Crowd-funding gets Portland outdoors apparel brand -- now Made in USA -- rolling [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. :: ]
(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 26--Dan Tiegs knows well the basics of apparel production. Create samples, distribute 'em to sales reps, circulate to retailers, collect orders, manufacture in Asia, ship from Asia, deliver, collect payment, repeat.
Tiegs worked at Columbia Sportswear and Solstice Outdoor, and as a free-lance designer for other Portland-based brands.
So when Tiegs launched his own company last year, he initially planned to use the standard approach. But after investors balked at providing startup cash and a contract factory in China bumped him down their priority list in favor of bigger clients, Tiegs decided to shake up his business model.
His brand, "Wild Outdoor Apparel," would use a crowd-funding site to build pre-orders and launch each successive generation of Wild's clothing. And, starting with the brand's latest piece of clothing, Wild would contract its manufacturing in the United States.
Both decisions carry risks. Sales for his latest piece of clothing -- The Burnside Alpha Jacket -- started Feb. 19. Tiegs will know by April 7 -- the deadline for the $15,000 funding goal on Portland-based Crowd Supply -- whether the crowdfunding effort is a success. Longer term, Tiegs and Wild have to figure out how to maintain the crowd-funding momentum from one product to another.
And by bringing manufacturing to the U.S. -- to Newberg -- Tiegs is banking on customers willing to pay double what the Burnside Alpha would have cost them if it had been produced in an Asian factory.
"It is new and untested but has potential," Tiegs says of his approach. "I do depend on early adopters and that is one thing a site like Crowd Supply does have... so from that standpoint they have my customer."
Tiegs learned the business and creative sides of apparel production mostly during his nearly six years at Columbia Sportswear, where he rose to be senior merchandise manager of the Titanium Technical Brand. From there, he honed his knowledge as vice president of merchandising, design and product development at Solstice Outdoor Inc.
When he decided to start his own company, he designed and prototyped some garments to show to investors.
"I started making rounds in the investment community, showing samples to guys with money," said Tiegs, a back-country skier who played soccer at the University of Wisconsin. "They'd say, 'We know we like your stuff. We don't want to give you any money until you prove yourself in the market.'"
Instead of trudging off into his version of "Catch 22," Tiegs followed a friend's advice to sell his products through Crowd Supply.
"We are a product-development company," said Joshua Lifton, Crowd Supply's co-founder.
Where other crowd-sourcing sites may stray into other areas, Crowd Supply focuses on products and assisting entrepreneurs on marketing and selling those products at wholesale through the site, which was launched last March. The company takes a 5 percent commission.
More than 50 products were introduced last year raising about $500,000, said Lifton, whose company profile notes that he has doctorate from the MIT Media Lab and a BA in physics and mathematics from Swarthmore College, "which is to say he's devoted a significant amount of his time learning how to make things that blink."
Tieg's first two jackets -- the Park Place Snap-Front Jacket and Sweet Sister Down Hoodie, both priced at $99 -- were among the earliest products on Crowd Supply.
About 110 units of Park Place sold; about 70 units of the hoodie. Those aren't outstanding numbers, but Tiegs said he was impressed by Crowd Supply's ability to draw customers more effectively than Wild Outdoor Apparel's own web site.
Wild faces two layers of community development, said Melissa Appleyard, a business professor at Portland State.
The company must satisfy "evangelists of the brand when they deliver the promised user experience," Appleyard said, "and indirectly by attracting participants who love to be a part of the crowd on sites like Crowd Supply."
Crowd-sourced apparel can work, Appleyard said, offering the Chicago-based brand Threadless as an example. "But maintaining the momentum behind community-reliant products can be tough," she said.
Tiegs has returned to Crowd Starter with the Burnside, a men's jacket with a waterproof and breathable shell, Polartec insulation and overall design that blends elements of a canvas barn coat and night-clubbing jacket. Or, as Tiegs likes to say of all his products: "the original mountain-to-bar company."
The $295 coat is offered in three color combinations and no more than 120 units of the three will be produced. Tiegs says a coat with similar features, even produced in Asia, would cost at least $150 more.
Designing and sourcing materials for the Burnside -- all done by Tiegs -- was much less challenging than finding a sewing house in the region to produce the jacket. While Oregon has a handful of such companies, many are locked in to military contracts or to customers far larger than Wild. Tiegs did not want the risk of having his work punted to the side, like his experience with the factory in Asia.
A former colleague, Bill Amos of NW Alpine, led Tiegs to Cheryll Dailey, owner of a sewing shop in Newberg.
Dailey parcels out sewing jobs mostly to at-home sewers for her business. It's a smaller successor to Frontline Apparel, another sewing business she started in 1976 and operated in Newberg, primarily serving her main client, Columbia Sportswear, until Columbia moved the bulk of its manufacturing overseas.
"Cheryll is a competitive advantage," Tiegs said. "She won't kick me down to the line."
But first, Wild must obtain a minimum number of orders to activate Dailey's sewing team and meet a June shipping date. As of Tuesday, about 12 percent, or $1,770, of the $15,000 goal had been met.
That's after two weeks on the market. Tiegs is not disturbed, having been through the process twice before.
"You get out of the gate and people buy," he said, "and then you have big lulls and nothing happens" until the deadline approaches.
The last few weeks will be the difference maker, he said.
A separate product offered each quarter and pre-funded through the crowdsourcing site would offer sufficient income for Wild, said Tiegs, whose wife is a globally recognized art appraiser.
And he hopes the Burnside will be the first piece of clothing on the road to making that happen.
-- Allan Brettman
(c)2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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