WRITTEN Apparel started as a dream to build a globally desired and respected fashion brand that makes women look and feel good.
Name of Company: WRITTEN Apparel
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Studio at The Dostal House
Product / Service Offering: Women’s fashion brand specializing in unique pencil skirts for the modern woman.
Founder Interviewed: Emily Carlson
This article is part of our Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight Series featuring female entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you?
Let’s be honest, the fashion industry isn’t necessarily all rainbows and unicorns all the time. In fact, it’s been called ‘elitist,’ ‘narcissistic,’ ‘saturated,’ ‘brutally cut throat’ and then some…just to name a few.
Why would anyone ever want to be part of something like this you ask? For me, the answer was simple. I believe that everyone was born with their own unique story to write in life. Personally, as someone who has always been the walking combination of both bold and shy, I fell in love with fashion because it was the way for me to tell my story without having to speak a word. A conversation piece…an ice breaker…a friend maker. Now I am thrilled and humbled to design the wardrobe for the millions of women around the world who are just like me.
I’m a rule bender, a path paver, and an innovator. I’m proud, passionate, and thoughtful. I’m a WRITTEN Woman, fashionably telling the story I’m writing in life one pencil skirt at a time.
I’m motivated by the fact that I’m doing something somewhat foreign in the area of the Midwest that I’ve grown up in and currently live in. It motivates me because I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and I’ve spent my fair share of time and money figuring things out and learning the ropes. Now, I confidently serve as a resource for others wanting to do the same and not knowing where to start. I get emails from young girls and boys all the time wanting to know how I’m doing what I’m doing. I never ever thought by pursuing this dream, that I would become a role model for others too.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
My love for fashion and design organically morphed into a company that is continually evolving. The most common question I receive is when did I start, and it’s somewhat of a tiered response. I began designing clothing after finishing school for merchandising and design. Beginning with what some know as up-cycling, I’d find various pieces at Salvation Army or Goodwill that could be revived or re-imagined into something new and exciting. Around 2012, those pieces were showcased in a fashion show I produced early on, more so as a hobby.
From there, I started creating original designs 100% from scratch. Local seamstresses worked with me to have the designs sewn and made. For about a year during this process, I was figuring out and networking the fashion industry to determine how to make this big dream into a reality.
Finally in 2014, I decided to start my own label. Meanwhile, continuing to also figure out how the heck I was going to turn my label into a self sustaining company. After designing under a different brand name, at one point I decided I needed a more focused brand identity and re-branded.
In March of 2016, I launched a crowdfunding campaign with WRITTEN Apparel. That was where my very first designs were available for the public to select and purchase. You could say I was at the beginning stages of a business at that point.
In August 2016, I was 1 0f 6 companies accepted into the Iowa Startup Accelerator. At that point, I paired my design talent with business acumen. I consider the official launch of WRITTEN Apparel to be at the culmination of that program in November of 2016.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
WRITTEN Apparel is filling the need for professional attire that isn’t stuffy or boring. More and more women are striving for executive roles and higher paid positions in the workforce. I like to say that more Girl Bosses are surfacing in this day and age. They are taking charge of their dreams, they are paving their own paths, they are writing their own life story.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
So many brands offer pencil skirts within their collections, but it seems they only include it because of it’s classic nature. We are building our collections around pencil skirts – not simply including them. A WRITTEN pencil skirt sets itself apart from competitors in silhouette, quality, and design. Our shape doesn’t taper as drastically as other skirts at the knee, so it’s far more comfortable and easy to wear from day to night on those long days. Our skirts are made in the USA from seamstresses and sewers that have been carefully vetted out by skill set. The WRITTEN pencil skirt stands alone in design. If you see and touch one, you’ll know what I mean; our customers already have.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges has been capital. In the early stages it was good to bootstrap because it forced me to be scrappy in all aspects. Now knowing more about who our customer is and what designs are desired, we want to replicate it and showcase them in other markets. This takes capital for marketing and production. The “takes money to make money” conundrum has been a struggle.
Are there resources you have utilized that other women founders might find compelling or useful?
Not specific to women – but I started all of this with a meeting with the Small Business Development Center. I engaged with my local entrepreneurial community, and from there my network has grown immensely.
Another resource that I am currently utilizing are women’s co-working spaces. My friend, Meegan Hofmeister, just opened one called The Dostal House that I now work out of. We have all women owned business that work on the 2nd floor, and our main floor serves as our showroom. It’s been truly great.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
I’ve done crowdfunding and have taken a small investment as part of being accepted into the Iowa Startup Accelerator. As one requirement, we have incorporated as a Delaware C recognizing that we will need outside investment soon. We are currently seeking additional seed investment for further proof of concept beyond our immediate market.
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What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Getting it all done. It comes with the territory.
Advice to women entrepreneurs…
It’s not about being a woman or a man. The road is tough regardless. Stay true to yourself. Keep your eye on the vision. Persist and work hard.
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