It’s so easy, when you’re an entrepreneur, to keep your head down and just plow forward. There’s so much to do! Lead generation; contracts to complete; meeting with customers, vendors, and contractors; sorting out what government programs are right for your business, etc., etc. We often forget to take the time to step back and reflect, evaluate, and seek advice when necessary.
Two sections I really thought were important include info on branding and mentoring. Branding has become much more than a logo and a business name. Now, it’s more about your story and what content you deliver to customers rather than how the specifications of your product relate to a basket of demographic facts. As Richett states, “Don’t underestimate the power of a compelling brand aesthetic.” About mentoring she explains, “Having a mentor or a group that supports you through the growth phases of business can be crucial.” I know you may feel that a mentor might steer you away from your precious vision but mentoring can also help you avoid traps, keep up your spirits and widen your opportunities. In CT, if you’re a female entrepreneur, you can find mentors at the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford. If you’re focused on Hartford like me, check out the Metro Hartford Alliance. Or, for mentoring on specific business topics from executives that have been there, try SCORE.
What problems are you facing as an entrepreneur? Leave a comment! I’ll probably know a person or an organization that can help.
A common definition of a “social enterprise”(SE) could be, “a profit earning business that has, as its primary goal, creating the maximum positive impact possible in society and/or the environment.
As you can see, from this definition, SE’s are profit making unlike not-for-profits. And, unlike a typical business, their primary goal is not to produce maximum profits for owners and shareholders as in a typical for-profit business, but to create positive change in society and the environment. If you’ve read the “About” page on our website, or my profile on LinkedIn, then you know that United Sewing and Design is an SE.
First, a caveat with my explanation. My business is an LLC and so, is not registered as an SE according to the State of Connecticut. The reason that I chose not to participate in that designation, also known as a “B Corp,” is because in CT, to start a B Corp., you are required to register as an “S,” or “stock corporation,” to sell stock, have shareholders (obviously) and a board of directors. This earns significantly more in fees for the state. Additionally, it also requires a layer of reporting to the public about the social or environmental good created by the SE. My contention is that a business can be labelled by its activities as an SE and participate voluntarily in the public reporting without paying burdensome fees. We’ll see how that works out.
Anyway, why go through the additional research, planning and execution necessary to do good when I could just focus on earning as much money as possible? Believe me, it’s not because I don’t like money! A recent story from NPR, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Kaiser Health News which I found on the WNPR website, contains three important concepts related to the beliefs I committed to several years ago. These beliefs caused me to focus my business on doing good. The story profiles efforts to use questionnaires, filled out by patients in a health care setting, to discover the circumstances in which they live which impact their physical and emotional health.
Family units are the foundation of our urban communities. Social and environmental factors can impact the viability of urban family units. Businesses can positively impact the social and environmental surroundings of urban communities.
Positive business impact means being located in an urban neighborhood which is easily accessible to workers. Business owners must make a commitment to listening, collaborating and contributing to their neighborhoods to discover what residents truly need.
The individuals in family units need a hand up, not a hand out. A job that pays a fair wage ($15 minimum) for good work is a fundamental part of positive business impact in urban communities. Business owners and workers must create together a work atmosphere that stems from a mutually respectful relationship. Workers and their attributes are valued as an asset rather than an expense by owners. Workers view the business as a place to demonstrate their willingness to contribute, their dedication to providing for their families, and their capacity for growth.
I highly encourage you to read the transcript of the story or listen to it at the link above and to follow the business reporting of WNPR, especially the reporting on local manufacturing. I challenge you to consider incorporating some or all of the above concepts into your business! I would also love to hear your thoughts on my post.
You’re really excited about the new product you’ve envisioned and rightly so! It’s made of a flexible material (fabric, vinyl, felt, rubber, leather, etc.) so you know it needs to be sewn. You don’t know how to sew but you’re sure you’re ready to take the next step to have it manufactured. At this point, you realize you want to maximize your investment in time and money but you’re concerned about how to explain what you want and get the best quality result. What to do?
There are ten things you can do before you meet with a sewing contractor to insure that you are prepared. These tasks are what I wish all of my customers had done ahead. Thought invested doing these will save money during the consultation period and speed up the time it takes to get started. Sketches do not need to be attractive or perfect. None of the answers to these questions need to be exact at this point. Actually, it’s better if you’re open to suggestions from the sewing contractor you are hiring. They should be able to suggest changes that are right for your product and might save you materials, time and money while delivering the best possible results.
Sit down and do a simple sketch of your design idea. Include as many measurements in your sketch as you know. Indicate what materials are in your product and where. Point out where hardware such as buttons, zippers or buckles might be. Does it need to fit onto a body or product such as a stroller, car or computer? How will that work?
Why did you design your product? Did it fill some need you had or solve a problem you noticed?
Look up photos of products that are similar or have similar parts or details to show to your contractor.
Think about who will buy your product. Who was it designed for? Why will they want it? What will it do for them? If it’s apparel or an accessory, does it need to be different sizes? What should the fit be like? Answer the same questions if the product is not for sale. For additional help with answering these questions, refer to this blog post on satisfying customers.
How much will your product cost and why? How much do other products like it sell for? If it’s not for sale, what is your budget to get the product made?
Find a sewing contractor in the United States so that you can benefit from the 5 advantages to manufacturing in the U.S., listed in my blog post on Reshoring.
Ask them for dates to expect the work to be done by so that you can keep track of the process. Make them aware of any deadlines you need to meet! This is very important!
Ask the sewing contractor for a cost list and a written estimate. This may take time to generate. Agree on payment terms.
Ask for testimonials or references from their customers.
Schedule a time to meet with them again and agree on what will be done at that point. Make sure you have contact info.
At the end of your consultation, take time to think about your impression of the sewing contractor you met with. Did they listen? Did they address your concerns? Do they have the experience you need? Did they review your project and associated due dates with you so that you know they understand what you want?
Completing these tasks will go a long way toward making your production journey smoother and faster. If you’re in New England or the Tri-State area, come visit us! We’d be happy to meet with you to discuss your needs.
Ever bought a shirt or blouse that you wore once then never again? Perhaps you just plucked it off the rack in that trendy store you like without even really thinking about when, where or how often you’d wear it? Maybe you even bought the same item in 3 colors! Did you take a minute to think about whether or not purchasing something you really weren’t going to use is a good idea? How about what impact your purchase would have on the fashion industry, the environment or the people who made the shirt?
One of the purposes of my blog at unitedsewinganddesign.com, is to present different ways of thinking about consuming and manufacturing soft goods, ways that have less negative impact on our environment, that are sustainable both environmentally and economically and that are fair to workers. Often, when I mention the fine points of conscious manufacturing to fashion professionals, they roll their eyes and sigh or wonder aloud how they are supposed to compete in an industry fueled by constant consumption of trendy clothes and accessories if they don’t take part in the same overproduction/overconsumption cycle.
On Twitter last week, I ran across a post by one of the most insightful organizations that I follow. This tweet from @TrustedClothes said,
“ Imagine a world with no need to follow the latest fashion trends or buy luxurious brands.”
“Wow!”, I thought, what a great idea, but, isn’t that an impossible goal! How can we turn that giant truck of disposable clothes around to prevent them from being distributed or for that matter, being made in the first place? How can we re-educate the consumer to not prefer to shop for clothes every two weeks and purchase items they don’t need that sit in their closet or get thrown away after one wearing?
If we, designers and manufacturers, want to produce items in a sustainable way, the customer must be retrained to accept products that are made to last, sold at a slower pace and marketed as pieces that are beyond trends. After all, fashion professionals and the fashion marketing apparatus are what created the ridiculous cycle of fast fashion in the first place. We can halt it too!
If you’re going to buy in to sustainable manufacturing, here’s a bit of advice to offer your customer when trying to re-educate them: Why keep a huge volume of clothes in your closet(s)? Who are you trying to impress? What do you think you’re missing out on? As Trusted Clothes said:
“Confidence is key to success because it does not matter what other people think about your clothing……… people must live in a compact way to ensure that their environmental footprint is at the minimum.”
That is, customers, be yourself! Wear what really looks good on you in silhouette, color, print and detail not what shops tell you to wear. Buy basic pieces of great quality and shop with a plan like Tim Gunn suggests in his book, Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.
Designers! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your pieces need to be boring or predictable to be beyond trends. Stay true to your own aesthetic while producing pieces that you know your customer can appreciate, be satisfied with and enjoy wearing for years. Look at the example of American Giant and their famous, extremely successful, made in America, $89, full zip hoody
For more advice on consuming sustainably, start following Trusted Clothes on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. They are in the business of “promoting ethical, sustainable and healthy fashion.” They have recognized that “in terms of environmental impact, the (fashion) industry is in the same ballpark as Fossil Fuels and Factory Farming making it a significant contributor to global environmental and health issues. Secondly the nature of the industry and supply chains creates a starting point for poverty, slavery, child labor, human trafficking, abuse, safety issues and…. many other very bad things.” As an apparel/accessories designer or manufacturer and consumer, why would you want to be part of that? Do yourself a favor, stay informed! Visit their website www.trustedclothes.com You need to know what they’re saying.
We all know that being a business owner is beyond time consuming. Making decisions to move your business forward, managing people, looking for customers, “can I please have an extra day in the week to do all this”? Why would you possibly want to burden yourself or your staff with finding a way to close the consumption circle at your business? What are the benefits?
First, let’s define some terms as they relate to manufacturing.
Waste—materials that you have left over from manufacturing.
Upcycle— reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Ex: turning moth eaten, cashmere sweaters into a coat by cutting and recombining them.
Repurposed—using something for a different purpose than that for which it was intended, altering it superficially in the process. Ex: creating pillows from the leather of a used couch.
Recycled— convert (waste) into reusable material, breaking it down and altering its form during the process. Ex: shredding discarded textiles to produce stuffing for quilted boots.
Closing the consumption circle means taking all of the materials that are not used in the products you manufacture, (the waste), and either up-cycling, re-purposing or recycling it so that nothing ends up in the waste stream on its way to a landfill.
Here are three ways to close the consumption circle at your business and some of the benefits each method offers.
Invest in hardware, software, or training that reduces the amount of materials and fuel used to manufacture your products. (part of Lean manufacturing) Benefit? Saves time and money! On top of that your company is showered with good vibes from environmentally aware customers because you are reducing your environmental impact.
Find a vendor to pick up your unused materials. Benefit? Saves your resources—time, money, manpower, storage space! You can also make money by selling your waste.
Institute processes that use your own waste to manufacture products that may or may not be related to manufacturing your core product. Benefit? Make money both by selling your products and by not allowing materials you have already paid for to be written off as a loss.
These paths obviously mean an initial investment in planning, time, money, effort and changing attitudes. In return, your company receives the benefits mentioned above as well as public praise, and PR opportunities which attract new customers. Make a better world for your kids and grand kids! Close your company consumption circle!
I just retweeted a post on Twitter from Trusted Clothes this morning about the consequences of buying cheap fashion. My previous post on what buying clothing on sale really means, discusses why you should care about where and by whom the clothes you consume are made. Something to always keep in the back of your mind:
Your impact on the apparel industry can be controlled by you! Your purchasing habits directly impact wages and working conditions for garment makers, the health of the environment and the volume of waste that ends up in landfills.
For starters, here are four easy rules to follow to create positive change in the apparel industry:
Understand your personal style so that you aren’t sucked in by the latest fast fashion trend and end up purchasing a garment that you only wear once.
Purchase clothing that is timeless. Timeless doesn’t mean boring! Timeless means outside of current trends or fads, part of your personal style and constructed to last.
Consider purchasing through a consignment shop or service retailer such as Goodwill where you will find items diverted from landfills and can get better quality at a lower price.
Buying American made items will reasonably ensure that wages are fair, production occurs in a safe place for workers and the environment is undamaged.
To make it even easier for you to choose well when making your next apparel purchase, here are some shopping resources to help you find out where your clothes are made.
This list of U.S.A. made apparel and footwear from ratherbeshopping.com is from 2016 but I recognize numerous brands on the list as still American made.
The Brothers Crisp is a Hartford handcrafted shoe brand, calling Park St. home, which employs local talent to create beautiful, outside-of-the-trend, shoes and boots for men and women.
Impact Mart, also a CT company, sells apparel and shoes as well as personal and home accessories. Everything sold on the site is manufactured in a sustainable way. Profits benefit causes such as education, the environment and ending human trafficking.
Hartford Denim Company, HARDENCO, hand crafts items of such good quality, that they come with free repairs for the life of the product.
“If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” I’m not sure where that quote originates and I don’t particularly care to research it. Truth is truth. In a modern world where “women are doing it for themselves,” this doesn’t even begin to touch on what life is like for a middle-aged woman, raising a […]
In today’s business climate, every advantage counts. To truly understand what your customer wants, you have to listen to them. This short excerpt from the introduction to Industry Clothing Construction Methods by Mary Ruth Shields, highlights the essential concept of product benefits and the features that create them. Although the example is apparel, the design of any product could be made more attractive to customers by understanding these simple concepts and making them the core of your process.
“Designers hear the consumer say that apparel should offer benefits. Consumers believe that apparel benefits should help them achieve their goals as individuals, such as feeling more self-confident, gaining respect, saving time and money, attaining comfort during physical activity, attracting a lover, fitting into a social group or expressing them selves. The task for a fashion professional then is to determine what features should be included in the garments to achieve those apparel benefits. The core of the designer’s, merchandiser’s or buyer’s craft in the ready-to-wear industry is to find the right combination of features–silhouette, fit, shape, color, laundering method, fabric, texture, price, and so on–that entice customers to look, try-on, and feel satisfied with their apparel purchase.”
For more on this topic, additional insight into the apparel merchandising process, and a wealth of concrete information on the construction of retail apparel, add Industry Clothing Construction Methods to your toolkit for manufacturing success.
Everyone loves a “deal,” right? We rarely purchase anything that isn’t “on sale.” We love getting one over on the store, bargaining down a vendor or stocking closets full of discounted items that we’ll never use. We are rewarded for this behavior by our peers, the media and the stores themselves.
Insisting on a low price or a markdown on everything is a recent invention. Decades ago, when we knew the seamstress who made our clothes and the man down the street crafted our furniture, we expected to pay a “fair” price for the things we bought from them. However, we don’t remember or haven’t been taught that we should expect to own well-made objects, use them in our daily lives and then pass them on. If things wear out, we don’t know how to refurbish or re-purpose. In a few weeks, we get tired of things that are labelled as “out-of-style.”
What does “fair” even mean? When we see a product that is actually fairly priced for the thought, time, energy and materials that went into it, we don’t know what to do except ask, “why is this so expensive?” It’s “expensive” because the person who made it deserves to be reasonably compensated for the tangible investment they have put into the object. In conventional retailing, price is no representation of the amount of investment in time, money and energy that was put into creating the item. Price is linked more to the market and producing a product as cheaply as possible. Trying to compare the fair price charged for a handcrafted item to a similar product found in the cookie-cutter retail space is folly. Although the items may be able to perform the same task, such as holding your morning coffee, decorating your ears, or warming your neck, the well-crafted item has been carefully designed by the mind of a human and expertly constructed by their hands. The cookie-cutter item was probably generated by a computer program using data bearing little to no relation to you or your lifestyle and then constructed by a bored worker on an assembly line. It’s shoved down your throat because you’ve been taught to accept what’s in the store as what you should buy instead of taking the time to make up your own mind.
Why not invest in products that you really love, that show how thoughtful you are about what you consume, that will last and not go out of style?
Here’s an idea, why not invest in products that you really love, that show how thoughtful you are about what you consume, that will last and not go out of style? If you need it, here’s a trick to convince yourself to break the habit of buying shallow, repetitive, price driven, soulless products. Divide the price of the handcrafted product by the number of years, months or days you expect to use it. For example, a beautifully made jacket at $250, worn 4 times a month over a span of 4 years means your investment in a handcrafted jacket will be only $1.30 for each time you wear it! Completely worth it to be wearing a handmade item that feels amazing on, you will never see someone else wearing and that garners tons of compliments!
On the tropical island of Kosrae, Micronesia, hidden in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a theory with world wide impact is being proven. The theory maintains that it is possible, actually desirable, to sustainably manufacture well designed, fashionable products that last from renewable materials in a way that leaves no lasting mark on the environment, employs a previously untrained workforce and, of course, makes a profit.
Green Banana Paper, founded and guided by American social entrepreneur Matt Simpson, is proving that theory. Green Banana recycles waste from banana harvesting into weaving materials and paper which are then made into personal accessories and more. Matt’s company creates employment for residents of Kosrae that was previously unavailable to them offering income at home instead of having to go abroad to find work, away from homes and families.
No tech investment bubbles, inflated CEO parachutes, ponzi schemes, or robots taking over jobs here in Kosrae; just sustainable business growth, happy employees and a passionate, socially conscious business owner.