One of our most popular blog posts this year was “How These Entrepreneurs Started an Apparel Line With No Experience” by Kelly Moffat, co-founder of Kirrin Finch. Her story really resonated with our community because the experience she shared is one that so many have had or are having. Naturally, we had to bring them on Maker’s Row Live!
Laura and her wife, Kelly, quit their day jobs to start a conscientious menswear-inspired women’s line. However, with no experience in the fashion industry, they had to start from scratch. After having found much success, they take a look back on their journey and share some advice for entrepreneurs that are in the position they were in. Here are some of our favorites!
Why They Started the Brand
Kelly: Basically we were frustrated customers. We wanted to find clothes that made us feel like our authentic selves. We were often drawn towards menswear with the fun, unique patterns you would see and often times when we’d go to the women’s section it would be almost right sometimes, but there would be frills or too tight around the hips. So, we wanted to find something that would work for us and for others.
Laura: Yeah, it was such a struggle and I think we ultimately had the idea for ourselves, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just the two of us who were frustrated. And we obviously went out and did market research and spoke to lots of people and it was kind of a resounding ‘yes’ that there was an unmet need in the marketplace.
Tanya (Maker’s Row): What was the first step you took?
Laura: My background is in research, so I obviously went back to the research – understand the customer, understand the competition, formulate our thoughts, come up with a strategy, write a business plan. We’ve been very methodical in everything we’ve done, we haven’t just jumped. We sure jumped, but have been very plan filled. So, just making sure you do the research ahead of time – understanding who you’re gonna target, coming up with a plan of attack, what’s your distribution strategy, what’s your marketing strategy – knowing all of that ahead of time really helped us because once we got the point where we needed it we already had a plan.
Kelly: I think you develop a really well-thought out plan and there it all went. But at least you feel like you started at a point where you thought about these five different scenarios and now at least you have some thought you put to it. I think to be a successful entrepreneur, one of the skills you need is to be able to pivot.
On Finding Mentors
Tanya: Where’s a good place to find mentors?
Laura: I think for us that’s something we were looking for in the beginning, especially since we didn’t have fashion experience. So, we looked for expertise in two different areas. Business expertise you can find in various areas. There’s the Small Business Association, Small Business Development Center, Score, many of those different things for business planning.
Kelly: And those are all national organizations, so regardless of where you are.
Laura: And from a fashion perspective, we really wanted to be in a fashion accelerator. And that’s not necessarily open to everybody, but if you’re in a city that’s possible – I know that there’s also an online fashion accelerator that you can do as well – I think that that way you can be there, you can get mentorship from people that have experience. But at the same time, one of the great things we find at the accelerator is that we’re there with other brands. And so, if we are having an issue or we’re looking for a supplier, we literally go around the corner and ask, “where do you get your hangtags made? Where do you get your labels made?” And we have about 5 to 6 different answers from different people. That has been one of the greatest things, having those brands that are maybe a little bit further ahead of us. They’ve already navigated some of those challenges.
How to Go About Market Research
Laura: So, again, you have to hustle, you have to be resourceful. What we first did is do a qualitative survey online using free tools like SurveyMonkey. And I think the best way to do that is you start with friends who are in your customer group and get them to share. I think social media is a great way to do that. I think the other thing you can do is phone interviews. So we called people – again, friends of friends of friends – or using social media. Get on the phone. Offer them some sort of incentive. We offered them a $5 Starbucks card. You don’t have to give a lot.
Kelly: We didn’t even tell them. It was just a thank you after.
Laura: Just getting as many voices as you can and understanding the marketplace. So, what are they looking for, who is the competition, who they consider as their alternatives, where do they shop? Then, digging deeper and getting to know their emotional needs and getting a picture of who that customer is going to be is really important.