Updated: Jan 30
“Starting a clothing line is easy!”, said no one ever. Not being fashion savvy, my idea to save the world one pair of pants at a time may have been a bit overzealous and overly optimistic, if not one-hundred percent farfetched and comical. But that hasn’t dissuaded me!
I was telling my friend/local boutique owner, Kristina, of my desire to create a clothing line for those with abdominal illnesses. The requirements were that the attire must be soft, flexible, and sustainable. I was excitedly bending her ear on the ins and outs of my entire vision, which included flying to Vegas to announce a service dog giveaway to a recipient with a rare disease. Quick tangent: My best friend from grade school is a world-renowned breeder; she had agreed to partner with me by donating a fully trained service dog on behalf of the business that I would soon create. Kristina says to me, “You know Magic is going to be in Vegas that weekend, right?” Ummm...I don’t know what that is; I literally formulated this plan in my sleep last night and I’ve never been a fashionista. She followed up by asking “Market?” Still no; she was speaking a foreign language to which I did not comprehend. Bless her beautiful and kind heart, she patiently explained to me that I could sign up to attend this massive event for retailers where you essentially go from booth-to-booth hand picking which items you want in your inventory. I guess that’s what shop owners do, whether it’s clothing, furniture, home décor, etc. This was going to be fabulous because in order for me to vouch for and promote a garment, it was going to have to meet the standards that I had established. Unfortunately, cute and trendy clothing, alone, wasn’t going to be enough to market my products. I had to personally feel every piece of clothing I was going to purchase to ensure that the style was both soft and flexible, as to accommodate a distended abdomen. Back up a second...didn’t I say I was going to create my own product? Yes, I wanted to do both! My theory on retailing was that I would sell clothing to cover the costs involved with designing and producing my first product.
In addition to “market”, there was a “sourcing” event where one could learn how to start a clothing line. More than that, there were vendors from all over the world present who were chomping at the bit to be the chosen production company! Textile companies were also in attendance; it was truly one stop shopping!
“This is SO easy! I can’t believe how successful this is going to be!”, I thought to myself. If you are in the fashion industry, you’ve already identified me as completely delusional. I mean, I was but I wasn’t. I thought, it can’t really be this easy; but even if it’s not, I am who I am and I will do whatever it takes to complete this self-inflicted task. I believed so strongly in what I was hoping to accomplish!
I promptly ran home and hopped right on Magic’s website to register. That’s when reality set in. In order to even sign up, I had to have a legal business entity, an EIN (tax ID number), a business card and a website that proved I was a retailer. Out of those four requirements, I had zero. I tried to register under my photography business but that was flagged as media. That would get me in but I would not be able to purchase anything. I could, however, attend sourcing with less resistance, and I would—but I really needed into market. I quickly established a name for my business, filed it with the State of Montana, jumped on the IRS website to apply for an EIN number, and had my “logo lady” and good friend get busy working on my logo design.
Long story, longer: in spite of my best efforts, I could not get into market. I was feeling frustrated and defeated. I even called Magic’s customer service number to try to sweet talk my way in by explaining that my presence there was really for the betterment of humanity and the world as a whole! In addition to their prompt rejection and strict adherence to policy, the IRS website froze just as I was printing out my tax ID documentation. Thankfully, I had written down my EIN number but still, I needed to confirm that the application had gone through. The website kept indicating that, unless the complete process was finished, the EIN may not be valid. I could not reach the IRS by phone for weeks. With each attempt, I was met with an 8-hour hold time. I searched for a quicker remedy online and found a work around that involved submitting a printed application. I sent the IRS my application with the alleged EIN number and a form of payment, via snail mail. One year later, I received a letter in the mail confirming that my EIN application had gone through properly; which is good because I’d been using that number anyways! Even though I had something, although questionable, to go on there, I still needed a website—which I could not get made in the little time I had. Ultimately, that would be the deal breaker. I had worked so hard, all in just a few days’ time but to no avail! I registered for the sourcing event and gave way to the idea that I would not be attending market this go-around. Sigh!
At this point, I’m utterly baffled at this annoying reality. Leading up to this moment, everything seemed to fall perfectly into place. The newfound knowledge of Magic and that it was being held in Vegas at the same time I was going to be there, alongside the fact that I unknowingly booked the hotel right across the street from where this major event was being held—seemed like overwhelming evidence; this was meant to be! Not only that, I also knew TWO people that were attending Magic and my logo designer and her family were also going to be in Vegas for a dance competition that weekend! Does this not seem serendipitous to you?
Spoiler alert; I did get into Magic! I went to sourcing. It was really cool, very edifying and completely overwhelming! While I was there, I listened to a couple of industry professionals present on Sourcing 101. When that was finished, I approached one of the presenters and pitched my business idea to her, accompanied with my, “couldn’t get into Magic”, saga. My compelling argument was this: How can I have a retail website showing that I sell more than three different brands of clothing if I can’t get into market to purchase three different brands of clothing?!?! I emphasized how important it was that I touch the clothing. She went into her computer, added me to the Magic event as a guest of hers and, just like that, I was back in business! Wrong! The sourcing event concluded with a complimentary Tesla shuttle. That would’ve been bad a$$ had the Tesla driver known how to get to the stop nearest to my hotel. As it was, we drove in circles through the lighted underground tunnels in Vegas before I surrendered to the fact that I’d be walking the five minutes back to my hotel. I guess you could say that I was back to square one, save one experience with sourcing and a free Tesla ride. No complaints there!
The next day, I woke early and excitedly prepared for my big day at Magic, dressing the part (kind of)! I walked across the street and entered the well-adorned Convention Center that had more than adequately prepared for this event. The promotions, marketing, presentations, and entertainment were all spot on. Salt-N-Pepa was going to perform! This place was busy! I marched up to the doors and nervously offered my name. They printed out my ticket, which still said “sourcing” and sent me away. I tried to explain that so-and-so put me in the system as their guest. They told me I could go upstairs and stand in line behind over 100 other attendees to see if Registration could find my ticket. I did. Nothing. I went down to the cafeteria and called my husband to wish him a Happy Valentine’s Day and to declare all of my frustrations to him, while drowning my sorrows in a holiday themed donut. By the way, my flight left that afternoon. Had I lined up other things to do, I would not have been so persistent. I walked towards the front exit of the building where I ran into Angela, the other amazing boutique owner that was attending. As it was, her husband decided to take part in the event before catching his flight (we were on the same flight home). She told me to go get in line with him and she would sponsor me. Even that was a difficult process but, at last, I had my golden ticket! After basically clawing my way in, I suddenly became overwhelmed and felt awkward as if everyone could tell I’d never been before. I still didn’t have a business card or a website. Some vendors wouldn’t even let me look in their booths but there were plenty that did. This place was enormous! I spent hours feeling clothes, snapping photos of the tags, visiting with the vendors and collecting business cards. All-in-all, it was a success—I had been transformed!
When I got home, I sat down with my stack of business cards and one-by-one attempted to log onto their sites. Do you think that went off without a hitch? Of course it didn’t! Why would it? To get into any of these websites, you had to upload all those documents that I didn’t have and you also had to include your website, that I still didn’t have. I managed to use my EIN number and legitimate business certification to register and that did work for a few of the companies but there were several that denied my access. All I wanted to do was get going on my retail business for Pete’s sake! The companies that made it possible are the ones that eventually profited so that was good decision making on their part.
I did glean some pertinent information from the sourcing event but quite frankly, I was a little apprehensive. Although it’s very expensive for the venders to attend, there is no vetting process per se so I guess (theoretically) it’s possible that a very motivated and thrifty crook, could walk away with one’s start-up money. I also had limited (as in no) knowledge of standards and quality so was too overwhelmed to commit. Another minor detail; I didn’t have the money for my first product. I did, however, bring a stack of pamphlets home to sift through at my leisure and finally settled on an American owned company that produced the goods in Guatemala. I felt good about that.
So, the service dog giveaway announcement had been completed, Magic had been attended, I had completed a couple of interviews with the local news, joined two non-profit advocacy groups, partnered with some local businesses, and then learned that we would be moving across the United States for my husband’s job. Between real estate photography, building my clothing business, engaging in my children’s lives, spending quality time with friends and family, and selling a house, I hurried and got my real estate license! I completed five transactions as to generate enough income to pay for my first product; then we moved. Getting settled has been time and energy consuming but progress is still progress.
At this point, I’m marveling at God’s involvement! I have prayed for guidance and with all the doors opening, there’s just no way my good fortune has been pure chance! In one years’ time, I have addressed state leadership on matters pertaining to rare disease. I was paired with a medical student to raise awareness regarding rare disease, in hopes that the newer generations of physicians will approach rare illnesses differently...better. My friend and I completed the service dog giveaway, which was also covered by the local news. One year later, to the day, my first clothing product is complete and ready for purchase. I’m just a year into this journey; the doors keep swinging open but as you can see, there is nothing “easy” about starting a clothing line!