My Path To Reduce My Ecological Footprint Led Me To Start A $204K/Year Eco-Friendly Fashion Company

Adrienne Catone
$17K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
Faerie's Dance, Inc.
from Happy Valley, OR
started July 2005
$17,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
685K
alexa rank
187
followers
194
followers
47
subs
market size
$450M
avg revenue (monthly)
$12.5K
starting costs
$23.1K
gross margin
53%
time to build
330 months
average product price
$250
growth channels
Organic social media
business model
Advertising
best tools
Google Drive, Pinterest, Instagram
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
28 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Adrienne reccommends to grow your business!
platform
social media
Discover what books Adrienne reccommends to grow your business!
Start A Dance Apparel Brand

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey everyone, my name is Adrienne, and I’m the founder and current CEO of Faerie’s Dance, Inc. We’re a sustainable fashion company that focuses on ethically produced, eco-friendly clothing, lingerie, jewelry, and accessories.

Our customers include people who are concerned about the environment and human rights as well as those who have skin allergies to synthetic fabrics or chemical finishing agents.

When I started, I honestly didn’t know how many people had allergies and sensitivities to everyday clothing; now they’re our most loyal customers!

While we started primarily as a clothing company, our signature products today are our massive line of organic cotton bras, many of which cannot be purchased anywhere else in the USA other than our shop.

Roughly 50% of our current sales come just from bras. Roughly 70% of sales are from the combined Lingerie (bras, panties, sleepwear) and Socks categories.

The business currently supports me and my husband with an adjusted gross income (AGI) ranging between $65k - $75k per year over the last few years.

my-path-to-reduce-my-ecological-footprint-led-me-to-start-a-204k-year-eco-friendly-fashion-company

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In the early 2000’s I was feeling a bit lost. I had a very high-paying job that I didn’t enjoy. A mind-blowing encounter with a silverback gorilla troupe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) several years earlier had me on a slow path to lessen my ecological footprint. In 2004 I decided to take a leave of absence from work and travel the world once more for inspiration.

Upon returning home in 2005, I started taking note of which parts of my life I was having trouble “greening”.

At that time, it was pretty hard to find sustainably made, eco-friendly clothing. So I decided to make it easier for others by bringing together all the best eco-brands in the world into one massive eco-fashion superstore. I had no background in fashion, so this was a huge leap of faith.

I started Faerie’s Dance as a sole-proprietorship with my funds while still working full-time. My position was secure enough that I was able to allow the business to grow naturally while I still had a salary and benefits, which took a lot of pressure off early on.

If you have a plan to survive a bad patch, you will, and you’ll usually come out of it with a stronger business.

Starting, I didn’t manufacture anything myself. I researched loads of brands worldwide that were designing and wholesaling finished clothing. Those initial years grew slowly, but I kept at it and didn’t mind the extra hours because I was enjoying the transition.

Four or five years in, I found my first organic bra brand and started carrying lingerie. My sales skyrocketed almost immediately because this was, and still is, an under-served need. This allowed me to drop from full-time to part-time work, which offered more hours to develop and grow the business.

Finally in early 2012, seven years after opening, I quit my “day job” completely to focus exclusively on Faerie’s Dance. Then in 2013, the company was incorporated. So while I took the slow road, I’m finally the CEO of my little eco-fashion empire!

Take us through the process of designing and manufacturing your first product.

It wasn’t until I was working full-time on Faerie’s Dance that I had the time, knowledge, and inclination to start manufacturing my line. Women’s panties were the obvious starting point because small eco companies kept popping up to fill this need and then going out of business. More than 60% of the companies I’ve done business with within the last 16 years have closed.

Most women find a brand of underwear they love, and then get pretty disappointed when they can’t get them anymore. So I thought if I made my underwear line, I could guarantee they would continue to be available. I even made a separate wholly-owned subsidiary company, Green Tree Organic, in case I ever decided to wholesale the panties I was manufacturing.

Manufacturing turned out to be a bit of a bear compared to retailing. I knew roughly what I wanted and how the end product should come out. Finding a local patternmaker turned out to be straightforward. However, I was unaware that many professional sewing shops in the USA don’t cut the fabric! I had no idea that the cutting and sewing functions were mostly separated. So you either have to hire one company to cut the patterns and then ship them to a separate sewing shop or spend the extra time trying to find an all-in-one.

Luckily, my patternmaker knew of a small, family-owned cut-and-sew shop about an hour from our warehouse, and I hired them.

I also ran into strange issues I’d never have imagined, like finding the right elastic. There are SO MANY different kinds of elastic! Learning about braided versus knit, foldover versus sew-in, tension measurements, best widths for different uses, etc. was crazy.

I did a show-and-tell at my women’s networking group where I brought about 50 elastic samples and explained all the decisions that had to be made as part of manufacturing something as seemingly simple as a panty.

I documented the entire manufacturing process for our fans and customers to follow along in a series of blog posts.

  1. The End of Bgreen or Where Have All the Organic Panties Gone?
  2. Organic Cotton Panty Update – Status of Our New Endeavor
  3. The Zen of Organic Panty Manufacturing
  4. The First Green Tree Organic Cotton Panties are in!

my-path-to-reduce-my-ecological-footprint-led-me-to-start-a-204k-year-eco-friendly-fashion-company
Jaime, our Patternmaker, verifies the measurements of the first samples

Describe the process of launching the business.

I “started” the business in early April 2005 with the intent of making it an online store, both because it would serve a larger market and also due to my limited hours as I was running it while working full-time. That consisted of getting the business license and putting aside $50,000 for initial inventory. My then-husband was a coder and helped me customize an open-source, off-the-shelf e-commerce package called OSCommerce.

The process of getting the website polished and working, researching sustainably-focused brands, and buying the initial inventory, took a little over 3 months. We officially launched the website on July 22, 2005, and that’s the date I use now for our anniversary sale.

I was shocked on July 23 to find that I’d gotten an order on my very first day with a live website! It turned out to be from one of my friends who placed an order to support my new endeavor, but it was still pretty thrilling. Within a week I got an order from a stranger, and I was just ecstatic. By the end of that first year, we were getting regular orders.

My only regret from the launch is the name of the business. While I LOVE my business name, it’s hard to spell and doesn’t articulate what we sell. It would be a fabulous brick-and-mortar store name. However, online I think something easy and obvious would be better. I’ve considered re-branding, but by the time I thought about it seriously, we’d already had too much organic SEO to make it worth the time and effort.

Our original logo was done by my cousin, and it was a bit busy. I’m much happier with our current logo, but there is still some fun to that first one we launched with.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I’ve tried a lot of marketing over the past 16 years. Our overall best ROI comes from putting money into organic search engine optimization (SEO). SEO isn’t very sexy and there aren’t pretty ads to show. It’s also expensive upfront and slows to show results. But consistently I’ve found that looking across a wide time-frame, SEO dollars get the best return for an online business like mine.

Weird events happen around the world (like COVID) that can affect your business regardless of what you’re doing to make it work. If you have a plan to survive a bad patch, you will, and you’ll usually come out of it with a stronger business.

Beyond SEO, for my specific company, which is a somewhat niche product, banner ads on smaller, like-minded sites like MotherJones.com, eMagazine.com, tend to have good ROI. Facebook ads run close to the same as banners. We have never done well with Google Adwords. The prices to be competitive ended up making the total ROI too low to be worth the effort. Early on, I did some print ads, and they ended up being a complete waste of money for an online store.

Below are a few examples of banner ads we’ve run in 2021:

my-path-to-reduce-my-ecological-footprint-led-me-to-start-a-204k-year-eco-friendly-fashion-company

my-path-to-reduce-my-ecological-footprint-led-me-to-start-a-204k-year-eco-friendly-fashion-company

Over the years we’ve gone back and forth with eBay. It does bring sales for sure, but it’s also a bit of work to keep up multiple sales channels, and our focus is and has always been on our own branded website. That said, we do sell a few of our 1200+ items on Amazon. We have exclusive rights to sell one of our European bra brands on Amazon in the USA, which does very well for both us and them.

Most brands however restrict who can sell their items on Amazon, and other than our European bras, we generally only sell two of our brands on Amazon. Amazon sales represent a little less than 20% of our overall income. So it would hurt to lose those sales, but it certainly wouldn’t put us out of business.

my-path-to-reduce-my-ecological-footprint-led-me-to-start-a-204k-year-eco-friendly-fashion-company
A typical Amazon sales month

Beyond advertising for new customers, keeping our current customers is a very high priority. We offer a monthly newsletter subscriber discount. Most marketers will tell you to email more often, but I hate when companies keep spamming me every few days. The once-a-month has worked well for us and we have over 13,000 newsletter subscribers.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today the business supports both myself and my husband. We’ve occasionally been able to hire part-time help during busy seasons. There’s an opportunity to grow the business further if more time and effort were put into that goal.

However, I’m slowing down a bit and retirement is on the horizon, so I’m working to maintain the business but not necessarily grow it. Between my partner and I, we put in 40 hours a week combined these days as we spend more time enjoying life and less time working. I’m currently preparing the business for sale in the next 1-2 years. So if any of your eco-conscious readers would like to step into a profitable, turn-key business with loads of room to grow rather than starting from scratch, we’d love to chat with them.

We have sales of $200,000+ plus per year. 2020 had a cost of goods sold of $102,000 on gross sales of $212,000. Non-payroll expenses and advertising costs were approximately $33,000.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I’m currently running the website on Magento. We switched from OSCommerce as that platform aged and was no longer PCI compliant. Magento is more complex than Shopify, but it also gives more options.

We own the domain GreenTreeOrganic.com for our manufacturing side. At the moment, it is just forwards to our main website. But it provides the opportunity to create a completely separate brand entity for wholesale. Magento allows you to run multiple domains from the same backend, which is one of the primary reasons I choose it, even though I haven’t used that feature yet.

We have a fantastic developer in India who keeps the site up-to-date and running smoothly.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The biggest mistake I made was creating a job for myself rather than a business. While I love doing this, we have to be close any time my partner and I want to go on vacation together.

After I incorporated, I found the book Build a Business, Not a Job! and then Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back by Jeff Hoffman and David Finkel. I wish I had found these earlier, but it still helped tremendously.

I would recommend that any person considering opening a business read both of these books BEFORE even starting.

We’ve also had good years and bad years. Put aside something in the good years to help you survive the bad years. No business grows every year. Weird events happen around the world (like COVID) that can affect your business regardless of what you’re doing to make it work. If you have a plan to survive a bad patch, you will, and you’ll usually come out of it with a stronger business.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I’m looking for a buyer. Serious inquiries can contact us at [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Adrienne Catone   Founder of Faerie's Dance, Inc.
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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