Florence Franks (Part 2)
Artist (emerging designer, linen clothing)
Current Project: Eriri Clothing
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Current Residence: Paris, France
Today we return to how her brand is emerging - how she is toggling between her brand and her current job, how she is better understanding her audience and the steps for her relaunch. I've split up the discussion in five articles so look out for them!
Real Life From an Emerging Designer: a Personal Start to Realizing a Story, Part 1
Real Life From an Emerging Designer: Your Audience vs Your Customers, Part 2
Real Life From an Emerging Designer: Redefining You as an Entrepreneur, Part 3
Real Life From an Emerging Designer: Matching Your Marketing Strategy with Your Personality, Part 4
Real Life From an Emerging Designer: Managing Your Side job, Part 5
During the interview Florence and I found how our backgrounds interweaved through bag design, sustainability and our love of travel but I didn’t have a chance to connect with her about my design project in West Africa.
When I returned home after partnering with artisans to create sustainable bags, I would have these singular moments of euphoria- being satiated on the deepest level. I had worked on a project that checkmarked off all my boxes of need- creativity, collaboration, empowerment, altruistism. Even through the frustration of working in new cultures, languages and strict deadlines, Each memory held a fullness, a rich completeness that left a smile pasted on my face long after my trip ended. I wonder if this is how Florence felt after making after her solo trip through South America. As it was that praiseworthy feeling of seeing artisans hand make products we sometimes take for granted and hearing their stirring stories that fueled her desire to start her company.
Florence speaks four languages and has traveled extensively. Her blended Italian accent is mixed with ten years of living in Paris, English infused from cities like Lagos and Spanish from treks in Bolivia. When you listen to her, you not only hear her story, but also her personality. It’s the rhythm she's created as she talks - driving the weight of her words into sentences, determined, as she explains her point of view of the world, her values, her next steps through the challenging times.
Florence explains, “It’s something I really want to do even if it’s difficult. I try to have a project to put all my interests together: visual storytelling, fabric, validation of know how.”
“If you were starting your brand today, day one, what would make it easier?” I ask her.
“I didn’t know the untold rules of the system - that a brand is more than the product that you sell... the communication. Your network is a part of your audience and your audience are not always your clients. Your audience are also the readers of your blog, the press, the people that influence others to think a certain way of your brand.
The most successful brands are where you have two-three people working on it. I’ve met sustainable brands that are amazing but work alone. After three years they’ve not yet made a sustainable income to live off of. They freelance as a side job. "
The Side Job
Florence has a background in European law and sociology, now in a director role working with youth workers and lots of kids from 3-8 years old. Four days a week she works in the afternoon giving her time for the brand in the mornings.
She says, “In the beginning, I thought I could manage the two - the brand and my job. But actually I couldn’t.
I am organized in general, but for my brand I’m not organized and tend to get distracted easily. Time management tends to still be a challenge. I’ve never had a brand before - being an entrepreneur is new.
The first Covid lockdown was difficult. I was a bit down because the school was closed, but in May, I was excited when the school opened back up. Sometimes I'm happy I have both - I love the kids! Being an entrepreneur is tiring so the job gives me a break to be free! Also I save money for the brand to continue.”
“The life as an entrepreneur is challenging...
“If you could change your schedule, what would be ideal?” I ask her.
“I would work everyday on the brand...
I would schedule the time to do more sports. I like boxing or running. I'm not a running person though! I can’t do it alone. I don’t have a coach. I love to read, listen to podcasts, do art. I recently bought stuff to do embroidery.
I would reserve mornings for fitness and the “boring” projects for the day. But it’s overwhelming when you do things by yourself. The life as an entrepreneur is challenging. I am solutions oriented but need to be pushed. I generally take a lot of time before making a decision and sometimes an entrepreneur needs to take risks and find solutions for problems you encounter everyday. The way you react to these challenges says a lot about a person. Do I have what it takes to manage a project alone?”
Florence mentioned in Part 1 that she thought about partnerships and collaborations in the past to help organize herself better and advance the brand more quickly. In the end she reevaluated.
["...because in a way I felt that my project was too personal. I found the name of my brand with my father. Eriri is in Igbo, a language and heritage of Nigeria. It's difficult to find someone to anchor in the project knowing this.”
Florence said that she would need a person that has ‘les nerfs solides.’ It’s a person that can withstand pressure and have a good sense of themselves...really grounded.
”I tried to do collaborations but discovered not everyone is open...into sharing...has a higher mindset.
I'm ambitious, not competitive.
People say ‘oh, you are an ethical fashion brand, so it means you are a good person.’ No! It's not true. People think that because you are a sustainable brand, everything is perfect. Behind the scenes, there is always a personality."]
She is working on growing her instagram community, dress and top prototypes, building a website and promoting a survey she created to understand her audience better.
Understanding her Audience
Right now Florence’s morning routine involves analyzing the responses she’s received from her audience. She wants to understand what types of clothing styles and colors they prefer. She says it's essential to engage people and see what they want and need in their wardrobe.
She has a goal of receiving an additional 100 more surveys completed by people who love linen and appreciate things made locally and artisanal and sustainable. “It’s important to know what people want since my strategy is to do the online pre-order model, with little to no inventory, a lead time and made on demand.”
She explains how Covid has changed the way brands go to market. “Before, people could see your garment on the street, on a model or in a window display and be attracted to know more. In Paris it's expensive to own a boutique or even participate in a pop up store or put money into production if you are not sure what or how many pieces you’ll sell. Covid adds additional challenges but its good the industry is introducing new ways for creatives to sell and showcase their work.”
Florence is working on expanding her email list and has asked certain facebook and ethical sustainability groups to complete the questions. She’s learning which specific features could work for various tops and dresses, price/quality ratios, buying habits, as well as what people will and will not tolerate about the material of linen. She is excited to have a deeper conversation around the fabric, its complexity and how you live in and care for it.
Surveys: What They Can (and Won’t) Reveal
Surveys can reveal a lot of things like price tolerance, color preference even styles an audience would be most likely to buy.
There are surveys (and focus groups) from an audience and those from actual customers that reveal different things. Those from an audience are good at revealing likelihood but not predictions. Relying on them too much using them to replace sales data, valuable competitive research or using their information to solely create styles could be risky.
Those from actual customers and a loyal following is a treasure trove of information. Let’s take the company Betabrand for example. They are a fashion meets tech brand based in San Francisco, CA. They constantly survey their customers and loyal following, using technology to determine what garments they should make next. There is even a countdown timer within a certain timeframe in which people vote! Once a garment receives a certain number of votes, that garment goes into the pattern making process and they make one prototype. Then they list that garment along with perhaps two color choices. Then comes the on-demand strategy. Customers buy or “fund” the garment and if there are enough people that fund it, it gets made.
They say, “be among the first to fund to get the biggest discount - 30%! You also get bragging rights of being the first to wear it. If enough people fund the prototype, we produce the garment and ship it to you.”
Sometimes there is a limited time in which the garment is available but if it becomes a bestseller, they keep it in inventory. That process is like a survey turned into a ‘system on steroids’. I love how they go a step further than a regular survey to put the consumer's money where their vote is. More than 2 million people have joined their “design department” to create workwear that performs like their favorite workout wear. Here, they use the pull approach.
For small brands like us, we have to be careful. Having the public design our garments (for the likelihood of purchase) when nothing is at stake for them, is very risky. There is no transaction of money for a vote. But the designing on demand system is pretty great.
You can almost put a system in place quite similar as Betabrand if we are creative. What if we designed garments in 3D ourselves, without investing in a lot of money in pattern making or material beforehand?
I admit that I’ve seen some brands make the mistake of having a “if I build it, they will come” mentality. They put all the money into producing the garment (pattern making, etc) and put it online waiting for people to “fund” it. Some rely on a push strategy thinking their style is the selling point. Betabrand is a great fusion of both entrepreneur and designer/artist I talked about above. “They want your feedback on tomorrow’s fashions today.”
What an interesting model. To take our research (surveys) further, we may not be ready to go to the extent of that tech meets design route but we can definitely take away some learnings.
What are your thoughts on this approach? Have surveys worked for you? What were your takeaways?
Feel Free to Take Florence's Survey Here.
The Personality of an Entrepreneur
Do you remember in Part 1, Florence said she was grappling with how to be an entrepreneur? She said she takes more time than others in making decisions; relishes tasks involving research and sourcing; and feels she doesn’t take enough risks.
By definition, an entrepreneur is a person who creates a new business or innovator of new ideas, goods and services. We are probably all entrepreneurs if we have a business then. Even as a freelancer or contractor, if we declare taxes as a solo entity then yes, we are one.
We can also describe an entrepreneur as having a certain mindset, and yes a type of personality. So what kind of mindset? Sure, it’s about passion, solving problems creatively, having that unrelenting, driving attitude. There is always a poster child for this definition right? I always think of a tech giant - someone fierce, money driven, takes risks, hungry.
But this doesn’t have to be the case- we can create or re-create our own definition and poster child.
Read Further Here in Part 3 Look out for it next week.