Fashion Group International launched their pilot Mentor-ship Program just six months ago, and with 8 pairs, our program participants have made great strides in their growing fashion-related businesses. We have been thrilled to be the bridge that connects veteran fashion executives (from Macy’s corporate to Nordstrom) with up-and-coming independent designers.
Barry Weisband, former University of Washington business school professor, is one of our volunteer mentors who is not only a fantastic resource to FGI and his men-tees (MUSES 501c3) but also launching a fashion incubator in the City of Kenmore. Here’s more info about this exciting opportunity launching this fall.
FGI: Tell us briefly about your professional background, and how you got involved with the City of Kenmore?
BW: I am an entrepreneur and intrapreneur. I’ve started for profit businesses, developed and launched business for healthcare organizations, and I have created incubators for entrepreneurs to create and build businesses. As the Founding Director of the Entrepreneurship Center at a local university, I initiated dialogue with the City of Kenmore to explore its interest and possibilities to create an incubator for the city. They were so excited about the possibilities that they have funded a pilot program from the city’s biennial budget.
FGI: How did the City of Kenmore come up with the idea to invest in an incubator, and why fashion?
BW: Kenmore’s executive team is very energized to work with FGI. They see it as a prime opportunity to help talented designers and potentially create new businesses and jobs for a variety of people.
FGI: Any fashion connections (or companies) out there in Kenmore already?
BW: Not to my knowledge. But we’re trailblazing!!
FGI: What are the hopes for the City for this fashion incubator program.
BW: Creating a cluster so that it becomes recognized by the public and industry as “design central”!
Here’s another Success Story from Sydney and Diane~
Mentor: Sydney Mintle — Founder, Gossip & Glamour
Mentee: Diane Lansinger — CEO, Ready-to-Bare
The most compelling piece of advice you learned from your mentor.
Sydney gave me a better understanding of how to source overseas. I have no background in this aspect of apparel manufacturing, but it will be a critical part of my business because the technology to manufacture some of my core pieces (bras & camisoles with no-sew construction, custom foam cups and laser-cut edges) is currently not available at any US lingerie manufacturers. I wasn’t sure at what point it made the most sense to travel to Hong Kong or elsewhere to visit manufacturers – was it something I should do first in order to have samples made and tour potential factories, or was it something I should do later in the process? Sydney pulled on her experience in manufacturing at Zumiez and advised me to do as much as possible remotely first. She advised me to if at all possible wait until I had production-ready samples in hand and was ready to sign checks for initial runs, then book my trip to visit the manufacturing facilities and make final decisions on-site. It probably seems like such a logical thing to someone with this experience, but for me, it was a relief to hear that so much could be done initially without incurring the significant cost of a trip.
Three things you will consider editing in your business/line, and why?
1) Launch with a complete line, not just 1-2 pieces. I was initially considering launching my line with just 1-2 samples and then using a Kickstarter campaign as a pre-sale for manufacturing these items. Now, though, I’m planning on launching with 10-12 samples. I think this will resonate better my target customer base, since their apparel needs and buying habits (and therefore the opportunity for my business) goes beyond just a few core items. I was hesitant to define the lowest-hanging-fruit in my business opportunity so broadly with 10-12 pieces because it seemed like a lot to coordinate in the early sample-making stages, but after talking with Sydney I think I can take this more aggressive strategy and still not bite off more than I can chew.
2) Pursue a more aggressive social media campaign to build community behind my brand before I launch my Kickstarter campaign. Sydney has many areas of expertise and building a social media following for brands is one of them; we had some insightful discussions about how much time and effort it takes to really get traction and build a community via social media, and now I see the value of putting dedicated resources into this as soon as I have any relevant content to share with my community. Before my mentorship with Sydney, I was probably thinking too narrowly about what makes “relevant content” in a social media campaign. Now I see that even something as seemingly mundane as “here’s a pic of the fabric we’re considering” is valid in the content-is-king requirement of building brand. I also have a better understanding of which social media tools would be best to devote resources in my early stage – not just Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but Pinterest, Instagram and Vine too.
3) Give more time to develop a strong social media community before my Kickstarter launch. Before working with Sydney as my mentor, I had the impression from other resources I’d tapped that it might take 2-3 months of aggressive
The most surprising information you learned from your mentor.
First, the accessibility of working remotely with overseas companies. Second, how small the fashion community is here in Seattle, and willing it is to help people launch new brands. It seems everyone knows everyone, or knows someone who knows them! And everyone I’ve met through my involvement with FGI and the mentor program, including my mentor Sydney, has been so open and supportive of my business idea and sharing any resources they have.
What’s your next action step in moving forward with your business?
Finalizing my seed capital through an SBA loan, and then beginning sample production.
What would you recommend to other up-and-coming designers/entrepreneurs?
1) Join FGI! This has been a wonderful resource for me to gain a better understanding of how to launch an apparel business.
2) Get a mentor. Tapping into their knowledge and professional network are priceless.
3) If you’re in the Seattle area, take the University of Washington “Fashion: Concept to Market” certificate program. This is a 9 month program on how to launch an apparel line. It covers a bit of everything: conceptual and technical design, supply chain management, financial planning, marketing and brand development. I completed the program recently and call it my “Mini-MBA in Fashion Entrepreneurship.” And if you take the program, apply for the FGI Seattle – Olive J. Smith Scholarship, which covers the full tuition for the program. I was a very fortunate recipient of this scholarship for the 2012-13 certificate class, and am so grateful FGI Seattle’s support of my first foray into launching my company. Thank you again, FGI Seattle!