Branding: Building a Brand

Today I went to a lecture at the California Market Center in LA.  They are hosting the LA International Textile Show this week.  The event is a 3 day exhibiting show with fabric/textile vendors from around the world and includes several lecture series.  I will be moving into a fabric series soon but I wanted to share a bit about a lecture I went to today hosted by FBI.  A non-profit resource to help businesses in the fashion industry.

12:30p-1:45p FASHION BUSINESS INC (FBI) Building a BRAND, Market Niche & Brand Protection Issues Including Sales from Ground Zero

One of the speakers was Alicia from Stop Staring.  A very successful womans line that is now carried in over 1000 boutiques and worn by many celebrities.  Alicia shared her story of how she built her brand.  She started sewing all of her own garments and really worked on a good fit and created a niche style.  She shared how while she wanted her business to grow her focus was always on her product and making sure it was the best fit it could be.  Her line grew more and more popular because of this.  She never borrowed money and she grew at a healthy pace.  It took 14 years to get where she is today.

Fast forward a few hours and I am on 9th street talking with one of my fabric vendors and her is telling me how he loves my line and when I am ready to grow it to a larger scale he is ready to invest.  He was working to convince me that small-scale was small money and I need to move up to the majors.  I smiled and told him I may be back to take him up on his offer but not yet.

I, like Alicia, believe in growing my business organically.  For those of you that don’t know, I started my business almost 4 years ago when I was 3 months pregnant with my daughter and found myself laid off from my position as VP of a recruiting firm overseeing a staff of 20 recruiters and sales people.  The California economy took a crash when the mortgage bubble burst so not only was the recruiting industry not hiring but I was 3 months pregnant so no one wanted that liability on top of switching fields.  I decided this was my life telling me to take a leap of faith and follow my dreams.  I had always wanted to do a creative job and I knew I wanted to design clothes but I had not touched a sewing machine since I was 12.

I found my machine in the back of the closet, dusted it off and started sewing baby blankets and bath towel sets.  I had to start with something simple until I got better at sewing.  Here is one of my first towel sets:

The hood on the towel led me to the idea to create minky and faux fur ponchos which I sold on etsy and were discovered by a site in Japan who picked up my line.  They were my first wholesale customer and placed an order for almost 60 ponchos!  Here is an old banner ad from their site.

I then moved on to create coats and the following spring made dresses.  Initially I started making cotton poplin dresses.  My inspiration was Etsy and that’s what everyone was doing.  I could find my supplies on Etsy but I made my own patterns.  It was the beginning of my learning curve.  Below is one of my favorite dresses from my first season of making clothes.  (I probably could have found this pattern because now I see it all over the craft sites but making it on my own and grading it for each size was really a good lesson for me and got me familiar with child sizes and proportions.)

I did start marketing to stores at this point and found a few that picked up my line but I didn’t have a lot of success in wholesale yet.  I went on to do another season of outerwear improving on my previous season’s patterns and selling quite well on Etsy and to Japan.

Then in my second spring of making clothing I made a dress for Valentines Day.  I really felt I was coming into my own.  I stopped using cotton and started using fabric that spoke to me, unexpected and interesting fabric.  I incorporated this ruffle fabric and I decided last minute to make ruffle leggings to go under for a photoshoot.

I didn’t even list the leggings when I listed the dress and wasn’t sure that I would.  But everyone asked where do I get those?  So I started selling ruffle leggings in 10 colors.  Then people wanted capris and shorts so I sold those.  I couldn’t keep up with the orders, it was great!  My line developed based on customer demand.  First made to match tops and then dresses and then I branched into other products that I wanted to add.  Then the cherry on top, I was contacted by a showroom in LA.  I didn’t realize how big this was until recently.  Many people try for years to get representation but I was approached.  I call this a life path confirmation.  When you are doing your life’s purpose things will all fall into place for you.  I am more grateful than you know.

I did not sign with the room that originally contacted me.  My gut didn’t feel right, but I did approach and sign with another room:  Smallshop Showroom in LA.  My gut was right because the other showroom is now closed and I couldn’t be happier with my current showroom.  My rep helped me to balance out my line and coach me a bit as to what retailers look for.  She instructed me on what to include in line sheets and is always available for questions.  She also introduced me to my rep in Chicago, Erica from Mama Sooze.  I adore her too.

One year later I am in over 50 boutiques and counting and  I have started my third wholesale season.  I have learned everything as I have grown.  There have been lots of production bumps, cash flow issues, bad customers and great customers; I have experienced a lot.  But I have done it all on my own from day one.  Pattern making, cutting and working with a cut shop, sewing and working with a sew shop, sales on my own and showroom sales, billing and collections, contracts and marketing plans, the list goes on.  I would have it no other way because now as I grow I can feel confident in my dealings.  I know how long it takes to make a garment on an industrial machine and how many types of machines it takes and if a sewing contractor is trying to rip me off.  I know wholesale and retail costs of fabric and where to find the best deals.  I know that is a store asks for net 30 or COD and is new that I better try to negotiate other terms because it means they have cash flow issues and I may not get paid.  I also know that boutiques are small business owners just like me and treating them with that understanding and working with them is key to growing relationships and long term customers.

My brand is still building but it is building in the right way: organically, based on demand, and by me being true to my design aesthetic.  I really enjoy what I do and I know that comes across in my creations.  My customers have come to expect interesting materials in wearable silhouettes for their kids, that’s what my brand is and that’s what I deliver.

So stay tuned because as I build my brand I want to help you build yours.  I will share my experience and my resources with you and I am always happy to answer questions or point you in the right direction if I can.




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