This post was originally published on the Factory45 blog here.
The Factory45 2014 program has officially ended, and it’s been hard to find the words to describe the past six months.
Rollercoaster? Oh, yeah.
Personally fulfilling and potentially life-changing? No doubt about it.
When I started brainstorming the concept of the program at the beginning of 2014 I threw myself in without a backup plan. I outlined what the program would look like on paper, made a billion to-do lists, and mapped out a timeline of when and how I could launch what was only sitting in my brain.
Following a track record of unpredictable situations I get myself into (silent meditation retreat in Thailand, anyone?), I put my head down, focused on the goal at hand and didn’t give much thought to all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work out.
It seemed that with each step — outline a program, build a website, open applications, tell the media about the program, review applications, accept 10 applicants, launch the program — I found myself reaching the next step not really knowing how I got there. It was kinda like, “Well I guess that worked. I should probably keep going.”
And while this thought process may sound a bit flippant and borderline irresponsible, it’s the only way I would have been able to move forward with something as colossal as what I was about to take on.
So come June, I found myself with 10 companies under my guidance, a 26-week program in the works, and the promise that my plan would work for everyone. Six months later, here I am (thankfully), having done what I said I would do.
The best part is that 11 entrepreneurs have also successfully made it through the program. Because honestly, they are the ones who did the heavy lifting. And throughout it all, they have been the ones responsible for moving their companies forward.
Teach a (wo)man to fish, if you will…
While some of the entrepreneurs in the program have made giant leaps, others have made smaller bounds. Many were going through the program with full-time jobs or taking grad school classes or in the case of one, planning a destination wedding.
Originally, I had envisioned everyone launching crowdfunding campaigns now, but I’ve since learned that you can’t rush the process. People work at different paces, certain tasks take longer than others and if you’re not enjoying the journey, then what’s the point?
Regardless of where each company is in comparison to one another, every single one of them now has the tools, structure, resources and community to successfully launch a company. And that’s not something most people can say.
For those of you who are interested in the tangible results of the past six months, here are a few examples of some of the progress that has been made:
Where she started: Jesse had been working on her women’s apparel company, Eenvoud, since she graduated from Parsons School of Design two years ago. She had created sketches of her first collection, done some draping, and had started looking for sustainable fabrics but was unable to make much traction.
Where she is now: All of the patterns and samples for Eenvoud’s first collection have been completed and are production ready. Jesse has sourced the perfect fabric that fits her sustainability guidelines. She has created a defined and targeted brand vision and is launching her new website in the next few days. She has written and created a strategy for a Kickstarter campaign and will be launching it early spring.
Where she started: Mikaela joined Factory45 in June with no fashion background, very little tech experience, and zero knowledge of manufacturing. She came to me with an idea for organic cotton children’s clothing and wanted to print her own photographs onto each piece in a “non-toxic” way. I was hesitantly optimistic, knowing how difficult it would be to find the printing option she wanted at the minimums she was looking for, but I encouraged her to keep after it.
Where she is now: After being told “no” by supplier after supplier, printer after printer and factory after factory, Mikaela has set up a supply chain within the U.S. that has never before existed. She also found a textile printer to work with on a special process that doesn’t require PVC plastic or plastisol. Mikaela also set up her own Shopify website, has production-ready patterns and samples, sourced 100% U.S.-grown organic cotton and has already been contacted by bloggers wanting to write about her. Ruth & Ragnar will officially debut February 2015.
Where she started: When Heidi was crowned “Miss Wheelchair Kentucky” in 2012 she had the opportunity to speak to physically disabled youth all over the country. Time after time, she empathized with her peers about the lack of fashionable clothing that was also functional and comfortable for people in wheelchairs. She knew she wanted to create what she and her friends couldn’t find on the market, but she had no idea where to start.
Where she is now: With the help of a talented designer within my network, Heidi has created two prototypes of blue jeans for both men and women in wheelchairs. She has sourced American-made denim and her entire supply chain will be set up within a 100-mile radius in North Carolina, reducing the carbon footprint of her company to a fraction of most companies. She has written and created a crowdfunding campaign that will launch early spring 2015.
Where she started: Angela and her husband, Mike, started working on their product, the Mamachic, three years ago. They trademarked and registered their company name and logo, created a projected production budget, and worked with consultants to source materials and design a prototype. And then, as can often happen, they hit a standstill.
Where she is now: Angela has four samples of a newly designed prototype that is more functional, sustainable and durable than the original. She can’t leave the house wearing one of the samples without someone stopping her and asking about it. She has sourced all of her materials, launched a brand new website, is working with a production partner in Colorado and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in early 2015.
Where she started: Tina has also been working on her product, The Spark Board, for the past two years. She says she did all of the “fun” stuff first (like branding) and when she reached her launch deadline this time last year, she realized there were some holes in her supply chain so she hit the brakes.
Where she is now: Tina was the only furniture maker in Factory45 but through sustainable fashion connections, I was able to connect her with a reclaimed wood supplier. From there, she put all of the other pieces into place for her supply chain, set up her manufacturing and fulfillment center, and relaunched her blog and social media presence. She will launch a Kickstarter campaign for The Spark Board in February 2015 in addition to her brand new Shopify site.
Where she started: Lara was the only person in Factory45 who already had an established business. She came into the program wanting to grow her existing sales and also launch a new piece that better fit the long-term vision of her company.
Where she is now: Lara has redesigned and relaunched two beautiful websites (one for her company Forest and Fin and one for her artwork). She has a completed design and prototype of her “bicycle wrap skirt” that she’ll launch with a Kickstarter campaign in spring 2015. The sales for her Forest and Fin tees have gone up, she’s writing regularly on her blog and she is steadily growing her social media presence. She has also grown her community of entrepreneurs in Savannah and is one of the featured makers in a month-long holiday pop-up shop this year.
I could go on and on about everyone (and I will in blog posts to come) but for now, that’s a quick recap featuring a selection of Factory45’ers whose finish was much different than their start. Jenn, Emily, Sharon, Jon & Alexander, I am just as impressed with the progress you have all made and will make sure everyone knows about it, too. : )
A personal note: to everyone in Factory45, I am blown away by your dedication, hard work and persistence throughout the past six months. It amazes me that you were all so willing to put your faith in me, knowing that I had never done this before, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Whatever Factory45 becomes in the future, I will always owe it to the 11 of you for helping me get started and for making the inaugural year so memorable.
With deepest gratitude,