Four Habits of Highly Successful Sustainable Fashion Brands

Growing a sustainable fashion brand into a sustainable business is no small task. But it’s getting easier, says Shannon Lohr, the founder of Factory45’s Crowdfunding Factory and a past guest on the Spirit of 608 podcast (listen to her journey from globe-trotting designer to sustainable fashion expert who’s worked with hundreds of brands in EP 53).

Thanks to technology, social media and the explosion of training and resources out there today to support independent fashion brands, more and more companies devoted to producing clothing with sustainability baked in from the beginning are cropping up – and actually turning a profit.

We caught up with Shannon this week to get her take on what’s making fashion business success much more attainable today than it was, say, five years ago, as well as the reason she recommends crowdfunding to any brand looking to debut on a bootstrapped budget. In fact, it’s safe to say crowdfunding has become one of the cornerstone habits of successful independent brands.

Keep reading our interview with Shannon for three more habits you’ll find happening on the daily among ethical fashion brands who’ve managed to get their lines off the ground, gain an audience and grow.

Do you think crowdfunding is the best way for a new fashion brand today to secure the startup capital needed to open up shop?

Without a doubt, I see crowdfunding as the absolute best way to launch a new fashion brand. There are many different platforms to do that, but Kickstarter is the one I recommend because of the name recognition amongst consumers.

I know that the words “crowdfunding” or “Kickstarter” can sometimes create confusion or a negative first impression, but I prefer to think of it as “pre-sales.”

Crowdfunding allows a designer the option of pre-selling a product or collection instead of risking their own savings or sinking into debt without knowing if they’ll even sell anything.

Gone are the days when you were forced to start a fashion brand based on a “hunch” that people might buy what you’re creating. Thanks to crowdfunding, there is now a way to get your business off the ground without risking your own money. You can’t argue with that.

So many entrepreneurs I’ve noticed have a really hard time putting themselves out there. But more and more, being front and center and the face of your own brand is a requirement for gaining customer and audience trust and buy-in – and that’s especially true when you’re crowdfunding and asking people to take a chance on an as-yet unknown company. How important do you think it is that founders “show up” as visible parts of their own brands today? Is it any more or less important on Kickstarter than other platforms?

Consumers (especially Millennials) connect with people and stories, which is why I believe it’s imperative to show up as a visible part of your brand.

One of the first things I teach in The Crowdfunding Factory (my course about launching a fashion brand through Kickstarter) is how to tell a story about your company that connects with your ideal customer. The brands that struggle to attract an audience are the ones who haven’t found a way to clearly communicate a connection point.

I agree that entrepreneurs have a hard time putting themselves out there. I also hear concerns about appearing too “small time” if the founder is the face of the brand. But honestly, authenticity is magnetic and being true to your brand is what will draw people to you, your story and eventually, your products. It really doesn’t happen in any other order.

You recently created a Factory45 report that found startup costs for today’s independent fashion brands to be far less – like shockingly far less – than they were even two years ago. What do you attribute that to? What’s changing right now that’s making it easier than ever to start an apparel brand?

My mantra for last year (and this year) was, “There’s never been a better time in the history of the fashion industry to launch an independent fashion brand.” Not only has the internet lowered the barrier-to-entry in ways we couldn’t have imagined, but consumers are craving more access to indie brands than ever before.

There has always been an overwhelming amount of competition in the fashion industry, and that’s probably not going to change any time soon, but it’s also never been easier to find your customer and attract them to your brand.

From a financial standpoint, crowdfunding has allowed designers (with virtually no personal savings) to raise money to get their brands off the ground.

If we take a second to sit and think about that, it’s pretty mind-blowing. There is a now a way to attract your first customers and get them to finance your production for you. There’s very little risk, you’re able to test the market before you produce anything and if you’re successful, you already have customers.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

You’re known as one of the leading experts in sustainable fashion brand-building today. So you see a lot of brands moving toward launch and then on into growth mode. Of the brands who continue to grow and gain customers, what are some common characteristics you’ve noticed?

1) They listen to their customer. If you’re a designer and you’ve already launched, then (hopefully) that means you’ve already attracted your first customers. I always tell my entrepreneurs, “Don’t be so in love with your original idea that you’re blinded to a better one.” If you pay attention, then your customers are going to tell you what they want — these are the people who have already given you their hard-earned dollars and they’re the ones you should be listening to.

2.) They grow slowly and have a handle on their cash flow. If you’re bootstrapping (i.e. haven’t raised money via investors), then every dollar you spend matters. It kills me when I see entrepreneurs spending money on things as if they’re already a multi-million dollar business. If you signed up for tools, memberships, resources, etc. for your business and aren’t using them, then cancel your account. If your PR team isn’t delivering, then get rid of them. If you’re paying a monthly fee for a Shopify app and not using it, then delete it. It may sound ruthless, but you have to stick to a budget and run a tight ship.

3.) They’re creative in their marketing strategy. Thanks to social media, there is such a low barrier-to-entry now to get in front of new customers. I love seeing how new brands are using Instagram to drive traffic to their online stores and while that’s the “thing” of right now, the brands that grow are keeping an eye out for the next hot thing. It may sound cliche or too “Silicon Valley,” but the brands that survive are the ones that continue to innovate.

What are some emerging sustainable brands we should all have our eye on this spring when we’re thinking about adding a few new pieces to our wardrobes (this is when I try to get free shopping advice)….

Oh man, it’s so hard for me to narrow it down! Right now, a new brand called Two Fold is top of mind because its founder, Morgan, recently graduated from Factory45 and is running a Kickstarter campaign for her first collection. She has a beautiful aesthetic, great photography and has found a way to make sustainable fashion look timeless instead of crunchy.

I’m also excited to see the spring launches for VETTA, Sotela and Eenvoud (again, I’m biased because these are all brands I’ve personally worked with), but they’ve all done an excellent job of making sustainable fashion fresh and now they have the experience and track record of their first collections to build off of.

Can you let us in on something you’re doing in your day-to-day life that is really working well for your right now? Give us a habit, tip or tool we’re gonna be glad to steal.

I finally bit the bullet on using Slack after a lot of resistance. And I can honestly say, it’s just as awesome as everyone says it is. I’ve been so used to working from home for so long that I think I forgot what it was like to talk to actual humans during the work day! (P.S. Here is a very funny parody about that from The New Yorker.) Slack makes me feel like I have a virtual workspace with my web designer, graphic designer and assistant, and I’m definitely digging it.

Learn more about how Shannon is helping designers build an audience and find the first customers for their sustainable fashion businesses before they even launch over at Crowdfunding Factory.



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