Tag Archives: lesbian entrepreneur

On Business & Social Justice

Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article by Davis Smith called Before Incorporating a Social Mission, Consider These Five Things. Smith himself is the founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company with the slogan “Gear for Good” (they do cool things like offer a “human lifespan guarantee” on their product; lifespan is based on avg lifespan of a person living in an underdeveloped country, according to the WHO). 

So, Smith is obvs a white guy do-gooder genuinely trying to make a difference.

On the one hand, he makes some excellent points. For example, #4: A Social Mission Does Not Equate to Freebies. Excellent point. TOMS has come under fire for flooding local markets in Africa with shoe donations and consequently putting local sellers out of business. In the article, Smith points to Warby Parker as an example of how to do it right, noting that instead of (what Smith notably does not call) the TOMS model of giving a pair for every pair purchased, Parker instead “work[s] with nonprofit partners who train entrepreneurs in developing countries to give basic eye exams and sell glasses in their communities.” Hugely important distinction!

But, good points aside, I have some major issues with the article. 

No, the social mission can’t be an afterthought (point #2), but I cannot express how strongly I disagree with point #1: “money comes first.”

Before you rush to say I’m overreacting, let me say that I understand what he’s saying. Businesspeople have to remember that they are running a business. It’s not enough to pay your bills. Without profit, you can’t expand. Fair points.

But if you found your business as a response to social injustice, the minute you privilege the almighty dollar over serving the people for whom you started your work, you have lost your way.

Money. Cannot. Come First.

I say this as someone who is in the early stages of startup, as someone who is trying to pull money together and figure out how to pitch to investors. Yes, money is important. I get that. Oh my lord, do I get that. But I am not willing to sacrifice principle for a quick buck. 

Smith writes, “Your first objective is to run a profitable and sustainable business. You will have no positive social impact if your business fails.” 

First off, running a “profitable and sustainable” business is necessarily separate from from having a “social impact” with the same said business, and to distinguish the two is to betray the capitalist assumptions/priorities latent in his writing. I can have a marginally profitable business that is run ethically and sustainably, that appeals to customers who share my concerns and values about the world at large. 

But even if the business fails, I will still have a positive social impact — it just won’t be through that particular business. And my profit margins don’t have to be through the roof to keep this going. The point of Bluestockings is not to get rich. The point is to do business differently. To serve a community I am passionate about, that I am a part of, and that has been wholly underrepresented and marginalized by an industry that I want so desperately to love.

That is the point. 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Power of Kickstarter Lingerie

Up and coming lingerie companies are increasingly using crowdfunding to back their collections. Like all kickstarter campaigns, these companies aren’t just launching a product — they’re launching a brand. And by using crowdfunding, they are allowing consumers to “talk back” to the lingerie industry.

A number of new brands with a lot of industry buzz have secured funding for first and second collections through Kickstarter, among them Ampere, BlackBird Underpinnings (selected as “One to Watch” at Lingerie Fashion Week A/W 2014), Naja (which did two successful campaigns), Najla, Rachel Rector, Angela Friedman, and Relique. San Francisco-based designer Filiz Rezvan is the latest luxury lingerie startup to go the Kickstarter route (full disclosure: I’m backing them — I love their aesthetic and am a strong believer in startups that stay local).

So, why go the Kickstarter route and eschew traditional funding through banks, venture capitalists, and angel investors? Aside from the fact that Kickstarter can be quicker (barring the time it takes to finish the product prototype and make the movie widely considered essential to a successful campaign), there’s one key component that Kickstarter has built into its system.

Community.

By and large, these designers are doing business differently. They are small businesses with strongly articulated visions that resonate with consumers who want their purchases to mean something and would rather not shop at big chains, where it’s not clear where the money goes, who the business supports, or where the materials come from.

"Krissy" brief -- Filiz Rezvan

“Krissy” brief — Filiz Rezvan

Crowdfunding facilitates easy communication between creators and backers, who are often existing or potential customers. Creators can quickly and clearly share their vision, which in the case of lingerie designers often includes keeping it local (e.g. Filiz Rezvan, who wants to train local San Francisco seamstresses and do business family-style) but can also have a more global scope (e.g. Naja’s founder, Columbian-born Catalina Girald, brought her company to Columbia in order to give a livelihood to single moms). When the vision is clear, potential backers are empowered in the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. Put simply, it feels good to support people who do business in a way you can respect.

"Lily" Set -- Ampere

“Lily” Set — Ampere

The best Kickstarter campaigns foster a sense of transparency between creators and backers. A number of these brands, perhaps most notably Ampere, have tapped into lingerie buyers’ dissatisfaction with current industry practices. The simple takeaway from Ampere’s campaign was that lingerie buying should not be as hard (or expensive) as it is. Ampere provides an enormous range of sizes (which are clearly explained), sends multiple sizes for home try on in the mail, and then gives free shipping and returns. It’s an easy message for backers to get behind.

"Josephine" bloomers -- BlackBird Underpinnings

“Josephine” bloomers — BlackBird Underpinnings

When vision and transparency come together, it’s a recipe for success. BlackBird Underpinnings packed a lot of information into their video that (successfully) sought funding for their first collection. The creators shared their design background, how they met, their frustration with the fashion industry, how their product answered those frustrations, and key questions like how and where their collection was being made (locally at a factory in San Francisco), all offset by beautiful shots of models walking around in pieces from their “Maven” collection to the lilting sounds of old music from the 1920s — all in under four minutes.

Kickstarter isn’t just about giving people the chance to invest in a cool product; it’s about giving them the chance to feel like they’re a part of something. And with an industry as frustrating and obscure as lingerie (and fashion, generally), giving people something a little bit different, that resonates with them on a personal level, makes all the difference.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

bluestocking’s core four values

True story: trying to title your company values in a non-cheesy way is kind of impossible.

In the end, I shamelessly stole the title from my mother. My mom has a nickname for the four most important people in her life: she calls us her “core four.” It’s not surprising that I thought of relationships, because it’s the people — the community — that are driving this idea.The idea for the store is about curating a collection of items and special delivering it to people who aren’t used to having those items chosen with them in mind, in an industry that all too often privileges particular kinds of bodies and identities and, however unintentionally, leaves those who don’t fit feeling — well, like they don’t fit.

With all of that in mind, these are bluestocking’s core four values:

1. Underthings are for everyone. Everyone should be able to shop in an environment where they feel accepted and safe.

2. Consent is critical. It’s not enough to say I’m a feminist-minded businessperson — I’ve got to follow through. This means prioritizing consent at every stage, from how I conduct market research right now in the startup phase to how sales associates interact with customers in the eventual brick & mortar store (read: not pressuring people to buy).

3. Representation is a practice, not an idea. It is vital to actively curate a bold selection of high quality lingerie in a variety of styles and sizes that is identity-affirming and ethically made. The most important piece of the puzzle? To have it in stock and not in the back corner.

4. Support the community we’re a part of and the broader world we live in. This is a small business. That means putting a premium on connecting with other small businesses. It means supporting and stocking independent designers who use resources local to their regions and who engage in ethical, sustainable business practices.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,