Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on this interview with Nancy Rhodes, Founder of alternew, located in New York, NY, USA.
What’s your business, and who are your customers?
alternew is a tech platform supporting the circular economy that connects brands, consumers, and fashion alteration and repair specialists to bridge the gap between sustainability and fashion. Our goal is to provide a convenient and sustainable solution to fashion waste by extending the life of clothing and reducing the amount of textile waste generated by the fashion industry. Through convenience, quality, and an improved customer experience, we connect consumers with alternew specialists that meet their needs. Our clients include fashion-conscious consumers who are seeking sustainable and convenient solutions for their fashion needs, as well as brands that are looking to increase customer loyalty and promote sustainability.
Tell us about yourself
I am a veteran design insider who worked in the fashion industry for almost two decades, with exclusive insight into mass production, building footwear for big names such as Beyonce’s House of Dereon and Kenneth Cole, as well as multiple private labels for stores ranging from Nordstrom to Target, Marshalls, and Costco. My years adding to the wasteful overconsumption of goods led me to a Master’s degree at GCNYC, and my thesis on the democratization of clothing customization and the negative impact of fast fashion offered me the green light I needed to create my company, alternew. My mission is to promote a “re-fashion” economy through fit and customization. Our goal is to make fashion alterations as exciting and easy as buying new ones. If we can do that, we can truly impact the future of the fashion industry.
What’s your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
alternew was set to launch on March 13th, 2020, but like so many other businesses, we were forced to postpone. One week after our launch party was postponed, I saw the need for PPE and realized we were in a unique position to engage with our tailors and community to provide opportunities to make a real impact. On March 26th, we sent out our first 450 yards of cotton fabric and 4500 yards of elastic to 45 sewers. Thousands of yards of materials later and hundreds of volunteers and we were able to make 40,000 masks for front-line providers and essential workers. I will be forever inspired by the community we built, the new friends we made, and the willingness of individuals to come together in times of need. It truly shows that there is no task too small to make a big impact. I am constantly driven by this memory to succeed and continue to find ways to promote a positive impact on people and our planet.
What’s one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
As an entrepreneur trying to build a company, I find great inspiration in the quote, “The mighty oak was once an acorn that stood its ground.” It reminds me that success doesn’t happen overnight and that the journey toward building a successful business can be long and challenging. Sometimes that means staring at an Excel sheet for hours figuring out how to scale, and other times it means taking three subways and making 5 trips to pick up and drop off projects for customers since I’m the most affordable messenger my company has (free!). It’s all the small things that have been most surprising to me as an entrepreneur, but I am so clear on our mission that I’m able to, for the most part, get through the daily noise and keep moving forward, knowing that moving forward sometimes looks a lot like moving backward.
What are the top tips you’d give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Know your mission, gather resources, and be compassionate. If you don’t know your mission, you will not succeed. Think of your business like a pyramid (or maypole or Christmas tree). If you don’t have a stable point at the top, everything will tumble. You’ll pivot and adapt all the time, but your mission should never change.
Your resources are the fuel. This isn’t just market analysis or a business plan, but your friends who let you crash on their couch or your book club that gives you a few laughs and wine so you can find balance as you build.
And finally, compassion is really the easiest word to describe the value of that moment when Netflix asks if you’re still watching. You think to yourself, “Yes, I’m still watching, and that’s ok.” Because tomorrow you’ll be that much more productive. Or you won’t. But if you know where you want to go (mission), you’ll get there.