How does a Vice President of Goldman Sachs investment bank become a successful children’s clothing designer and manufacturer? From idea, financing, marketing and all the steps in between, learn from her successes and challenges along the way.
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INTERVIEW 1: Jessica Frey, Founder Pee Wee Patch Kids (10/22/2011)
RACHEL: Hi, I’m Rachel Olsen, founder of Best Moms Products, where mompreneurs share their adventures in business. Today I’m talking with Jessica Frey, founder of Pee Wee Patch Kids. Pee Wee Patch Kids is a children’s clothing line that Jessica founded in 2009 after searching for the perfect pant to protect her own child’s tender knees as she crawled and cruised. They’re thoughtfully designed with an adorable padded knee-patch to protect babies as they crawl, stumble and tumble through babyhood and the toddler years.
So, ever wonder what it takes to become a designer and manufacturer of a children’s clothing line? How does a vice president of Goldman Sachs Investment Bank make this change?
RACHEL: I’m glad to have you today. Welcome to our show.
JESSICA: Thank you, thank you so much for this opportunity.
RACHEL: Yeah, so tell us, how did you, how did you make such a big change in your life?
JESSICA: Well, I um, the change happened when I became pregnant and decided that I no longer wanted to be in the work force in that traditional manner, um, because it was important to me to be at home with my daughter. So, um, I left Goldman Sachs and, um, spent a good portion of the first year just focusing on being a mom and spending time with my daughter, um, and then I started to feel like, you know, maybe there could be something else that I could focus my energy on. And,
RACHEL: You weren’t in retail, so how did this particular idea come to you?
JESSICA: Well, I think it came to me like a lot of ideas come to moms; where you are spending so much time with your children and you realize, you know, hey, there could be a better way to do this or a better way to do that and I, um, I thought, you know, they should make some pants that, um, protect babies’ knees as they crawl because I see my daughter crawling around, um, and her knees were getting red and scuffed up and then I asked myself the question of “Why should it be ‘they’ when it could be me who does that?” So, that’s how the idea blossomed.
RACHEL: Ok. What’s the first thing that you did when you had the idea?
JESSICA: Well, I had no idea what it would take. So the first thing, I, um, the first thing I did was to see if there was something out there already of a similar idea that I had. And, um, and there, you know, my idea is not new, there are other, um, moms and other companies out there that are producing a pretty similar product, however, I felt that I had a different take on it and, um, and I could, I could, you know, find my own niche within that market. So, um, besides researching competition, the next thing I did was, ah, well, I flew out my mother-in-law, because she is a seamstress and I’m not, and had her sew up a prototype of the pants just so I could get a visual of how it would look and what it would take, um, to make these pants.
RACHEL: OK. You started looking at competition, was one of the first things you said. So, how do you feel, like, how did you still decide to do it after looking at the competition? What did you feel that you could do that could differentiate yourself from the other companies that were already doing this? So it validates the market, right, that there were other companies doing it?
RACHEL: So that’s a positive?
RACHEL: How is your product different or how did you think you could do it better?
JESSICA: I just felt that mine, that my ideas that I had, would combine the functionality that I saw some other companies were doing so they were doing a pant that had the same functionality as my idea, however, they weren’t as what I would determine as a fashionable or stylish. So what would appeal to me as a mother, um, and, you know, a mother who wants to dress their children in cute clothes (laughs).
JESSICA: I felt like there, there, there was a spot there for something that combined the functionality and the fashion that I, that I wanted to bring to the market.
RACHEL: OK. You had an idea as more of a designer and then,your mother-in-law comes out and then what happens? You make the prototype and you decide “this is it”, like were you 100% sure, this is it; this is what you wanted to focus on?
JESSICA: Yeah, you know, it just felt right. So, she came out, she made the pants, um, we kinda worked with some different fabrics and we tried ‘em on my daughter and, and then, you know, got some feed-back from friends and family. You know, “What do you think?” and from other moms, um, and, the feed-back was positive, so I felt like, well, I just kept thinking, well I’ll explore the next step. So, what would it take after that? So, after I had the prototype was the next step. And, then what I decided I needed to do was figure out would it be a viable, um, product and in, in terms of the cost to have it made, and, and then the cost of, I would need to sell it for. So, um, I had to embark on figuring out how to have clothing manufactured. It was completely not in my background, as you’d mentioned before, and I had to educate myself. So I spent the better part of a year educating myself on how to get into apparel manufacturing.
RACHEL: OK. So, yeah, tell us exactly what did that take? What did you do to get into apparel manufacturing?
JESSICA: Well, you know, I mean it started with Google, right, so I just started figuring out, I looked at other blogs of moms who had, had, you know, had started this process. I, I searched for, um, any classes that might make sense for me and I actually ended up finding, um, a program in San Francisco which is wonderful that, um, fosters entrepreneurs and they had a specific course on, um, getting into the fashion business.
RACHEL: What was that called? Sorry to cut you off but…
JESSICA: I think it was called, I think it was something as simple as, like, “entering into the fashion business” or “making your way in the fashion business” or something like that. The center is called, The Renaissance, Center of San Francisco.
JESSICA: And, they promote a lot of small entrepreneurs and, and will do courses on all kinds of industries and topics but they just happened to have one that was around the fashion industry. And it was a very nuts and bolts type of course so it was, you know, start from the beginning in terms of making a business plan and figuring out your marketing strategy, and, um, and your marketing mix and how are you going to sell, and the cost of goods sold, and the very, you know, technical things you need to do before you even embark, um, on having something made, or, or you know, or get taking the next step. So, that, so, for me it was perfect because I’m a very methodical person and I needed to run all the numbers and see, you know, on paper was this going to make sense. Like, yes, it’s a cute idea, but is it feasible?
RACHEL: Right. So our listeners have a better idea and understanding of this, did you put numbers into a spreadsheet? How did you start calculating what your costs were going to be?
JESSICA: That was very difficult, actually, to do, um, yes, I mean because, yes, I had to guess a lot, a lot of numbers, right, you know; I mean, fabric costs and manufacturing costs and shipping costs, and all of those things. I had to thoroughly research and it took and, and, just sort of guess at times how much it’s going to cost. I started with the fabric and, and, you know, got my resaler’s license and, and went to the fabric show in L.A. and found out how much it cost per yard of fabric for a reseller and then started to, you know, then I went and talked to different manufacturers in San Francisco, which again, was a hard step because there the manufacturing industry in San Francisco has dwindled in size. Most people, um, produce overseas but I, um, was very adamant about doing this, this production, this run anyway, in San Francisco and so I had to network to find these manufacturers in San Francisco and then talk to them, OK, about an estimate of what it would cost per pair of pants to sew them together. And, and the, you know, in my needs specifically, I had so many, um, different details with the patch and the different ways to put it on to the pants, that I had many layers of costs that I had to figure out and it took a long time.
RACHEL: I guess.
JESSICA: But, yes, that’s exactly what I did to build a business plan around that and kind of give myself some room there because I didn’t have hard and fast numbers until I was actually ready to go into production.
RACHEL: Right. So how long do you think, from start to finish, from when you had the idea to when you decided, to do your first round in production in San Francisco?
JESSICA: It was about 15 months.
RACHEL: OK and how often were you working on this? Like, how many hours a week would you put in, how would you manage it all with, um, I know you have, you know, a 3 1/2 year old and you also have, like what, 10 week old twins?
JESSICA: Yes, Yes.
RACHEL: Oh my god! So tell me how does all of this work….
JESSICA: Well, in the beginning I would just try to do it during naptime, right, and so I would get in a few hours during the week and, um, make my calls and attend the class, fortunately it was geared towards, um, working people and, and, you know, people with busy lives and so the classes were at night. So, I would do that and um, it was a very slow process which was hard for me because I wanted to move it along much quicker, um, than, than I could. But, you know, my first job is still being a mother to my children so, that, that took priority. So that’s, you know, I think had I been able to focus 30 – 40 hrs a week on it, this, I’m sure I would have been able to cut the time in at least half.
RACHEL: You’ve gotten to this point, it’s 15 months down the road, you’ve figured how much money you’ll need to start this business. When you figured this out, did you figure it out through the manufacturing process or did you take it all the way through what you’re going to need for marketing and then customers and getting shipping set up and the whole thing or…Tell me how you figured all that out and then how you went about financing.
JESSICA: Well, I, I, I’ve, it’s changed definitely, so initially I thought that I would go into brick and mortar boutiques and try to sell them that way and then, like I said, I’ve revised that to sell primarily direct to the consumer. And, I, this initial run has always, for me, been a test marketing run, so I produced the pants, I had them made, I built the website and, but I did a small run so I know that, you know, I’m going to try to sell through these, we’ll see what the, you know, I’m seeing what the market will bear with it in terms of the price and the interest and then my long term vision is I would like to be able to have them be manufactured at a lower cost without going overseas but, that’s a very real possibility for, you know, I just have to be honest with myself that at some point there might be, might be a need to go overseas if I do want to get into a traditional boutique type situation so that my costs are lower. So, it’s evolving. I think it’s hard to say, you know, I wanna see where this goes with this first run and then if, you know, what I’m hoping and what I’m working towards is that I’ll be able to do a larger run at a lower cost.
RACHEL: Un huh…
JESSICA: And then, and then slowly start to move that mix of wholesale versus retail sales for pay.
RACHEL: OK. So tell me how is it going so far? So now you’ve gone through manufacturing, you’re marketing it. How are you marketing it? How’s it selling? What are you learning about all of that?
JESSICA: Well, so I’m marketing, um, right now I’m doing only online sales. So, um, I you know, I invested a lot in my website and I have a store on my website and, um, and I, the first thing I did once the website was up and my pants and my outfits were manufactured, was have a trunk show, um, which was wonderful. I have four wonderful friends who threw, who put it together for me and we, um, that was my sort of entry into the market. Which was great. So that gave me some positive feed-back in terms of like, you know, OK, let’s move this forward. And the, and then, in terms of promoting it online my marketing strategy really is to get in front of a lot of mommy bloggers and, and really work the social media angle because I think that that’s how a lot of moms who own their own businesses find success these days. Um, what happened in between was I had twins, in between, in the middle of all this was just sort of, you know….
RACHEL: Oh my gosh, it amazes me you’re, I mean, you keep going. I can’t believe you’re working, you’re doing this interview. This is a Sunday afternoon, everyone. (Laughs)
JESSICA: (Laughs) I hear babies crying in the background.
RACHEL: Oh, no. Let me know if you have to go. So I wanted, OK, so, um, OK, so you’ve gone through all of this and, um, you’re doing the marketing and so, social media, I want to focus on that because I think that’s something that, you know, all of us as mompreneurs and entrepreneurs, it’s really where the future is at and it’s really where somebody who is innovative can make a living and we see that with SC. We see that with all of these different things. So, blogs, how do you about, OK, so tell me a little bit, like you’ve been blogged about and who covered you and how exactly did you get that to happen?
JESSICA: Well, um, so yes, so recently I was a feature on a blog called “Launch Her” and they primarily focus on, or they focus on women owned businesses and I was introduced to them through another, um, woman or mom owned business and I, so I just want to say that I think it’s key that we network with other mom owned businesses because we, you can promote each other. Um so, I was introduced to “Launch Her” through another company and they, and they have a submission process, as do many blogs out there, where you submit your product and, and you write your story. You tell what it’s about and they decide if they’re going to do a feature on you and, and, um, most of ‘em are, you know, legit in terms of they’re basing their own opinion, you’re not paying for the feature; um, and there’s a lot of those out there and I think if you can just spend the time researching that and networking and trying, you know, find all of them, right, you can start to get some buzz about your product.
RACHEL: Right. So, in terms of movement, it sounds like obviously the more time that you have to dedicate to this, the more movement you would have, the more press you would get. I mean, it’s basically free publicity for you.
RACHEL: So what did you do as far as publicity? Did you do a press release? What are some good ways to get other publicity for free?
JESSICA: Um, I did do a press release. I had a friend who is a former PR executive and she wrote up a press release for me, um, and I sent it to, ahead of the launch party, I sent it to a couple of local blogs who just, who just do, um, who do features on upcoming events locally and so I got on a local in Oakland; which was great with the press release. And then, um, like I said, I, I’ve sort of had to put this on hold because of the twins.
JESSICA: But, um, getting back into it, I am going to be doing a vendor fair in October and I will again write a press release about it, send it to local press, send it to some local bloggers and, you know, just hope to get the word out there. And, you know, I have to say that I think Twitter and FaceBook, um, are huge and you need to be tapped into that to do it and I am. I have a very small presence at the moment on Twitter but it’s amazing already, like the impact I feel like it has, um, and, if I like were able to dedicate a lot of hours to it, I think that you actually do see some successes. (Laugh)
RACHEL: (Laugh) Yeah, no, this is great. I mean, I think you’ve touched on all of, you know, the really important things and interesting and how you got started and, you know, we talked a little about financing and the classes that you took and your background and all of those transitions and so it sounds like I want to go back to the financing too for the people who are listening to this. So you figure out how much it’s going to cost – do you feel like from where you started it to where you are now, like your projections were accurate or do you feel like there were a lot of miscellaneous things that came up and if there were, what were some of those?
JESSICA: Um, I feel like they’re pretty accurate and that’s because I spent a lot of time studying my due diligence. I think if you don’t spend the time really thinking every step of the way through there are surprises. And I was still surprised during the process, of like how much it costs to have hang tags made, or how much it costs, you know, to get the little labels for your clothing. And, then once I decided I wanted to become an LLC, there were big costs like around that that I hadn’t anticipated. The bulk of the cost, obviously, is the manufacturing for me and the website. So I had a good handle on those two major budget expenditures. But, you know, there are absolutely always things that continue to creep into your budget.
RACHEL: Yeah, right, right. You can’t plan for it all but you can at least know that when you’re putting money towards it, whether it’s financing alone or doing it yourself or however you do it, to put aside a little extra chunk for all those unexpected things. So is there anything you would have done differently in the start-up process that could benefit other people who are just starting a business?
JESSICA: Well, I mean, I think I’ve had some moments, oops moments, as you would call them, that are pretty specific to manufacturing children’s apparel but what I found was that you, and this actually probably applies to many businesses, but you, you’re the one, you’re the owner, you’re the one with the idea, with the design idea and the buck stops here, right? So you have to be on top of it. You have to be on top of any vendor that you’re outsourcing any of the work to, um, and for me I had two major mishaps with the manufacturing process with the pants and with the shirts. I mean, luckily they were able to be resolved, but I thought I was on top of it and you literally need to be baby-sitting this. This is your baby.
RACHEL: Right. So can you give me an example of one of your mishaps?
JESSICA: So, um, one of ‘em was I used T-shirts blanks for my, for the tops that go with the pants in the outfit and I was having them sew on a pocket to coordinate with the pants and I went and had a meeting and talked about the placement and how it was going to be sewed on and everything looked like it was going to go great. I go to pick up the 200 shirts that I had done and, I’m not kidding, 80% of them, the pocket was crooked and literally I could not sell a shirt with the crooked pocket. But they had gone through the whole run, so had I been there the first day and seen the first ten come off, then I would’ve caught it in the beginning and saved myself some money and saved them time; I mean, everybody time. But I didn’t and so I had to, the manufacturer was reluctant to pull the pockets off; they were worried that it was going to create big holes in the shirt. So I ended up having my mother-in-law again and my mother, who are detail seamstresses, take off all the pockets and put them back on for me.
RACHEL: Oh my gosh.
JESSICA: Which is an incredible amount of work and clearly, you know, I had paid to have this done professionally and, you know, it was my screw-up, it was my screw-up for not being there and seeing the first ten.
RACHEL: Wow, that’s interesting and you wouldn’t have necessarily known to do that. I mean, you had the meeting, you put it in their hands and then there’s no repercussion. They didn’t want to take that chance and so then basically you’re out that money you had spent for that and then you have to find a solution on your own.
JESSICA: Exactly, exactly. I mean, we, you know, ended up negotiating a discount in the price because it was their mistake. They should have also caught it, but at the end of the day, these are my shirts. So it was up to me to fix them or start the process all over again.
RACHEL: Live and learn. Next time you’ll be there and you’ll know that. What’s the one personal trait that you feel is most important as an entrepreneur?
JESSICA: Dedication. You really have to have that inner drive to do this and you have to love what you’re doing because there are so, I would say not just as an entrepreneur but as a mom entrepreneur, a mompreneurs, you, there are so many things in your day that can get you distracted or you just feel like, look, it’s too much. It’s too much for me to balance; it’s too much for me to handle being a mom and trying to get this off the ground. So I think you really have to dig deep before you embark on something, to decide like is this going to bring me satisfaction; enough satisfaction to warrant the late nights and the constant juggling and the stress that comes along with adding this into your life. But, um, for me personally, even though it hasn’t gone as quickly as I would’ve like, it’s rewarding. It’s, it gives me something else to kinda feel good about, you know, what I’m doing at this stage of my life.
RACHEL: No, that’s great. I think that is, that’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing that insight and I feel like it’s, you know, um, it’s good. It’s good to have another focus, you know, and I thank you for sharing how Pee Wee Patch arrived and for candidly sharing your ah ha moment, and your uh oh moment. And, Pee Wee Patch Kids can be found online at www.peeweepatchkids.com. Is there anything else you want to leave us with, Jessica?
JESSICA: I just want to say thank you, Rachel, for doing this. I think this is a wonderful way for people to hear each other’s stories and learn. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I would have liked to talked to somebody who was in my exact situation when I was starting out. So, I’m going to continue on and I have constantly so many questions. This is great that you’re, that you have this forum.
RACHEL: Oh my god, thank you. I appreciate it. I mean, this is the exact reason why I’m doing this. Yeah, I’ve been there too and I feel like as you try to go through to create a product or do something on the side, it’s so much more helpful to have, to learn from, other people’s mistakes before you make the big ones yourself; because, we’re all going to make mistakes but at least we can avoid some of them.
RACHEL: So, all right. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. For those of you watching, listening or reading this – If you like what you heard, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter. I promise I won’t spam you. If you are interested in being interviewed, please fill out our web form at www.bestmomproducts.com. If you are an expert/service provider and are interested in sponsoring a segment about your service, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.