WHEN YOU WEREN'T LOOKING, I STARTED OVER
Have you ever been moving forward on a dream only to get knocked off track?
Yup, it’s happened to me, too.
I spent the last three years designing, developing, and breathing life into a brand that combined beauty, style, and comfort in an unexpected product … underwear. These booty wrappers are for grown-ass women who appreciate the things that let them live their life with more freedom, ease, and pleasure. I know these women, I’m friends with them, I admire them from afar, and I am one. Curious how I brought Dare Heart from ideation to creation? You can read that story here. Now for what happened after I launched Dare Heart in February of 2022, well, let’s say it’s a doozy.
Starting a new business in my 50s has been complex, frustrating, and exhilarating. Taking an idea through development and production is not for the faint of heart. Bootstrapping Dare Heart I had to make sure that every dollar I invested – of my personal funds – made sense. I stitched over 60 prototypes until I hit the right notes of comfort, creativity, and potential quality (real talk: my sewing will never match industrial sewing techniques).
So finding a factory was not a simple task. With only 2 to 5% of apparel being made in the USA, not many are left. I spent dozens of hours emailing and calling factories until I found one. Argh, the required minimum order was simply too big for my first run. Gulp, I had to take a pause and reassess.
Through my growing network of women entrepreneurs, I connected with a second factory. This time on the West Coast. These folks were willing to let me order in the hundreds rather than the thousands. COVID, wildfires, family loss, and so much more slowed the process. A lovely patternmaker helped shepherd my project through, educating me along the way. I learned about grading (scaling the pattern to different sizes), marking (kind of like how you try to lay cookie cutters over dough to reduce waste), and cutting (having all pieces consistently cut to spec). Over the course of about 18 months we got three styles ready for production – a low rise bikini, mid rise boy short, and high rise brief.
So in September of 2021, I had crossed all my T’s and dotted all my i’s and placed my first ever order. My beta test! I ordered solid and print versions, ranging from classic black to tangerine. Crossing my fingers I’d have something to sell around the holidays, I placed an order. Well, the December holidays came and went. On the last days of 2021 I received the goods. Just so happened I was listening to some ethereal 80s Kate Bush encouraging me to not give up, perfecting the moment.
Next, I got busy photographing models (friends), fine-tuning the website I had built, and setting up inventory while preparing for launch day…2/2/22. Exhausted and determined, I sent out a newsletter campaign to the people I had met along the way who expressed interest in a better pair of underwear and to those who were my tireless cheerleaders. I let them know Dare Hearts were literally IN THE HOUSE!
But you know what? Bringing your dream to fruition and sharing it with the world is a daunting experience. I spent hundreds of hours making a product I believed in but what if it didn’t resonate with the women I held close in my thoughts throughout the process? Would they love it, too?
As I started to get my first orders, my heart swelled. I reached out to every buyer to confirm they’d taken a measuring tape to a couple key points. ‘Cause how can you fall in love with something if it doesn’t fit right? Touching base with new customers was so satisfying. So much that we now make it a regular part of our fulfillment protocol.
The following week I held my first pop-up shop at Plural Collective, a small boutique in my neighborhood run by women makers who create and source the goods sold in the shop. I did personal measurements and started selling to people who didn’t know me. They purchased what I was making because they liked it! It was as thrilling as riding without training wheels for the first time, wind in your hair, skin tingling with excitement, and a knowing that your balance and skill will propel you forward.
But did people like them when they got home? As the reviews started coming in, I scoured the input to see what my new Dare Hearts thought. I needed their unbiased opinions.
“Seriously, these underwear are insanely comfortable!! Don’t ride up, fit perfectly, look cute, and are so comfy soft. I’m just sad I only bought one pair my first time!”
“I love these so much, I’m a total laundry basket case each time they’re dirty and I can’t wear them. “
And because life comes at you fast … not even two weeks post-launch my factory floor manager called to say they were closing. Wait, what? This was a factory that had been around since the 1950s. I felt suckerpunched. All my marketing plans hinged on being able to reorder.
So I decided to see what I could do with the stock I had received while looking for a new manufacturing source. My neighborhood pop-up host welcomed me to their fold and I began selling in a retail environment (plus online).
Then I took a break. I remodeled our basement. I practiced yoga. I rode my bike. I tore out a garden and replanted it. I took a breath. While that was happening, I started to get reorders and received messages like: “They are such wonderful underwear, I just had to get more!”
I contacted multiple factories up and down the West Coast and they either had quantities or costs I couldn’t swallow. One day, I got a call from the cutter–they’d been part of my first run at the old factory. They missed me (ahhh) and they had a potential match for me. A women-led, start-up, production facility in California! We phoned, zoomed, and emailed. And as if The Fates were cc:d on all this communication, my new factory made me a near perfect sample. So I placed an order with these people who were great communicators and excellent craftspeople with timely delivery.
So now here we are. I have three new colorways: Night Muse, Deep Down, and Tough Kitty. I’ve restocked previously sold out sizes. Woot woot! I am back in business.
Sometimes you need to let dreams go when you've exhausted all routes and sometimes you just have to persist. Other times, you just gotta take a breath.
Sitting in a pink vintage armchair from my Auntie and wearing a cozy pair of Dare Heart undies under my PJs, I feel like I’ve found a sweet place of contentment. I’m excited to see where Dare Heart goes and what beautiful things grow out a germ of an idea. Join me on this journey, I have more things in store for you, including a matching bralette.
Oh, and I got a kitten along the way. His name is Marsh Marlowe and he’s a little orange tabby cuddle machine. Talk about natural ways to lower your blood pressure. Cats are good medicine.
If you read this far. I love you. Use promo code: IAMADAREHEART through this weekend (12/11/22) and get 10% off your order.