Startup Stories: Factory45, an Accelerator Program for Made in the USA

Goodlifer: Startup Stories: Factory 45

The most successful entrepreneurs out there create because they simply cannot help themselves, and few stop at just one idea. Shannon Whitehead got her start in 2010 when she co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a successful sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists. Her next idea became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at that time (read their Startup Story here). She also works as a sustainable apparel consultant, and frequently appears on the fashion scene as speaker or guest lecturer. Whitehead’s newest venture is Factory45, an accelerator program that gives independent makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA. Here’s her story.

In 2010, a friend and I entered the world of sustainable fashion unceremoniously. All we knew was that we wanted to start a clothing line that “didn’t harm the planet or the people in it.”

We knew nothing about fashion — neither of us had even worked in retail — and yet, we had a vision for a business that would require us to learn about things like overlock stitching, fabric minimums, and yarn shrinkage.

Startup Stories: Factory45, an Accelerator Program for Made in the USA

Not only did we begin to research the manufacturing of clothing, but we also started to learn about the environmental effects of the traditional fashion industry. We listened to personal accounts of America’s textile workers who had lost their jobs to offshoring, and we learned what it meant to our country’s economy.

Looking back on those two years now, I can objectively admit that everything happened as it should have. Whether we knew it or not, there was a systematic process to the launch and execution of our company that resulted in our success.

But despite our intentions to “do good,” we spent a year and a half searching for sustainable materials (that we could afford) and a production partner willing to do small-run manufacturing for us. We were small fish, and suppliers and sew shops were hesitant to get involved, knowing they would probably have to do a lot of teaching and explaining.

After nearly two years of dead-ends, things turned around in 2012 when we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our signature piece, The Versalette. We tripled our goal and became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at that time. We finally found fabric and materials that fit our sustainability guidelines and a production partner in the U.S. We sold and shipped a production-run of 1400 units and were featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com and WSJ.com.

Startup Stories: Factory45, an Accelerator Program for Made in the USA

Looking back on those two years now, I can objectively admit that everything happened as it should have. Whether we knew it or not, there was a systematic process to the launch and execution of our company that resulted in our success.

We took time to create an audience, build anticipation for our product, and go into production backed by 796 supporters.

The great news for everyone else is that it can be translated to fit almost any other consumer goods or apparel business.

Startup Stories: Factory45, an Accelerator Program for Made in the USA

Two years after my experience with The Versalette, I’ve created Factory45, an accelerator program for designers and makers who want to produce ethically and sustainably in the USA.

The resources, tools, mentorship and community offered through Factory45 will open doors for designers and makers who would otherwise take months, or even years, to obtain.

It’s the program I would have wanted when I was first starting out in the industry.

For six months, from June to December 2014, I’m offering 10 applicants the opportunity to start sustainable and American-made businesses. Through a series of three two-month modules, these 10 people will be connected with U.S. suppliers and production partners, as well as some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry to create go-to-market strategies.

Startup Stories: Factory45, an Accelerator Program for Made in the USA

The resources, tools, mentorship and community offered through Factory45 will open doors for designers and makers who would otherwise take months, or even years, to obtain.

I know there’s a better way. And after experiencing the challenges myself, I want it to be easier for startups to do good business, too.

I know there’s a better way. And after experiencing the challenges myself, I want it to be easier for startups to do good business, too.

Applications for Factory45 are open here through April 28, 2014.

Guest post by Shannon Whitehead, founder of Factory45.

Do you have a great Startup Story? Tell us about it.

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About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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  1. This is such an incredible story!

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