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4 Early Mistakes That I Made as an Entrepreneur

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Though my whole life right now is one big traveling circus, it’s still so exciting to take business trips for Mamachic. This was a two-day stint in New York City, where my friend Robb Sapp and his spectacular dirty sugar photography team shot Mamachic’s look book and Kickstarter video. I’ll admit, when the first few shots were taken in their Brooklyn studio, I felt unexpected tears welling up. The Mamachic finally felt real. It’s happening. And it’s beautiful.

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But here’s the real deal: It didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been slugging away at this, for over three years.

To give myself some credit, Mamachic has been a very part-time effort up until a year ago. My husband Mike and I essentially began this entrepreneurial venture at the same time we jumped on the Lion King tour, three years back; Max was 18-months-old and we were getting acclimated to a full-time nomadic life, with a toddler. I don’t regret exploring and enjoying each of the 40 cities we’ve lived in, even though the logistics of travel left little time to focus on our business. But in hindsight, I made some major early mistakes that costed me money, time and confidence.

Mistake #1: I tried to patent our first design, quickly and unnecessarily.

We were flying high on our first scarf creation, back in 2011 when we were living in Vegas. “We’re geniuses,” Mike and I crowed as we toasted each other with champagne one night. Nothing like our slit-in-the-middle-scarf existed on the market, and we were convinced that we were going to rock the baby-gear industry. On paper, our sketches were brilliant. The next day, we contacted an intellectual property lawyer to start filing for a patent. It costed us almost $2,000 for attorney time, USPTO filing fees, and the charge for a technical artist to render these drawings.

tech_drawings_mamachicWhile we were waiting for word about our patent, we asked a friend of a friend in Los Angeles to create a sample from our dimensions, with organic cotton (the choice of conscientious parents everywhere, right?). However, once we had it in our hands, our hearts sank. The scarf felt undeniably bulky and heavy, and we knew we had to change, well, everything. The length. The width. The shape. We jumped the gun on filing, and we had to throw the patent app out. $2,000 down the tubes.

Had I done some digging, I would have found strong advice on not patenting fashion designs. A patent could be granted to anyone who invents an original and ornamental design for an article of clothing, but any small change — adding a button, changing a length, tweaking a shape — and it is considered a new design. That’s why famous designers see knock-offs of their clothing almost immediately after a runway show. But would a lawyer have told me this? Not one that I was already writing a check to.

Mistake #2: I didn’t go with my instincts on people I chose to work with.

With absolutely zero experience in the fashion industry, I knew I’d have to find some sort of consultant to help march our idea forward. So I did an internet search for “fashion development help”, made a few appointments with those that caught my eye online, and drove out to Los Angeles for a day of meetings.

One guy didn’t even show up to our appointment, as I waited outside his building on La Brea for twenty minutes. Another had an office in back of a showroom packed with S&M-looking clubwear. One woman seemed too cool for school, but she appeared to have her act together. Although her somewhat cool demeanor made me slightly uneasy, her offices were clean, bright and professional, with assistants milling around, and plentiful styles and lines of clothing on racks. She had a stellar resume. It was clear she was in demand. Eager to get started, I hired this woman to help develop and produce our sample.

Soon I would find her disparaging and unapproachable. I dreaded calling her. I could almost hear her eye roll as I asked my very elementary questions about the industry. She didn’t have the time or patience to explain the difference between a knit and a woven fabric. She could barely contain her annoyance at my persistent follow-up, and was opaque about her consulting process. In fact, after she had helped get our first sample made, I asked her who created the patterns and sewed it, and she wouldn’t disclose that information. Further, I asked her who supplied the bamboo and technical fabric used in my scarf sample. Again, she was tight-lipped. Finally, she offered me a booklet “tailored just for you” with all the sourcing she had done for me, but charged me a few hundred dollars on top of her consulting fee. It felt wrong, but I assumed this was “normal”.

Mistake #3: I didn’t establish the correct brand identity.

The original motivation for creating the Mamachic was our need for a foolproof burp cloth, as baby Max was an Olympian spitter-upper. Once our design was underway, my husband started calling it “The Barf Scarf” in jest; then he came up with the name of our company: Too Cool For Drool. We immediately loved the irreverence of it, and in haste (a recurring theme!), I incorporated with that name. Shortly after, I had my (very patient and professional!) graphic designer friend Chris Ritchie come up with logos. We went through rounds and rounds because I kept changing our concept — at one point, I even asked Chris to incorporate a cat into the logo (“We love cats! And it can be our mascot!”).

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Upon seeing our logo designs, our friends and family were … confused. “Is it a pet company?” my best friend asked. My sister-in-law told me, “Some people hate cats. Like a visceral hate. You’ll be turning off a segment of people.” Other opinions were all over the board, on multiple logos. I ended up choosing a super pared-down logo that was light-years away from what we originally thought was our brand.

Then I came up with “Mamachic” for the name of the actual scarf, and decided that needed branding. I even tried to cutely spell it “Mamishiik” … poor Chris. Round after round. All the while, our scarf was going through substantial design changes, and with that, the branding of the company kept shifting. Once we were finally solid on our brand, Chris hit the logo out of the park.

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Mistake #4: I didn’t invest in my own education.

After the initial discouraging steps I took in Mistakes #1, #2 and #3, I backed off from working on Mamachic full-time as we started touring with The Lion King.  I tried to take a few Small Business Administration classes and seminars while we were in San Francisco, but still I felt uninspired all around. I regrouped. Then I came across the application page for Shannon Whitehead’s sustainable fashion program Factory45, and knew this was what I needed to jump-start me, to get me excited again about my idea, entrepreneurship, and myself.

With carefully spaced- and thought-out modules and exercises, Factory45 provided a challenging structure and course of study to my week. And Shannon Whitehead is the antithesis of the LA consultant woman. She is warm, articulate, responsive, and a perfect teacher for those who are unfamiliar with the fashion industry. What’s more, Factory45 is the program that empowers you — you’ll learn not only about patternmaking, grading, tech packs, supply chains and printing methods, but you’ll gain a solid understanding of sustainable fabrics and practices. You’ll learn how to talk the talk.  And she’s got a huge database of fabric suppliers, designers, and consultants, ready to share. I am convinced that the early mistakes I made would have been avoided, had I had Shannon in my corner from the start.

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During Factory45, I made the executive decision to simply call my business Mamachic — it made complete sense once I went through the various branding exercises. Since then, it’s been a relief to finally know what I should have figured out way before the logos were made. My vision and customer are clear, and it’s solidly reflected in my business name and brand. It was then that Chris Ritchie came up with the above logo, and it’s perfect.

Once the program was underway, it made me want to work. And with the support, input and comraderie of my fellow Factory45’ers in our inaugural class, Mamachic has evolved. Beautifully.

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Factory45 is an accelerator program that takes sustainable apparel companies from idea to launch. Entrepreneurs are given the tools to source fabric, find a manufacturer & raise money to fund production in four months.

Application period: Feb. 16 – March 2, 2015

Contact information: shannon@factory45.co

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Related links:

• “Protecting Fashion Designs” – Forbes Magazine Online

•  Factory45, an online sustainable fashion accelerator program – applications open until March 2, 2015

•  Coa Design – Chris Ritchie’s design company

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3 replies
  1. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I love seeing the various logos and the reading about the evolution of the design. You’ve come a long way! I’m excited to get the Mamachic once it’s available!

    Reply
  2. John F
    John F says:

    This really resonates well with me and my start-up men’s clothing company. We pretty much went through the same things. Well, I wish you best of luck!

    Reply

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