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Sustainably Attired

Factory45: An Accelerator Program for Sustainable Fashion Entrepreneurs

By 3p Contributor

By Danielle L. Vermeer

Sustainable fashion entrepreneur and apparel consultant Shannon Whitehead burned through thousands of dollars and spent countless hours of research and vetting before launching {r}evolution apparel. Whitehead and her co-founder Kristin Glenn started with a simple idea: to create a product that was multi-purpose, multi-functional and stylish, yet also sustainably and ethically made for women on the go.

They soon found that the process was anything but simple. Suppliers and sew shops often didn’t have websites or even email addresses, complicating and slowing down the process of bringing their idea to market. After 18 months of scouring information and guidelines on manufacturers, materials and supply chains, {r}evolution apparel was born. It became the most funded fashion project on Kickstarter at the time and sold thousands of products.

Whitehead knew that there must be a better way to help entrepreneurs like her. "About a year after we successfully launched our Kickstarter campaign and went into production,” Whitehead explains, “we found out from other designers and sustainable brands that most people run into the same roadblocks that we did. Unfortunately, our experience was completely ‘normal.’” Whitehead sought to create tools and resources that would create a new normal — a way for any entrepreneur to build an ethical, transparent supply chain.

In 2014, Whitehead launched Factory45, what she calls "the program I would have wanted when I was first starting out in the sustainable apparel industry.” Factory45 is a six-month online accelerator program that gives independent designers and makers the resources to create sustainable businesses in the U.S. The program will offer tools, connections and lessons for 10 sustainable fashion entrepreneurs looking to bring their products to market through successful crowdfunding campaigns.

I connected with Whitehead to learn more about the program, who it was designed for, and what her plans are for it long-term.

About Factory45

Factory45 combines the traditional aspects of an accelerator program, such as mentorship, networking and collaboration, with specific tailoring for sustainable fashion entrepreneurs. The accelerator leads each participant through six months of setting up a supply chain, creating a sales strategy for a niche market, and ending with a crowdfunding campaign. Participants who successfully funded their campaign will be able to go into production -- creating more awareness about sustainable fashion and more jobs in the domestic manufacturing industry.

Who should participate

Factory45 is for designers or makers who want to start or grow a consumer goods business sustainably in the United States. An applicant could already have a product that has seen some success but is ready to scale production (such as someone with an Etsy store), or an applicant could still be in the idea phase and not sure where to start. What matters most is that the entrepreneur is committed to manufacturing in the U.S. and sourcing sustainable materials.

What about those who are unsure of whether they should sign up for the program? Whitehead suggests asking yourself where you want to go and how you want to get there. Like Whitehead, you can spend a "few years, several thousand dollars, and a lot of frustration and get to the same place in the end -- but is that how you want it to happen?"

Long-term plans

The long-term goal of Factory45 is to scale the program beyond 10 participants to provide the accelerator opportunity to more entrepreneurs. When asked about the future plans for the program, Whitehead acknowledges that this is a test phase and therefore isn’t thinking too much in the future. “Right now it’s about getting 10 quality applicants on board, giving them an incredible experience, and getting 10 new independent business out into the world,” she says.

Applications to Factory45 are open through April 28, 2014 at www.factory45.co.

Image credit: {r}evolution apparel blog

Danielle L. Vermeer is a creative strategist and strategic creative committed to backing up stories of social impact with data. She develops corporate social responsibility strategies by day, and is a social justice storyteller and sustainable fashion entrepreneur by night. Connect with her on her blog at www.daniellelvermeer.com or on Twitter at @DLVermeer.

Shannon Whitehead is a sustainable apparel consultant for consumers, designers and established brands and founder of Factory45. In 2010, 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, The Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and as a guest lecturer at San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Learn more about her work at shannonwhitehead.com or follow her on Twitter at @shannlw.

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