When the idea for Wildelore first came to be, I was five months pregnant and feeling like my options for maternity clothes involved excessive amounts of frills, lace, and unflattering lines. As my usual wardrobe includes simple tops, sweaters, and basic jeans, I wasn't exactly thrilled.
I also wanted to go hiking, and the cotton maternity shirts I purchased just didn't hold up. They were damp, droopy, and far from ideal. When I searched for the maternity section at my favourite outdoor stores, I was shocked to find it didn't actually exist!
Fast forward to when my daughter was born and I began nursing her; I was disappointed to realize that the clothes I did buy during pregnancy didn't double function for nursing. The last thing I wanted to do as a new mom was go shopping, and much to my dismay, there was nothing for me and my active outdoor lifestyle.
At some point during my postpartum journey I tried to fit back into my old jeans, and when that didn't happen, I began to feel like I needed four wardrobes - one for pre-pregnancy, one for maternity, one for nursing, and one for postpartum/in between sizes.
Then, while cross country skiing with my little one, unzipping my jacket, and hiking up my layers thus getting cold in order to nurse, I thought, "there must be a better way!"
The lightbulb just kept going off. I told my husband and his response was immediately supportive. He encouraged me to do more research.
And so, I did!
I started asking other moms and moms-to-be about their experiences with maternity/nursing clothes, and if they felt similarly or not.
I sent out a couple of surveys in the local moms group on Facebook and got many responses.
Seeing that I was not alone, I shared the results with my husband.
A little background information on Chas; he has essentially listened to every episode of the podcast How I Built This by Guy Raz. We had listened to many of them together while driving, and both knew we wanted to choose a different path than many.
It’s safe to say that he was primed with the right mindset needed to hear my idea and see the potential since both of us have entrepreneurial spirits.
So, with my husband on board and some early “proof”, we decided to continue further along the process.
The Birth of the All Phases Fleece
Where does one begin when dreaming up an item of clothing? Truthfully, it started with a few thrift store sweaters, a pair of scissors and some "Frankenstein" experimentation.
We bought zippers and asked a seamstress friend of ours to sew them in for us. We were able to get a sense of what we were looking for, and to roughly approximate the vision, but the result was not the most inspiring aesthetically.
Having had zero prior experience in the apparel industry (we met in music school after all), we reached out to a local mom who we knew worked in fashion. She was kind enough to meet with us (thank you so much for all of your help along the way Annika!) and directed us towards some helpful resources.
I enrolled in a course about starting a clothing line, and learned the very basics involved in how to go about getting a pattern made, tech packs, creating manufacturing relationships, what to look out for, fabric sourcing and so on.
A few months later, we were introduced to Apparelmark in Vancouver; and Cara - who would ultimately become our designer.
The professionalism of Cara and her team instantly spoke to us. Cara's experience working with brands like Arc'teryx, Lululemon, Aritzia, Outdoor Voices and more instilled such a deep level of confidence and trust in her ability to bring our vision to life. We knew she was the one, so we took the leap and decided to invest in working with them!
The Design Process + Beginning of the Brand
Over the next year, we worked alongside Cara and her team creating and refining the design of our first offering (the All Phases Fleece) + developing prototypes.
Beginning in February through August 2022, we received and adjusted 3 prototypes, testing them out in the wild, and eventually, included the 2nd and 3rd prototypes in a photoshoot + our crowdfunding video (you can view the video here).
Below are pictures of me testing P1.
Throughout all of this we were busy selecting fabric, testing colours (called dips), working with a lovely artist to create what would become the wildflower print (see below), experimenting with zippers, and meeting via Zoom almost weekly with Apparelmark to capture changes and approve or reject samples/prototypes and overall, being quite a difficult client.
We will be the first to admit that we were challenging to work with in the sense that we really wouldn't budge on our quality requirements and were always opting for top notch finishes/manufacturing which slowed down the process some. Also being new to the industry, Chas and I had our own learnings to do about how the process works and in doing so, we asked a lot of questions!
During this time we came up with our brand name which was a long and ongoing process in and of itself (more to come on this brand/logo creation process).
I also wrote a massive business plan as part of a community program which I had to submit in order to qualify for a part time "self-employment" wage for 9 months (thank you Community Futures!). We also began receiving mentoring from local Apparel company, Ambler (Christian and Jackie have been absolutely so helpful).
In January 2022 we launched our Instagram page, and shared about the startup journey there, asking questions to our audience about which pattern design they liked best, which colours they wanted, and each prototype was shared on Stories.
The following month I dropped the first prototype sweater off to a few local women with a feedback form and met some lovely new mamas this way.
We even sent the very first prototype to 5 outdoor loving women in the United States for feedback and called it The Sisterhood Traveling Fleece! They hand signed a notebook and shared a little bit about themselves before passing it along to the next recipient.
Then came Prototype #2 in June. In the photo below you can see the safety pins along the bottom adjusting the amount of fabric.
In August we received Protoype #3 (below) which incorporated all the changes we made to the first two prototypes.
In October we received our Size Run in beige (each size of our line XS-XXL) and were lucky enough to have 20 women over to our house to try on various sizes. Some women had never met us before but volunteered to help us! We took photos and measured them, and used the information to fine tune our sizing.
After we had all the data, Chas and I did our very best to make adjustments. Think, 1/4" off the sleeves, 1" off the length, slightly smaller armhole, different pocket bag to solve a visual issue and so on. It was foreign territory to us, but after staring at numbers and photos for a week straight, we eventually got there!
Next came an extra "size run" sample to reflect the changes. It arrived in size Small, so I could test it out.
The sweater arrived in the custom green fleece we had triggered the order of 3 months prior....but it was different!
The fleece was thinner, the colour just slightly off, and the hand feel/pill of the material was not what we had approved.
We thought “maybe they used a different fabric for this. Surely it’s not the fabric we had custom made!”
But when we reached out to our design team, unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The fabric we were seeing on this extra sample was in fact, the fabric that was to be used on all of our green sweaters.
Shocked and stressed certainly describes what we were feeling.
After all, our entire life savings was invested in these sweaters!
Read Part 2 of this Series to find out what happened during this pivotal moment. Coming Soon!
Have you started a business before? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!