An Unexpected Gift

This past week, my colleague, Rom, visited a company that specializes in the environmentally friendly dyeing and treating of denim fabric. We were excited to find a new potential vendor and partner to help us with our coloring and washing that is in alignment with our mission. The great part is that we, actually, ended up getting a lot more than we thought we would out of the meeting.

Rom spent almost an hour and a half speaking with the founder of the company about our brand, the business owner’s company and how we can work together. As I mentioned in my first post, it is rare to find companies that are not only willing to work with start-ups but are enthusiastic and interested in what your start-up is trying to accomplish. From what I heard about the meeting, the energy was great and we feel confident that we found a group that we can utilize to help start as well as grow our brand. The best part is that the group can also do some small sewing contracting for us so it could be a “one stop shop” for our future production.

Its weeks like these where I have to really make sure that I say, “thank you.” We have had issues finding people that are energized and excited about working with us so it is, quite literally, a God send when we find someone like this; especially at this time when we are about to begin working with a new vendor to help us finish our product development.

Receiving gifts, for me, always invokes conflicting emotions because my first immediate thought is, “what’s the catch?” What am I going to owe for receiving this great news and potential new vendor? Then, I have to remember that this is my “human” intuition working under the pretense that everything comes with a price. We see examples in our everyday life where people pretend to be “generous,” but are really trying to get something back from you.

Conversely, my faith allows me to see this gift as one from God that has no price and has no strings attached. This gift has been given to us so that we can make the most of it and, therefore, use it to make a great change for those around us. More importantly, this gift has been given to us as a reminder to “pay it forward” the next time we come across a new company trying to do great things. This is how the business world should work. We should spread generosity, support and hope to one another so that we can all use our unique gifts and talents to better our society instead of focusing on tearing each other down. Competition to get consumers to purchase your product is hard enough, we don’t need to help the process by trying to discourage and sabotage our fellow colleagues and industry partners.

I went to a networking event here in Chicago last week about the current state of the Ethical and Responsible Apparel Industry. It was a fantastic event but the most incredible thing about it was the fact that everyone there was supportive of one another. Even though we all had our own brands producing different, and sometimes the same, types of clothing we understood that our bigger goal is to help instill change within the industry and in the economy as a whole. I have to admit that it was incredibly refreshing to be in a business conference amongst competitors where I didn’t feel like I was being hunted and watched like a wild turkey in the month of November.

I guess I really received two gifts in one this past week that both carried the same message. Spread hope and good vibes and good things will happen. Please join me in doing so and feel free to let me know your “pay it forward” story. I hope that you too are able to participate in a cooperative and supportive economic environment focused on changing how we view and conduct business. Enjoy your week and keep sailing onward with your journey.

 

Purchasing Power From SEA Event

This is a picture of the “Purchasing Power” graphic that the Columbia College graduate students put together on the US Apparel Industry. It contains some startling statistics which I will discuss in the coming weeks.

 

 

“Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”  – Isaiah 40:30 NASB

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Starting With The Why.

“So, Kyle, why did you decide to start this business?” That is one of the most common questions I get from people and it is a bit hard for me to answer properly. It is hard for me to form a cohesive answer 1) because there are a number of reasons why and 2) because I am afraid that I am not going explain myself in the concise, nice and brochure-like manner that most people expect. So, in the spirit of facing my fears head on, I wanted to open up to all 3-5 of you who read this (Mom and Wife included) to see what you think about our reasoning and to see if you agree.

As with all great stories, however, I need a little context in order to properly set the scene. In April of 2015 my wife found out that she got into the Masters of Fine Arts program of her dreams. Obviously, this alone was great news but the slight downside was that the program is located in Laguna Beach, California. We, live in Chicago, so I had to figure out how to tell my employer that I was leaving my Commercial Real Estate brokerage to follow my wife to California. I am not one to seek advice quickly but I felt like I needed to discuss my next career steps with a trusted friend. So, I plopped down in the conference room of my former employer, pretended like I was on a very important call that could lead me to getting a new high-priced listing and I called one of my best friend’s and former college roommate, Rom.

We talked for almost an hour. I told him the great news and that we would be, soon, moving out to his neck of the woods of Southern California. I told him that my only dilemma was that I didn’t know what I was going to do all day while my wife was in class. Rom, as he usually does, brought it all full circle. He reminded me that ever since we began our business studies at Pepperdine, we both shared the same vision of using our business knowledge and expertise to do great things in the world. So, he simply said, “Why don’t we start that business together that we always joked about in the old apartment.” I paused for a second and I reminisced about our old times at our perfectly nasty apartment in the beautiful city of Malibu, California. We, oftentimes, day dreamt while working on our homework of a day when we ran our own business that sought to do more than just make profit but also strove to actually help people along the way. After reflecting for a few minutes and talking some more I enthusiastically told him, “let’s do it!.”

That is, essentially, how the idea of Genesis was born. We decided to design men’s denim because we, personally, were jean enthusiasts in college and our shopping experiences led us to believe that there were some unmet needs in the market. In addition, we thought that it was a competitive yet growing industry in the long term that we could also grow with over the long term. Essentially, we are two guys who love to wear jeans and we think that we can design a great pair despite the fact that neither of us has any significant fashion design experience. We have utilized our personal experience as well as the experience of others throughout our market research to cater to a certain niche clientele.

There is something that, frankly, scares me about this story and this explanation that makes me ashamed to tell it. Deep down inside I think that I wish I could tell someone a different story. A story that involved Rom and I stitching and designing jeans ever since we were kids and then after going to school to learn how to make them even better, we decided to start our own brand. I feel like that is the story people almost expect but it just isn’t ours. Our story is one part consumer frustration, one part market research, one part practicality plus one big piece of drive and determination to help create something great for us, our communities and those around us. We are not the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of denim but we have a dream, we have a vision and we have a passion for doing this. As my friend and skilled entrepreneurial friend Mushambi first told me when I began this journey, “it all starts with the why.” This is our why my friends and no matter how much I would like to cater our story to everyone’s liking so that we are loved and accepted by all, that is just not possible. Not everybody will like our brand and our why and I now know that is okay. We will carve out our following of folks who understand what we are trying to achieve and love the designs that we are coming up with. Those folks will be our partners and we will be stewards for them as well as those in need. We hope that you click with our story and we hope this inspires you to tell your own story regardless of what other people think.

 

Payson Library

This is a quick picture of me posing in my old study spot for my wife while we visited Pepperdine’s campus to show her where my journey into adulthood all began. I spent hundreds of hours at that table becoming inspired to take the leap that I am taking now.

 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

 

The Rough Seas of Entrepreneurship

The first topic was incredibly easy to come up with because it is something that has been on my mind since Day One of this journey. Many  Americans think of Entrepreneurs, nowadays, and they think of 20-30 somethings sitting around an office playing 1990’s era vintage arcade games while making millions of dollars from an app or piece of software. This is the image that we often see celebrated in the media and it highlights something that we seem to obsess about in our society: the path of least resistance to money and “success.”

I don’t mean to be the scrooge at the company Christmas Party but that image of Entrepreneurship is only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, there are young business founders and owners who have made millions almost overnight but, if I were a betting man, I would guess those businesses represent <0.001% of all start-up stories. My story, and the story that I have heard the most, contains mass amounts of hard work, faith, trial and error and (most importantly) the resilience to keep going despite the fact that adversity and conventional wisdom are giving you an easy out.

Yes, I said it. Starting a business can stink at times; a lot of times. But, what keeps me going is picking my head up out of the sea of problems and to-do lists that I am constantly submerged in and re-orienting myself toward my True North. The True North for myself, my business partner Rom and our company (Genesis Goods) is to make great apparel products (we are starting with men’s jeans) that help change the lives of our stakeholders as well as the lives of those in need. When I reflect on that, it becomes easier to deal with vendors that don’t take you seriously, bills that seem to keep on coming in and a never-ending list of tasks to get you to your launch and, eventual, revenue generation.

As I mentioned earlier, the public perception is that starting a business is a fun and exciting way to build a career and (potentially) make a lot of money. The positives are over emphasized and this perception is reinforced when the media does spotlights on hot new start-ups once they have begun to gain traction and have gone through the hardest part of the process: actually getting it started. The simple fact is that businesses are not built overnight. In my research into apparel start-ups, I have found that a year and a half to two years is about the average amount of time for a company to begin selling its products. This time I have coined the “Bermuda Triangle” of entrepreneurship because few make it in and few make it out but most in it are ignored and forgotten. I tell people what I am working on and when they ask me where they can purchase our jeans they give me this disappointed look when I tell them we aren’t at that stage yet. You can see this look on their face as if to say, “well, what have you been doing the past few months?” It’s heartbreaking. I used to shuffle and stumble over my words to update them on my latest progress and then I just stopped because I figured, “why waste the energy?” No one knows how difficult this period is but us. I can see why so many business founders give up during this period. First off, they don’t have a product in the market so they wouldn’t be missed in a sense and 2) no one takes you seriously yet, so the odds are stacked as high as the Sears Tower.

None the less, Rom and I sail on through the sea. As it hurls its distractions, discouragements, logistical problems, budget constraints and lack of experience at us we keep sailing because what we are after is bigger than money and it’s bigger than fame. We want to use our talents to do the most good, while having a great time doing it and this is how we believe that we can best achieve that. So, next time you meet a start-up entrepreneur and you know that she/he is in the “Triangle,” I urge you to just listen and let that person open up to you. We are all sailors that are willingly making a death-defying trip which we believe will lead us to the shores of our dreams. I thank you for joining us in our boat and I hope that you too can become inspired to begin your journey. Enjoy the ride.

 

 

Honeymoon and Other Stuff 112“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:2 NIV