TomboyX – Building a Successful Gender-Inclusive Underwear Brand – Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez, Co-founders of TomboyX
Sponsors & Partners
In this highly instructional interview, TomboyX co-founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez share the startup story of how they started a clothing line for women with a masculine streak without any prior business or apparel industry experience. They also share how listening to customer feedback helped them to identify their “hero” product and pivot to building a successful gender-inclusive underwear brand TomboyX.
They share the different phases of building their business including running a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising funds, insider workings of the clothing business, as well as mistakes made and lessons learned along the way. Enjoy!
Resources Mentioned in the Episode
- Crispin Porter Bogusky – Advertising Agency
- David Liddell
- Brené Brown
- Yvon Chouinard – Patagonia
- Book – The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business Hardcover – by Patrick M. Lencioni
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez of TOMBOYX
- You couldn’t find the kind of button-up shirt that you were looking for and that gave you the idea for starting TOMBOYX. Could you please share your startup story? What were some of the first steps you took to get the business started? Was there an idea validation process? How did you know that a gap existed in the market?
- Both of you had very different careers prior to starting this business. Fran was an executive producer for a media strategy firm and you were a sports massage therapist. What was it like for both of you to transition into fashion/clothing business? At what point did you commit yourself to the business 100%?
- Could you please share a bit about what your day looks like right now? What kinds of things do you focus the most as business executives?
- Could you please share some of your lessons running the Kickstarter campaign in 2013? Why did you think it was the right move? What went into creating the Kickstarter video? How did you market your Kickstarter campaign?
- Did you have to raise additional funding later on? What has been your experience raising funds for an Apparel business? How has this changed your business?
- What were 1 or 2 biggest challenges starting a clothing company? Did you seek outside expertise on clothing business? How did you get your clothing designed? How did you choose the right fabrics?
- In 2015, you worked with MergeLane accelerator in Boulder, Colorado. Could you share your experience working with the accelerator?
- You did a branding exercise with Crispin Porter Bogusky. Could you please share what that branding exercise was like and how did it benefit you?
- How did you get your first customers? What were some of the first marketing activities that gave you results?
- Why did you make the decision to first manufacture in the US? How did you find the right manufacturer for your clothing? Now your manufacturing is completely in China, what is it like working with Chinese manufacturers? Do you worry about the deteriorating US/China relationship affecting your business?
- There was a pivotal moment in your business where you realized that there was a much larger demand for underwear rather than the shirts that you were selling. Could you share a bit more about how you figured this out and what steps did you take to pivot?
- What are some of the interesting things that you have learned about the clothing business that you did not know when you started? I know one thing may be that you always have to come up with new products, new styles and stay fresh.
- I read that you carry all styles in sized XS through 4X. How do you deal with inventory that doesn’t sell?
- Could you share a bit about your team right now? How big is your Ecommerce and Marketing team? Do you work with 3rd party marketing agencies?
- What are some of the things you do to engage your customers and receive feedback and ideas on your products?
- Do you have business mentors/advisors that you work with? Do you have any advice finding and working with mentors?
- Are you a pure Ecommerce business? What channels do you sell through?
- Could you please share a bit about your warehousing and fulfillment strategy?
- Which marketing channels are working really well for you right now in terms of new customer acquisition? What role does Social Media play in your business?
- What have been your 1-2 biggest failures in business? What did you learn from them?
- What is the future for your business? Where do you see TOMBOYX 5 years down the road?
- Do you see gaps in other industries that you think can benefit from becoming from gender inclusive?
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Greg Meade of Crossnet
- One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2020 and why (Response: The Advantage and Sprint.)
- An innovative product or idea in the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Rothy’s, Artificial Intelligence and Fit)
- A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend (Response: Monday.com and Slack)
- A peer entrepreneur or business-person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia)
- Best business advice you ever received or you would give.
Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez, Co-founders of TomboyX:
Sushant Misra: Hey there entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them question about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today I’m really excited to welcome friend and away and Naomi Gonzales to the show. Fran and Naomi are the co founders of Seattle based gender neutral underwear and loungewear brand tomboy x, which was launched in 2013. Fran is the CEO and Naomi is the chief operating officer, Fran and Naomi are also life partners. And tomboy x is driven by the belief that brands can be a force for positive change. The brand promotes a human agenda to inspire conversation about gender confidence, acceptance, inclusion Today I want to ask a brand new me a few questions about their startup story, and some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to grow their business. So thank you so much for joining me today at Dropbox.
Fran Dunaway: Thank you, I should be here.
Sushant Misra: So we’ll get right into it. I’m really interested to know about your startup story. I know friend that you had somewhat of a personal lead where you were looking for, you know, a certain kind of a shirt and you were you were doing research and you were not able to find it. And so you decided, you know, why don’t I create a company? So could you please share that your startup story and how did you know that there was a need for this kind of a company in the market?
Fran Dunaway: Well, really, it was born out of a frustration that I was having. I prefer a nice button up collared shirt was it was business professional. And I just liked the look of that and so became frustrated with the lack of options but was inspired by a lot of stuff I would see in menswear. Like a Robert Graham or Vin Sherman. And so just was complaining a lot in Nam. We’ve heard me complaining a lot in my frustration. And she said to me one day, well, let’s just let’s just start our own clothing line, how hard can it be? And so that’s that’s kind of when we took the leap into developing really our first button up shirt.
Sushant Misra: And it’s one thing to say, okay, you know, let’s Well, let’s just do it. But did you do some research to find like, you know, that if we create this company, there’s actually going to be other customers who would want something similar? Well, that’s
Fran Dunaway: the reason that we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign and see if we could raise enough money and that was also a great market validation. But what was interesting to us was that during the Kickstarter campaign, we quickly began to realize that the name was resonating and that we really stepped into a white space. And that there was a whole community of people that weren’t getting their needs met in the clothing and apparel industry, and weren’t seeing themselves represented out there. And so that was really when when we felt that there was a big opportunity.
Sushant Misra: And I’m very interested about the Kickstarter campaign itself. What was it that you know, your what was? What did you do that made it successful for you? Because I believe you raised $76,000. What advice would you have for other people, other entrepreneurs who want to do a similar kind of a Kickstarter campaign and how can they make it successful?
Naomi Gonzalez: Well, number one, I would say we set the bar high at $75,000. Because we did enough research to understand what our costs would be to one make the product and then to what would it cost to market the product? What would you know, have an end at that point, it’s a bit of a guess, but you shouldn’t have both that data. I think just to understand what’s the minimal amount of
money that we need to raise in order to make it. So we’re not coming out of pocket for this project and that we can actually deliver it to the customer at the end of the day. And so we set it high at 75,000. Because we understood what the cost to make it in Seattle would be. And we wanted to have a little bit extra to market and, and so I would say starting there to try and give yourself the best chance of success. And then we had a good friend Heather, who helped us along the way and make sure we didn’t quit. So having that support system of people that just going to encourage you and also a good network. One thing that we wish we had done differently was to be collecting emails along the way and have our Facebook page at the time and there was really Instagram listen thing. Now we dabbled in that at the time. It was seven years ago but yeah, getting are getting social media. up and running prior to launching a Kickstarter, and gathering emails in any way that you can prior to that does save you some work in the long run.
Sushant Misra: So when you do when you put put out that Kickstarter page to you, you know, you write your copy, maybe you put a video there. And do you like? Is it just that the people who are visiting the Kickstarter website, you’re hoping that they’re going to find your page? Or is it that you have to actively go out and market it to people that you’re targeting?
Fran Dunaway: We definitely marketed and use a lot of humor, harassment, begging, anything and everything that we could to get people to spread the word and to to reach out and, and it really became a community effort locally, certainly here in the Seattle area, but people were reaching out to their friends and in fact, we were hearing at the end of it when we were closing But not quite there. We were hearing from acquaintances, you know, friends, and we didn’t know very well that would reach out and say, let me know if you need to borrow some money to get you over the edge, you know, and we can we can help. And so it was just really, people were so excited and supportive. We were really grateful in that way.
Naomi Gonzalez: Those friends that have a large network, okay.
Sushant Misra: Now, I know that both of you had a very different careers when you started out like not necessarily into this kind of, you know, apparel, entrepreneurship. So Fran, you were doing political media strategy. Naomi, you were in these sports massage therapy. Could you share a little bit about you know, what was that experience for both of you transitioning from your previous roles into entrepreneurship because entrepreneurship always carries certain risks of failure and What advice would you give to other people who who are trying to do build businesses? And they may have an idea, but they know there is a certain aspect of fear that hey, am I putting everything on the line? What would what would your advice be?
Naomi Gonzalez: Don’t Don’t put your day job. First. Yeah,
Fran Dunaway: I think you know, for us, we didn’t know it from a woman and we didn’t know a p&l from a balance sheet. So I think just we went in blindly, I think Had we known how hard it is to start a clothing company than we might have had some reservations, but we just kind of dove right in and things we gathered momentum and things started working now. But that is to say that every single day was terrifying. And especially in those early years, and his family name we said we were we still were working and still trying to run this business. We certainly didn’t pay ourselves for the first two and a half years. And, you know, it was a struggle and a slog. But fortunately, we had each other and we had we kind of had our lanes of what we were doing. And we would help each other and pull each other up when we were getting too scared or worried that we weren’t going to make it. But we took tremendous risks that we probably had no business taking, you know, but in our, in our case, it actually has worked out well for us. So we feel pretty blessed about that.
Sushant Misra: Okay, can you take us to those first days, so, you know, you ran a Kickstarter campaign, you fundraise. $76,000? Did you have you already created a strategy that okay, from this 75 $76,000 I’m going to spend 40,000 on you know, developing the product I’m going to spend, you know, 30,000 on marketing like what were what was the first few steps For you, and you know that you had anticipated and how well or not well, did things turn out at the beginning.
Naomi Gonzalez: We, you know, we started with a business plan to begin with, we want you to understand who our market was, who we were targeting, and what the size of the market it was, so that we could reach the right customers. And at the time, our strategy was Fran turning on Facebook ads for my new budget that we had. And he started with $50 as an advertising budget per day and once we hit that amount of money, but we’ve just simply turn off Facebook ads now Facebook has gotten infinitely more complicated. So we had the benefit of it being seven years ago.
Fran Dunaway: Yeah, I was I was gonna say I’d love to tell you and share this beautiful spreadsheet and how thoughtful and and procedural we were in our strategy, but we were definitely flying by the seat of our pants. So It was it was just we, yeah, we, you know, turning on and off ads and seeing what worked, what didn’t work and where the customer was there. I think for us it was really apparent early on in the Kickstarter campaign was that instant brand that we were hearing from people around the world that were like, Yay, tomboy wax. That’s for me that’s that’s me and, and really trying to figure out what we had. We knew it was big. We knew it was palpable, but we weren’t exactly sure it was a shirt. And so so pivoting out of shirts and into underwear was was a really great move for us and is what we’ve built the company around. We no longer make the button up shirts, but we make some damn fine underwear.
Sushant Misra: So to me, it seems like you know, when you were saying about the the name and brand itself, that when people heard the name, tomboy acts, they immediately in their mind formed a certain perception about the the brand and the company and what what it was doing and maybe you even shared your story. And that kind of give gave you a certain point do you do you think that was the case? Like the the name itself helped you?
Naomi Gonzalez: Yeah, because exactly what you said there’s a certain perception of the definition of a tomboy, not necessarily that everybody agreed exactly what it was a sister or, you know, my cousin was totally a tomboy. So there was some kind of emotional connection that people would immediately have upon hearing the word and that bred curiosity. And so I think that, you know, the fact that we actually wound up calling the brand tomboy acts really has helped us be able to have a guiding light of ultimately what are the characters of a tomboy that we identify with the other people identify with strongly, and how does that relate to everyone?
Sushant Misra: Now, when I think about you know, previously you said, you know, how difficult can it be to start a clothing company? I’ve heard, you know, clothing business, maybe it’s maybe one of the more difficult business businesses to get into. What were some of the first challenges like, as, as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin to create a clothing business? What were you know, did you collaborate with people who knew design? Did you collaborate with people who knew the fabric? How did you actually get started on on creating the, you know, the shirt at the beginning?
Fran Dunaway: Yeah, we did collaborate. We had a friend who was a designer, and so she came in and worked with us, but she wasn’t a man. She wasn’t well versed in manufacturing, and sourcing and so that’s just a whole different category of experience. Next 40s and when we decided that we would kind of move out of we wanted to move into making underwear and no longer needed the designer, one of our first rainbow unicorn moments I like to call them happen. And this amazing woman with 30 years of production and manufacturing sourcing experience, showed up in our lives and was looking for contract work. And so she loved the brand and what we were what we were building, so she came and worked with us for peanuts at first and, and really designed the product that we have today. She was employee number one, she’s still with us. And it’s her attention to detail and quality and her persistent expectation around that. That is the foundation of the product side of our business.
Sushant Misra: Now, I know that when I was doing the research in 2015, you worked with marjolijn Ritter, could you share a little bit about what? Well, first of all, what is an accelerator? What what are some of the criteria to getting accepted? What are the benefits? And what was your experience working like, with that accelerator?
Naomi Gonzalez: Yeah, the the accelerator is a program that allows small businesses that are just starting out the experience of learning from people who have built businesses themselves. So mentors and coaches, other successful business people in the area that come in and mentor brands and founders. And then they also help you refine your pitch for fundraising, help you understand valuations. So it’s sort of like I guess, a mini Business School for intrapreneurs of sorts for a very short, very intense period of time. And so ours was a three month program. We could do partially in Seattle and partially in Boulder. And that was really important because it allowed us to run our business at the same time. There’s absolutely no way we could walk away from the business for three months and not have serious consequences. And so, the the accelerator was a phenomenal resource for us. The people that we met, they became investors in our business and helped us with our first round, they made introductions to other investors. And, you know, I can’t tell you how many times Fran practiced her fundraising pitch, you know, she’s got Demo Day. But it really helps bring a certain level of basic business knowledge to entrepreneurs that may or may not have that business background.
Sushant Misra: So this is something that you actually have to apply to like, there’s an application process and you give certain metrics of your business and they say, Okay, this seems like an appropriate fit for something like this. Basically what they’re doing is they’re preparing you for to, to apply for the pitch to investors.
Fran Dunaway: Yeah, in fact, we did apply for this. And I nailed it sent me the link and said, Hey, we should apply to this. And I actually had filled out the entire application but forgot one question. And I got distracted, and I forgot to hit submit. And so the day after the deadline, they reached out to me and said, You’re so close, don’t you want to apply? And I was like, Don’t tell me and so I hit submit, and we got accepted. In Yeah, we were one of eight cohorts. There were eight companies in our cohort that all had varying degrees of success. Some are brand new and idea phase. Others had been around for years. So it’s really all along the spectrum of businesses, which was helpful because you had kind of a mix of experience. and expertise.
Sushant Misra: Now I also read that maybe even part of that accelerator, there was a situation where you got to work with this advertising agency Crispin Porter Bogusky and did some branding exercise. So I was very curious to to ask you like, what was that branding exercise and what did you get out of it?
Fran Dunaway: Well, it was more than an exercise. It was a, we were able to we one of the founders of the accelerator, introduced us to this woman who worked for for the CPP group. And we had been looking for someone that we could work with from a marketing angle that can help us kind of bring the brand to life with a marketing voice and that we had coffee with Courtney loveman over at CPP and immediately knew that we had found the person that could help us now CPV group is a Large one of the top five branding agencies in the world and they actually had for a small window of opportunity, a window of time and opportunity for companies, small companies that were up and coming brands to do a cash equity split for some brand work. So we actually were chosen by them to be part of that program and then spent a good eight, nine months working with them on a complete brand redo brand book, we’re still which is still the foundation of the company that we use to this day, and it was an incredible experience and we got we got thousands and thousands of dollars worth of of of work from them as a cash equity split and so otherwise we could never have afforded that kind of agency by any means.
Sushant Misra: So this this brand book, that the basically Give you like, what your brand story should be what your logo should look like, what your colors should be like, what, what kind of things does it actually include?
Fran Dunaway: They do a tremendous deep dive into the meaning of the word, the meaning of the letter X what it means in society, a very thorough I think 207 page document that really was a thoughtful look at that tomboy at the x at fonts and emotion and and archetypes and all of that. And then from that, we worked with them to create a much smaller condensed one that yes is very specific to types of logos, what what the website will look like, what our color palette is, all of the different things that that we’re we continue to, to pick and choose from, even in today’s in on everything we do today. So it’s really that foundational kind of look and feel Also when we pivoted completely out of the shirts, and other stuff that we were curating, so we did a relaunch to the website and got rid of anything that we weren’t making ourselves. And, and so they helped think about that strategically as well.
Sushant Misra: I’m very curious about the pivot that you had to do, or you did from being a shirt company to becoming a underwear loungewear company. First of all, how did that come about? And secondly, what is the business impact of this kind of a pivot where you know, all your business are directed towards creating a certain kind of product and you know, and then all of a sudden you say, Okay, we have to change everything and we have to create this new product. How do you deal with that? What’s that? Like? I would assume that was another risk for you, was it
Naomi Gonzalez: you know, we in the very beginning we asked we’d since we knew nothing about the industry, we Basically networked like crazy in the local area and talk to as many other people in the fashion space as we could. And we had the the privilege to be able to speak with one of the founders of Tommy Bahama. And one of the things that he said was, Look, you’ve got to find your hero product, you got to find that one thing that funds essentially business that then also allows you to explore and try new things. But that is a core staple to your business. And for them, it was a quarters of hoodie, or a zip up sweater. And so when we were live, I was doing customer service at the time. And so I was getting a lot of the feedback of what people wanted. And the thing that I kept hearing over and over again was boxer priests for women. People were looking for that. And when we did our research and realize that really no one was was was making box freeze for women, the only thing we found was on Nordstrom, type it in and a pair of Spanx came up and we just knew that that wasn’t it. And so So we went and we worked with Julie to to design it and, and pre sold it because we couldn’t afford to pay for the production. We sold out within weeks, and the product came in and we were able to pay for it. And and the fact that it sold out quickly, we knew that we were onto something. And then we made the next round. We just reinvested all that money back into making more and more production, we couldn’t keep it in stock. And for us, that was a real wake up call. Because the reality is, if we were putting other money towards these other things that weren’t selling as well, and that took away cash flow from the thing that was selling really well. And so it wound up being like Alright, this is kind of a no brainer, we should actually just pivot and have this hero product, maybe underwears or if you’re a product and that’s how we approached it from then on. It’s like okay, is it underwear? You know, isn’t it let’s focus on making more colors or prints or things like that and it really going deeper into thing that was clearly a bit of a home run. And and that’s how we went through it. And so yeah, exactly focus what we’re good at and and build on that.
Sushant Misra: And pre selling it involved, basically just creating a product page on your website and saying, you know, this is the product that we want to launch and it will be launched on certain date and you can purchase it right away. Right?
Fran Dunaway: Yeah, it’s coming Two weeks later. We’re hoping to sell enough to pay for it. And yeah, we sold out before it arrived. So it was pretty exciting.
Sushant Misra: Okay. I’m very curious about your manufacturing. I read that initially, you started out your manufacturing, all of it was within us, and maybe that was maybe a value proposition for you. But now, if I understand correctly, most, most of it isn’t China. What was the decision to do that? What is your experience working with Chinese manufacturers and and yeah, you know, currently like, you know, I see in the news that they’re the the US China relationship or maybe not the best. Do you ever fear that it may impact your business and somewhere?
Naomi Gonzalez: Yeah, absolutely started on the US and in the shirts that that factory had the capability to make the shirt but they didn’t really have capability or the skill sets of the workers to be able to make the underwear and so we had to look at other options and so truly found a factory owner in Vancouver BC, which is just a three hour drive for us. So it was very easy to go and visit and spend a lot of time with her. And she actually had as we grew, her factory in Canada could no longer keep up with our volume. And so we had to figure out what are other options for greater, faster scale. And China was a clear decider for us because she had these relationships in China. A big factory in China. And so we, we went over there several times, you know, met with the factory owners, and we still work with this factory to this day. So we’ve got a very long term very, very good strong relationship with this with this factory owner and their family and family run business in great people. And they, their, their values and skill sets are very much aligned with ours, which is make quality, good functional things with the environment in mind. So all of our fabrics are oekotex certified. And all enter values down the supply chain are echoed in how they hire, how they you know, safety precautions, salary and those sorts of things. And in terms of how we’re thinking about diversification or the political risks that that go into China, we’re absolutely are thinking about it. We’re actively You know, we’ve now moved our swim over to Colombia. So swimwear is being made in Colombia. And then we’re looking at other options with throughout Asia, a big part of it is the skill set and that you can find its underwear, it’s actually a complicated thing to do and make as, as our process. And so the people that know how to do that well have traditionally been in China. And so now those folks are, you know, got factories in Vietnam or other parts of Asia and so we’re actively looking at how to diversify that today.
Sushant Misra: Do you find clothing business to be a difficult business what what are some of the interesting things that you learn about the business I know you know, in clothing, you always have to be fresh, you always have to have the you know, latest design and, and keep things fresh and also known on the other side, you know, if you don’t sell out, or you know, there’s a lot of returns and things like that. What are some of the things some of the challenges do you find religion clothing business.
Fran Dunaway: Anything with inventory is a challenge because it’s it’s cash. So you’re constantly chasing. I think one of the biggest lessons is, for me, it’s just been to learn the trade and all of the different careers that are involved in clothing and manufacturing. We have merchandise, we have planners, we have buyers, and it’s just all of these different roles and skill sets that continue to make your business much more sophisticated and data driven and analytical. And so I certainly had no idea that that’s how it all worked. But but some other kind of anecdotal things are, you know, you put up a really flashy, fun print, and to get them to come to your store and then they buy black and white So that that was always surprising to me. And it has been a surprise to me. But it still works in there. Also, you can have too much stuff, you can have too many choices, and then consumers get overwhelmed by too much. And so those are just some anecdotal things that have been have been fascinating. I don’t know about you. I mean, we’re, yeah, I think I think the the front and the back of the house, the supply chain and logistics and all of that thing. And to me, I was always really surprised with how much goes into sourcing the right fabric and how a fabric actually responds like how much stretch something has and why that will make it functional versus not. And so more of the like, basic details of how something actually works is fascinating to me and like the care and the time. I mean, it takes I had to we have such a level of impatience like we don’t understand why it takes six months or eight months or nine months. To get a product in the door, we like Fran did video production and I was forced massage there, we just didn’t understand why anything couldn’t be done faster. And the reality is like you have to test things and those and then it’s like getting those samples back and forth and iterations. And those all take time. And if you want to do it, well, you will take the time that it takes or we took the time it takes to to make sure that it was the best product that we could actually put out in the marketplace. And so that takes time, every time we put in a new product and we’re innovating could be a year
Sushant Misra: and the analytics part of this is that you know you can anticipate based on numbers and previous experience what the demand is going to be for a certain item and so you don’t order too much inventory or and and in terms of supply chain like you have the right product at the right time. Is that the whole analytics part of it.
Fran Dunaway: That’s wonderful. For sure, knowing you’re absolutely right. We don’t we don’t want to stop too quickly. But we are we don’t want stuff on the shelves too long. But we also don’t want to sell off too quickly. And that’s been the case. You know, when you when you have home runs, and it sells very quickly. So this year, we’re kind of chasing inventory, but trying to be smarter about it next year in terms of what those ratios were. And then tying it to we have two analysts on our on our team now that are actually tying it to predictions or projections of new customer acquisition versus returning customers, what sells more to those different cohorts. And so it’s become extremely sophisticated. It’s overwhelming to me, all of the data and analytics that they’re referencing and cross purchasing and being really, really smart about how we go but at the end of the day, yeah How much we’re going to order how long we want it, to keep it on the shelves. And then we have a core product that we don’t ever want to run out of. And so, so it all comes into play, because you have, you know, a set amount of dollars that you can spend in here certain margins that you need to hit.
Sushant Misra: And so what happens in the situation, when you have excess inventory? I would assume like maybe you do some clearance or sale. But if something is still left, like is it just? What do you do with that?
Naomi Gonzalez: We we really don’t, we honestly pretty good about managing inventory. So for the most part, we can, you know, if we have to keep it six months before it’s gone, we’ll keep it six months, or we’ll put it into a last chance kind of thing on our website. And then when it comes down to maybe there’s really broken in sizes and there’s maybe one or two or three items left in any particular skew. We’ll take those and have the warehouse actually ship it to us and then we’ll donate It to homeless shelters or various other organizations that we work closely with. So that those those, you know, units go to people that really do need them.
Sushant Misra: What have your team look like right now? How, how many people are with you right now? And what? What proportion of, you know, people, sourcing products, works with marketing and things like that?
Fran Dunaway: Well, we Yeah, we hired five people in the last 10 days, I think so, so my numbers will might be a little off. I believe we’re 31 employees right now. And the vast majority fall into the marketing and creative team. We’ve got a customer service team of four people. Our production team is five and we’ve got a merchandising planning team of three and and then and then we have a logistics person in our finance team. Mercy was soon before there, but that that’s really it, we’re pretty lean and very specific and in our hires and you know, keeping an eye on our effects so that we can grow wisely.
Sushant Misra: Okay. I know that when you pivoted it was as a result of you know, listening to customers and getting customer feedback, do you continue to do that? And if yes, what you know, how do you keep the customers engaged and how do you seek elicit feedback from them?
Naomi Gonzalez: Yeah, you know, we we have, what we found works the most is team collaboration. So, teams communicating with each other so customer service reporting to marketing team on what customers are asking for. Then marketing will also have been taken build campaigns do surveys to find out what cause what else customers are wanting or what might be missing. Most what color or print might be most attractive to people to try and get guests the best chance of success with any one thing. And then product team will meet with merchandising planning to make sure that they’re bringing everything in in a timely basis. And then also, same thing on any complaints that customers have about any any problems with product, customer service, we’ll feed that over to the product team and then product merchandising work together to fix that on the next production run. So it’s that constant, entertain communication that helps feed the customer journey for us all along the way.
Sushant Misra: And your warehousing and fulfillment is that in house or do you work with third party
Naomi Gonzalez: party that that fills up houses and fulfills all of our orders?
Sushant Misra: And you ship worldwide right?
Naomi Gonzalez: We ship all around the world. Yes.
Sushant Misra: Okay. Um, what? In terms of marketing what marketing channels are working really well for you in terms of new customer acquisition? In terms of, you know, engaging the customers and how do you see your social media that? Is that a place where also you get a lot of new customers?
Fran Dunaway: You know, Facebook has traditionally been the number one channel for us. Sorry, the dog has been the number one channel for us. But we’re weaning ourselves off of that, and are quite excited about moving into podcast advertising and also Apple Apple network and looking at ways to increase organic traffic and exploring other options for opportunities who is something that we’re about to get into? So? So that’s that’s really an ongoing evaluation as we kind of move off of social media.
Sushant Misra: Why Why are you pulling out of Facebook
Fran Dunaway: It’s becoming more and more, less and less efficient also, to acquire new customers, and if we find more efficient ways of doing it, then then that’s the way we’re going to go.
Sushant Misra: Okay. mentors and advisors have you, given that you did not have, you know, entrepreneurship experience or the clothing experience? What have been Have you had mentors advisors along the way? And and what is your advice for new entrepreneurs on going about finding the right mentors, right advisors and working with them?
Fran Dunaway: Do it? Yeah. You know, we didn’t know anything about the industry. So anyone that had any industry experience, we would stalk people on LinkedIn, we look for warm introductions and then we go convince them that we should take them to coffee or have drinks and you know, we picked up a lot along the way. I know David Liddell has been an amazing mentor to Naomi on the off side, he and his wife had a successful clothing company. And he was a tremendous mentor for us. We were fortunate in that we found an early mentor and a woman that had incredible ecommerce experience. And she came on as an investor and advisor and was on our first board, and is now a dear friend. And we had more than a handful of people that we would rely on, depending on what the issue at hand was. If it was time to negotiate contracts, we had a few people that we would talk to about how to best think about that if it was sourcing or manufacturing or operate or like the three PL we would rely on on like David’s but just depending on what it was. But you know, one person doesn’t know everything. And then the other thing that we did around fundraising was just networking. I mean, we went to every Single networking event so that we could meet people. And it almost always, we came away from those events with at least one other person that we could tap into, for advice and, and to hear what their path had been.
Sushant Misra: And do you find that these people who I assume are already successful and already experts in their fields? Are they open to helping new entrepreneurs like yours, you’re basically saying, you know, reach out to them and introduce yourself and, and when you need herb like, you can always call them up or like, how do you do you not think that you have to provide them third from value in exchange for like getting their advice or expertise? How like, how would you? How would a new entrepreneur go about doing it?
Naomi Gonzalez: That’s a great question. I you know, what, the main way that we found it besides LinkedIn was networking. Right. So networking is going to be warmer than just a cold introduction on LinkedIn or requests on LinkedIn. So, and now it’s hard with COVID to do those networking things, but it really that’s how we did it. By talking to people, if someone was there, they were already either interested in investing because they wanted to be involved in the industry in some way. So some of them had experience in industry and others didn’t. But the ones that did they always want to tell you, they always told us are their stories and would always provide some piece of advice or anything like that, and you’re always really eager to hear want to hear what their story is, or what could they provide in terms of expertise. And oftentimes, if they weren’t willing to, or didn’t have the time they recommend somebody else. Oh, you know, what my friend is, is the President of this other organization, and they’re a great resource outlet. Let me connect you guys. And so it’s sort of like that like, Okay, if you can’t, then who else can you can you introduce me to say anything? Okay.
Sushant Misra: Can you share like one or two biggest failures or, you know, experience while, you know, in your last seven years of business experience, where you thought that you really screwed up and then maybe what were some of the lessons learned.
Fran Dunaway: Um, you know, there there was a factory that we were speaking to, that we when we were in the middle of growing pretty fast, we were expanding within China and the this factory thought that the thing that we were most interested in was the best possible price where we were actually really interested in, that they couldn’t wrap their head around was the best quality work. And we were willing to pay more for that because we know that it takes more effort and training of staff do that and we worked with them for a few production runs and our returns started skyrocketing. You know, probably With the with the product falling apart and things like that things that we absolutely had zero tolerance for. And it was like really kind of going through that and learning what it did to our brand what it did to the reputation at the time of people’s expectation that we were providing them with quality underwear that they could wear for years, and we weren’t living up to that expectation. So I think you know, how it falls all the way down through the supply chain was a big lesson lesson for us. And if you want to fire quickly, yes, yeah, we gave him too many chances, but it wasn’t very long. And in look, we are so focused on quality and fit. And yet most apparel companies see a return exchange rate upwards of 25 to 35%. And ours was you know, always at 2%. And so and that’s even with a little bit per square guarantee because we certainly don’t want you to try on the underwear and send it back to us. So keep the underwear we’ll give you your your money back. back, and it’s still at 2%. And so we had really high quality standards. And I think that that was a great lesson for us is, is if they’re not going to put the attention to detail on it to get where we need very quickly, then it’s not worth our while to continue to kind of waste our time. I think we also had a hard lesson in not picking the right third party logistics partner, and making sure that that that they are experts in e commerce and that they’ve done it before. And so that was an example of scale with companies that are scaling and that was a very painful, horrible, horrible lesson to learn. But we’re in good good shape now, but it was a particularly daunting task.
Sushant Misra: What what is next for tomboy x Where do you see your company in five years?
Fran Dunaway: You know, we we want to be a brand that is here to stay, we really want to make the world a better place by being an inclusive brand that is focused not on telling you how to be cool, but celebrating how cool we think you are. And we think that the time is right for that we want to be, we want to further our sustainability efforts, we want to make a bigger impact on on the world on a bigger scale. And so I think that we continue to grow, we continue to, to build awareness. I think we’re there’s a lot of opportunity there for us. But I think we’re onto something pretty wonderful. And we’re just looking forward to taking it as far as it can go
Sushant Misra: pretty quick. Now we’re going to do a segment what I call rapid fire round where I’m going to ask you a few questions and just have to answer them in one or two words. Or maybe One or two sentences? And both of you can answer it. Do you have any book recommendations for entrepreneurs? Are you guys book readers, I do see a lot of books in the background.
Fran Dunaway: One that we’ve read recently that was pretty powerful is called advantage, the advantage and it’s really about the importance of clear leadership that is aligned with with goals for the entire company, how it affects the entire company, and clarity around goals. And one that we just bought and handed out to our leadership team is called sprint. And it’s about solving big problems and testing new ideas. So this whole idea around innovation of your products, and how to think about that in a way that you can test and learn and what that one’s that’s a good one. We’re big fans of Brene brown and her leadership books. So that’s something that we’ve passed around and actually have hired people to come in and work with our with our entire team. on communication skills and the principles that that Brene brown espouses
Sushant Misra: an innovative product or idea in the current ecommerce retailer tech landscape that you’re excited about.
Naomi Gonzalez: I really like what Rothy’s is doing. They are just a sustainable shoe brand. Their stainability is all the way from their factory supply chain to you know, the visibility on their brand on the website is is excellent. I really love what they’re doing. I’m excited about AI and fit in how that technology might kind of change in commerce
Sushant Misra: and fit
Fran Dunaway: how you fit, being able to see how product will look on your body.
Sushant Misra: Okay, okay. As leaders, what do you use any productivity tools or productivity tricks that help you Be more effective as leaders and business executives.
Naomi Gonzalez: Well for the team while we use Monday comm to organize tasks and keep everybody accountable to deadlines and metrics, but also slack has been phenomenal for our company just as an inner inner communication tool.
Sushant Misra: appear entrepreneur or business person who inspires you.
Fran Dunaway: Well, right now I’m listening to the Patagonia story in Yvon Chouinard. I mean, I think that’s such an empowering and powerful story. I love how his values continue to run, how the company operates. And, and so I’m quite inspired by that.
Sushant Misra: And finally, what what is the best business advice that you’ve ever received or would give to a new entrepreneur
Fran Dunaway: I would say I see Naomi looking at me, I would say that you know, especially starting out temper your excitement for the highs and temper your, your data middle ground so that you don’t have so far to go down and climb so far up. So just take everything on an even keel and so instead he wins the race and so you’ve got to got to make sure that you can’t get overly emotional about things because it can just add to your struggle. So just until the check is in the bank. don’t celebrate too hard.
Sushant Misra: And anything from you know me
Naomi Gonzalez: say you know, making sure you have a good outlet to talk to you to or some other way to kind of let out some of the intensity of that. Have your sorry.
Naomi Gonzalez: The intensity of, of being in a startup, it’s extremely, it’s difficult day in and day out. It’s long hours. And so who do you have to talk to? That will say that we couldn’t have done it without each other? Because we understood what the other was going through. But what other entrepreneur friends can you do? You have been on a bit, but tell me the tough times. Yeah. Emphasis on the entrepreneur friends. Yeah. Like, we lost a lot of regular friends. Get started hearing us talk about business.
Sushant Misra: Well, those were all the questions that I had. Thank you so much. Both Fran and Naomi for joining me today Trep Talks. I know your website is tomboy x.com. Is there any other resources or websites you want to share with anyone who wants to connect with
Fran Dunaway: Instagram at Tom wax and also our Twitter’s Tom wax and on Facebook, exchange tumble exchange and then on Facebook. So
Sushant Misra: yeah. Perfect. Thank you so much again for joining me today for sharing your story and also sharing all these different business insights about you know, clothing, your clothing company and also the business as a whole. So really, really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Fran Dunaway: Really happy to do it. Thanks for having us.
Sushant Misra: Perfect. Thank you. Okay, what’s, what’s next for you guys? Is this the end of the day? I think
Fran Dunaway: she started by trying to.
Sushant Misra: It must. It must be 4pm for you. They’re at your place, right?
Fran Dunaway: Yes, we’ve got meetings. Okay.
Sushant Misra: Oh, wow. Cool. Well, thank you, thank you so much, again, really appreciate it. And I will be publishing this maybe in the next two or three weeks. So I’ll send you a quick note and Yeah, I really, really appreciate your time and
Naomi Gonzalez: very thoughtful questions. So thank you. Yeah,
Fran Dunaway: thank you and stay safe.
Sushant Misra: Thank you. Thank you so much.
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