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!