Five Things I've Learned So Far
1. Making the product is the easy part
I might be biased on this part, because I come from a fashion and textile background. But still, developing and producing a product is easier than I thought it would be. My last job, before I started Waxwing Labs, was to source fabric for a national women’s apparel company. We had a few brands, and each had it’s own design/merchant/sourcing team. But not just one team for each brand – there was a team for each product category within the brand. Woven tops had its own designer/merchant/sourcing manager; dresses had its own, jackets had its own, and so on. Sometimes a category had multiple designers or merchants.
The last place I worked had all these people to produce product, and I’m going to start my own company and do it all myself? That sounds a bit scary, and it was. But then you realize – in some ways, it’s easier at a smaller scale. There are fewer products to juggle, fewer opinions, and no red tape. In comparison to managing and developing 300 fabrics a season for as many products, producing the first product for Waxwing Labs was easy.
2. Selling it is the hard part
I might also be biased on this part too, because I have absolutely no experience in marketing and hate trying to sell anything. I’ve always thought that a great product should sell on its own and need no explanation. People would just “get it” instantly and if they wanted it, they’d buy it – but I’m certainly not going to talk them into it.
That’s definitely not how it works, at all. When you know a product inside and out, you forget that others don’t know what you do. For example, I know the fashion industry, I know what to look for when I shop, and I know the industry jargon, but I take all this knowledge for granted. I do not, however, know computers – I don’t know what to look for, I don’t know what all those specs mean, I don’t even know what I need or don’t need. For computers, I need a company to walk me through all this in a way that makes sense to me; I don’t just “get it” when I see it. Apparel is the same way.
3. Social media matters
I have never been big on social media. I have it, but rarely post anything other than major life events or occasional cute pet pictures. It’s probably because I don’t like to self-promote.
For business, though, social media is critical. It’s how customers find you, and how you build a relationship with your customers. It’s how you explain to customers what your product is, and how they can benefit from it. But social media is more than that, too – it’s about building a community, a lifestyle, and shared experiences. And end the end, that’s what life is about – not another pair of pants.
4. All those little steps in between product and selling are not so little
There’s a lot of things that happen after the product development stage but before the product reaches the consumer – things I didn’t see even while working in a major apparel brand. There’s packaging, apparel tags, photoshoots, logistics, marketing campaigns, social media campaigns, finance, and even international import duties. I was aware of all these things, but in the way you might be aware that there are trees on your street – you know there are trees, but you don’t know anything about what kind of tree it is or how it got there, and you kinda forget the tree even exists; it’s in the background.
When you start your own company, you suddenly see everything. You gain a great appreciation of all those “little steps,” because they are crucial to the success of the company.
5. Asking for help outside your area of expertise is not “taking the easy way out”
I learned this after too many weeks of trying to pattern the Willow pant. Sometimes, if there’s somebody that can do something better than you, and quicker, just let them do it. It’s not that you can’t do it, or that with time you couldn’t be as quick and good. There’s a saying that goes along the lines of “saying yes to one thing means saying no to another.” In other words, my time and skills would be better used to writing blog posts on making the Willow pant, for example. I can’t do everything, but I should do the things that only I can do, and delegate the rest where needed.