Originally posted on the Pioneer Mode blog, where we dig into the core of the fashion industry by collecting perspectives, identifying the key issues, and uncovering potential solutions. In our Industry Insights series, we interview key stakeholders to consider their day-to-day challenges, and reveal their contributions towards a stronger, healthier community of fashion enterprise.
We’re continuing the fashion industry conversation with Liz Long—Bag the Habit founder and consultant to Maker’s Row. Last time around, we caught up with Kaight’s Kate McGregor to chat what it’s like as a retailer to work with small brands (spoiler: so much more flexible) and the lack of environmental impact-focused discussion within the design industry. Given that Pioneer Mode is aimed at bringing industry pain points to light, we asked Liz to add a few to the list.
Liz is constantly in contact with fellow entrepreneurs of all levels as they make their way through Maker’s Row—a website dedicated to matching designers with factories. Her own business, Bag the Habit, is focused on creating reusable totes made of 100 percent eco-textiles. Through her own business experience with Bag the Habit, Maker’s Row, and teaching virtual courses through sites like Skillshare, Liz has constantly found ways to grow and share insight through global sharing (something she wishes there were more of—more on that later). Read on to hear Liz’s thoughts on the state of the sharing economy, growing the education-tech space, and whether or not “American made” is here to stay.
What I’ve seen from teaching on these [educational] sites is not just me teaching the students—it’s them connecting with each other. I’m watching this organic connection happen and it’s just awesome.
The Daily Pain Points: Lack of Global Knowledge and Self-Funding Production
Liz: I think there needs to be more education—and not just from the traditional institutions, but from community-based teaching—revolving around people getting together and sharing knowledge, as well as having people who are just a few steps ahead looking back and helping everyone. Working with a lot of start-ups at Maker’s Row, I see so many issues that I was going through in the beginning stages. Even with people who have gone through school, they don't always have the practical knowledge about what actually goes into doing something. What those mistakes often translate to is wasted time and money. People will have a bad production run because they didn’t know to perform certain quality checks—or a variety of problems. The kind of frustration that comes not only from things taking eons to produce, but also losing money is a huge pain point.
Another thing—much more so in the beginning—was figuring out how to pay for our production. You’re the one who has to come up with the money in advance, and wait to get paid. It’s something that everyone faces—figuring out creative ways to overcome cash flow challenges. More opportunity exists now with crowdfunding and being able to pre-sell. It’s exciting! That wasn’t around as much when we were first starting. Figuring out the funding aspects is a huge stress point.
Leaders of the Pack: Industries to Admire
Liz: Education and the virtual global community—everyone coming together and sharing resources—is important. So thinking about what I’ve said in terms of the educational tech space, I’ve partnered with Skillshare and some other online teaching forums. That has showed me the importance of knowledge sharing, community building, and how much easier it is these days to get everyone together in a virtual classroom. What I’ve seen from teaching on these sites is not just me teaching the students— it’s them connecting with each other and saying, ‘Hey, I have a great idea,’ or ’I was just researching this factory last week and they’re not a good fit for me, but I think they'd be perfect for you.’ I’m watching this organic connection happen, with people from all over the world, so it’s great to see a global community come together. There’s also the recently launched Maker’s Row Academy—where you can watch a lot of free informational videos and other content.
There are a lot more people starting things; more people have an idea for a fashion line or something they want to make and they feel empowered that they can go out there and do it.
Industry Efficiencies: Enter with Confidence
Liz: There are a lot more people starting things; more people have an idea for a fashion line or something they want to make and they feel empowered that they can go out there and do it. I didn’t necessarily feel this when I first started. That’s exciting to see. The cross section of technology and the fashion community has really made that possible—people are seeing their friends doing it and they know there are resources out there. They feel confident.
Missing Conversations: Taboo Within the Fashion Industry
Liz: I wish sustainable fabrics would become more affordable. We use entirely recycled fabrics, and I know the challenges we face with our supply team. On a bigger scale, I’m a little puzzled as to why it can be so expensive. I know there are answers, but I wish people would look at solving those problems.
Whatever the issues are on the supply side, it would be great to see the use of technology to reduce the barriers so it can become more affordable to mass market eco-friendly textiles. It seems as though there’s not enough investment going into the development. It’s a big question mark I’m always wondering about.
I’m a huge fan of the sharing economy. I think more people need to reference it when they’re starting a fashion enterprise, specifically about how they can incorporate the same principles.
Spread the Word: The Boom of the Sharing Economy
Liz: I’m a huge fan of the sharing economy. I think more people need to reference it when they’re starting a fashion enterprise, specifically about how they can incorporate the same principles. I love Rent the Runway and other sites where you can access beautiful products at a great price to you and also at a much lower impact on the planet. Obviously the sharing economy is exploding, so it’s happening, but I would love to see more of it happen in fashion.
American Made: Is It Here to Stay?
Liz: It is. I can say that both from what I’ve seen in terms of Maker’s Row brands inquiring and wanting to re-shore, but I can also say it from personal experience. We do a lot of production in China, and the cost for anyone who produces there has continued to rise. Plus the import costs are high. I look at my own company's story and I know that it’s not unique—I would say four years ago, we were producing 80-90 percent of what we make overseas, outside of Shanghai. Now, it’s down to 30-40 percent. That was a natural flow for us. We found affordable solutions that just made more sense in terms of timing; we got stuff quicker. I can’t be the only one out there who's discovered the same.