About a 6-minute read.
Update 1/22/21: This story has some major updates and lessons learned, so as you read, make sure to check out all of the side notes!
Have you ever gotten a sign in your life that convinced you that you were moving in the right direction? Or even the wrong direction? Have people randomly come into your life just as you need them? Have truly coincidental things ever happened to you that lead you down a totally different path than you could have expected? Well...this sort of thing JUST happened to me.
Let’s rewind to January 2018. I was obsessed with watching every YouTube video, seminar, and webinar on the business of fashion. At that point, starting a fashion line was a pipe dream, but I was fascinated…like a sponge soaking everything in. The idea was something I felt excited about.
I found a couple of seminars by a woman who owns a company consulting budding fashion startups here in New York City and has worked with factories all over the world. From what I read and heard, I was convinced she had seen it all and I hung on every word.
Fast forward to April 2019 (over a year later and fueled with the resolve to give this fashion thing a go), I was having breakfast with my friend David, who I had worked with years ago at Macy’s. I was telling him about the trials and tribulations of being a newbie trying to find a manufacturer here in the United States, when he quite serendipitously said, “My great friend just wrote a book all about this." I quickly googled the book and I nearly fell over. David was “great friends” with the exact woman I had revered all these months. I immediately ordered her book on Amazon and emailed her for a meeting.
Her book was full of the most outlandish stories recalling her wild experiences in the garment industry. I was riveted. Not only by her no-bullshit mentality and her don’t-mess-with-me attitude, but by the incredible insights and wise (been-there-done-that) life lessons she shared about the supply chain. This is just the kind of consulting I needed for Classic Six.
Fast forward to yesterday. I am sitting in her office for our first meeting, and in the no-bullshit tone that I appreciated so much as I read her book, she went on to tell me everything that I didn’t want to hear.
I hired her.
Why? Because everything I didn't want to hear was also everything that I knew could potentially make or break this business.
If you were a fly on the wall, here’s how it all went down.
1. “Factories hate new fashion brands.” I knew she might be right. I have been trying to navigate this myself and the reality is, factories don't want to work with new brands that could be dead in a year. They don’t want to produce at low minimums. They don’t want to deal with designers that don’t know the supply chain. To do this blindly with factories that I have no real relationship with would be a fatal and costly mistake. I couldn’t disagree.
2. “You can’t produce here in the US for the prices you want to sell.” Unfortunately, this is true and I learned this by taking the long road. If I produced here in the United States, I would need to sell one of my favorite pieces in the collection for $1,000. Yes, ONE THOUSAND. I’m not in the business of selling a $1,000 garment, and I am pretty sure you are not in the business of buying one. The good news? I have learned there are ways to produce overseas in ethical factories that have greater technology to manufacture the highest of quality at a lower cost. No, not fast fashion costs, but MUCH better than I was getting estimated here in the US.
Side note: Here are two articles that talk a bit about my experience working with a factory halfway around the world.
3. “You are crazy if you think anyone is going to buy your product as a new brand by only selling online.” This was the hardest for me to hear. People shop online! I shop online! I have my samples…My photoshoot was set for this month…I have exciting partnerships in place for styling and cross-promotion. I wanted all of you to have the product in your hands by this Fall and I couldn’t wait to share it all this summer! I told her I have people on my mailing list waiting for me to launch and that I just need a manufacturer! Her response was, “Thats nice…but no one is going to buy it. No one buys from new brands without touching and feeling it.” This burned. But, again, she’s the expert. Could she be right about this?
Update: 1/22/21: She was not right, and I am so thankful she wasn't! Lesson learned here: Don't let anyone tell you it cannot be done. More on that below.
4. “You need to sell to retail boutiques.” I hated hearing this, because I don’t shop in boutiques. My vision for the brand was to only sell online. In a dream reality, I didn’t need retailers to get things off the ground. I was going to host a pre-sale that would bring me enough capital to fund my first production run. I was going to knock the socks off it and everyone on my mailing list was going to buy. If that didn’t happen, plan B was to get outside funding. Sure, that sounds easy, but if you’ve ever seen Shark Tank, you know, to get funding you need to prove orders and sales, and to prove orders and sales, you need orders and sales…from retailers. I was definitely going to have to ease into this major pivot in my plan.
Update: 1/22/21: It turns out you do NOT need a retailer to start a fashion brand and I am so proud to say we are currently exclusively sold online and thriving! I did wind up hosting a pre-sale in December 2019, (against the advice of said consultant) and here is how that went! While she did make very good points that I still think of often, sometimes in business you just have to go with your gut. Having just recently read this blog post again, I feel the need to tell you that there is not one way to go about selling your product. Yes, you can absolutely sell to retail boutiques, but you can also sell exclusively online. If you build a community of people that are interested in your product or idea before you launch, people are going to buy regardless of your sales channel. I'm sure there will be a day where retail boutiques may become a priority for us, but for now, online is working JUST FINE. :)
5. “Your pattern-maker was a waste of money.” I knew before going into this that I was going to make mistakes in this business that would make me cringe. I was prepared. Well…this made me cringe. I have spent the past 5 months perfecting patterns and samples with a pattern-maker here in NYC only to find that my patterns and samples are basically worthless. What I've learned is that most factories are resistant to using patterns that they did not directly make themselves. I can see now why this might be the case for so many reasons. This was an EXPENSIVE lesson to learn the hard way.
Side note: I was part of another consulting program earlier this year that recommended the different ways to approach the production process. One of the recommendations was to first have your patterns and samples made. Second, find your factories. Third, pre-sale your product to fund your production run. There is not one set way to approach setting up your supply chain and your launch, but I can't help but feel regret for not further investigating to learn more about industry standards and the other options before making a major decision like this. I am sharing this with all of you guys that have been so patiently waiting for me to launch, but also for other startup designers that might be taking on a journey similar to mine and could potentially learn from the steps I have taken thus far. My takeaway? There is no gold standard recommendation from any program or consultant that should keep you from doing your own due diligence. Because of this hard lesson, I am going into this current consulting partnership with that knowledge in my pocket and have set the expectation accordingly. Hopefully I can share only good things in my next update!
UPDATE!!! (6.24.19) Where there is a will, there is a way! I am now working with a place here in NYC that digitizes and grades paper patterns. They are essentially taking my paper patterns and creating digital files so the overseas factories can work with them! Yes, I still believe I went about this process backwards and if I had to do it again, I would begin with the factory first, but this is GREAT news! At the very least I won't have to start from scratch. We are back on track! :)
On that note, I want to really thank you for your patience with me. I think this is a true testament to the notion that nothing truly worth waiting for comes easy, and patience is absolutely a virtue!