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January 24, 2014

A Fashion Incubator Alum Dishes on Crowdfunding

**Guest Post by Fashion Incubator Designer in Residence Diana Mitchell, creator of the DDCC Activewear Collection

On the seventh floor of the Macy’s Men’s building in the heart of Union Square a new wave of fashion is springing to life. In its second year, the Fashion Incubator San Francisco at Macy’s Union Square (FISF) is helping six emerging designers develop their businesses and launch all new collections that are changing the face of west coast fashion and will perhaps one day grace the windows of some of the major department stores that surround the Square like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Ave.

As a Designer in Residence at the FISF, I’ve been fortunate to receive studio space and mentorship in the yearlong program. Surrounded by all of the top brands and designer shops from Barneys to Chanel to Louis Vuitton to Theory, it's inspiring to designers who aspire to grow their brands to that level. As I passed the many activewear shops in Union Square’s “Outdoor Alley,” where Grant Ave. and Post St. meet, from Nike to Calvin Klein Fitness to Merryl, I began to think about creating a new kind of fitness clothing that was unlike any other - one that would inspire real women like myself to get up, get out, and get moving. I then developed the DDCC Activewear Collection, and decided to fund the production via Kickstarter. Through a grant from the City of San Francisco the FISF has been able to run a series of public workshops on various topics affecting the local fashion industry, one of which was a panel on crowdfunding where I learned that running a Kickstarter Campaign is a full-time job filled with ups and downs.

The first step was making the video. I was very fortunate to have a friend who makes commercials for a living. After talking through the script we spent a half a day shooting in Kezar Stadium and Golden Gate Park with some unique challenges involving an ice cream truck and some major stage fright. The next step was choosing the rewards. Through the FISF I learned that Kickstarter has a largely male community, and that the $25 and $100 rewards are the most backed levels. After talking with many friends I decided a t-shirt would be a great unisex $25 reward.

The outreach before and during the campaign was the most time consuming. The FISF panel advised reaching out to bloggers two weeks in advance, which was not nearly enough time. Out of the 150 bloggers I contacted 10% got back to me, and half of that covered the story. It takes time to build your community, to find out which blogs you belong on, and to give those bloggers the time to write a story. It was a great learning experience and taught me that marketing is really about building relationships with people and partnerships that are mutually beneficial. 

DDCC reached its goal with just 3 days to go – and each of the prior 27 days was filled with various amounts of dread and doubt. Putting a Kickstarter up is like putting yourself on public display and asking people to support you, and when you’re afraid that might not happen it’s scary! But this was also balanced by the support I saw from friends and strangers who were so excited about the campaign.

While it was a ton of work, having a chance at my dream to one day place myself amongst the international brand names you see in Union Square was worth it. Through building ongoing relationships with yogis, fitness studios, and individuals, I learned a lot about what people want from their activewear, and where DDCC belongs in the fitness community! I think my goal is to make women realize that they don’t have to be a fitness guru to enjoy cute activewear, and that exercising can be fun. The DDCC active line launches this March, and I can’t wait to get people in these wears! The current Designers in Residence will be moving out in February, and the FISF will welcome a new batch of designers to Union Square program, ready to create designs that perhaps one day you’ll peruse in the shops of this beautiful neighborhood.