Interview With Fifth&Brannan Fashion Entrepreneur Kate Wintrode

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Today we have a special interview with fashion entrepreneur Kate Wintrode of Fifth&Brannan!  I had the pleasure of meeting her this past summer at the 5&B launch party and am super excited to share this interview with you guys!

Sydney: Tell us a little bit about your company Fifth&Brannan.

Kate: We started Fifth&Brannan to bring more texture, color and patterns into men’s wardrobes. When it comes to men’s clothing, our philosophy is that there’s more to life than black and blue.

We strive to create collections of timeless style with modern tailoring, and we obsess over the quality, details, and personal touches of each of our pieces.

Sydney: When did you know you wanted to work in the fashion industry?

Kate: I knew I wanted to work in this industry since I was young. Growing up, I always had a strong opinion about my clothing and realized I wanted this to be a part of my life.

My dreams of designing were affirmed when I traveled to Europe with FIDM. I haven’t turned back since.

Sydney: Did you always envision yourself becoming an entrepreneur? How did you get started?

Kate: I’ve always known that I wanted to start a company, I just didn’t know it would happen at such a young age! I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.

Fifth&Brannan was an idea I had one day when noticing the lack of men’s style in San Francisco. Particularly the men in the Financial District, working in bland corporate offices. I wanted to contribute to men’s style here and give my point of view, and maybe show them it’s okay to venture beyond the world of black slacks and blue shirts.

When starting the production process, I realized that others may be interested in learning what takes place behind the scenes, how a product is made and exactly what it takes to get from start to finish. I decided to document every step of the way on the blog, which I think readers have really appreciated.

Sydney: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Kate: There are two hurdles that really made things difficult: raising funds and communicating with the factory.

Luckily for us, our supporters were so generous in donating to our Kickstarter campaign. We were planning to raise $7,000 for our first production run, but realized we had grossly underestimated the costs. We ended up raising over $13,000 and couldn’t have been happier and more thankful for the help we received.

Our definition of quality is not the same as the factory’s definition of quality. Factories tend to do things the fastest, most efficient way possible for them, which is great for cost reasons, but not for quality. When the production is rushed and corners are cut, there is so much room for error. We strongly believe in taking the extra time to make sure everything is perfect. No detail is too small or unimportant.

Sydney: Do you like working out of San Francisco, and think you’ll be here long term?

Kate: I love working out of San Francisco. I’m constantly inspired by the people and the beautiful location. We definitely plan to keep the company here for the long term, temporary personal moves may be in order though. I’ve always wanted to live and work out of New York City.

Sydney: Managing inventory is often a challenge for new businesses. Do you have any tips?

Kate: We don’t have too much inventory at the moment so it’s pretty easy to manage. We have an online program that keeps track of everything we sell and have on hand. Although, it is frustrating at times when your living space is completely taken over by your inventory.

Sydney: What advice do you have for people who want work in fashion?

Kate: It’s not as easy as people think! You have to work extremely hard to get what you want. I laugh when I hear people casually say “I’m going to start my own clothing line.” There is so much more to it than that. They often don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. But if you have thick skin and you’re determined, then more power to you.

I strongly recommend going to design school to learn the basics, or at least having a mentor who you can look to for guidance. You’ll learn a lot. However, if you do decide to jump into it, you’ll learn a lot of firsthand experience through trial and error and making mistakes with your real money that I’m sure you’ll never repeat!

Sydney: What are your thoughts on outsourcing, especially for newbie entrepreneurs?

Kate: In our industry, outsourcing to other countries for cheaper labor is pretty common, but it also comes with its own share of difficulties. We use contractors located in San Francisco for our production.

I recommend keeping all operations close to home for as long as possible, because when you outsource to overseas manufacturers, you lose control over your product, or you spend more (for plane tickets, trips, or hiring someone to oversee foreign production) to maintain that control.

Staying local allows you to keep an eye on production. That sense of control is worth more to me than paying a cheaper price overseas.

Sydney: What inspires you?

Kate: So many things. Well dressed men, poorly dressed men, climate, cities, time periods, patterns, textures, colors. The fun part is incorporating all of those elements into an ensemble.

Sydney: What’s your favorite piece in your current collection? Did it take you longer/faster to design than others?

Kate: My favorite piece is the William, our club collar shirt. I like it because of it’s simplicity. Although it has a rounded collar, which most men aren’t comfortable with, I love the crisp look.

We had a lot of fun with plaids in our first collection, but for our next round, we plan on scaling back and offering more timeless pieces that will be easier to pair with whatever a man may already have in his closet, as well as be able to dress up or dress down.

Sydney: Any tips for the fashionably clueless and those on a budget?

Kate: Invest in quality basics: one great blazer; one pair of dark, inky denim with no distressing and a clean silhouette; one pair of shoes that can be worn dressed up or casually; and a few collared shirts. These pieces tend to cost more, but you can own them forever and they’ll never go out of style. You can have fun with your wardrobe through accessories and more disposable pieces. These can often be found at more affordable stores like H&M or Zara.

Sydney: In your free time do you design and make your own clothes?

Kate: I wish I had free time! But no, I don’t.

Sydney: Which colors are “in” for Fall? What’s your favorite?

Kate: I’m not one to follow a certain standard or trend for what colors are in at the moment, but I am seeing a lot of flame red, rust, and emerald green, and I’m loving it.

Want to see Fifth&Brannan’s current collection?  Check it out here.

Untemplaters, have you ever thought about a career in fashion?  How would you describe your current sense of style?

“Personal

Unconventional Guides

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone September 26, 2011 at 5:30 am

Thanks for doing the interview Sydney! I always wondered how entrepreneurs from Kickstarter projects did! Nice to hear happy stories!

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Sydney September 26, 2011 at 7:57 am

Thanks MC. It really is exciting to see how Kate is making her dream happen!

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Financial Samurai September 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

I think it’s fantastic that you are staying local Kate! It is a HUGE effort to start a clothing company of the ground due to all the logistics and sourcing. That’s amazing you got it done in itself!

Tell us more about Kickstarter if you will. $13,000 is a nice amount to raise! What do the contributors get in return? Or is it more of a community to donate to the best ideas and see if they can help them succeed?

How do you deal with fitting sizes? Shirts I often get even at the dept store fit right one moment, and shrink the next. It’s frustrating for me. As a result, I try and get all my clothes tailored now.

I like the patterns!

Best, Sam

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Kate September 26, 2011 at 11:11 am

Hey Sam,

Thanks, yeah it was definitely difficult in the beginning, but if you start small and just get the ball rolling, things fall into place. It’s just a matter of getting started.

Our pledgers from Kickstarter received a pocket square, set of pocket squares, ties, or some combination of those items depending on the amount donated. This totaled about 40+ ties and 400 pocket squares I had to make, which is no easy task… in fact I’m still in the process of fulfilling some of those pledges’ rewards; it takes a lot of time when you’re making everything by hand.

5&B shirts have an athletic silhouette, which allows for more room in the back but still tapers nicely at the waist, which eliminates all that extra fabric most guys deal with when tucking in shirts.

When you’re dealing with sizing, you have to go with what fits the majority of guys in your market… there will be a small minority who don’t fit your sizing for whatever reason, but there’s no way to really address that.

If you have lots of shrinking issues, that means you’re not washing your shirts correctly, or you’re getting too buff. :)

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Financial Samurai September 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Haha, nice. I’m definitely not getting too buff, that I know!

What are your thoughts on return policies? Zappos built its brand on service and being able to return anything. As a result, customers became loyal followers with no fear of buying something that doesn’t work. Any thoughts on this, and how it would impact costs?

Do you have a revenue, operating margin, or net profit goal? A lot of companies start buying just expanding as much as possible to grow share at the expense of margins and profitability. Some do it the other way around. What’s your strategy?

How difficult is it to get a celebrity to endorse your product? I hear that they are sent free things all the time. Is this a key in marketing your product?

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 9:07 am

We model our return policy after Zappos; Barron and I talked a lot as we formed the company and both agreed our customers’ happiness is most important, especially since we’re a new brand they’ve never heard of before. So, we have no-questions-asked returns and exchanges at any time, as well as free shipping both ways. Of course this impacts our costs, but it’s marginal, considering our customer can now shop knowing there’s no risk, and a happy customer was our goal in the first place.

When we raised $13k, we more or less knew how much product that could afford us and at what cost, and we knew our retail price. To be honest we didn’t have specific income goals, we just wanted to lay the foundation of our brand, get our name out there, and prove our quality and craftsmanship through our product. I’m sure we will have more defined goals our next round, especially now that we know what we’re doing (at least more than we did the first time around).

I haven’t thought much about celebrity endorsements, so it’s definitely not key in our marketing strategy. Ashton wore our Regis shirt on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last week (http://goo.gl/2OvzV), but we didn’t know that would happen. Some mutual friends said he would like our shirting and our brand, so we sent him some.

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Sydney September 26, 2011 at 8:38 am

Thanks for the interview Kate!  I love that picture of Ashton Kutcher wearing one of your shirts that you put up on your FB page. That’s really cool!  The quality of your clothing and accessories is truly top of the line!

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Kate September 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

No problem Sydney, and yes, seeing that was quite a surprise for us as well :) Thanks again for stopping by our event!

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Buck Inspire September 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Terrific interview and very inspiring. Kate, did you ever doubt getting your business off the ground? If so, how did you keep going? Thanks to you both!

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 11:02 am

We’ve had stumbling blocks along the way, and there were times I wasn’t sure it would work, but we just kept at it. My partner (and boyfriend) Barron and I pushed each other when we were doubtful. Even now, as we grow, we experience new challenges that test our strength and we always have to remind ourselves that we’ll figure it out if we just keep going.

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Antonio Centeno September 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Katie and her team at Fifth&Brannan are Awesome!

One thing she didn’t mention is how she nurtured a community before launching her products – she worked with the men she would eventually sell to – allowing them to be a part of the process and getting them engaged in the story of her business.

Go Fifth&Brannan!

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Sydney September 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Thanks for adding that Antonio! That’s a perfect example of her business savvy and outreach.

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

Thanks Antonio! Antonio’s been a big supporter of us since the beginning and it’s really encouraging.

Yes, we started off with just our blog where we documented our process and the things we went through, and after a year we had a sizable audience checking out what we were up to. I think they were just as excited as we were to have the finished product up for sale.

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Financial Samurai September 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Oh, and one of the things I can suggest is to really focus on the pocket squares and ties. Consumers KNOW that those items will work and fit. No doubt about it. You could carve out a great niche in this area!

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

Definitely, they’ve had a tremendous response and we put out as many ties and squares as we can. They’re all made by hand, and are pretty labor intensive. For example each tie takes about 2.5 hours to make! We really care about the quality and craftsmanship of our products, so we take the time to ensure all the steps were covered.

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Andrea Pokorny September 26, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Very inspiring. Doesn’t it always go back to your initial dreams and pursuits as a child? If only we as adults could have such clarity. =)

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

Thanks for reading, Andrea!

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krantcents September 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Good interview! I like the look, very classic. Looks like a quality product.

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 11:14 am

Thanks! Appreciate you checking us out.

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Marie at FamilyMoneyValues September 27, 2011 at 5:53 am

Any advice for a young lady wanting to get into fashion design? Is there a field of studies that would be most beneficial at a state university?

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 11:25 am

I’m not too familiar with the curriculum that state universities have to offer. But if you’re looking to get the most out of your money and time, I would stick with classes that focus more on production, with a few design courses.

My most useful classes were ones regarding product development, computerized technical sketching, pattern making / draping, sewing, and any class that teaches you about textiles and their characteristics. That’s a good place to start!

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SB @ One Cent At A Time September 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Good insight Kate, had a look in to your collection and they look marvelous. I don’t think the price is suitable for frugal but as you say, they’ll last long. Worth investment!

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