i+w x made in kind

WEEK 63 - August 2, 2012

When large companies contact us requesting to explore a wholesale relationship with them, our automatic response has been, “thanks so much for reaching out to us, but we just aren’t ready.”

When Anthropologie, a division of the 42-year-old Urban Outfitters Corporation, reached out to us 6 months ago, we said just that. “No thank you.”

They asked that we at least allow them to share with us why they were calling: they were developing a new initiative that seemingly would be in line with our philosophies. I think we said “no thank you” again… TWICE!

Our wholesale director, Brian Awitan, called me one April morning, a couple months later, asking that both Matt and I get on the phone. He said something like, “Ok, Anthropologie has called again. Quit being stubborn. It’s not going to hurt to at least talk with this cool woman, Maggie. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, she will fly to Nashville to meet you.”

And she did just that. With a sick baby back home in Philadelphia and on LAUNCH DAY of Made In Kind, the new Anthropologie initiative that she was leading, Maggie flew to Nashville just to meet us. The second she walked in the door, I thought to myself, “Shit. I bet we say yes.” Matt punched me on the leg, a signal for me to put my game face back on. He knows me too well: Maggie had me at hello. So we plopped down on the couch and visited for an hour. We immediately found ourselves in free-flowing conversation about everything but jeans. We talked giddily about Japanese textiles, artisans in India, realized we had a mutual special friend Michelle, and then on and on about the beauty regarding production in America, and the challenges thereafter.

We walked down the street to grab a burger. There, Maggie passionately laid out to us the Anthropologie Made In Kind project. We listened and learned that Made In Kind is a platform that gives young brands like us unreal exposure, whilst simultaneously not exploiting the integrity that we have worked hard to protect. She conveyed that Anthropologie wanted to tell our story. She made it clear that we didn’t have to jump off a cliff… the order could be as small or big as we wanted.

We never said yes. We just asked one thousand questions.

Maggie flew back to Philadelphia just a couple of hours later. She gave us time to really think about what such an endeavor would mean to our little company. We agreed to explore the opportunity further, so the following week, Anthropologie flew us to Philadelphia in order for us to see how they work firsthand.

We drove out to the old navy yard, which was acquired by the Urban Outfitters Corporation 6 years ago. What we discovered at this first point of entry (and throughout the next 24 hours) was a very unique and inspiring company culture that ultimately cares for its employees. We now often reference this model as we build our company.

It was late at night, so we were the only people on the beautifully vast property! We were left a key to check ourselves in to one of the original captain’s quarters right on the river. After raiding the fridge, we went to bed. The next morning, we walked to the commissary, where most employees gather for coffee or a workout in the company gym prior to starting their day. Maggie, as well as her team of two – Ada and Mel – greeted us there.

When we sat down, Matt and I told Maggie that we came to Philly to tell her that we were in. Two hours later, we had built and confirmed the collection that we would offer. Maggie wanted us to meet the whole Anthro team, so we walked over to their dedicated building. I think we must have met 15 dogs on the way. Yes, you can bring your dog to work.

We were welcomed at the door by Wendy and Jen who, along with Maggie, have been with Anthropologie since close to the company’s start. In sitting with them, we realized that not only did they know about every ounce of imogene + willie, they sincerely believed in our brand. They didn’t just want to sell our jeans; they had handpicked us for an honorable reason. They wanted to help us tell a lot of women about the long, careful creation of our clothes that were always and will always be made for real women.

Speaking of women… In the middle of the meeting with Wendy, Jen and Maggie (and as if it were scripted), a young staff member walked in the front door with her lunch in tow. Jen flagged her down and introduced her to us. She sheepishly but proudly said, “I know you already, I am an imogene + willie mega fan.” A mega fan?! She shared with us that she had been following our website since the inception. I was baffled. How did she even know?

We wrapped up business. Maggie walked us to our car. We hugged it out, and I swear it was like saying goodbye to an old old friend. Call me a sucker.

Now, just 90 days later, imogene + willie debuts on Anthropologie’s Made In Kind project. That is an insanely short amount of days to pull off a collection, and to produce our biggest order ever! But we did it. Were there bumps along the way? Absolutely. But when you have good partners and similar goals, solutions are plentiful and it all works out.

For Matt and me, the greatest delight in running a business is working with and building relationships with good people: our staff, our customers, our vendors and, as we grow, new “partners” like Anthropologie.

As convicted as we were to say “no,” listening to our gut to grow slowly for the first 3 years, we are as confident and proud to share imogene + willie now with women that otherwise we might not ever know, through Anthropologie. This is no compromise.

This has always been our effort, to make things in kind. So, that’s the real story, all the way from a big fat NO to a very proud and heartfelt YES.

Thank you, Maggie.