February 3, 2015 - Comments Off on Press – Making It: Startup Advice from Nicole Lenzen, on Factory 45
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that kicking off a sustainable company is no easy task. But luckily there are organizations like Factory45 out there helping eco-friendly brands take their business to the next level. Factory45 founder Shannon Whitehead really does know best—she got her own fashion brand off the ground on Kickstarter in 2010, with a project that was the highest funded fashion project at the time. Factory45 not only helps up-and-coming brands source fabric, find a manufacturer, and raise money to fund production, but they also make sure to highlight the people behind the growing brands. Their most recent profile: Our very own Nicole Lenzen.
Shannon took some time to talk Nicole's designing process and involvement in her clothing, a day in the life, and advice for entrepreneurs. Click through for the entire Q&A with Nicole, or check it out on Factory45—you don't want to miss this one!
I first came across Nicole Lenzen the same way many of you may discover designers — through Instagram. I had also previously read an article about Nicole that left me thinking, “Alright, she and I are definitely on the same page.”
Nicole is a hustler. She comes from a diverse fashion background and with her varying experience, has been able to successfully launch her own collection.
I interviewed Nicole about how she got started, what her average day looks like and where her values stand in the sustainable fashion industry (I especially echo her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs). Sit back, relax and read on.
How did you get started launching your own clothing company?
All of my life I’ve had an entrepreneurial mindset, striving to take risks, challenging the status quo, and seeking out ways to improve the lives of others. My experiences in the fashion industry span over a decade and range from running my own custom couture bridal business, to consulting in product development and technology solutions for major apparel and accessory companies.
My womenswear line began out of a personal need. As a fashion professional, an avid swing dancer, and a bike commuter, I have struggled to find tailored, day-to-night pieces that cater to my active lifestyle. Hence the birth of the Nicole Lenzen ready-to-wear collection.
What does a “typical” day look like for you?
Of course no day is really typical, but here’s an example of a good one! I wake up, and before checking any Internet-enabled device, write morning pages, meditate, and/or exercise. When I am able to fit in my morning routine, I am much more focused, productive, creative, and positive-minded throughout the day.
Then I have my coffee or tea and a healthy breakfast. After that it’s down to business, knocking out those priority, but sometimes not-so-fun tasks, like doing financial plans or writing proposals.
My patternmaking and sewing assistant, Aris, arrives midday and we always try to catch up socially over a nice lunch. On fair weather days she bikes and picks up these amazing veggie sandwiches in fresh baked bread with harissa or some other amazing sauce. Well-fed, we attack whatever projects are on our plate — typically draping and patterning new designs, cutting/sewing/fitting muslin prototypes or first samples, or doing fabric dye tests.
During the day I also stay pretty connected to the world, communicating with customers and industry contacts, planning events, and touching base with my social media and PR gals on marketing and strategy.
We usually work until we can’t think any more. After which a break is in order: yoga, a bike ride, or swing dancing, or off to a networking event or dinner and drinks with friends. It’s hard not to do additional work late-night so that usually happens. But before bed I try to clear my mind of any anxiety to allow for restful sleep.
Tell us about your supply chain. How did you go about sourcing materials and finding a production partner?
We are committed to transparency and ethical production. Our designs are sewn by family-run factories located in the Garment District of Manhattan. In fact, one of the main reasons I relocated to New York in 2007 was because of the resources here. We are fortunate to still have many factories and fabric showrooms at our disposal, as well as initiatives tomaintain and revive manufacturing in NYC.
Several major sourcing trade shows are held here annually or bi-annually (one actually focuses on no-to-low minimums), and many suppliers stock fabric locally so you can literally email them an order and they will messenger it to your factory the same day.
Quality is one of the core tenets of my collection, so I favor well-made fabrics that function, like stretch silks and laces, and activewear linings. I also source naturally dyed, minimal impact, handloom silks from a supplier in India who works with cooperatives to guarantee fair wages and educational initiatives.
With finished goods factories, it’s often trial and error: balancing quality, adherence to timeline, cost, and overall easiness to work with. To be honest, it is not cheap to manufacture in NYC. But I would much rather pay someone fair wages, have complete exposure to production, and be close-by to oversee quality control, than outsource to an unknown resource.
What have you found to be your best marketing strategy?
Finding loyal customers who also act as brand ambassadors has been a great way of genuinely showing the beauty, fit, and function of the clothing, and gaining exposure through social media channels. Plus we love empowering women and find that they show their most confident sides when wearing our collection – whether they are professional dancers, or high-profile women in tech.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own clothing companies?
Establish proof of concept as quickly as you can. Figure out your angle, create great product, and find your market. It’s so easy to overspend on marketing, advertising, PR, etc. But true growth (and the ability to be taken seriously by investors if that’s your objective) comes from creating and filling a demand, establishing a solid customer base, and of course, sales.
Click here to check out the Nicole Lenzen ready-to-wear collection.
*Originally posted on Factory45
Published by: Nicole Lenzen in Press