How This Fashion Startup Manages Its Complicated Supply Chain Operations
Aimee Groth, Sep. 20, 2011
While in the Hamptons a few summers ago, Monique Moore and Anne Botica came up with a brilliant business concept: fashionable clothing with an SPF factor. There was next to nothing like it in the U.S. market (save for athletic clothes sold by retailers like REI).
Within a few months, they traveled to Hong Kong to source their fabrics, got their products approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation, and introduced their premiere Mott 50 line last spring.
We recently sat down with Moore to talk about why she left her job at Condé Nast Digital to launch Mott 50:
What inspired you to launch the fashion line?
The idea for Mott 50 started during a day at the beach. While in the Hamptons, I noticed a real shift in trend – everyone was covered up, wearing hats, wearing lots of sunblock; everyone was being conscientious of their skin.
My business partner has a history melanoma in her family, so she was aware of sun-protective clothing and what was out there in the marketplace. We thought there was room for more sun-protective clothing.
The first thing we tried to do was go out and source these fabrics. We spent about a year doing R&D and sourcing fabrics overseas.
How did you determine where to source?
It was a puzzle we had to put together. We sent fabrics from China to New York to our testing facility in Alabama. We tried to find fabrics we could certify through SPF 50, and sourced a treatment done during the dye process to increase the UV protection. Colors really affect the UV penetration. White actually protects more than a stone or a khaki color.
We’re constantly testing, developing and sourcing new fabrics. It’s one of our most important components.
Our fabrics are certified by the Skin Cancer Foundation and we have their seal of recommendation.
When we first met a year ago, you were on your way to China.
Yes, meeting with the mills, sourcing the fabrics. Figuring out the fabrics that would work, based on our research.
Neither of our backgrounds are in production, so we worked with a firm that helped us find a sourcing agent overseas. He’s based in Hong Kong.
Why did you decide to source products in China?
We chose China because it has a lot of the fabrics and capabilities for our treatments. It also offers an affordable place to produce but they also have pretty high quality control and standards. We do some domestic production as well.
We had a couple issues with our factory in China where things came in that weren’t made to the quality that we wanted and we felt that we couldn’t sell them to our consumers, so that obviously was a point where we thought, “Oh no, these garments are not sellable.”
We did quality control here in the United States – a lot of which we did ourselves, resewing buttons. And then we had a factory here in New York. Unfortunately we had to discard some of the items.
Did you then end your relationship with that company?
Yes. There are some companies we've ended relationships with and others we've continued to work with because production. It can be a challenge at times and it’s never perfect.
How do you manage other elements of the supply chain?
We have a warehouse in Andover, Massachusetts called Quiet Logistics, which is based on robotics. We do a lot of e-commerce and these robots pack the goods for us.
We’re also going to expanding to wholesale. We’ve got a couple stores in Florida right now – for example, UV Wear, a boutique that sells all sun protective clothing just opened in Miami, and they carry Mott 50 as a premiere label.
Your product is clothing with an SPF factor. Do you have a fall/winter collection?
We have a fall/winter collection coming out that’s limited – it's launching in early October. It's smaller and was produced domestically.
And of course, we've got a spring/summer 2012 collection. The fabric is more lightweight – an improvement on the fabric we offered before. We’re constantly working to get fabrics that are natural and breathable.
How did you determine pricing?
Our highest-priced item is $145. And since we’re an e-commerce site, customer service is really important. We offer exchanges and everything.
What other sites inspired your Mott50 site?
We based our model off of other e-commerce sites – ShopBop, Intermix, Calypso.
Who are some partners?
We've consulted with an outside firm for marketing and PR on the logo and the name [inspired by Mott Street in SoHo, where they were once roommates], and on building out the website and some design collateral.
We also work with boutiques and dermatologists. We are looking at other collaborators in terms of product, for example a sunglasses or sunscreen company.
And you've received a lot of publicity.
We’ve been on the Today Show twice, on The View, which is very exciting. We were in Shape, W, Elle, Travel and Leisure, Marie Claire, and quite a few others that are all listed on our blog.
Daily Candy was hugely effective for us and the New York Times Style blog was also outstanding. It drove an exponential amount of traffic to our site.
Who are your competitors?
Coolibar has been around for over 10 years. They've have done a really good job carving out a space. There’s also a lot in the sort of athletic world, including LL Bean and REI.
But we really wanted to come out with something that was a little bit more fashionable and a little bit easier to incorporate into your daily life so that you don’t feel like you’re slipping into a protective uniform.
And you recently spent some time in the Hamptons and Nantucket?
Yes - during the summer we were focusing primarily on New England, so we spent quite a bit of time in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons doing trunk shows.
How about funding? Who are your investors?
It’s a small business, so we don’t disclose specific numbers – but we were able to get some investors who helped us realize this, and we’re very conscientious when it comes to how we spend our money.
When did you decide to leave your job?
We founded the business in February of 2010, and during that time, we kept our jobs and started working in the evenings on weekends on the business plan – we worked on finding and sourcing agents over in Hong Kong. We had most of that done when we started the business, and in April 2010, we resigned from our jobs.
How's the startup life? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
We find ourselves working until midnight, and the work never stops on weekends, because it’s our passion. We do a good job of delegating tasks – Anne handles most of the production items and I handle most of the marketing and PR.
We tend to make a lot of the big decisions together, just to make sure it’s aligned with our vision and our mission and our goals.
Who are your inspirations?
For our Spring-Summer 2011 collection, we really worked hard on the basics. We love Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch, among other designers.
We get our inspiration from walking down the streets in New York City. We’re constantly taking pictures, jotting down notes. I always have my camera with me. If I see someone who has great fashion but also is very conscientious of the sun and protective, I’ll ask to take a picture that we’ll use for our blog.
How many employees do you have?
It's currently just Anne and me, and we had a couple interns this summer. We’re hoping to bring a third person on to help us with production and design.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
Go for it. Surround yourself by strong, supportive people and maintain a positive outlook. It can be very nerve-wracking at times, but it can also be so fulfilling and rewarding. If you have that love, I highly encourage people.
Talk with other people and hear about different businesses and how they’ve evolved – you can really learn a lot from other people. You’ve got to be really, really bold if you want to start your line. You’ve got to be persistent and get yourself out there.
That said, I’m fortunate to have worked in a corporate capacity. I learned so much from my colleagues at Condé Nast and from working in a larger organization.
Click here to see the Mott 50 clothing line
About Quiet Logistics
Quiet Logistics delivers an exceptional, high volume customer experience for some of the eCommerce industry’s fastest growing fashion and lifestyle e-tailers and brands.