Factory45: Helping Sustainable Fashion Startups get their Footing

When Shannon Lohr set out to start her very own fashion brand, she was exposed for the first time to the dilemma of ethics that is wrapped up with the modern fashion industry. From damage to the planet to the abuse of garment workers, Lohr knew that she wanted her brand to be different from what she was seeing. It soon became clear that she wasn’t the only one looking to buy or sell clothing with a clean conscience, and that is when she decided to start Factory 45.  Factory45 is an online checklist that will guide new sustainable fashion startups through every step “from idea to launch.” Since then, she has been recognized by Forbes, The New York Times and Yahoo! Which is amazing in helping pave the way for future brands like hers. Here, she talks more about what makes sustainable fashion important and how Factory45 is making it possible. 

What were some of the barriers you encountered when trying to launch your first sustainable clothing company?
1.) Setting up a U.S.-based supply chain and 2.) Educating the consumer about sustainable and ethical fashion.

How long have you been interested in sustainable fashion, and when did you realize you could make a career out of it?
I wasn’t interested in sustainable fashion until I began researching what it would take to start a fashion brand. That research took me down a rabbit hole and I quickly realized just how environmentally damaging the fashion industry really is. There are also major human rights abuses associated with the way our clothes are made. 

It wasn’t until I saw how people responded to the launch of my brand that I realized there was something to this — public interest in sustainable fashion wasn’t going away.

What was the inspiration for Market45 and Factory45?
Factory45 is the educational program I wish I had when I was starting my own brand back in 2010. It was extremely difficult for my then-cofounder and I to set up our supply chain in the U.S. and I knew it should be easier for new designers to start sustainable and ethical brands from the beginning. I created Factory45 as a six month online accelerator program that takes sustainable fashion brands from idea to launch.

Market45 is an ethical fashion marketplace that sells some of the brands that have launched through the Factory45 program. It’s one way that I’m able to highlight the work we’ve done through Factory45 and help to promote and showcase more sustainable and ethical fashion options. 

What is the process you walk through with brands in the idea stage when they come to you through Factory45?
Factory45 is made up of five online modules, starting with fabric sourcing and ending with raising money. Through our six months together, we go through every step you would need to take to launch a sustainable and ethical fashion brand. The full program curriculum is here.

What do sustainable brands do differently from fast fashion companies and big box stores?
Everything. The two models are completely opposite. Sustainable fashion focuses on thoughtful, season-less and trend-less design. Fast fashion is all about quick, trendy design that churns out 52 seasons of clothing a year. 

The fast fashion model is inherently “unsustainable” because it relies on planned obsolescence, meaning that the garments are designed to fall apart or go out of style so that you are enticed to buy more new clothing.

How can regular people dress more ethically and sustainably?
1.) Buying second-hand.

2.) Buying clothing you know you’ll wear for years to come from small, local brands.

3.) Buying less clothing, in general.

What is next for you and your company?
Applications to Factory45 open once a year in May. In the meantime, I’m working on some other digital products that will help new designers with fabric sourcing and product development. You can sign up for access to those here.