AOW connected with Emily Green of Emilime Handcrafted, a company that has been innovating in knitwear since 2009. Her pieces feature an exploration in texture and stitches, using primarily alpaca wool. A luxurious, soft and hypoallergenic yarn, alpaca is known as "The Fiber of the Gods." All the pieces are handmade by artisan entrepreneurs in Peru.
Emily has done it all. She moved to Peru, started a Lima-based manufacturing company, built a wholesale arm of the business before selling direct to the consumer and developing private-label products for larger retailers. She’s done all that while remaining committed to ethical production and sustainable sourcing.
Looking back on her vast and robust experience, she shares the five things she wishes she had known when she first started her business:
How to structure and save information…
This is my nerdy side, but I love spreadsheets. I feel like I lost a lot of really valuable information over the years before I found a system that worked seamlessly. I now track and research everything – it all flows through my ordering system, QuickBooks, and Google Sheets. I can do all of the reporting I need to from there: cash flow projections, goal tracking, etc. That has been so helpful for running my business
How to not over-project based on a few good sales…
I am still sitting on inventory from my first years of overly-optimistic sales projections. It’s easy to get excited about sales and think that there will be tons of reorders and online sales based on what is actually volatile data. I almost exclusively do made-to-order now and try to carry minimum inventory. This is what has hurt my business the most in the past - I have tons of money and space invested in both raw materials and finished product inventory. Everything I design now is focused on using up yarn inventory and avoiding materials that require big minimum orders.
How to not get upset over things you can’t change…
When working with handmade products and natural materials, there are so many issues that can come up along the way. In my first years of business, I didn’t totally understand how production even worked and I definitely didn’t know the questions to ask to make sure everything was flowing smoothly.
One day I received news that we were still missing some product tags and our shipment needed to be pushed back. I completely flipped out and started to yell at the person delivering the bad news. After I got off the phone, I felt terrible about how I behaved and decided that I was never going to respond negatively again. When people know that you are going to help them find a solution, then they will come to you with their problems. When there is enough time, you can usually figure something out. Normally if you give plenty of warning, even the really big buyers will work with you to extend the ship date.
I now treat any problem as an opportunity to analyze my system and figure out if there is something that I can do to prevent this from happening in the future. Also, be sure to pad your dates quite a bit to give yourself some breathing room if challenges do arise.
How to be empathetic when dealing with your clients…
When I contact any of our clients, I start by imagining what they are going through in that moment. If it is trade show season, if it is close to the holidays, or if the stock market has just taken a tumble, the client is going to feel a certain way.
Usually buyers are really busy and worried about making the right choices for their stores. Whenever I make contact, I always try to be brief, personal, and give them all the information in that one email, even if I have already sent it. When a client makes time for you, they will go back to the last email and if everything they need is right there, then you will get an order faster and easier. I also always encourage my clients to just tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ so I can take them off my contact list for the season.
Take the time to go through the customer process for both wholesale and online to see if there are any parts that are confusing or uncomfortable in your pipeline. Try to predict the questions that could arise and answer them preemptively in your email or on your site.
How to define success…
The end goal for me is to enjoy my work, make enough money to sustain myself, and have a great community that I can surround myself with. This sounds simple but is actually the hardest part to ingrain within my mindset.
What makes a successful company? This definition will be different for everyone. To be fulfilled you have to decide what is best for you and your life. I tried to emulate the brands I thought were super successful and it led me away from my path. Now I focus on what feels good and support my small community of knitters and suppliers, my team, and my clients. By keeping it small, I get to do all my favorite parts of the business, which is designing, planning, operations, and mentoring my team. When I started to get too big, I was focusing my energy on other things that didn’t fulfill me.
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