People 2 People

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know that networking and I don’t get along. For me, it’s the equivalent of asking Stephen Curry to dunk more instead of shoot. It just doesn’t come naturally.

Nonetheless, networking has incredible value, so it’s necessary even for introverts such as myself. That is why I am very selective about when and how I network. I usually only choose conferences or industry-specific events where I know I will be able to meet vendors or potential future customers, find out something new about the industry, or gain some inspiration from hearing other people’s stories.  And I must confess, industry conferences and trade shows have been pivotal in my short stint as an apparel industry entrepreneur. So much so, that I want to encourage other entrepreneurs to branch out and do the same, even if it is something that makes them uncomfortable.

First off, let’s start with some context. I wasn’t always fearful of industry conferences. The truth is some of my fondest memories of my young career are from conferences and tradeshows. In my prior career in the hair care industry, I loved going to tradeshows. Yes! You read correctly. I enjoyed tradeshows. Why? When I attended those shows I was a part of an established brand with an expansive, decorated booth and I got to talk with customers and vendors with whom I was already familiar. I had the leverage of sales and market share on my side. Therefore, there was very little awkward robotic small talk about the weather. I was there to play a role and I knew whom I was going to interact with so it was just a matter of getting down to business. Lastly, they also represented an opportunity to get out of the office and the daily routine.

The main reason why conferences are now intimidating is that I know virtually no one within the apparel industry. Therefore, almost every time I go to a tradeshow, every face is a new one and that can be scary. I have no fancy booth to hide behind and no consistent sales track to leverage my introductions. I have to form and establish relationships from the ground up. Despite the hardships and the awkward pauses in conversations, the conferences and tradeshows are totally worth it and I encourage all entrepreneurs to attend them when possible.

We, as entrepreneurs, have a tendency to be like ostriches with our heads in the sand most days. We have our to-do lists and we dive so deeply into them that we get hyper-focused on what it is we need to get done. We can lose sight of the ebb and flow taking place around us. These tradeshows helped me take a step back and look at what we are doing, and to learn more about the apparel industry and the different layers. In addition, each time I attend a show I get a sense of affirmation and positive reinforcement from at least a few people I talk with,  who really get excited about what we are doing.. Even if it’s only a person or two, it really helps to give me some additional motivation, energy and guidance to move forward.

I have listed below some of the conferences, tradeshows and business coalitions that I have either attended, plan to attend or have participated in at some point. I encourage you to check these out and get involved if they are relevant to what you are going. If not, please feel free to find a few events on your own and then go spread your networking wings and fly. Once you get the hard part out of the way early on in your journey, you can step back and focus on doing what you do best. Although I wish that involved draining 3’s like Stephen Curry, for me that looks more like writing, planning, emailing, developing spreadsheets, and researching/finding vendors.

Tell me about conferences or trade shows that you found beneficial in the comments below. Or just tell me what you’ve done to strengthen areas of improvement in your fledging business. Thank you, as always, for reading and following along. I hope that you have a great week.

 

Conferences, Trade Shows and Business Coalitions

1.        Magic Las Vegas – All around apparel conference mayhem with a focus on brands reaching out to retail customers. The panel discussion below took place at Magic and was, specifically, focused on sustainable fashion.

Magic Panel Discussion

2. Kingpins New York – Denim focused with a heavy emphasis on fabric sourcing. The view from the event’s venue was amazing since it was right on the East River.

new-york-south-facing-view

3. Social Enterprise Alliance – Great organization for socially oriented businesses in many different cities. I attended an event in Chicago centered in the ethical fashion industry in conjunction with Fair Trade Chicago. They provided a lot of great information including the wall size fact sheet pictured below.

Purchasing Power From SEA Event

4. Beyond The Label LA – Another great organization in the LA area that looks to bring together apparel brands that want to think and act differently so their businesses can run sustainably and effectively. Below is a picture of one of their events in Downtown LA (or as they abbreviate here…DTLA).

TedXLA

5. South Loop Business Exchange – The South Loop is the burgeoning neighborhood in Chicago (see picture below) where Genesis is headquartered and the Business Council was just started within the past year or so there. I plan on joining when I am back in Chicago permanently, because a neighborhood group is a great way to find out about local resources, businesses and vendors. Often, you don’t have to look too far for what you need. In addition, supporting local businesses when possible only helps to make your neighborhood or community stronger.

south-loop-from-18th-st-metra-tracks

 

 

 

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” – John 16:13

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Finding The Directory

When I was in junior high and high school, I always hated being sick because of all of the work that I would have to make up afterwards. Yes, it was at times fun to sit on the couch and rest all day while catching up on re-runs and movies, but I always knew that the wave of homework was coming. In order to find out what I had missed in class and what the homework assignments were, I would look through our school’s Student Directory, which gave the contact information for (almost) every student. I would only use the directory sparingly but it was vital whenever I needed it.

Fast forward fifteen years later (it’s scary to say that) and “the directory” is still vital for helping me conduct my work in developing men’s denim. On a weekly basis, I have to find a new vendor or contact in order to provide a sample of a fabric, zipper or for a type of service (legal, accounting etc.). This is the hardest part of starting a new business within a new industry. I have worked and studied for a decade, but knowing whom to call and when can slow down the process quite a bit.

I wanted to share with you some of my “directories” that I have used in order to help you save some time when starting up your own business. Enjoy the list and please let me know in the comments if you have any others to add which may be useful for the group.

 

1.       Makersrow.com – Makers Row is an online community of mainly U.S. based apparel companies. On Makers Row, you can find anyone from 3rd party sewing companies to help you sew your items, to fabric suppliers and even product development consultants. Beware, because not everyone on Makers Row is as serious and customer service oriented as others, but that is to be expected. Make sure to take some time to really get to know a company and speaking with them at length before agreeing to utilize their product or services. If you can, go visit the company as well. Overall, it’s been an essential resource for me.

2.       Business Coach(es) – Having a business coach or supportive mentor can really help put you in touch with people who can help objectively evaluate your approach and strategy for your business. The key is to find people who really know you and your true goals because, otherwise, those coaches may be offering advice that isn’t in your best interest. Take the time to really get to know your mentors and/or coaches before engaging them.

3.       Utilize The Network – Great people tend to do business with other like-minded, great companies. So, once you use Makers Row or whatever other useful vendor(s), ask them if they can recommend sources for other products and services you are looking for. Once I started getting in touch with really great vendors, I found that they were familiar with some of the other potential businesses I had been researching. They offered great advice and help by putting me in touch with other people who conduct business professionally and courteously.

4.       Attend a Trade Show – As you all know, I attended the Kingpins Show in New York, which was full of denim fabric suppliers. The show was perfect in helping us nail down the ideal fabric for our product. I only found out about the Kingpins show because I attended another tradeshow called Magic. Someone at the Magic Show told me about Kingpins and said that it was worth my while and it was. Sometimes, branching out and communing with others in a new industry can be scary for introverts like myself, but it is also very helpful. Try to force yourself to go to a tradeshow or two and really make the most of the experience. If you are an extrovert,  great. Utilize your strengths and have fun doing what you love:  being with and getting to know others.

Color Swatches 2

Recently, we worked with a local fabric dyeing company to conduct a color match on some of our fabric. We didn’t have an official Pantone Color Book, so we just went to a local home painting goods store and found a few paint chip cards. Sometimes, a little quick thinking and ingenuity can help you push through a new assignment or obstacle using the resources readily available to you.

 

 

“Let each of you look not only to his [or her] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4