakers” what would be the interesting “fun fact” you told everyone about yourself?

These are prompts to get you thinking — the trick is to weave together the best components of your story in a way that engages others to want to know more.

website screenshot

As soon as you have a foundation for your story, you have to start telling it. And that’s the hardest part. It’s scary to put yourself out there, show vulnerability, and not really know what’s going to happen.

But the sooner you do it, the closer you are to creating a brand.

And you know what happens when you have a great brand?

You start to attract customers.

And then, not only do you have a product, a story, and a brand —

You have a business.

 

factory45 owner shannon

 

This article originally appeared as a guest post on Startup Fashion here.


crowdfunding cta