Why we’re glad we pivoted

How to stop banging your head against the wall trying to make it work when you’ve come up with something better

Lindsay Trombley
6 min readJun 10, 2020

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is the luxury of spending your working time doing meaningful things. I don’t mean that you spend all your time doing things you like, or that you never have to do anything tedious or unpleasant. What I mean is that you can’t afford to waste your time doing things that don’t materially improve the chances your business will succeed. So if you’re working on plan A and you realise there’s a plan B that’s way better, you should switch to plan B.

Last June, my cofounder Julia and I joined Founders Factory as founders in residence for a new studio venture. Founders Factory pitched us on the concept of launching an incubator for influencer fashion brands, and we decided to sign on to build the company from scratch. So: plan A.

Plan A

We worked hard for four months on a manual proof of concept, and launched two influencer capsule collections in October. This was no small feat, given the dearth of fashion supply chain experience between us. But we pulled it off — we hired a designer and a pattern cutter, found an excellent factory in East London, sourced surplus fabric, and made it happen. Because we wanted to produce sustainably, we decided to make to order. Logistically, this required taking all orders within a 5-day limited-time sale window.

And amazingly, we sold a lot of clothes — several thousand pounds worth in our 5 day sale window, which was remarkable for a new brand no one had ever heard of.

However, we quickly identified some major problems.

One of the things we learned almost immediately was that the barriers to entry in fashion are pretty much insurmountable without access to vast amounts of capital. Producing small quantities isn’t economically feasible, especially if you want to operate ethically and sustainably. On the other hand, selling through large quantities of clothes requires an enormous marketing outlay and often many years spent building a brand and consumer trust. This is why so many fashion brands are sinkholes for investment. To wit: Victoria Beckham, whose fashion label has never turned a profit in its 11 years in business. In any case, we were less and less interested in selling large volumes of clothes.

As a newcomer to the fashion industry and as a human with a conscience living in the year 2020, I was stunned by what I learned in my first few months in the business. The amount of waste produced by the industry is staggering. Were we really helping anything by putting more new clothes out into the world? Even if they were made out of deadstock fabric and produced in a local factory?

So we found ourselves sitting on months of hard work and having burned through a chunk of our initial capital. We were staring down the barrel of an extremely capital-intensive proposition that neither of us could see becoming truly scalable. Add our disillusionment about our company’s impact on the planet, and it was clear we should stop banging our heads against the wall and quickly move to a different model.

Plan B

Fortunately, our work on the initial business model had given us a brilliant idea. We’d seen early on that working with influencers to produce fashion provides a singular opportunity to involve the end consumer in product development. And having your finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment means you can produce the right items in the right quantities, hence drastically reducing waste. In fact, in our first couple of influencer collections we had tested this concept, using Instagram story polls to involve the audiences of the influencers we were working with in making product development decisions about sleeve lengths and necklines. It worked! The audiences loved being involved, and the feedback we got helped us make better-informed decisions.

So what if we tapped into these same vast and engaged audiences to ask their opinions, but instead of using the insights to develop our own collections, we made them available to brands? Now that we understood how much money brands were spending producing clothes that never sold, we knew giving them access to better real-time consumer insights was a winning idea. And not only could we help reduce waste; we could also simultaneously harness our process to acquire new customers for the brands we were working with.

We had total clarity: helping fashion brands tap into social media audiences for consumer insights to reduce waste was the way we needed to take the business. One of the things we had learned in our first venture together was the importance of quickly dropping things that don’t work. So at this point, we were ready to attack our pivot with total conviction.

The pivot: how we did it

The first step was to make sure we understood the problem we were solving.

In the first iteration of our business model, we had always struggled with this: were we solving a problem for influencers? For consumers? What was that problem, and how could it be addressed with technology? In the new iteration, it was immediately clear that we were helping to solve the issue of waste in fashion, which is a problem for the planet, but also, crucially for the business, is a financial pain point for brands.

Second, we began market-testing the new concept.

We spoke to as many brands as we could find, big and small, and talked them through the idea. We talked to CEOs, merchandisers, buyers, and designers. The excitement was ubiquitous, which further reinforced our conviction that we were on the right path.

Now that we had clarity, we embarked on a lean proof of concept.

We launched a third influencer collection in January, and used off-the-shelf tools to become more sophisticated in our collection of consumer insights. In our small test, we were able to predict consumer interest in individual products with a high degree of certainty based on the insights we had gathered — important validation.

We rebranded as Wovn. We launched our first pilot with a major high-street retailer in March, and it’s gone extremely well. We have follow-up discussions underway with that brand, and confirmed plans to launch pilots with more brands as soon as the COVID crisis begins to abate.

Why our timing was better than we knew

Speaking of the COVID crisis, its impact on the fashion industry is likely to be severe and long-lasting. Of course no one yet knows if or how consumer behaviours will change in the long term as a result of the crisis, but the immediate result will certainly not be a big surge in fashion consumption. Anna Wintour herself said recently this may be the right time to rethink what the industry stands for. Setting aside the question of consumer demand once the crisis abates, brands are already sitting on mountains of inventory that they intended to sell this spring and summer. The first wave of COVID-related fashion industry bankruptcies has already begun, and it’s clear that the brands that make it through the immediate crisis will need to become leaner and more efficient.

We’re gratified — and relieved — to have have landed on a new business model that can help fashion brands be more efficient by producing less waste and acquiring new customers at the same time. Almost every day, we remind ourselves how glad we are that we decided to quickly and decisively pivot away from producing influencer-led fashion collections. Our old business model was already a challenging and capital-intensive one six months ago, but would be infinitely more difficult now.

More importantly, it’s extraordinarily fulfilling to have identified a winning business model that we both feel passionate about. It’s an extreme privilege to get up in the morning with a feeling of total investment in what we’re working on, and it creates a great sense of purpose.

Having the freedom to explore a new business model and quickly pivot has been a major privilege of being a part of Founders Factory. Along our journey so far, we’ve had incredible support from the peerless operations team there and it’s been an incredible boon. In fact, we’ve just received another round of investment from Founders Factory and joined the accelerator there, and we can’t imagine a better place to be right now.

If I had to choose the most useful lesson I’ve learned as a founder so far, it would be this: never bang your head against the wall trying to make plan A work. Do your best — as quickly as possible. Then either double down or pick up what you’ve learned and keep moving. You may end up coming up with something way better.