by Jo Salter, Founder of Where Does It Come From?
Where Does It Come From? is crowdfunding at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/where-does-it-come-from

profit loss

Managing a business is not a walk in the park (unless you are talking about a wildlife park fully stocked with poisonous snakes and hungry lions) and running an ethical business adds even more complication (throw in some extreme temperatures and flooding….).  Financially a business must stand on its own two feet or it won’t last long.   Although the general idea is to bring money in, there are many, many reasons why money tends to go in the other direction, for example stock purchase, accountancy costs, buying in expertise such as photography and web design, freight, import duty and accreditations to name just a few.

Working out the best price to charge for products is challenging too.  The price needs to reflect the quality, uniqueness and value of the item, but if the customer is not willing to pay that price then it will not sell.  However if you charge too low a price not only do you risk making a loss and going out of business, but also you find that you are not valued – you are just too cheap.

Why an Ethical Supply Chain?

As an ethical, fairtrade business the price that you pay your suppliers in the supply chain is much more fixed.  The business model that pushes costs to the very end of the chain ie. farmers and producers, is unacceptable.  We’ve seen the effects of this most recently with a growth of farmer suicides in India and the collapse of the Rana Plaza Clothing Factory in Bangladesh which killed over 1200 garment workers.  If you are in doubt then watch ‘The True Cost’ Movie (available on Amazon and Netflix to download) – it shows very clearly why forcing the costs and the risk down the chain just leads to imbalance of wealth and misery.  It’s not that great for the consumer either.

Creating an Ethical Brand

Three lady spinners!

Three lady spinners!

Our ethical clothing brand Where Does It Come From? (www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk) has now been up and running for over two years.  We started with a loan which enabled us to set up the business, buy our first stock and create the website.  Thanks to the growth of our market and our loyal, returning customer base, we have now launched four clothing ranges – denim childrens’ clothes, organic cotton children’s shirts and two production runs of cotton printed scarves.  Everything is produced sustainably (handwoven and virtually carbon free), all our production workers are treated fairly and every garment comes with a code on the label which enables the customer to trace the story of their garment’s creation, from cotton farm to delivery.  The idea is that by connecting with your garment’s story, you will love and respect your clothes more (as well as those who made them!)

Where Does It Come From? is Crowdfunding

It’s working, people love what we do and so we want to grow!  Customer feedback was clear that moving into adult clothing was the next step and so we decided on a production of unisex, casual adult shirts.  This was a big step financially.  After much research we decided that crowdfunding was the way to do it – it could have gone horribly wrong but then we would at least have known that the support for ethically made, quality products was not there.  We set out our plan with two main goals – funding the shirt production and widening the audience for Where Does It Come From?

where does it come from? is crowdfundingWe then discovered that Virgin Media had launched their Virgin Voom – a competition to enable businesses and individuals with a great idea to pitch online, and to raise funds as part of the process.  We decided (over a weekend!) to jump on the band wagon and embarked on two weeks of constant, manic, living, sleeping, dreaming and talking about our shirt project.  We called in favours, badgered old friends, made videos, talked to the press and managed to raise £1500 by the end of May deadline.  It was enough to get the shirt project started, so we did!  Following the Virgin Voom we were able to continue to crowdfund on the Crowdfunder (www.crowdfunder.co.uk/where-does-it-come-from) platform.  This has allowed for further pledges to be collected and will end on August 12th.  We’d be very grateful for any final pledges and you’ll love your shirt so please pop over and signup!

Highs and Lows

Apart from the adrenaline rush we did find some big positives and negatives about the whole crowdfund experience.   The financial outlay was low –  The crowdfunder platform takes 5% of all pledges that are made but the only other costs are in the production of the pitch information (text, photos, video) and any advertising. However the where does it come from? is crowdfundingtime commitment was extremely high.  There was also a need to develop a thick skin as constant badgering was required to keep the message alive during the Voom fortnight.  We did pay for some advertising as an attempt to reduce the face to face pushing as seeing people hide when they see you approach can be sobering (you know who you are :-)).

The support was truly amazing!  So many people shared our story, pledged and encouraged others to pledge.  Friends and family were (as always) amazing, not only with their support but also with their tolerance of the slightly (well maybe more than slightly) obsessive person that I became.  The media can tend to paint us Brits as an intolerant, selfish nation but there are plenty of people in the UK who care about those working to produce things for us and care about the world we live in.  This doesn’t seem to make good press stories though.  We gained some wonderful new allies who will hopefully stay with us.

We did experiment with our pledges and found that the most popular were for the simple, plain long or short sleeved shirt.  A few went for custom print (very exciting!).  We put a couple of higher pledge options in – for 20 scarves and for 20 custom shirts.  These were aimed at businesses and we had no take up of these.  This was an interesting learning point – we learned that businesses don’t really want to order in this way but we will be following up on some of the discussions we had and will hopefully be moving more into the market of producing custom items for business.

Did We Meet Our Goals?

Our goals of funding the production and widening our market were definitely met.  Production is now under way, made slightly more financially challenging by the 10% currency drop following Brexit.  Our fabrics are selected, designs completed and we are now working on the sizing information.  We are working with co-operatives in Jo SpinningGujarat, India through our Indian partner Moral Fibre Fabrics.  They will work on the spot to visit the farms and co-operatives throughout production to pull together the garment stories.  We visited these co-operatives back in April ourselves and got to know some of the workers and managers (for more information see our Trip Report).

Crowdfunding has enabled us to grow our range without taking on more financial risk but also, and perhaps more invaluably, to assess the market for a new product before committing to it.  Getting either of these two things wrong can mean the end of a business.

Would we crowdfund again? Oh yes definitely….. in fact we’ve got our heart set on a production of stripy organic pyjamas for all the family.   After that adrenaline rush we’ll definitely be needing another fix soon.

You can sign up to our mailing list on our website homepage www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk (just scroll down!) and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. For direct contact send me an email at jo@wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk