Thanks to more transparency in the sustainable fashion industry, we, the customers, are no longer outsiders in the clothing manufacturing processes. We have the resources to track the sources of designers’ fabrics and other materials, the seamstresses who sewed the looks together, and the effects production and shipping have on the environment.
Business owners are more accessible and, collectively, we can influence their success. Nula Kids’ (which I covered briefly last year) co-founders Erica Murphy and Ashlie Kodsy know firsthand how invaluable your feedback can be. After an unsuccessful pre-order campaign last year, the childhood friends returned to the drawing board to make some big changes before relaunching their brand in the Spring.
With the daily mantra of “creativity flourishes under constraints,” here’s Erica and Ashlie’s winding journey to succeed in making fun, “playful” clothing from organic fabrics and all-natural dyes here in the United States:
Talancia Pea: No longer willing to wait for someday to arrive, what inspired you to pursue your dream of creating sustainable, adjustable children’s clothing?
Erica Murphy and Ashlie Kodsy: We began working seriously on Nula at the beginning of 2012. Prior to that, there was a string of things happening in both our personal lives that caused us to keep delaying it. We finished school, experienced unemployment during the recession, got married, moved across the country, etc. Early 2012 was really the first time both our lives simultaneously settled down for a moment. We had been following the sustainable apparel movement since at least 2007. We felt it was starting to approach a tipping point to gaining mainstream traction, and that gave us motivation to get started at the first opportunity. Also, we were both working in demanding, more-than-full-time jobs at that point and there was this realization of how much we’re both capable of doing, and that gave us needed confidence.
TP: In an effort to combat our “fast-fashion,” throw-away society, why was it important to you to produce adjustable garments made to fit for three years?
EM. & AK : Designing kids clothes that adjust to fit as they grow hopefully means less clothing is made (and thrown out) over time. We think it could have an impact on how the next generation of consumers thinks about clothing purchases if they grow up wearing well-made clothes, rather than getting a new low-quality wardrobe every season.
TP: Thanks for being transparent in your journey to carve out a niche in the fashion industry, what are some of your most valuable lessons learned since your unsuccessful campaign to generate funding for your collection?
EM. & AK: Don’t go all out executing an unproven concept. Amazingly, when we came up with the plan for our first collection and crowd funding campaign, we thought we were keeping it simple. We laugh at ourselves for that now. We just wanted to test the waters with our concept, but our plan included making very complex garments, producing a custom fabric print, making several videos, etc. We underestimated how much work it would take to produce and promote our campaign. It was overwhelming.
It’s tough to design for a market when you’re not your own customer (we’re not parents). Many people took the time to send us honest, constructive feedback about our first collection. This helped us better understand our audience, and we realized we need to ask for feedback more often and collaborate with our followers throughout the product development process.
TP: In addition to redesigning your website, what other changes are you planning to make to your brand in time for the relaunch?
EM. & AK: We’ll definitely be working on ways to include our followers in the design process going forward. We think this is the best way to create products to resonate with our customers. Based on feedback, we’re searching for every feasible way to shave a bit off our prices without compromising quality or values, and we’re shifting toward more playful, casual styles that are easy to mix and match. And we’re going to keep it simple!
Connecting with Consumers is Key to Nula’s Success
TP: As small business owners, what do you think are some of the key steps in preparing to introduce a brand after writing a business plan?
EM. & AK: In no particular order:
- Reach out to people in your target market for feedback about your products, prices, and marketing and distribution plans. Do this early and often.
- Talk to lots of people who work in different areas of production. Ask them how they would approach your production challenges.
- Tell everyone about your plans. Your dentist, your mom, your hair dresser. This gives you practice communicating your vision for your brand.
- Keep a journal (this is so important!). Write about what you’re learning, what you want your brand to be, the challenges you’re facing, etc.
- Stay connected to your market and remain flexible. A lot could change between the time you finish your plan and launch your business.
TP: I’ve seen your pictures on social media from your visit to cotton farms in California; Mother Nature is stunning! How has producing your clothing in the United States affected your ability to be a part of the entire manufacturing timeline?
EM. & AK: Being present for this process – as fabric dyers mix colors in a lab, pattern makers manipulate advanced software, skilled sewers work their magic – is only possible if we manufacture very close to home. A lot has been said recently about the disconnect consumers have from all that goes into making clothes and how that contributes to expectations for unreasonably low prices. We used to be uninformed consumers, too, and our journey has taught us that fixing this begins with designers being closer to the manufacturing process and then showing customers how things are made. We see the role of the independent designer expanding to include serving as a connection between consumers and the people making their clothes.
EM. & AK: Ashlie worked in production before Nula and had several experiences that influenced us. One was visiting a dye house that her employer hired in Los Angeles and finding an illegal outdoor operation that was literally dumping chemicals into city drains. We realized that working with production companies in countries with good regulations isn’t enough. We need to be close enough to every stage of the process to see it in person. Since starting Nula, we’ve visited the manufacturers we plan to work with, and we’re continually amazed at how many people it takes to complete each stage of the process and their talent and skill. We plan to show our customers what’s going on behind-the-scenes once we start production.
TP: Kudos to you for repurposing Nula Kids’ fabric scrapes into quilts and patchwork tote bags. In what other ways would you like to see your sustainability platform influence customers and the industry at large?
EM. & AK: Companies and consumers now think of clothes as disposable because we’ve created systems to produce them at incredibly cheap prices. But this of course is not a good thing and has resulted in harm to people and the planet at a scale that is hard to comprehend. The decision to use our fabric scraps stems from the way we value textiles and our desire to communicate that message in everything we do. Ultimately, we want to make products that – because of their quality and longevity – have the power to shift how people think about clothes, from viewing them as disposable to viewing them as quality products that should be chosen carefully and used for a long time.
TP: You are currently making clothing for girls sizes two through eight; will you ever consider offering a line for boys? What types of adjustable garments are you planning to make for the little guys?
EM. & AK: We would like to add boys styles down the road, and we would reach out to our followers for input as we developed the line. The clothes would of course be thoughtfully and sustainably made and designed to fit longer than traditional styles. That’s all we know at this point.
TP: What’s the best advice shared with you since starting your brand?
EM. & AK: So many people told us we shouldn’t give up too soon on our concept of sustainable, adjustable kids clothes. We’re relaunching our brand, but we’re staying committed to producing sustainable clothing. I’m not sure we would be making a second attempt at this concept without all the positive feedback we got for our first efforts. We’re very grateful to all the people who took the time to let us know their thoughts.
What do you think of Erica and Ashlie’s idea to create adjustable children’s clothing? Would you purchase them? Send Nula Kids a note on Facebook, Twitter, and/or by email. They’d love to hear from you!