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Now Launching: Sustainable Businesses in the USA

Here at The Grommet, our MO is to support up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new to market products. But we aren’t the only ones on a mission to help Makers.

Shannon Whitehead is the Founder of Factory45, a new accelerator program that gives independent makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA.

I was lucky enough to interview Shannon and learn more about this new initiative, what she see’s in the Maker landscape and why she felt compelled to start Factory45.

startup accelerator - Made in the USA

What is your background? How did you get into being a sustainable clothing consultant?

In 2010 I co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists. We launched a Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2011 for our signature piece, the Versalette, one garment that can be worn over 20 different ways. We became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at that time and were featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com, WSJ.com and Yahoo! News.

In the beginning of 2013, I started a small consulting company to help other designers and sustainable apparel brands launch and grow their own businesses. Realizing that I most enjoy working with startups, I launched an accelerator program at the beginning of April called Factory45. Starting on June 2nd, I’ll be working with 10 people, for six months, to launch sustainable businesses in the USA. (Applications are open now until April 28, 2014.)

What inspired {r}evolution apparel? What were the lessons learned that inspired Factory45?

Initially, my co-founder and I started {r}evolution apparel simply because we wanted entrepreneurial lifestyles with the freedom, passion and purpose that comes from running your own business. We didn’t have a vision for sustainability in our business model until we started learning about how clothing is made.

Once we realized the environmental damage that the traditional fashion industry has on the planet, we developed a very strong commitment to building an ethical supply chain within the U.S. My experience in creating {r}evolution apparel definitely inspired the creation of Factory45.

I want other entrepreneurs to know that is possible to do good business. You don’t have to resort to outsourcing overseas and when given the right connections and tools, you can create an ethical business right here in the States.

startup accelerator

What are the issues you currently see with American manufacturing? What are the problems you see with starting a physical goods company?

The American manufacturing system can seem very closed off. It can be difficult for newcomers to get a foot in the door without connections or knowing how to effectively communicate what they need. Many suppliers and sew shops don’t have websites or even email addresses, so although the opportunities are out there, it can be hard for designers and makers to find them.

One of the biggest challenges of creating a consumer goods company is having low minimums. If you’re just starting out and looking to slowly scale up, it can be hard to get manufacturers to take your business seriously. One of the things we focus on at Factory45 is connecting designers and makers with those sew shops in the States that don’t mind doing a small initial run of 100-250 units. It can make a big difference to have that option.

startup accelerator - Made in the USA

What did you see/experience that led to the formation of Factory45?

For over a year, I’ve been consulting with startups and established brands on a per project basis. In that time, I continued to get a lot of the same emails from people who were dedicated to building a transparent supply chain, but they didn’t know where to start. Even though most of us want to do business ethically, it’s unclear what that looks like and how to make it happen.

From past experience with my own brand, and additional experience working with other companies, I realized that this is what the industry needs. I want to give designers and makers the opportunity to create sustainable businesses from the start -- without outsourcing, or wasting thousands of dollars in trial runs, or taking years to make any traction.

What advice do you have for those just starting out? How does that shift for those that are scaling? How do you balance long-term thinking with short-term considerations? (ie., drumming up demand, limited money, small production runs and an eye towards the future, etc.).

My advice to those starting out is always the same, “just get your product out into the world.” As entrepreneurs and creatives, we can often get caught up in the details that don’t directly contribute to our business. We’re either worried about font combinations or color schemes or website templates… the important thing is to get your product in front of your ideal customer, gather feedback, and then adjust and adapt to better fit their needs.

For those scaling, I say, “grow slow.” I get so sad when I hear stories of small businesses that were doing really well, but then tried to grow too fast. Invest as much as you can back into your business and take things one step at a time.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having big visions for the long term. In fact, I think that’s really important. You should know what kind of business you want to be running for years to come, and you should know what’s going to challenge and excite you to stay creative in your future. With that said, short-term thinking is paramount. It’s crucial that you’re making the right decisions in the present to get you to that big vision for the long term.

I’m a big fan of journaling, mapping out charts and diagrams, and vision boarding for the future, but I ultimately think that it’s the to-do list in front of you today that is most important of all.

Shannon Whitehead is the founder of Factory45, an accelerator program that gives independent makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA. Shannon got her start in 2010 when she co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists that was featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com, TheWallStreetJournal.com and Yahoo! News. Shannon has appeared as a speaker at the World Education Congress, ECO Fashion Week, SXSW, and as a guest lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Applications for Factory45 are now open until April 28, 2014.


  • Jason Chuan Says:

    Loved your 2+ year old story about Factory 45. Of course, it's the story that kept me reading and drew me to the literal end. This email. So here's my story.

    I'm working with an Albuquerque company called who created an innovative product called SunPort. It's a plug that matches the electricity passing through it and matches it with Solar Credits, effectively making everything that's plugged into the device drawing from sustainable energy via RECS (Renewable Energy Credits). It seems that our company had been contacted by The Grommet the loosey-goosey info was passed to me for follow-up. I'm the director of web marketing. Any advice for who to speak with or where to go?

    Jason Chuan

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