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Journal

A Year in Review - Tapered Turns 1!

 

This March marks a year since I shipped my first order (with just one style) and officially put myself in business. Overall, it has been a fantastic experience and has definitely filled my days with a sense of purpose that I’d been lacking since leaving the workforce. As far as anniversaries go, I thought it would be fun to look back over the last several months and think about what was great, what could have been better, and what the future looks like! So, here we go!

The best thing about this past year was finding a great manufacturing partner with a factory located about an hour from my home. I truly feel like we are in this thing together, and they are pleasantly surprised (and happy) that I’m still in business after my first production run. Apparently, many people call it quits shortly after! We are working together to make each tee a great one, and I love going down and working side by side with the cutters, sewers and packers. Having a good relationship is key – this will be the biggest partnership I have.

My job experience was squarely in traditional fashion marketing and PR. The landscape for this type of product marketing has changed dramatically. Gone are the glossy magazines having been replaced with bloggers and influencers. I was hesitant that my old skills would be entirely irrelevant. Happily, after some prepping by a mommy-marketing expert and friend, I found my footing and became savvy at pitches to bloggers. Turns out, they are just like magazine editors – each looking for new products and experiences to share with their readers, - its just the format has changed. Some partnerships came easy, others took more work to get a foot in the door. But the learning along the way was and still is an excellent re-introduction into product marketing and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

On the product side, by being a total bore and sticking to one fabric, I’ve become an EXPERT on this beautiful 100% Supima cotton that I’ve sourced. This has worked well for Tapered, as I know what the fabric will do with each pattern. Also, finding a great fabric has been a tremendous selling point – as many customers have complimented our terrific cotton for its soft, lovely hand, and it’s luxurious weight. Not many brands on the market use substantial cotton for tees anymore, and customers are responding with referrals and repeat purchases.

Finally, what’s been great is that I’ve been able to sell out of styles – which makes me feel like I’m on to something! Selling out is not great for customer experience, but it is helpful on the business side when starting out to not be stuck with loads of inventory you can’t sell. I’ve kept my runs small and made sure to look at feedback from sizes and colors to stock accordingly. Starting with one style, I’m ending the year with 9 styles and more on the way.

OK, so the bad?

On a personal level, I’ve really had to work though my hesitation of Social Media. If I didn’t run a business, I truly wouldn’t be on Instagram and Facebook. It’s just not for me anymore. In addition to being a terrible time suck, I don’t love that my kids see me checking social media for “likes”. To combat this, I’ve taken to getting up a ½ hour early to make my posts and check older posts. By the time they rise, I can put it away for the day. Ugh. It is a part of doing business, but not one I truly enjoy.

Which brings me to the second area: Self-Promotion. I think I’m a pretty private person, and the idea that my life is open for many to see if difficult. I am camera shy, and need to force myself to take photos for self-promotion purposes. However, I find myself thinking of photo opportunities at times in my life when I should be enjoying the moment. It is the new self-promotion reality – to showcase EVERYTHING, especially the best stuff. This last family vacation, I really tempered myself to not ruin a great “picture moment” with a picture and instead, just live it and let it be.

On a production side, the hardest lesson for me to learn was that the perfect sample does not equal perfect production. You can sample an item a thousand times, but the moment you produce over 100 of a tee, well…it just changes. Garment manufacturing (especially here in the US) is a very human process, and with that, you get a lot of variance. I have tried hard to work through the issues (some tees too small, others too large, seams breaking, color differences) and have put together a double quality check with our factory – each tee gets checked before the dyer, and after. Still, it’s hard for the OCD in me to accept that each tee will inherently just be different from the next.

Finally, the thing I need to let go of, is the bad reviews. I cherish all the information I get from my customers, and take everything into consideration. I really, truly try my hardest to make sure everyone has a good product and customer experience. However, sometimes you can’t turn off the Internet. And getting a bad review on a major holiday was a doozy for me. It really brought me down. Here I was trying to enjoy my family time, and instead I was worried about disappointing a customer, and also myself. Speaking with friends in other industries, I realize this is the norm and I just need to remember, it’s not personal! With this, I still take reviews to heart (otherwise I wouldn’t be providing the best service and product I can), but try to keep it as a positive learning opportunity and turn it around.

Going forward, and looking through to the next step in Tapered Collection, I have some areas I need to focus on. First, let’s get a new fabric! I am SO excited to announce that I’ve ordered a black and white stripe for the summer. I can’t wait to see it in real life (it took me months and months of conversations with my fabric supplier to get the fabric correct, and he is making it exclusively for Tapered Collection). Next up after a stripe? Hopefully a soft slub that is dreamy and drapey. Getting to know a new fabric is sort of like a new baby. After the first one, you kind of know the basics, but each one has a slightly different way of behaving. I’ve been hesitant to put another baby in the mix, but now it’s time to roll the dice!

Another HUGE area of focus, is growing the team. It is increasingly hard to work through all the design, production, and marketing with a team of one (me!) and outsourced personnel in my manufacturing and fulfillment centers. I will need to focus on bringing in a partner to help with a strategic sales vision. A true self-starter CEO! I am hopeful this partner will work to grow the retail operations – whether it be brand partners, trunk shows, pop-ups, email marketing, or affiliate networks. I think there is a place for Tapered Collection in each of these areas, and look forward to working with a partner to explore them all.

Happy Birthday to Tapered Collection! One year down, and more to go!

 

 

 

Layer Up!

White Layering Piece

And just like that, it's February.  The stores are starting to push Spring, and we've barely scratched the surface of winter here on the East Coast!  I've yet to remember a season like this - I've barely put on my huge puffer coat, instead opting heavy sweaters and lighter jackets.  

What better way to kick off the mid-winter dressing blues than a talk about layering!  Wherever you may be, unless you live in a tropical climate, layering is key for all seasons.  This winter, my go-to has been the White Three Quarter Tee.  While white may not be my faaavvvorite color for tees these days, it does the job of layering like no other.  I'll call it the workhorse of my wardrobe if you will.  It goes so perfectly under a blazer for chic pulled together look, and also under sweaters and cardigans (especially if you have a wool blend).  The best thing about this tee, is that if I need to strip off a layer, I don't feel like I'm wearing some tissue tee that will show off the parts I want to keep covered if you know what i mean...

Great news, is that the Three Quarter Tees are back in stock:  in Black, White, Midnight, and now GRANITE.  Shop them here, and get your layers set for the rest of this winter and into spring!

 

Who wants to model?

Astrid IRL

I'm not a huge fan of seeing myself in photos - is anyone?  However, I DO understand how important it is for people to see other real people (not models) in clothes for reference.  I've had requests to see more everyday people in Tapered Collection, and so for Spring, I'm trying to make that happen.  I'm hosting a photoshoot on March 3rd for the Spring Collection - and I hope to include some of the past styles as well.  I've gathered a group of women sized XS to XL to not only model Tapered Tees, but to also style it the way THEY would wear it!  In a sense, I hope to showcase different body types and also individual styles as well.  Photos will be showcased on the website under "Inspiration" and will also be used in Instagram.  Look for them starting in April and I would love to hear your feedback.

One thing I have learned since being in business, is that all bodies are so different, and what style works best on one person, might not on another.  It's less about height and weight, and more about upper body build (for tees at least!).  Some ladies like to wear their tees loose, and others prefer a more fitted look.  This next shoot will be a combination of our model (Michelle), and these amazing women who will showcase their styling.  

I'm so excited to celebrate a year of being in business by putting my customers front and center.  

 

Spring Styles Survey - Results!

Crew Neck Tank

Thank you to everyone (literally hundreds of women!) that participated in the Spring Styles survey – it was so great to hear your voices after sampling some of these styles.

What is great about being a small manufacturer based in the US, is that I can tailor the orders just-in-time instead of making wild guesses about which styles and colors to produce a year in advance. Yesterday, I was able to push “GO” for the spring collection and I’m excited to see what you guys think in a couple of months!

Here is what you liked: Hands-down the winner was the Mid-Sleeve Scoop Neck Tee. Over 36% of you chose this style as your favorite for spring. And I couldn’t agree more! It is incredibly versatile – wear it with shorts for an easy day, or dress it up for a night out. The tighter half sleeve and blousy midline are a flattering combination. Many women commented that the sleeve hides the areas they might be uncomfortable with, but the neckline is a universal pleaser.

Here is what you didn’t like: The Crew-Neck Tank. Only 16% of women chose this as their top style and this style also received the most votes for least liked. For many, this style was too heavy and those with broad shoulders worried about this silhouette on their frame.

Because I hate to say no to anyone, I decided to make all four styles and skewed the order to reflect customers’ preferences. So, if you are interested in the Crew-Neck Tank, don’t hesitate! I didn’t order too many for production. The plan is to see how the initial order does, and re-orders can follow!

On color, white was the obvious winner at 57% of the vote. Black with 35% is the second choice. So, expect to see these colors (or lack of color) the most! The color choices for the write-in portion: Coral, pink and blue! I’ll see what I can do about a small color run for summer, but for spring expect some basics first.

Finally, I’m crossing my fingers, but I hope to introduce a stripe for summer – and I’m trying to sample that now! White with navy? Or white with black? Choices! Let me know what you think!

Spring 2017 Styles!

 Spring Styles                       

It’s official – two new styles have been sampled for Spring 2017!

First up, a Mid-Sleeve Tapered Tee for all you ladies who asked for more arm coverage than the cap sleeve. I sampled this one in both a crew neck and a new style of scoop neck since I realize that most women have a distinct point of view about which style suits them best. This style is by far one of my favorites. The tighter mid-sleeve keeps the look sleek, while the tapered long hem allows for the flattering silhouette we have all come to love.

Second, a Tapered Tank—because I was incredibly frustrated by the lack of substantial looking tanks on the market this past summer! Again, I sampled this one in a crew neck (for a more formal look) and a v-neck for a casual silhouette. The tank was a harder style for me to realize because in order to create the volume in the waist for our tapered look, I typically need to create that volume in the armhole area. Without armholes, this design became a challenge. So, I played around to create the loose look in the waist (without the sleeves) and the effect is somewhat of a reverse hour-glass look. I’m super happy with the results!

I sketched these styles here for you to see:

 Mid-Sleeve

Tank

 

Now, I need help determining which styles you like best! And colors!! I’m giving away a Tapered Dolman Dress to the first 10 people who answer the survey about spring styles and colors.  Survey closes Sunday, December 18th at midnight.

Click HERE to access the survey. Your input is valuable, as I can use it to define production numbers and colors. And, I love to hear what customers have to say!

The Christmas Market

Christmas Market

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to present Tapered Collection at our local church’s Christmas Market Fair. I’ve never attended a craft market before, and didn’t know what to expect! I was excited and nervous to set up my “booth” and pitch my wares all day long.

Set-up was crazy. Imagine one hundred crafters and designers with 10 times that many boxes converging on a single space at the same time. In less than an hour, the incredible happened—we created a fully functional, completely festive pop-up holiday market.

Doors opened at 10am and it was show time. At first, people milled around and just casually browsed my booth. Finally, I realized they were waiting for me to really introduce them to what I was selling. At first, I found it awkward to engage with each passerby. But soon I got the hang of it and felt pretty pro by the end of the weekend. It was great to see women’s faces light-up when I spoke of the brand attributes. As soon as I mentioned, “a nuanced look around the waistline,” many women instantly understood and reached for a Tee to try on. Many immediately bought one, and some came back the next day to buy more.

As it turns out, I was in great company at this market! Designers Sara Campbell (another Boston local), J. McLaughlin, Sail to Sable, and Katherine Hooker were nearby. I was able to shop for myself while also get great info on how these brands built-up from small to quite big! Some started doing the market scene and never stopped—it turns out markets are a great way to build brand awareness. Other brands like Katherine Hooker (the most divine coats and jackets, and Kate Middleton’s favorite designer…) sell only at events and have no retail presence in the US.

What became clear, is that markets, while generally crafty, are similar to trunk shows in that the clientele is coming because they want to experience a new brand. They are willing to step outside the big box brands and try something unexpected. The women I met this past weekend were happy to support something local, and also something started by a Mom trying to get back into the workforce in a relevant way.

It was great to meet some new “booth friends” and I have lots of contacts to follow-up with and exchange ideas.

 

Traveling trunk shows

Trunk Shows

Several weeks ago, I hopped on a plane at 7am and flew to California for a series of trunk shows to introduce Tapered Collection. It seemed like a long way to go, but it is the one place that I have lots of old friends willing to host a show, and invite their friends.  

Being an Internet retailer, I don’t get to see the tees on people. And while I’ve tried my tees on tons of friends, and received invaluable feedback, and I wanted to hear from women who didn’t have to worry about offending me with their critiques.   And so, I asked friends to invite lots of their friends, but no one that I knew personally.

First let me say that travel for work as a Mom is no joke. I am so impressed and in awe of the moms I know that travel regularly for work. For most families, including mine, the Mom is the default parent regardless of stay-at-home or working status. To add travel into our normal routine took 5 pages of typewritten outlines of schedules, a huge plea to my Mother-in-law to come stay with help out, a commitment from my sitter to work 3-7 each day to help out my Mother-in-law, and a variety of favors from friends for additional help when the schedules got really dicey (like the fact I forgot it was Conference Day that week and the kids didn’t have school…whoops). Oh, and the dog needed a manual as well. Because God forbid she doesn’t get out for a walk or potty breaks!

However, once I got in the air, I felt free of it all and laser focused on the task at hand. I flew with 2 boxes of merchandise and a rolling rack – ready to set up my mobile store within hours of landing.

Each trunk show was very different, but incredibly rewarding at the same time. I got to know many body types and fit preferences. Some like their tees looser, others like a more fitted look. By the end of the week, it was clear that every women has a type of neckline and sleeve length they prefer, mostly having to do with a part of the body they are trying to flatter or forgive. I can’t say one style did better than another, but the clear winners in terms of color (or lack of color) were Black and Granite.  

I got great feedback on the tees, and I hope that I’ve peppered the Bay Area with some Tapered fans to help spread the word about the brand. Mostly, I’m happy I had the chance to interact with all these ladies and learn about how they buy and what they are looking for in their wardrobe.

After three nights of 12:30am bedtimes and early wake-ups, I was happy to return home. The kids did great without me, and they really stepped up to help out while I was gone. It made coming home even that much sweeter. However, I’m not ready to get back on the road just yet…

 

Launch Party & Pop-Up

MFlynn

The journey to get the Tapered Tee brand off the ground has taken about two years. During that time, I’ve sacrificed time with my kids, family and definitely the gym. As well, I’ve been leaning on friends for help. Friends, and friends of friends, have provided valuable introductions, great suggestions, and hours of patient listening. What better way to celebrate the launch of Tapered Tee and thank everyone than having a party?

This past Tuesday, I hosted the Tapered Tee launch party and Pop-Up shop with Megan and Moira Flynn, sisters and owners of M.Flynn, a popular South End boutique that is the go-to establishment for killer jewelry and custom engagement pieces. Together, we’ve found that the Tapered Tee’s simple silhouette with gentle draping is the perfect backdrop for their custom necklaces and earrings.

For the party, we prepped yummy treats and chilled champagne. For the Pop Up shop element of the event, Megan and Moira shared their expertise on setting up items for retail. The Tapered Tees looked beautiful against the backdrop of their modern yet inviting space.

The launch party gave me a chance to share the Tapered Tee concept and sell tees. But more importantly, it gave me the opportunity I’d been hoping for to thank everyone for standing by me, and cheering me on from the sidelines. I definitely could not have started this company without a husband and a group of friends and family who have supported me wholeheartedly.

Surprisingly, the party gave me something else … inspiration. Before the party started, a customer was in the store looking at jewelry and decided to try on some tees. She ended up buying two – without even hearing of the brand before. My intern Abby and I high-fived with happiness as she walked out with her bag of Tapered Tee’s. It’s one thing for friends to support you, but when a stranger tries on a shirt, likes it, and buys two – you know that you have something worth working on. So! While I love selling on the Internet, now that I’ve seen how wonderful it is to have a space, I think it would be great to have a more permanent Pop-Up for customers to try Tapered on in person. We’ll see!

Cupcakes

Meet Granite!

granite

When I started thinking about color offerings for Tapered Collection, I did a ton of research on companies out in the market. Besides the big basics like Gap and J.Crew who literally made the market in tees, I have always loved the more upscale brands like Splendid, Three Dots and Velvet. All of those brands, like mine, started with one basic tee and have since then built empires. (I’m patiently waiting for my empire, but I’m happy with a small cult brand)

What do all the brands do best? Simple tees with great colors.  J.Crew, to be exact, offers 19 colors in their perfect fit tee.  While it is something to aspire to, it is also scary to offer so many colors. 

I started with four colors in the Spring of 2015, and asked customers to vote on a fifth color for Summer. I was excited to see what people chose (It was coral!). I put in a limited wash of coral tees and waited. And then waited. As beautiful the color and perfectly in-season, the coral tees didn’t sell as quickly as I had hoped. My plan to offer more than just basic colors was quickly questioned. Lesson learned!

As I thought about it, I find that even I rarely go for the brightly colored tee in my closet. What I grab most is black, and white. It goes with everything and always looks classic.

What this means, is that I won’t be offering true “colors” in the near future, rather sticking to a more neutral palette. But I didn’t want to pair down the collection to just two colors – because I realize that navy and grey are also tried and true basics that won’t go out of style.

And so, for Fall 2016, I decided to test a cousin of the Shadow grey from Spring. It’s a steely grey called Granite. Paired with all-black for a city look, or white with brown accessories for fresh look, Granite gives off that faded style that is just so darn chic.

I hope you like it! Feedback appreciated.

Why a ¾ tee?

 3/4 tee

In the fall of 2014 I found myself in a friend's mini-van while we waited patiently for our kids to get out of school. At the time, I was struggling with which sleeve length to produce first for Tapered Collection. I loved how the dolman cap-sleeve turned out, but the long sleeve just wasn’t quite right. I was up against a deadline, and I had to make a choice to produce both, or just one. Since I had my friend’s focused attention (what else can she do in a car that’s going nowhere but listen to me), I decided to bombard her with a million questions about what she liked and didn’t like about her tees.

She said simply, “I like ¾ tees best. I can wear them year-round. Roll the sleeve up a bit, and it’s a short sleeve. Great for summer nights, under winter coats, and transitional weather."

Hmmm…I hadn’t thought of that. But it made sense. I rarely wear long sleeves. They either feel constricting, or get wet and dirty. They get caught up in jackets and add bulk in the arms where you need it least.

To say it was the most productive mini-van meeting I’ve ever had is an understatement. I went home, and cut off the sleeves on my samples right below the elbow. I was in love. For my launch in March 2016, I still wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on this style though, and wanted to wait until the perfect fall weather to bring it out. I’m so glad I did, because I was able to do it in the v-neck version as well – which looks amazing.

The same elements from the original tapered tee apply - dolman sleeve, tapered body, longer hemline, and great fabric. Dressed up or down, the 3/4 tee is a closet staple for years to come. I hope you like it, and can’t wait to get feedback!

 

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