Know your marketing strategy. You can have the world’s BEST new gadget, but if you don’t have a strong plan to let your customers know about it, it will still be sitting on your shelves three years from now. In today’s commerce, you must have marketing at the top of your list of hires, and you must consistently allocate resources to marketing.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deeanne Akerson. She is the co-founder of Kindred Bravely, a maternity and breastfeeding apparel brand focused on bringing comfort and connection to moms. She didn’t begin her journey as an entrepreneur until after she became a mother. Frustrated with the lack of clothing options for breastfeeding moms, Deeanne started designing her own clothing, and in February 2015, she and her husband, Garret, launched Kindred Bravely. In addition to bringing comfortable clothes to new and expectant moms, Deeanne strives to create a community of moms who support and empower each other, helping them to recognize their inherent value and beauty.
Kindred Bravely won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition in 2017 as one of the eight fastest-growing online retailers on Shopify’s platform. In 2019, Kindred Bravely was named #20 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing, privately-held US companies.
Prior to founding Kindred Bravely, Deeanne was a teacher and mathematician. She graduated summa cum laude from Pacific Union College where she was a member of the varsity volleyball team. She went on to earn her master’s degree in education in 2008, again graduating summa cum laude. When she isn’t busy with family or business, Deeanne loves running, hiking, backpacking, and traveling.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a new mom, I struggled to find clothes that were both functional and stylish. Everything fell into one of two categories: pretty but hopelessly impractical, or functional but super ugly. Since I was sure I couldn’t be the only mom who needed useful, comfortable, and beautiful clothes, I began designing a line of maternity and nursing clothes, and Kindred Bravely was born. At Kindred Bravely, we’re devoted to making life easier for pregnant and nursing moms; with products ranging from breast pads and non-skid socks to nursing bras and pajamas, every piece is created with comfort, beauty, and function in mind.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
About a year after founding Kindred Bravely, my husband (and co-founder) and I decided to visit our manufacturing partners in China. We’ve always loved traveling, and we were looking forward to the month-long trip with our two sons (then aged 2 and 4). From the usual traveler mishaps (like arriving a day early for a domestic flight from Qingdao to Beijing and taking a long train ride instead) to the struggle of trying to say “I’m a vegetarian” everywhere I ate, the entire trip was filled with unusual experiences, memorable stories, and hospitable people eager to share their country and culture with us.
One of the funniest parts of the trip was when a bra supplier in Shenzhen volunteered to take us to a park for the day. We thought that it would be nice to just relax and let the kids play. By the time we realized they actually meant a theme park, we found ourselves almost two hours away in a small, local theme park (think something in between Disneyland and a county fair). It was ridiculously hot and humid, and we were not at all prepared for that kind of excursion — we were all wearing flip-flops, and we didn’t have sunscreen or a baby carrier. At one point, we tried to buy a frozen beverage, but the vendor wouldn’t sell it to us, telling our local guide in Chinese that iced drinks are very unhealthy for young children. It was a long, exhausting day, and we were so glad to finally get back to our hotel!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A few months after starting Kindred Bravely, my husband and I were still doing everything ourselves. It was our “night job” after the boys were asleep, and we would work from 8-midnight every night. I was in charge of products and customer care, and my husband was in charge of marketing and sales. We had two products: a pajama set and a breastfeeding lounge bra. The second purchase order of the bra had recently been delivered to Amazon, and a customer wrote a review saying she had loved her first bra, but when she ordered a second time the bra was way too small. I didn’t think too much about it (maybe her breast size had changed?), but within a few days, another customer wrote the same thing. I quickly shipped some of every size and color from Amazon to myself so I could see what the customers were experiencing. After measuring about 20 random bras, I learned that every color except pink was about ¾” to 1” short in the front center! One inch makes a huge difference in bra fit, so I pulled our entire bra inventory and donated it.
The biggest lesson I learned from this mistake was that it’s essential to hire in areas where you aren’t an expert. I hadn’t been trained in textiles and couldn’t manage the orders as they increased in complexity. Shortly thereafter we prioritized hiring a production manager to oversee all orders and vendors. We also found a reliable third-party auditor and started inspecting 100% of our shipments before accepting them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that makes Kindred Bravely different from other companies is that our team is almost entirely work-from-home moms. It started naturally with our first hire: a part-time customer care representative. As a fairly new start-up, we only needed a few hours of customer care per day, and she was a mom looking for a flexible schedule that would allow her to work when her kids were napping. It was a perfect match! What began sort of accidentally soon became a habit — we hired mostly work-from-home moms, and they were almost entirely in control of what hours they worked. Somewhere along the way, we made it part of our culture to employ more and more moms — who better to understand, connect with, and serve our customers than moms themselves who intimately understand the struggles and transitions new and expectant moms are experiencing?
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like the work is never done. Constantly working and thinking about work is a recipe for burnout; maybe not this month, maybe not this year, but it will creep up on you eventually. To be honest, this is something I’m still working on, but I’ve made some progress. Here are a few things that have helped me:
● Don’t bother keeping work hours (I always worked long past any posted hours), but do set and post a few NON-work hours and KEEP THEM! I try to not work from 5:30–7:30 pm so I can be mentally present with my kids from dinnertime to bedtime.
● Take at least one day of the weekend completely off. Delete your work email and apps from your phone if you must, but mentally unplug for at least 24 hours. If that makes you anxious, have someone else in the company checking in and give them permission to call or text you if there really is something urgent that needs your attention in those 24 hours.
● Recognize and accept that it will take time to build anything you are working on. It’s not all going to get done right away. Pick the most important initiatives to push forward — the most important products, the most important services — and focus only on them. You can’t work on everything at once and trying to do it all can lead to burnout and sloppy execution.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At Kindred Bravely, one of our core values is generosity, and we’re always looking for ways to give back. When the world began to deal with the effects of Covid-19, we weren’t sure how our small company could make a difference. We realized we could help by making life a little easier for front-line health care workers who were also breastfeeding mothers. We gave every health care worker who asked one of our hands-free pumping bras, and immediately the emails, notes, posts, and comments came pouring in from nurses, doctors, paramedics, and others in the health care field. Their stories of courage and devotion to their patients and families warmed my heart, and I was so honored to help them pump quickly and safely while on the job. We were able to give thousands of bras to brave mamas, and that’s just a little bit of goodness that we’re happy to share because of our success.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not sure who to attribute this quote to, but “Better done than perfect” is the quote that comes to mind. I love this sentiment, and because I don’t build rocket ships it works well for me. My friends and family know me as someone who gets a lot of stuff done, and I think that’s partly because I believe that waiting for things to be perfect means waiting too long. I believe in constant improvement, and there’s nothing I love more than making small changes over and over in search of the optimal product or system. But I don’t wait until I have something exactly perfect to get started — the pressure would be paralyzing! Just get it to 85% right, go for it, and be ready to make small improvements over time.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I’m excited about the power of images and the extent to which they’re evolving to be more authentic and inclusive — celebrating women in powerful ways. For most of my life, the pictures I’ve seen on the covers of magazines have been of women whose beauty was unattainable. I can’t help but wonder if the fashion industry has the power to help women feel strong, beautiful, and enough — exactly as we are. That’s something I’m excited about!
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”?
- Know your customer. There is a target customer for every product. Who is your customer? Do you know everything about her? Discover her pain points and do something to make them better. Obsess about your customer and deliver her not just a 5-star experience, but an 11-star experience! Your products will be knocked off, but if you fall in love with your customer, you will always be thinking of new products and services to make her day brighter.
- Know your supply chain. In today’s fashion industry, you must have a stable supply chain with strong vendor relationships. How will you bring your products to market? Reliable manufacturers will help you shorten lead times, all while bringing high-quality products to your customers. Over time, you will also be able to increase your margins through these relationships.
- Know your competition. Never lose sight of what your competitors are doing. Keep your eyes open, and always be willing to try new products, trends, improvements, and markets.
- Know your marketing strategy. You can have the world’s BEST new gadget, but if you don’t have a strong plan to let your customers know about it, it will still be sitting on your shelves three years from now. In today’s commerce, you must have marketing at the top of your list of hires, and you must consistently allocate resources to marketing.
- Know your banker. Producing apparel is costly. In all likelihood, you will have to front the cost of inventory before it is sold. Always be thinking of ways to keep cash in your business, because every order you want to produce is going to cost cash before it makes cash. Talk to multiple bankers and have at least half a dozen ways to access meaningful amounts of cash at any time.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
The fashion industry contributes significantly to environmental waste through the use of plastics, man-made materials, and other process waste from dyeing to fabric treatments. Although efforts are being made to be more environmentally friendly, there is a lot of room for overall improvement to create more sustainable supply chains with less waste. Finding ways to use material wastages and recycle harsh chemicals can go a long way to creating a more sustainable industry that has the earth’s future at its heart.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s hard to come down to a single movement! There are so many things I want for the world — water, food, and shelter for everyone. I want everyone to know they are enough, exactly as they are. But if I could start a movement that I think would ultimately bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I would start a movement to eat less meat (maybe eating it only once a day, or every other day, or once a week). As a lifelong vegetarian, I know how delicious and nutritious vegetarian food can be, and I know how much this would reduce greenhouse gases and help feed more people worldwide. As a vegetarian, I feel amazing and healthy, and if it would help others live a more thriving life of vitality and health, I would love to bring that move about. Eventually, I’d love to have the entire world be vegan or vegetarian, but beginning with smaller steps would help the movement to have more lasting power. Most people would be willing to cut down significantly, if not completely, and that in and of itself could have profound effects on everything from the safety of workers to greenhouse gas emissions.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!