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What's really happening in one founder's life during the pandemic

Molly Crossin, CEO of Industry Standard, an everyday essentials apparel company, had planned to chat about her experience as a night owl entrepreneur in a world that seems to believe only morning people with highly structured routines are productive. That was our blog post topic for today. And we may return to it. But not right now.

Instead, Molly was enormously candid about what’s been going on in her life and in her business as the pandemic unfolds. We paraphrase her thoughts here, using as much of her voice as possible, to connect our members during this crazy time and to encourage each other to share our real stories. As ever, The F Project is about supporting each other. It’s especially important now. 

“A couple of weeks ago, my days were a mix of meetings with fit models and the technical apparel designer, Skyping with factories, finalizing fall colorways for t-shirts, negotiating new brand partnerships, working on optimizing our supply chain, introducing new, more sustainable packaging…just a wide range of marketing product and planning,” Molly said.

With Industry Standard based in New York City and manufacturing in Los Angeles, these days look very different.

“I’m just trying to find what you can do when your hands are tied and when you can’t produce anything new. How do you stay true to your brand values while being sensitive to the new world order? How do we get through it, not just to optimize, but to really get through it as a fully functioning person and a whole brand? I do not pretend to have it figured out.”

The timing of the pandemic was, as Molly puts it, “a weird cherry on top of a year when I learned a lot of things but a lot of things went wrong.”

“I just finished my first year of being in business for myself. A global pandemic was not really in my 12-month plan of rapid business growth! I’ve worked on all these partnerships and pop-ups, building these relationships and fixing my supply chain, and some of that is just gone forever. Some of the factories we work with are really small family operations that I’ve grown close to. What does this mean for them?”

This is an unprecedented time that’s eliciting an emotion as old as time itself: grief. Molly says she’s been sitting with that and figuring out what can be salvaged and pivoted. And she has been reaching out to others.

“We’re all seeing during this time of social distancing a sort of also social collapsing…people are joking they’ve never had more phone calls or Facetime than they have during this time. People are being very generous with their time and also much more open about just reaching out and saying, ‘How are you doing?’

“Even if it’s not solving a particular problem, [it’s good] to have someone say, ‘Yeah me too…I wasn’t productive today because I had to lay off a lot of people, or really grapple with does it make sense to spend money on advertising right now.’

“Just hearing folks who are going through some of the same things, especially in this big-air-quotes hustle harder culture we’re in of you have to be productive all the time, and even though it’s a pandemic you use this time to learn a new skill or train for a marathon…I think it’s also an okay time to grieve.”

Grieve, and get creative. 

“We’re looking at more digital partnerships, digital pop-ups, Instagram giveaways, things like that. With one of my popup partners, they’re making kits for folks to work from home so we’re putting our t-shirts in that.

“From a marketing perspective, it’s tricky, I think, for everyone right now. It feels a little bit frivolous to promote a clothing brand with everything going on. I think you’re seeing a lot of brands right now trying to recalibrate their digital presence and replan their voice. At the end of the day, we are a clothing brand and we need to sell clothes to make money. We want to be sensitive to the international reality of the world in which we’re now operating, but also want to keep the lights on and keep paying our vendors.”

Timing has been interesting for Industry Standard in another area.

“We just finished a rebrand and redid our website and relaunched it right as this was all happening. I delayed it for a week and then decided the show must go on. 

“So I wrote an email and I was as honest as I’ve ever been in communicating with our customers. I was sort of like, ‘This isn’t going to be our funny, typical, straightforward brand voice. I’m writing a note from me personally. I’m not sure how to handle this because I’ve never done it. But we worked on a rebrand and it’s live and it’s here and it feels trivial to launch when other things are going on, but I’m really proud of it and you guys supported us from when we were nothing, before we had a real brand identity, and I hope you can be proud of this too.’

“That’s sort of the ethos I’ve been trying to take with all our communication, acknowledging what’s happening, and you know clothes are not going to solve it, but we need to sell things to stay in business. We ran a little sale thinking, you know, people are going to be home now and maybe a cozy sweatshirt would provide comfort. We understand our customers are financially struggling and that’s one of those small authentic ways that we can continue to survive as a brand while acknowledging this larger reality that will trump everything for a while.”

So many thanks to Molly for sharing her experience. What has been happening for you and your business? You can reach out by tagging us in your posts @thefprojectco.

Stay safe, healthy, and sane, F Project family. We’ll make it through this!

Erika Szychowski

Erika Szychowski is the CEO/Founder of Good Zebra and the Founder of The F Project, a social impact project to raise the profile of female founders through collaborative commerce.
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