FASHION BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT INSIGHTS: FACTORY45
Founded by Shannon Lohr, Factory45 is an online accelerator program for sustainable apparel companies. From sourcing the right fabrics and finding a manufacturer to guiding through branding and marketing sessions, Factory45 is made up of five online modules, released weekly, to take designers and aspiring entrepreneurs from the idea stage to pre-production to launch. Shannon has enlisted her personal experience and expert knowledge to help budding entrepreneurs fund and successfully launch their brands, while introducing them to a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and granting them a number of additional bonuses. Having watched her venture appear in Entrepreneur and The Huffing Post and many Factory45 alumni appear in Vogue, Forbes and Wall Street Journal, to name a few, the company has announced plans to open enrollment to international entrepreneurs later this year. We caught up with Lohr to discuss the launch of Factory45, its five-step process and plans of going global.
What is your background and what were you doing before Factory45?
Originally, I didn’t have any background in the fashion industry. I actually majored in journalism during university, and thought I was going to be a traveling journalist or sports reporter. I spent two years, after getting my degree, “bartending my way around the world.” I lived in Australia, Southeast Asia and South Africa before moving back to the States in 2010 and starting my first business, a sustainable clothing company for women called Revolution Apparel.
How did you draw up the process?
Factory45 is the program I would have wanted when I was first starting out in the fashion industry. It took my former co-founder and I a year and a half to make any traction in starting our own clothing company – it was mind-blowing how difficult it was. It’s hard to start a company, but it’s even harder to start a fashion company with sustainability and ethics at the forefront. I wanted to make it easier for entrepreneurs and designers to get started, so I created the program I would have needed when I was first starting out.
You are a firm believer of crowdfunding. Could you please discuss how this started and why do you think is a trend that is here to stay?
What I tell the entrepreneurs I work with over and over again is this: there has never been a better time in the history of entrepreneurship to start a product-based business. And it’s not because of social media, YouTube, or even email marketing – it’s actually because there’s so much less risk. Ten years ago, if you wanted to start a fashion brand, you either needed money from a rich relative or a celebrity endorsement. You would then have to invest in producing several thousand units without even knowing if you would sell anything. But thanks to crowdfunding, you no longer need to invest tens of thousands of dollars at the risk of your own financial well-being. Instead, you can test your product at market and get “early adopters” to finance your production for you. In return, your first customers are getting a product they want and you’re getting the startup capital you need to go into production.
Is it all you every step of the process or you have a team around you? How did you build your team and how did your own experience help you avoid any pitfalls?
The entrepreneurs who come through Factory45 are working with me, and me alone. I don’t outsource to a team or pass them onto outside consultants. I feel very strongly about having a 1-on-1 relationship with everyone who comes through the Factory45 program. With that said, I definitely have a team, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I’ve been working with my web designer since 2011, and she has transformed over the years into the creative director of the Factory45 brand. I also have a right-hand woman who I hired last year as an assistant, and she has been solid gold. I wouldn’t have been able to launch new programs this past year, if it wasn’t for her. The duo behind Monkey Dog Design has been instrumental in the growth of Factory45, and I most recently hired Falcon Related to improve the videos for the Factory45 program, as well as a new graphic designer. I’m proud to say the immediate Factory45 team is 100% female run, but none of this hiring happened overnight. I’ve definitely had missteps in hiring the wrong people, but it’s all a learning process that eventually takes you to the people who are right for you and your business.
Are you expanding to other types of fashion companies as well?
Right now, Factory45 is only open to entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada because that’s where my supply chain and connections exist. I’m happy to say that we’re launching Factory45 Global in September 2017 for international entrepreneurs. Anyone who is interested in that can sign up here to find out when enrollment opens.
On the featured image: Galamaar
Images © Shannon Whitehead Lohr & the designers