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Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder of Seamly.co

Truth be told, I know more about Kristin Glenn than any of the other designers I’ve interviewed for this series. And that’s not a huge surprise, considering she was my first (and only) business partner when I meandered my way into this crazy world of entrepreneurship.

Kristin and I ran {r}evolution apparel together from 2010 to 2013, co-created the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history (at the time), spent 2.5 months in a van together (yes, really), and simultaneously went through intense entrepreneurial burnout.

But when we made the decision to part ways at the end of 2012 it made space for more opportunity, more purpose, and the freedom that had enticed us to start a business in the first place. One of those opportunities that came about was Seamly.co, a sustainable clothing brand that Kristin launched solo in 2013. Kristin and I are proof that sometimes you have to crash and burn, even when everything seems like it’s going great, so that you can come out better for it.

Having launched two sustainable apparel brands, Kristin knows a little something about running a successful business in this industry. Today she’s sharing some of her best startup advice for new and aspiring designer entrepreneurs.

Thanks to Kristin for taking the time for us — cheers to friendship and knowing when to let go so you can make room for what’s to come.

F45: What are the values and ethics behind Seamly?

KG: I’m a big believer in sharing the process; honesty, transparency, understanding. That’s first and foremost. I strive to create a brand that celebrates the process, and creates excitement about made-in-the-USA, from fabric to sewn product.

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F45: Tell us about setting up your supply chain. Was it difficult sourcing fabric? How did you find the sew shop you work with? Did you run into any bumps in the process?

KG: Fabric is tough. I started out only using surplus fabric (excess from mills and factories). The problem with this is continuity — I had to test shrinkage on every single fabric for every single style. Sometimes we had to cut the fabric in batches, instead of all at once, because of shrinkage and different fabric widths. Using surplus is great from a social responsibility standpoint, but from an efficiency and financial perspective, it is a TOUGH way to manufacture. I certainly wouldn’t have made it this far if I’d continued to use surplus fabric from so many different (and unpredictable) sources. Plus, it takes a LOT of time to source it.

Now, I’m using fabric that’s made in the USA and Canada only. We use surplus when we can, but I always know how it’s going to react and what quality it is. I’ve found trade shows to be the best place to meet people for fabric sources, and creating relationships with them has been a huge benefit.

As for sewers, it’s all been word of mouth. I’ve been lucky to work with two small factories that are totally, completely on-point. Anytime a mistake happens, it’s because of me or my lack of clarity. They simply crush it.

A big thing that’s helped is setting expectations. I know that sewing will always take a bit longer than expected, and I have a very “that’s OK” attitude about it. I trust the people I work with completely, and know that they’re looking out for me, so it’s better to just be flexible and have a positive attitude about our deadlines than push, get upset, or stress out. I didn’t set firm deadlines for finished products for the first year in business – things just launched when they were ready – and that helped me form relationships with my suppliers without all of that pressure. Now, we can work together to set deadlines, which has been working really well so far.

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F45: What has worked for you in terms of marketing? How do customers find out about you?

KG: Here’s my marketing strategy: e-mail, e-mail, e-mail. E-mail is the best way for me to authentically communicate with my customers (and potential customers!) with their permission — and that’s important. Social media is great, and I’ve seen results from guest posting or asking a blogger to post an outfit with my pieces — but it all comes back to the e-mail list.

I’m working on growing that community by a) optimizing my website to encourage people to sign up and b) create content that drives people to the website. Much harder done than said! It’s tough to find time to create new content and get data and analytics on the Seamly.co website. It’s something I struggle with every single week. But I know that’s the way to organically build community.

Everything else I do – PR, guest posts, etc. – is ideally all a funnel into the e-mail list. Because that’s where real interaction (for me) really happens.

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F45: Tell us about your biggest “cringe” moment – a mistake or glitch that you look back on and say “oops.” How did you navigate through it?

KG: Where do I begin? All of my big mistakes are centered around production. Grading patterns before I test for shrinkage. Ordering the wrong kind of zippers. Luckily, most of these problems can be fixed before the final product is shipped to the customer, but once, I had a major oversight and only realized it AFTER shipping.

This was in the early days. I’d ordered new toggles for the 5-ways Maxi Dress (the toggle goes into the hem so the dress can be shortened or lengthened). I didn’t test them before shipping (DUH, Kristin!) because I had so many things to do, and “assumed” it would be OK. After the dresses launched and shipped, I realized that these toggles were going to be really annoying for customers, hitting the floor when they walked. So, I e-mailed them immediately, offering an exchange for a new toggle or a free return, and a discount code for future use, just to apologize for my mistake.

All of my customers were 100% cool and understanding. Most of them didn’t mind the toggle, and a few of them exchanged theirs. It’s INEVITABLE that mistakes big and small will happen, but being upfront and honest about where you went wrong is one of my biggest values and something I believe customers respect and appreciate.

What I’ve learned, and am constantly re-learning, is that testing every single thing is CRUCIAL, and assumptions are too big of a risk to take.twitter-bird-light-bgs1 For me, these are annoying steps in the process, but oh-so-critical to success.

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 F45: What has been the best thing about running your own company? The thing that gets you up in the morning.

KG: In the beginning, I was really excited about creating something new. And then I started to doubt myself and the financial feasibility, and I started working a lot more. Like, crazy hours that were totally unsustainable. The business became less fun, I was out of touch with my creativity, and wondered if I should continue at all.

I slowly started to realize that I couldn’t possibly have successful business if I didn’t take care of myself first. And I started to relax. On a normal day, I work from 10-4, then I go to yoga, then I put in another hour or so after. I don’t set an alarm and if I feel like going for a walk or calling my mom in the middle of the day, I do it.

The journey of caring for myself is, of course, lifelong, but with this shift in thinking, I’ve been able to actually enjoy building a business. Like, in a real way. Mondays do not suck. I still worry about a lot of things, but I REALLY love being able to set my own schedule and create. And as I delegate more, I get even more time to do the parts that I love – marketing, content, communication. I am creating something totally unique that exists in the world, as a representation of what I believe in and who I am. That’s the best thing. I get to be me, every day.

To shop Seamly or check out what else Kristin has going on as she transitions from a home-base in Denver to NYC, visit her online store here. (Bonus: there’s a moving sale on select styles right now.)

Photos courtesy of Seamly.co.

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing the Carolina Textile District

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.

 

11 Indie Designers Making a Mark in Ethical Fashion

In an industry of bottom lines, shareholders and cut corners, it’s refreshing to find the people who still view fashion as art. Rather than churning out millions of identical garments, there are designers who have chosen to stay true to the beauty of what fashion can truly be.

Given that these designers still have to compete (in some capacity) with the H&M’s of the world, it’s even more admirable to find those who have also integrated ethics and sustainability into their business models.

These indie designers are staying true to their art form while trying to make the industry a little better along the way.

Moriah Carlson and Alice Wu of Feral Childe | I only recently discovered this bi-coastal design duo, and I’m so glad I did. Moriah and Alice work from studios in Brooklyn and Oakland, respectively, and manufacture their label in NYC’s Garment District. Each garment from the line meets at least two of the sustainability guidelines listed on their website.

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Julia Kastner of Eva & Paul | I was introduced to Julia over email a few months ago and instantly devoured her website. If there’s one thing I struggle with in my own wardrobe, it’s finding sustainably-made jeans, which is why I always resort to buying a stretched out second-hand pair. Julia has found a way to produce 98 percent organic cotton jeans while keeping the price-point under $200. The rest of the materials are fair trade and everything is sewn in the USA.

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Elizabeth Brunner of Piece x Piece | I’ve been a long-time fan of Elizabeth Brunner’s since first meeting her in San Francisco in the summer of 2012. Elizabeth uses sample fabric swatches that are discarded by the pounds from design houses and pieces them together to create one-of-a-kind garments. By making use of what would otherwise be waste, Elizabeth has created a stunning collection made by hand in San Francisco.

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Britt Howard and Rosemary Robinson of PGF House Line | Britt and Rose are the joint-genius behind the Portland Garment Factory. I spent some time with them in 2012 while revamping the design for the “Versalette 2.0.” Although they primarily work on other designer’s products, they have found the time to put together their own line of unique designs being sold all over the country. Everything is manufactured in their self-owned factory in Portland.

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Kristin Glenn of Seamly.co | My former partner-in-crime at {r}evolution apparel, Kristin now designs her own label of versatile clothing made in Denver from deadstock fabric. I swear by the Seamly high-waisted leggings (as I’ve told many of my friends), and the revamped and redesigned Versalette is still being sold under the Seamly label.

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Nicole Bridger of Nicole Bridger | Last year, I heard Nicole Bridger speak at ECO Fashion Week in Vancouver. She founded her company on the belief that fashion doesn’t have to sacrifice a commitment to the environment, so she puts a personal emphasis on transparency. All Nicole Bridger fabrics and materials are ethically-sourced, and are often renewable or biodegradable. Ninety percent of the collection is manufactured in Vancouver while the other 10% is produced in Fair Trade certified factories overseas.

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Betsy & Emily Nunez of Sword & Plough | I’ll never forget the splash that sisters Betsy and Emily made with the launch of their Kickstarter campaign in May 2013. With a goal of raising $20,000, their quadruple-bottom-line bag company that uses reclaimed military fabrics, raised over $300K. All S&P bags are made in the USA with upcycled materials that use 95% less energy than conventional bags.

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Tara St. James of Study N.Y. | Study is a sustainable womenswear label based in Brooklyn. Because it doesn’t adhere to the typical fashion calendar (which is now up to 52 seasons a year), all of the designs are seasonless. Much of the brand’s focus revolves around the story of each garment, the hands that made them, and the ethical materials that were used.

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Although the price points of some of these brands may seem higher than you’re used to, it’s important to consider the timelessness and durability that comes with clothing that is ethically made. All of these designers create garments that will last season after season, and most will stand the test of time as the trends change.

Thank you for supporting ethical and independent design.

This post originally appeared on ShannonWhitehead.com. You can see it here.

Photo credit: Feral Childe, Eva & Paul, Piece x Piece, Portland Garment Factory, Seamly.co, Nicole Bridger, Sword & Plough & Study NY.


Market45

6 Things You Should Know About Your Clothes

Not too long ago, I received this comment on one of my posts: “I want to know more about what you know. I’m such a mindful consumer when it comes to food but have never thought about how my purchasing decisions with clothes, etc could be negatively impacting the change I so emotionally pursue.”

It inspired me to go back to the basics, realizing again how new the sustainable fashion movement is to most consumers. For those of you wondering why you should care about what’s in your closet, here are the big six:

1.) There are chemicals on your clothes. And they’re often carcinogenic. (Carcinogenic = cancer-causing). While the slow food movement is starting to catch on and consumers are becoming increasingly more conscious of what they eat, we don’t yet think of clothing in the same way.

Most of us haven’t caught on that the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde and flame-retardants on our clothes are also damaging to our health. Skin is our body’s largest organ and it instinctively absorbs whatever we put on it — clothing chemicals included.

(Next time you’re browsing through the racks at your favorite big box retailer, rub your finger tips together. You’ll notice a grimey film that has transferred off the clothing and onto you.)

2.) There are 27 to 30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, slaves.

Have you ever wondered how companies like Zara and Forever 21 can sell t-shirts for 5 dollars?

There are people in countries such as Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India who are forced to work against their will. Whether they’re picking cotton or tanning leather, they aren’t being paid to make your clothing. They are literally bound to a life of enslavement with very little hope of getting out.

Factory workers who are being paid are probably who you would think of as “sweatshop” workers and are most likely earning less than a living wage — that means they can’t afford to feed or shelter themselves, let alone their families. In 2012, a Swedish broadcaster reported that workers in Cambodia were being paid so little they had to borrow money for food.

3.) Big retailers are a big problem.

Our bargain shopping, big sale seeking, cheap consumer mentality is directly related to the people making our clothing. Because we expect to be able to buy a shirt for less than 20 bucks, retailers are forced to find ways to lower costs and compete in a highly-saturated market. This usually requires cutting corners in manufacturing overseas.

In November, H&M made a public statement saying it plans to deliver a “living wage” to more than 850,000 textile workers by 2018. While it sounds like a noble gesture, it raises the question of why the giant retailer wasn’t paying its workers fairly in the first place. In the past, H&M has been accused of promoting poverty pay, unsafe working environments and malnutrition.

H&M is not alone — Forever 21, Inditex (the parent company of Zara), GAP, JC Penney, and many more, are major players in human rights and labor issues around the world.

4.) Our old clothes (and disposable behavior) are ruining Africa’s economy.

Ready to drop off a big pile of donations at your local Goodwill? While the reselling of second-hand clothes is ethically sound, it’s the massive amounts of donations that cause a problem. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the like, receive more clothing donations than they could ever resell. So what happens to the excess?

According to an op-ed in The Business of Fashion, “The majority of donated clothing is sold to second-hand clothing merchants, who sort garments, then bundle them in bales for resale, usually outside the country in which the clothing was originally donated.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where one-third of all globally donated clothes are sold, the used clothing business is undermining Africa’s own textiles and manufacturing industry. Even more, “dumping” our unwanted clothing into countries on the other side of the world gives us an unrealistic sense of security that we can continue to consume and throw away at unsustainable rates.

5.) It takes decades for your clothing to decompose in a landfill.

The fast fashion industry has turned four regular seasons into 52 “microseasons” to push new trends and encourage rapid consumption. Retailers make it easy for shoppers to buy a cheap dress, wear it once, and never wear it again. We don’t think about where those clothes go after we’re done with them.

The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing per year. Nylon, rayon, polyester and other synthetic materials are essentially plastics that will most likely be around for far longer than you will. At the rate consumer waste is piling up, it doesn’t look good for the future of the planet.

6.) We’re not helpless.

Consumers have the purchasing power. We all have the ability to change the industry by choosing which companies deserve our dollars. It comes down to educating yourself and adjusting your lifestyle in a way that doesn’t require excessive consumption of disposable clothing.

Education can be as simple as following a few ethical fashion blogs on Facebook. You’ll learn something throughout the day just from reading the headlines. (A few of my favorites are: EcouterreEcoSalonMagnifeco & Ethical Fashion Forum.)

What more can you do? Read my follow-up post, 4 Things to Remember Every Time You Shop For Clothes on the Huffington Post.


The Pursuit of ‘Made in the USA’: Meet Sharon of Factory45

This is a guest post from Factory45’er Sharon Eisenhauer, founder of With Meraki, a sustainable leather goods company launching in 2015. This post was originally published here.

photo 1Having sold my company almost 2 years ago, I have had the great fortune to have some time to explore what my next venture will be. Always the serial entrepreneur, I tried on a number of ideas, wrote business plans, did financials, etc.. I even built websites for a couple of ideas. Nothing really seemed like it. Yet.

In April, I saw this story on EcoSalon about an accelerator program called Factory45. Shannon Whitehead, the founder, was launching the inaugural class for this incubator and was reaching out to designers and makers who wanted to start sustainable and profitable businesses and keep everything made in the USA. Something clicked. I applied, and knew that this was something substantial.

I tried to do production for my former company in the US – but that was 10 years ago. A sew shop here in the Bay Area made some disastrous samples for me. Then I went to Texas and launched my collection with bags made in El Paso. Sadly, my cost of goods was 75%. Not a good formula for success!

My mentor, Rob Honeycutt, founder of Timbuk2, pointed me to a factory in China. I went to Shenzhen, walked the factory floor, explored the dormitories where the workers lived and checked out the cafeteria. It was important to me that the people who helped me to make a living and support others were not working in a sweatshop and were living decent lives. Taking the vastly different standards of living into account, I felt okay about doing my production there. Okay, but not great.

With the language barrier and cultural disparity, trying to engage with the workers resulted mostly in nodded heads and lowered eyes. My attempts at Mandarin were laughable, at best. How could I really connect with the people who were so integral to the creation of my products without a discernable means of communication? Sure, the factory owners and managers spoke excellent English, but how does one express a feeling through a middle-man? It just didn’t translate.

Through the years, I made several half-attempts at researching production here in the US. Overland Equipment used to make their bags in Chico, California. I knew the former owner. He said, “no way”. It was just too expensive to keep a factory running here and still be competitively priced. Even Timbuk2, who manufactures the exterior of some of their bags here in San Francisco, makes the more complicated pieces in Asia. I was dissuaded.

photo 3I believe that, regardless of where they live, people deserve to make a decent living. As human beings, we all do. It astounds me that anyone would ever question that. But I also want to be able to connect with those people, to have a relationship – to be able to share that expression of meraki – the soul, love and creativity put into their work.  Combining language and cultural barriers with distance made that pretty darn difficult.

So, when I learned about Factory45, I felt like a long un-answered prayer had been answered. Maybe there was a way. Maybe I could create something with some scale here. Maybe I could even source the components here. Maybe even a little more than maybe…

To keep up with the behind-the-scenes of the making of With Meraki, follow on Facebook and on the blog.

 

Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder & Designer of Kallio

I was driving through Williamsburg with my friend Sumeera, founder of Madesmith, when I first met Karina Kallio. From across the street, we saw Karina walking down the sidewalk in a black shift dress that perfectly flattered her midterm baby bump. As I got to know more about Karina over dinner, I learned of her design background, her Australian roots, and her growing children’s company, Kallio.

After recently reaching her Kickstarter goal, Karina will soon be opening a workSHOP space in Brooklyn to act as both a studio and a retail space to accompany her children’s line. As she just delivered a baby boy about two weeks ago, it was especially lucky to be able to feature her story on the blog this week. Enjoy.

Factory45: How did you come up with the idea to turn men’s dress shirts into children’s garments?

Kallio-SS14Kallio: I worked as a menswear and womenswear designer for 10 years, and was inspired to create Kallio because I saw first-hand how much waste we were creating as an industry. In creating Kallio, it was really important to consider the line’s entire lifecycle, without compromising on quality or style. Kallio is 100 percent made from men’s shirts, and is sourced, designed and manufactured in New York to support local industry and reduce our carbon footprint. Once in the hands of our customers, the label on our clothes encourages them to consider how they care for it: “Wash only when stinky. Machine wash cold and line dry. No bleach nor dry clean. Repair holes. Hand it down.”

There are several reasons why men’s shirts work so well for us. First, they’re usually made from high-quality fabrics in great patterns and colors, and those details are really important to our brand. We also only use materials that are 100 percent cotton or denim (so they can be easily recycled too), and you can find that quality more readily in men’s shirts. They are also less fitted than women’s tops, and the loose shape works really well to create our line of unexpected, modern classics that kids can be kids in. Lastly, I thought it would be nice to bring dads into kidswear in an unexpected way; we preserve the shirts’ original detailing to hint at each garment’s story, and encourage conversation about where our clothes come from.

F45: What has been the biggest challenge in your supply chain?

Kallio: The biggest challenge was finding a factory that would sew our garments — as each garment is truly ‘one of a kind’ made from a particular upcycled piece, many of the factories wanted to charge sample prices, which wasn’t sustainable for us.

F45: How did you find the sew shop you currently work with? What has your experience been like?

DSC_0161_grandeKallio: It was a total happy accident. I was supposed to meet with another factory owner and she was late for our meeting. Just down the hall was another factory that I went to ask for a piece of paper to leave a note for the lady I was meant to meet. That factory owner asked me what I did, and I showed her my work. She immediately saw the potential of the brand.  She told me that only the week before, a 300 shirt order had been rejected by a customer as the grading had been incorrect. So she was left with 300 shirts and no place for them, so they went into the trash. She did me a favor by taking on my business, and we’ve been working together ever since.

F45: What has been the best method of marketing for Kallio? What hasn’t worked as well?

playtime2014-kallioKallio: Over the years, through our trade shows and from my experience working as a fashion designer, I’ve been really fortunate to work with and meet wonderful people around fashion and lifestyle, including writers and bloggers. Their support, as well as the support of family and friends via simple word of mouth has been really great for us and gotten our name out there. A host of writers and bloggers have also been generous with their support and featured Kallio in their publications and blogs. But it has definitely taken a lot of time on our end to reach out to each contact directly with interesting updates about Kallio that will appeal to their specific angle and target demographic. If you’re asking for (free) coverage of your brand, it’s really important to demonstrate to the writer that you’ve taken the time to craft a story unique to them. It’s also nice to check in every once and a while just to say hi, or share an article they may find interesting.

F45: What is your best advice for aspiring designer entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Kallio: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people who have “been there and done that.” You may be an expert in your field, but a business has many facets and the more minds you can glean the better. But at the end of the day, you are the boss and so it’s important to follow and listen to your gut and heart.

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Want more from Kallio? Check out the e-commerce store here.

[Photo credit: Brooklyn Makers, Kai D Utility, Kallio, Renegade Craft]

 

A Tale of Two Sustainable Supply Chains, Part II

This is a guest post by Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh. Part I of this series can be read here.

Tale Two: TS Designs – Cotton of the Carolinas – American Soil Organic

After looking at the supply chain of Appalatch, I’m sharing a second example of how to create a sustainable supply chain that can help your business. Founded back in 1977 as a small, manual screenprinting business, TS Designs became a fully-automated manufacturing company and was able to weather the offshoring and outsourcing of the 1990s. Re-orienting themselves to become a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) company, they are now a successful example of how to influence social and environmental change through business.

ts-designsStarting in 2008, TS Designs has brought together multiple stakeholders through Cotton of the Carolinas — from the farmers to the cotton ginners to the designers to the printers to the sewers to the brands – to organize and support the growth of organic cotton in North and South Carolina. Cotton of the Carolinas introduced a ‘Track Your Shirt’ system online so that buyers could input information and find out exactly where and whom made their t-shirts.

They also organized a “Harvest Tour” so consumers could visit the cotton ginning mill and the actual farm where the cotton was grown — a great way to address the disconnect many people have between the clothes they wear and the people who made them.

While attending the 2013 Harvest Tour, I was lucky enough to learn from Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, and Ronnie Burleson, manager of hundreds of farms all over the state of North Carolina. They discussed at length the benefits of knowing who you’re working with — and recounted a time when cotton prices fluctuated so heavily they had to work out a mutually beneficial deal so that each stakeholder could remain in business while trusting that being flexible would later benefit their individual companies.

Stage two of Cotton of the Carolinas has seen an expansion to the west to increase the amount of certified organic cotton available. American Soil Organic will continue where Cotton of the Carolinas left off to create an apparel line with a 100 percent transparent supply chain.TS Designs shirts

So what are the main takeaways from these two supply chain stories: Appalatch and TS Designs? First, these pioneering companies have demonstrated that building a transparent supply chain is possible. Second, they show that you can, in fact, create a sustainable, community-focused supply chain.

Appalatch’s and TS Designs’ experiences show how vital it is to know and trust the people you are working with to make your products. Indeed, creating a sustainable, transparent supply chain filled with mutual trust will leave you far, far better off in the long run.

For more about Redress Raleigh, check it out here.

[Photo credit: TS Designs]