I’m not a fan of fast fashion, which is the practice of producing cheap, trendy clothing that moves from the factory floor to the consumer in a matter of days. Fast fashion is primarily large companies chasing a popular moment and often missing it. The entire process is extremely wasteful. I believe companies that design thoughtfully, produce ethically and sell responsibly will rise to the top.
I had the pleasure to interview Tim Murphy. Tim is the president of Softies, a family-owned and operated company based in Minnesota. Softies makes soft, cozy robes, sleepwear and loungewear for women. Its products made Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2017 and 2018.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My dad, Dennis, started his career in women’s fashion as a manufacturer’s rep over 40 years ago. Fashion has been a part of my entire life, and my dad’s traits became ingrained in me: he loves to design, he loves to sell, and he cares deeply about a quality product. I worked in corporate America for several years, but when my dad started Softies, I knew the road would inevitably lead back to family and fashion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
I received a call to exhibit at a fashion trade show in June of 2017. The show used to be a success for us, but the last few years we had seen a decline in attendance and order writing. Trade shows are costly, and it no longer made financial sense to attend this particular show. When I cited my concerns to the show manager, she offered me a steeply discounted booth and hotel rate. I went.
The show proved to be exactly what it had been in the past: uneventful. My discounted booth was buried against the back wall, next to a stairwell. There also appeared to be no logic to the floorplan, as I was exhibiting next to a hat vendor, a man who made custom beer coolers and a jeweler. It was a disaster.
The last day of the show, vendors were packing up their booths before the show had even officially closed. I was about to do the same when two people walked by and fixated on one of our styles. When you’ve done as many trade shows as I have, you learn to very quickly spot interested and qualified buyers. I approached the buyers and learned they were the Fashion Editor and Creative Designer for O Mag. They were walking the show, curating the list of items for Oprah’s Favorite Things.
In that single moment, the direction of our company changed forever. Our incredibly soft Snuggle Lounger ended up making Oprah’s List that year. We also found that our styles resonated with Oprah’s fan base more than we could ever have imagined, which opened doors to other national media outlets and partnerships. I realize the role luck played in meeting Rae Ann and Adam from Oprah’s Team at that trade show, and I’m thankful for it every day. I also believe that just showing up is 90% of success. Make an effort, make a quality product and always put your best foot forward. You never know who’s watching.
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?
It’s common for people to say fashion is cyclical: what goes around comes around. In my experience, that has proven to be true 99% of the time. However, what I’m painfully certain will never be en vogue again are poorly executed leopard print blankets.
After a moderate run of sales success with a traditional leopard print blanket, I convinced our designer and my dad to make neon and snow leopard print blankets. No one asked me to do this. The results were thousands of blankets that either looked like 80s hair band groupies or dalmatians. It took me almost five years to liquidate the blankets.
I learned that you should never, ever make assumptions about your customer. If my job could be boiled down to one thing, it would be to truly understand our customer and deliver on their needs. No one has a need for a neon leopard blanket.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our fabrics separate us as a company. Most people would not believe the incredible lengths we go to find the softest fabrics in the world. And we do search the world.
I specifically remember the fabric that helped us make Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2017 and 2018. Our designer, Lily Nguyen, sent swatches of this soft, buttery stretch velour to us for two years in a row. I sat on it both times. Sometimes, and especially for us guys, we need a creative push. Lily eventually grew impatient and turned the swatches into prototypes of a robe and a new lounge piece. When I received the finished samples, felt the fabric, and saw the colors, I began to see what Lily saw all along: we had some winners! The rest is history.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The two things I’ve learned seem contradictory when you watch the news, but they have helped our business and me as a person tremendously. I have avoided burnout by embracing both people and technology. The fashion industry is very unforgiving. Design must be on trend; logistics and supply chain management are crucial; financial acumen has to be razor sharp. You also have to be able to market, sell and distribute your products from an ever-increasing number of platforms. Any mistake affects margin, which can be very thin in this industry.
You need a team. I have been very fortunate to start with my family as The Team, including Lily. As we’ve grown and added finance and marketing specialists, they have become part of the family. We share the workload, collaborate creatively on problems and support one another.
You need technology. To run a business of our size 20 years ago would require 50+ employees. We have five. We have embraced technology at every turn to help us concentrate on the skills we are best at.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Yes, we contribute to two charities that are very close to Softies’ heart: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Hennepin County Medical Center Young Professional Society, whose recent mission was to bring greater neonatal care to their pediatric trauma center. My dad is also lobbying me to sponsor his over 70 Men’s Softball Team. I think he’ll probably win. And aside from the charitable causes that are personal to us, making soft and cozy styles is another small way of making everyone feel good.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
The famous football coach Lou Holtz said, “Don’t tell your problems to people: 80% don’t care, and the other 20% are glad you have them.”
The quote seems harsh, but that’s how our company has survived and grown. It’s 100% about the customer, their needs and delivering on those needs. It’s not about you.
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 see fashion and technology continuing to merge into a greater overall consumer experience. Shopping online is already more convenient than physically going to a store, but we will see enhancements to the online experience through AI customer service, virtual fit terminals, tailored digital showrooms and same day delivery. All of these developments are expensive to implement today, but I expect them to be commonplace for ecommerce sites in the near future. I’m personally excited to enhance our consumers’ experience at SoftiesPJs.com with the introduction of video this Fall. For the first time, shoppers will visually experience the drape, fit and movement of our styles.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry. Please share a story or example for each.
- Fabric. Find a fabric that once somebody touches, they’ll fall in love. Clothing is the most tactile purchase someone will ever make. Keep them coming back.
- Design to your consumer. Know your core demographic and design to their trends. It’s OK if you don’t love the style. It’s more important that your customers love the style and that it fits a need in their lifestyle.
- Brush up on your accounting skills. Inventory is not just a number on your balance sheet. It’s cash, and hopefullyprofitablecash. Know the ins and outs of your finances. Review cash flow at least weekly, and make sure marketing and sales efforts align with your financial goals.
- Pay attention to your customers. They have really, really great ideas. We made Oprah’s Favorite Things List for the second year in a row based solely off customers’ feedback from the first year.
- Be nice. Be nice to customers, vendors, even competitors. It will always, always come back around.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
I’m not a fan of fast fashion, which is the practice of producing cheap, trendy clothing that moves from the factory floor to the consumer in a matter of days. Fast fashion is primarily large companies chasing a popular moment and often missing it. The entire process is extremely wasteful. I believe companies that design thoughtfully, produce ethically and sell responsibly will rise to the top. It’s proven to be the case with Softies.
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. 🙂
That is a deep question. I don’t believe I am a person of great influence, but I do have two young boys at home that my wife and I care very deeply about. We love them, teach them kindness and manners and support them in every pursuit. Be good to your family and watch them grow and be good to others.
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