Dream Catcher: Shannon Whitehead

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Shannon Whitehead is the Founder and CEO of Factory45, an accelerator program for sustainable apparel companies. She works with idea-stage entrepreneurs to launch clothing companies that are ethically and sustainably made in the USA. Shannon left her journalism background behind and got her entrepreneurial start in 2010 by co-founding {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable fashion startup that became the highest funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at the time. She has worked as a consultant for crowdfunding projects that have surpassed their goal amounts by as much as 230%, and has worked closely with dozens of startup apparel companies to create 100% made-in-the-USA products with a focus on environmentally-friendly materials and ethical manufacturing practices. Shannon is a strong advocate for increasing supply chain transparency through sourcing, localization and storytelling. She’s been named a thought leader for the future of fashion by Ecouterre and Triple Pundit, and she writes frequently about conscious consumerism and the intersection of fashion and environmentalism.

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Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? If it changed, how so? My entrepreneurial journey has been a complete evolution with various “business plans” along the way. (For transparency’s sake, I’m not the conventional business plan type. A one-pager will do just fine.)  My first venture into entrepreneurship started in 2010 when I co-founded a sustainable apparel company for female travelers and minimalists that became the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history at the time. We tripled our goal amount, quadrupled our first production order, and were featured in The New York Times, Forbes, WSJ.com and Yahoo! News. When my co-founder and I found ourselves itching to do something different later that year, we amicably parted ways and I started my own consulting business for sustainable apparel brands. What I learned from consulting is that I loved working with startups but that they couldn’t afford traditional consulting fees. I wanted to figure out a way to work with them in a way that was affordable for them but financially viable for me. Factory45 is an online accelerator program that takes aspiring entrepreneurs from idea-stage to launching a sustainable apparel company. It is a start-to-finish four-month program that helps startups source fabric, find a manufacturer, and raise money to fund production.

What makes you different from your competition? I’m fortunate because there’s really no one doing exactly what I’m doing – I’m sure that won’t last forever. I’m very deliberate about setting myself apart from any competition by being authentically me. My story, my style, my voice, and what I bring to the table can’t be replicated by anyone else. I find that the more authentic I am, the more my business grows.

Tell us about a time when you thought you should throw in the towel. What kept you going? The year I spent freelance consulting was arduous. As any freelancer will tell you, it’s a feast or famine cycle. I hated writing proposals, negotiating pricing, and constantly looking for new projects. But what’s great about discontent? It forces you to make a change. I grabbed a notebook and I started writing down all of the ways I could change my business model to optimize my ideal way of living. Once I came up with the non-negotiables of my “ideal life,” I worked out a scenario for a business that would support it. And that’s how Factory45 came to be. It’s a business that requires only two sales cycles a year, gives me the chance to work with my ideal client, and allows me to work from anywhere in the world.

What three factors have most contributed to your success in business and in life? 1: I put in the hard work – there’s no way around it.  2: I was lucky to have parents that gave me opportunity and set me up for success. Not everyone has that privilege and I don’t take it for granted.  3: Knowing what I want. Sure, I get caught up in self-doubt sometimes, but I know what I want from my life and business so I focus on the small steps I can take each day to get there.

I wish someone had told me…

Don’t downplay who you are and what you’ve done. You are worthy of your achievements regardless of age, background, or gender.

I gave up ____ to pursue my dream: Sleep. I’m making up for it now (9 hours or bust!)

My biggest challenge is… Trying to convince the masses to buy less clothing, buy sustainably-made clothing, and vote with their dollars.

My favorite quote is… “I am flawed if I’m not free.” – Rilo Kiley

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What advice would you give to someone who feels overwhelmed by the competition? The competition is a lot less intimidating once you find “your people.” Focus on the one specific niche you’re meant to serve and spend a lot of time figuring out how to appeal to them. If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, then you’re actually appealing to no one. That can be a pretty liberating realization if you use it to your advantage.

What is something that has really worked for you on social media? What is something that has not? I’ve worked really hard at staying consistent to create a cohesive brand. Storytelling is a very important part of my strategy, and it has worked well. On the flip side, outsourcing my social media to someone on my team hasn’t worked for me. I’m much better off scheduling everything in advance on Edgar and keeping the voice authentically me.

When you think of the best people to work with, what traits do they share? The best people to work with are reliable and diligent. They’re detail-oriented, genuinely appreciate constructive criticism, and use proper grammar and spelling.

At what stage of your business did you need to build a team? Tell us what that looked like for you: I started off hiring a freelance web designer to create my websites. That was my first big investment in my business. As soon as I had more money in the bank, I continued hiring freelancers to take on very specific tasks that they are particularly skilled at (graphic design, video production, video editing). I’ve found that hiring freelancers is the best type of team for me – I love that they can set their own schedule, work from anywhere, and have complete autonomy over what they do best.

What are your top five tips that would benefit an entrepreneurial woman launching or growing her business?

  1. It’s great to reach out to the people you admire, but please, PLEASE don’t say, “Can I pick your brain?”
  2. Show up. Do what you say you’re going to do.
  3. Don’t be afraid of the hustle. I worked part-time as a bartender for six years before I was able to comfortably live off of my current company. A solid work ethic is everything.
  4. Have a vision for the future but don’t get ahead of yourself. Figure out what you need to do each day to get one step closer to where you want to be.
  5. Be grateful for where you are right now in this moment. If you’re even considering starting your own business, then you are pretty lucky!

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Tell us what LIVING THE DREAM means to you: I feel like I’m living my dream right now. I run a six-figure “lifestyle business” that allows me to travel, work from anywhere in the world, create my own schedule, work 30 hours a week, and spend my time focused on projects I love that are making a positive impact on the world. Above all, I’m happy with who I am, my place in the world, how I spend my time, and who I spend it with. I think that’s the real dream.


Want to connect with Shannon?

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Image: [Molly Anne Photography]

Copy Editor: Noelle Hale is a writer/editor/proofreader/wordsmith who in a former life was a lawyer and senior sales executive for legal research and education companies. She has known Nada Jones for 20 years and one of their first collaborations was the ill-advised completion of the LA Marathon without actually having trained for it first. After many wonderful years spent living and working in New York and Los Angeles, Noelle and her husband and their two children are now happily ensconced in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado.

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