Shannon Whitehead is the founder of Factory45, an accelerator program that gives designers and makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the United States. Shannon got her start in 2010 when she co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists that was featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com, TheWallStreetJournal.com and Yahoo! News.

Shannon has appeared as a speaker at the World Education Congress, ECO Fashion Week, SXSW, and as a guest lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. With her passion for sustainable clothing and support of “slow fashion”, we’re excited to bring you a more in-depth look at Shannon and what she’s doing with Factory45.

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Darling Magazine: What compelled you to start Factory45?

Shannon: I created the program to give startups the resources to open doors. The U.S. manufacturing industry can be closed off. Suppliers and sew shops often don’t have websites or even email addresses, which makes it very difficult for outsiders to get a foot in the door. I believe that anyone can set up an ethical, transparent supply chain if given the right tools.

DM: How did your experience with {r}evolution apparel and your Kickstarter campaign prepare you for Factory45?

Shannon: I essentially created the program I would have wanted when I was first starting out in the sustainable apparel industry and building {r}evolution apparel. In 2011, it took my co-founder and I a year and a half and $10,000 to finally find materials that fit our sustainability guidelines and a U.S. sew shop that would work with our small minimums. We didn’t have any connections, and even though we were committed to doing good business, it was very difficult to get started.

About a year after we successfully launched our Kickstarter campaign and went into production, we found out from other designers and sustainable brands that most people run into the same roadblocks that we did. Unfortunately, our experience was completely “normal.” Through Factory45, I want to create a “new normal” – one that connects people to create mutually beneficial relationships.

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DM: What kind of help do you offer designers and brands?

Shannon: Factory45 is a six-month program broken up into three two-month modules. The first module covers sourcing and manufacturing, so participants will get the connections and resources to set up supply chains within the U.S., ensuring that they are employing ethical labor and sourcing sustainable materials.

Module 2 covers branding and marketing, offering the tools to create a brand presence that appeals to a niche target market, build an effective web presence that attracts “early adopters,” as well as an extensive marketing strategy.

Module 3 prepares participants to go to market through a crowdfunding campaign using a pre-sales model. The goal is for all participants to complete the program with money in the bank to go into production.

Factory45 is all about starting lean, testing the product and taking next steps based on how the market responds.

DM: How is the sustainable apparel industry different from the traditional fashion industry?

Shannon: Unfortunately, the traditional fashion industry has become synonymous with the term “fast fashion” in a lot of ways. Popular mega-corporations are dependent on business models that churn out millions of garments per year and debut new trends every week. Because the garments are so cheaply made, they are expected to fall apart after one wash and be thrown away. With the price points as low as $10 to $20, the consumer doesn’t mind going out and buying something new to replace it.

Sustainable fashion considers the materials that are used in the making of the garment, the ethics behind the labor of who made it, and the end life of the garment. In other words, the goal of sustainable and ethical fashion is to ensure that clothing production is doing as little harm as possible to the planet and the people in it.

Sustainable fashion considers the materials that are used in the making of the garment, the ethics behind the labor of who made it, and the end life of the garment.

DM: What kind of future do you see for Factory45 and the sustainable apparel industry?

Shannon: Factory45 is my personal way of combatting fast fashion. I truly believe that the local, independent designer has a place in this industry and can compete above and beyond the cheap and disposable goods churned out by big corporations.

If I can help small companies launch and succeed, then I believe fewer people will be shopping at fast fashion stores. Ultimately, I want to support small and local designers and show consumers that they are worth supporting.

I hope that the resources, mentorship and connections available through Factory45 will show aspiring entrepreneurs that it is possible to create ethical supply chains and do good business.

I believe in the slow fashion industry. I believe in slowing down the making, buying and disposing of fashion, and I believe that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of what that means. I hope that Factory45 will create more entrepreneurs who can change the industry with me.

Check out Factory45 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Applications for the Factory45 Accelerator Program are open here until April 28, 2014.

Images via Factory45

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