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Brought Back to Life: How Pantee Uses Deadstock to Upcycle the Fashion Industry

Shopify Masters Podcast: Pantee

 

While shopping around charity shops in London in 2019, Amanda McCourt was shocked to see how many brand new t-shirts she found hanging on the racks. With an eye towards building a sustainable fashion brand, Amanda and sister Katie set out to scale a brand that turns “deadstock” t-shirts into underwear.

Through hours of research, customer interviews, and an uber successful Kickstarter campaign, the two sisters built Pantee. In this episode of Shopify masters, Katie and Amanda share how they grew their business.

For the full transcript of this episode, click here.

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Show notes

Why having little experience in an industry can help you succeed 

Felix: So pretty unique take on upcycling. Where did the idea behind the business come from?

Katie: Amanda actually came up with the idea back in the summer of 2019. The idea came from a growing awareness of the amount of waste produced by the fashion industry and a desire to try to mitigate that. Amanda was walking around some charity shops and thrift stores in London, and saw the sheer amount of T-shirts that were given away with the tags still on them and thinking, “what could we do with these?” 

Amanda: I saw all of this waste and I read Donna Thomas's Fashion Opus, which was a real eye opener into the issues in the fashion industry. One of the things I was amazed by was the amount of clothing that's made and never really is sold. A lot of that goes to incineration or landfill. Looking at these T-shirts, I was like, “these are the ones I can see in store, but what about all the ones that have never made it there?” I ended up watching a YouTube video of what you can do with an old T-shirt, and I found women upcycling them into underwear, and I thought, wow, this could be like a really cool idea, could you do this at scale? Like Katie says, it's a bit of a funny story around how we got our first samples, because neither of us have a background in the fashion industry. We didn't have a clue of how you go about making a garment.

It's not something we could do ourselves. I went to a little shop on the high street that did small alterations with a little sewing machine–take up trouser legs and things like that. I went into one of those and I followed the instructions of the YouTube video, which was to take your comfiest pair of pants so that you can replicate that style. Although they were clean, they were my underwear. So I rocked up and handed over a T-shirt and my pair of pants and said, "Oh, could you turn this T-shirt into a pair of pants like this?" It didn't end up happening because it's not really something you can walk into a dry cleaners and have done. But that's how we first started going about getting our concept made into an actual product.

Felix: The first attempt or iteration didn’t pan out. How did you decide what direction to go after that first try? 

Amanda: I ended up finding someone at People Prower who specialized in making underwear and she made some brief samples for us, which worked really well and did prove the concept. They weren't perfect in terms of fit or style, but seeing that you can turn a T-shirt into underwear, and how much material it takes to do so was really great to see. From there we worked with a sustainability minded designer to create some tech packs and get something ready to hand over to a factory or sampling studio. There was a lot of research involved, on both parts. We spent a lot of time trying to understand the fashion industry and how you go about doing these things.

A Model sitting wearing a white Pantee set in from of a bookcase with a lamp and plants
Though they didn’t have a background in the fashion industry, Katie and Amanda did a lot of research, got samples made to prove their concept, and kept iterating from there. Pantee

Felix: You mentioned that neither of you had a background in this world. I think a lot of listeners out there might be facing something similar. What is your advice for approaching a business in a field where you don’t have a background? 

Amanda: Just speak to people, find out where it’s happening in your area or people who have experience that might be within your network already, and ask as many questions as you can. People are always so helpful and you can get amazing insights from people that you’ve just had a phone call or a coffee with can be so valuable. It jump started and accelerated us to where we needed to be. Just talking to people is so, so helpful. Then obviously there's all the things that you can do like reading the right books and just reading things every day and trying to get into that mindset as much as possible.

Katie: I'd just like to add that from when we started out to where we are now, we have completely changed. We've learned and built so much knowledge over that time. From the start date to where we are now, it is quite overwhelming to think, oh my gosh, I need to know everything. If you just take it day by day and stick with it and keep having those conversations and absorbing information and learning things as they come up, then it's amazing the progress that you make. It might not seem like it day in day out that you are doing that learning or growing, but when a significant amount of time has passed and you look back, it's crazy to see the journey.

"It can be a blessing in disguise to be fresh thinking in a particular industry."

Amanda: When you do look back as well, you are almost grateful for not actually knowing everything because you approach things differently when you are not set in the ways of the industry. You’re not constrained by, “that's not the way that we do things and that's not the way that the industry works.” You look back and go, “actually, if we had known and all of these things that we know now, we wouldn't have tried to do it the way that we did.” It can be a blessing in disguise to be fresh thinking in a particular industry.

Upcycling deadstock to decrease waste and save water 

Felix: I’ve heard time and time again that coming from another industry often gives you fresh eyes to innovate. Are there any processes that you approach differently due to coming from outside the industry?

Katie: I would say our product in general. When we set out our idea was to be the world's first underwear brand made from recycled deadstock T-shirts. We had a number of reasons why, the main being the environmental impacts of the fashion industry. A lot of people don't really know the impact of their clothes and it's something that we were not aware of at all before we started doing all this research for Pantee. It's crazy, but it's something like 2,700 liters of water goes into making just one cotton T-shirt and over two billion are made every year. I can't even do that math, but we know it's a lot of water.

The sad thing is, is that so many of these clothes go to waste before even being sold because of overproduction in the industry or issues on the garments or for whatever the reason. Our idea was to take some of this dead stock and upcycle them into underwear. We thought, “The materials are really soft, T-shirts have some stretch, and it seemed like it was a good idea that could be done.” We knew it had been done from those initial samples, but when it actually came to finding manufacturing, it was quite difficult to put across that vision and actually make it into a reality. We were so fresh in the fashion industry and not really knowing how these things worked, a lot of the advice that we were given at the time was to not do T-shirts, but we were so determined to do the T-shirts because we were so convinced that it was such a good idea. We really held strong to that.

Fast forward to our Kickstarter. We did manage to achieve that vision and bring the product to life, and we've had overwhelmingly amazing feedback on that product. That's an example of holding true to your idea, with a lack of understanding.

"Sometimes you've got to listen to what everyone's saying, understand those reasons and be flexible, but stick to what you want to do and try and find a way to make it work, even if you keep getting no's, there will always be ways around."

Amanda: That's exactly what I was going to say. For us, the T-shirt concept has been one of the hardest to get over the line, and it's still not the solution to the fashion industry's problems by any means, but it is a good way of reusing waste and keeping that deadstock in circulation. We want to make things that are made to last longer and that's our mission. There's so much more that we want to do, but it's been such a great starting point for us. Like Katie says, sometimes you've got to listen to what everyone's saying, understand those reasons and be flexible, but stick to what you want to do and try and find a way to make it work, even if you keep getting no's, there will always be ways around.

Felix: Did anyone ever try to doubt you by saying this product or that approach just wasn’t going to work? 

Amanda: It was about the added time it takes in cutting t-shirts. When garments are being made, you take the fabric, you cut it and then it goes to sew. When you are using fabrics, you can cut quite a lot at once, but with the T-shirts–especially with them being deadstock–we need to check that they're fine and that there's no inconsistencies in the material. It’s a case of looking at those T-shirts individually one by one and cutting them.

It slows things down and on a factory floor you are wanting to do things quicker because time is money. That was our biggest challenge. The solution was to find somebody that understood what we were trying to do and was happy to slow things down and work with us in that way. We eventually did find that, but it took a while. That's only been a good thing for us because we have a great partnership with our production partner and we love working with them. I'm glad that we didn't jump with the first person and that we took our time to find someone that really understands what we're trying to do.

A model lying on her side with her head perched on her hand wearing a black set by Pantee
While most factories focus on how quickly they can create, the Pantee founders worked to find a production partner that was willing to slow down the process in order to use deadstock fabric to create their products. Pantee

How to evolve but remain true to your core vision 

Felix: You had this vision and despite other people telling you to change it, you stuck to it. How do you know when to stick to something, and when to change tack? 

Amanda: We question this a lot ourselves when we're going through the process. I personally do believe that you have to trust your gut instincts. A lot of that comes from really listening to what people are saying. Like why are they saying no? Is it because it literally cannot be done? Obviously if that was the case, then we probably would've approached things differently. Otherwise, if it's just a hurdle where it comes down to time or expense or things like that, they're all challenges that you can overcome. It still makes sense and it's something that you can push for.

You can't be blind going into these things and push for something that might never work. Again, having conversations with people and really trying to understand helps. When we started speaking to our production partner, I was so interested in understanding firsthand how they work on the factory floor, how they see streams of deadstock, do they feel like this is a good solution and for them to be really on board. We definitely got that from them, as we've got from a lot of people really. Some factories didn't love the concept, but I'm sure now if you were to go back to some of the people we spoke to initially, they would be more than happy to revisit the conversations because with fashion, it does come down to order quantities.

With our Kickstarter, the way that you launch it is you don't buy a set amount from your manufacturer, like the way we wanted to do it. We were placed in order based upon how many orders have been placed with us. That was tricky as well, it wasn't all around the T-shirts, there was quite a lot of flexibility that was needed from our side.

"From day one we were really, really passionate about the idea of growing a brand, but not just a brand, a purpose driven brand that would truly have an impact."

Katie: From day one we were really, really passionate about the idea of growing a brand, but not just a brand, a purpose driven brand that would truly have an impact. There's certain things that we hold really strongly to us, but at the heart of that is to do what’s best for people and the planet. Any flexibility that we can have, we have, but keeping those two things in mind is core. We really want to build out a business that does the best in terms of sustainability and ethics. If you have those purpose pillars at the core of your brand then it gives you almost a post by which you can't move away from. Those two things are things that we've really held true to through the process of bringing Pantee to life.

Felix: What were your most notable lessons learned as players in a new and unfamiliar industry? 

Amanda: So far, I wouldn't say we've made any huge business threatening mistakes. There have been times that have taken us longer to do things for sure. We've probably sat on things for a bit longer than we would if we had the confidence and the experience to know that we're going in the right direction, but we have been good at bringing in people who have expertise in those areas that we feel we don't have.

We have Karen who works with us on product development, and helps us when we are making any decisions on product design and liaising with the factory. Then we've got Laura who helps us with our merchandising, so how much stock we're buying, because that was a big thing for us. We didn't want to make bad guesses and have our own deadstock, that's a key issue that we don't want to have. There's been other areas as well that we sought consultation and help with whenever we feel like we need to, which has been really helpful.

Using a feedback loop to refine a product—and boost confidence 

Felix: Other than hiring the expertise, are you finding yourselves more confident to make decisions and more comfortable taking the risks now that you’re a bit more seasoned?

Amanda: Every month that passes fills us with thanks to Shopify as well, because there's so much insight into what our customers are liking, what's making them buy, what's potentially putting them off. We are forever looking at data, any data we can get our hands on to help us make more informed decisions. 

Katie: In my head our business journey has been broken into three really distinct time periods. Although we say we started a business in 2019, we didn't have a product for over a year. We had registered the company, but at that time we were just working on research and product development. As anyone would've experienced bringing a business to life during this time, we felt like we were at a place that we were nearly ready to launch. Then the world went into lockdown and that gave us a good opportunity to slow down and spend even more time working on our product.

And so that did give us breathing room. When we launched on Kickstarter in November, that had been over a year in the making the business. We only launched our Shopify e-commerce site in February. At each different stage we've had completely different learnings. Getting to the point where we had our store and started having products in stock, was such a big moment for us and pushed us into a completely different way of working. It was a different stage for our business. Seeing people buy the product, seeing people return to buy the product again, and getting feedback from customers that's overwhelmingly positive. That gives you more confidence and drives you to make decisions and have more ambition or bigger ideas because back at the time when we were researching and our product was an idea, it can be very difficult to take those initial leaps and see how you're going to get from A to B when you're just starting out.

Three models laughing with their arms around each other wearing Pantee sets
Pantee creates underwear made for every body, that anyone can feel comfortable in.

Felix: What were some of the things that felt the most difficult to overcome, with regards to the product development phase? 

Amanda: Finding a production partner definitely took a long time and it was quite difficult because of the lockdown. Beyond that, once we had our samples, we did utilize our time. We did a lot of fitting. We did these on Zoom because we couldn't do them in person, we sent products to lots of different women of different shapes and sizes. We chased that feedback as much as we could. We tried to get them to as many people that we knew would trial them and give us honest feedback, which was so helpful. We continue to do that today. We regularly ask our audience what they would improve and do questionnaires. That's been so helpful for us to really understand what it is that women want from their underwear.

Felix: When you were looking for production partners, what did you do to find a partner that was a good fit?

Amanda: It’s almost happenstance, but I think we definitely manifested that one. Karen who helps us with our product development, it was actually a contact of hers who introduced us, which is amazing. Really, I think it just comes down to she was speaking to as many people as possible–and Karen and I met personally just before lockdown through networking–and going to as many meetings with different people in the industry. That's how that came about, over like six months later from meeting Karen.

Identifying the best beta testers for your business

Felix: You mentioned you had sourced beta testers. Was this before or after finding your production partner? 

Amanda: A few different things and different places, actually. We did a sample prior to sampling with our production partner that we're working with now. Some of the women that we've worked with from day one, which would've been probably around May, June last year, have tried on samples from a few different places, and we were kind of trying to decide where the product was made best. They helped us make that decision too.

Felix: Where did you find the people to test your products?

Amanda: The first noticeable person we sent our very first samples to has now become a good friend, and we met her through Instagram. Instagram has been incredible for us. It's probably our biggest driver of sales. Our community is very much there and she was one of the first people to start following us because we launched our Instagram nearly two years ago. We started it when we first came up with the concept of Pantee, and I don't actually remember my reasoning behind it at the time, because we were so far off having a product and we didn't really know what it was that we were doing. It was probably a really good way to manifest the business. So we set up Instagram and just started posting about our journey, and Noel started following us at that point. She has about 10,000 followers and talks a lot about sustainability and more conscious choices. It felt like a good fit for us.

Felix: What kinds of feedback were you looking for from these beta testers? 

Amanda: We wanted to make sure that this was something that people felt fit them well and supported them. Comfort is the most important thing to us, always. Although we want something that has that style and a lot of people wear our underwear and bra tops. We wanted it to be comfortable too, because we found personally whilst looking for underwear, you have your really heavily branded stuff, or you have things that you wouldn't necessarily be comfortable in, or you have things that are super comfortable, but aren't stylistically that great. We were looking for feedback on all of those fronts.

Katie: We've always been really driven to create a product that we can say is sustainable without the compromise. We always wanted to create a product that people who weren't super into sustainable fashion would want to buy anyway and they want to buy it because it looked good, felt good, made them feel good, and was super comfortable. We were trying to get as much feedback from people as early on as possible to ensure that we could bring a product to life that ticked all those boxes.

A model posing in front of a window wearing a black triangle bralette and thong set by Pantee
Sustainability is at the heart of the Pantee brand, but the founders balance the importance of sustainability with the idea that their underwear should first make customers feel good. Pantee 

Why functionality and sustainability must go hand-in-hand 

Felix: A lot of entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to mentioned how sustainability is a priority, but it can’t compromise the overall functionality of the product. Has that been your experience?

Katie: Definitely. As well, if you want to create a brand where you're going to generate returning customers, people need to genuinely love the product and love wearing the product. It needs to make them feel good. Sustainability is really important and it's definitely at the heart of our brand, but it's not the only thing that's at the heart of our brand, and we've always tried to keep that balance.

"Sustainability is really important and it's definitely at the heart of our brand, but it's not the only thing that's at the heart of our brand, and we've always tried to keep that balance."

Amanda: Katie and I often talk about sustainability as our guiding light, our conscience. In the same way that we want our audience and our customers to be comfortable in their panties, we personally want to feel comfortable with the decisions that we are making that impact people and the planet. In that way, the functionality and longevity of the panties, the underwear that we make needs to be a good product, and we can't compromise the quality of that for the sake of sustainability.

It’s intertwined and it's challenging. There's a lot to learn and we have been by no means perfect. We are learning every day and we are constantly trying to do things that improve our credentials and how we work. We constantly go back to the questions that we ask ourselves regularly and make sure that we are doing the best that we can. It is so important that people have a good product, especially underwear because it's something that you have on so close to your skin and really for bra and things, it is something that you want to be functional and supportive and not rub you and leave marks on your skin.

Felix: What does your process look like in terms of supply chain and logistics? I can imagine it looks a little different for an upcycling brand.

Amanda: When we were figuring out how we would work with T-shirts, we learned quite quickly that there are only certain T-shirts that we can work with. For example, we can't work with 100% cotton because it doesn't have any stretch in it, and for underwear you need it to have that elasticity. That's also not a bad thing because if a garment is 100% cotton, there are better ways to recycle it and keep it in circulation. We look for T-shirts with elastin and for a certain weight because we don't want them to be too heavy. On the other side of that, we don't want them to be too thin.

Then there is a quality of feel, and obviously you don't want anything with holes or damage. There’s an application process for each T-shirt that comes to us, to make sure that it passes and we know that we can turn it into something great.

Katie: Since we launched, we've started working with not only deadstock T-shirts, but other deadstock fabrics as well and that same mentality applies to all of those. We have ambitions to branch into other fabrics. There's a lot of different types of sustainable fabrics out there and there's a lot of innovation in that space. Although this is something that we are doing now, we really hope to diversify the materials that we use in the future to create different types of sustainable ranges and experiment with different things to see what works best in terms of functionality, but also keeping that sustainability at the heart, too.

Felix: Did you have to create your own quality assurance processes when starting up? 

Amanda: We have our questions and Parvon, who does our sourcing. She really knows better than us in some ways, the fabrics to understand that we are getting what we need. There isn't a formal process. There's definitely technology now that reads what composition fabrics are, which is super interesting because we have spoken a lot to recycling plants to try and figure out if there are other points in the supply chain that we can take deadstock fabric and T-shirts from. The fashion industry goes through so many different processes, and at the moment we are taking them at the very beginning. The T-shirts have never gone to the store or been sold, they've come from a factory, but there's all the T-shirts that never get sold in store, or have never been worn that are thrown out. There's lots of other waste streams that we could look at that would have to have different types of analysis and Q and A.

A model posing in front of a staircase wearing a black Pantee set
Katie and Amanda turned to Instagram before they even had a product to ask customers what styles and fits they were looking for. 

How community engagement on social media can drive product development

Felix: You mentioned you started your instagram long before you had a physical product. How were you able to build your audience? 

Amanda: There were several points where we were discussing, what are we going to post on social media today? We weren't doing it in a way that we were planning our week's content. Every day we were thinking of things to say, and on the days where things were going well, then it was really easy for us. On the days where we'd had a no, or if we felt so far away from ever getting this business launched, it felt really difficult. Social media–especially Instagram–is one of those places where it is really difficult to actually say what you're struggling with because you have this feeling of always putting out your best self.

We definitely struggled with that at the beginning and there were points where we did go a bit quiet, but basically we just told our story. We said what we were trying to do. We gave our audience a lot of choices at the beginning and asked them what brief styles they liked? What would their perfect bra be? We did a lot of community engagement. We didn’t just post one thing, we actually engaged with our audience. We spoke to them, listened to what they're talking about, and what they liked. We did a lot of that and it really has paid off. We have a really engaged community and some who have people been with us from the beginning feel like friends.

Katie: Like Amanda said, at times it's really difficult to know what to say before you have a product, but we were able to bring people along on this journey with us, especially during a very weird time for a lot of people. People at home in lockdown were spending a lot of time online and were just really happy to share their thoughts and engage with us and come with us for that experience. We really, really noticed it when it came to launching our Kickstarter. Some of these people had been engaging with us and giving us their thoughts and sharing their opinions on what they wanted the product to be like for a year, then we launched our Kickstarter and we had this amazing community of people ready to support the business. They already felt very engaged and very invested in what we were doing. They were really excited to finally get that product that they had helped bring to life with their support and with their opinions.

Even before we did the initial sampling for the product, we did a big piece of customer research that was basically just people from our Instagram. We managed to pull amazing insights from nearly 200 women. It was amazing how many people were ready and waiting to give their thoughts and feedback and see a product come to life that they genuinely wanted.

Felix: This was feedback before the campaign?

Amanda: Yes. It was before we'd even got off our sample actually. We had around 350-400 followers on Instagram. We sent a lot of direct messages to people, with a type form with lots of questions. What type of pants style they like the most and how much they would pay for underwear, and what's most important to them about different points of sustainability. Sustainability means different things to different people. We asked a lot of questions and got just under 200 responses.

The bigger the audience, sometimes your engagement rate can go down. We do get such a great response whenever we ask questions, whether it's to do with colors or styles or things like that, we get an amazing response of people coming back and speaking to us. We've always spoken to them, we've sat not across the table from our audience, but next to them. We've always cared a lot about what they say, because I've never really understood this when it was said to me at the time, but I can remember at uni a lecturer saying, that when you write something or you paint something and you hand it over to whoever it is, it's no longer yours, it's theirs for interpretation.

That’s never made more sense than with this–with Pantee–because this product, it's not our brand really, it's the community's brand, it's their product. They're the ones wearing it and using it, and we have to hand over so much of that to them. We wouldn't be where we are without them buying and supporting us in the way that they do. It's always a huge thing. We have these three areas that we always look at: community, comfort and consciousness. The community has always been such a driver for us.

"We have these three areas that we always look at: community, comfort and consciousness. The community has always been such a driver for us."

How to get press coverage without a product

Felix: Pre-product, were you talking to journalists and bloggers as well? 

Katie: Yes. This is another thing that shows that as soon as we started out, we were really, really excited to tell people about it, and we were really keen to get the word out. Within a couple of months, about a year before we launched our Shopify site, we started doing outreach to journalists. Both of us have a digital marketing background, but not in the PR space. This was very new to us, but I remember spending hours and hours reading articles about sustainable fashion in our research phase.

During this time I was also noting who had written the articles, trying to connect with them on LinkedIn, and trying to find their email addresses. Building out long lists of contacts and sending them outreach emails, just introducing ourselves and saying who we are, our journey, that we want to bring to life this product, and why we wanted to do it. Like we say, we didn't have a product. We didn't have any images to show them, but a lot of them were quite receptive. Some people even jumped on a call with us and wanted to learn more or ask our opinions on deadstock and the benefits of using it, or just get our take on the way that sustainable fashion's going. That was another thing that helped us grow in confidence. Having to prepare for those phone calls, and cram in a lot of information beforehand really taught us a lot.

Screenshot of a Pantee bralette on the voque mobile site
Pantee was included in a Vogue roundup. Vogue 

When we did launch our Kickstarter, we had some warm contacts already, or at least a bit of experience of reaching out to people and what they were receptive to. It was amazing to see when we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we had articles written about us in publications of the likes of Drapers, which is a really big fashion industry magazine. We were so excited to see that. Not only that, but when we launched our Shopify site, Amanda was interviewed on BBC radio London, which was amazing. We got included in Roundup, in Vogue. We've been included in an independent article about the top sustainable underwear brands.

Considering we only launched six months ago, we’re really proud of the press that we've managed to generate and we're really happy to see that people like our story. That comes from the fact that we've always tried to put ourselves out there, have conversations with people, and be quite vocal about what we're doing and why we're doing it. When you have that story and you have that mission, people really value that and they like to talk about it.

"We've always tried to put ourselves out there, have conversations with people, and be quite vocal about what we're doing and why we're doing it. When you have that story and you have that mission, people really value that and they like to talk about it."

Felix: You had a goal of raising £10,000, and you ended up raising over £11,000 in the Kickstarter campaign. Do you attribute that to anything in particular? 

Katie: We toyed between doing a Kickstarter or launching a pre-order on our own website quite a lot. The reason that we chose to do a Kickstarter is it gave us a really ambitious, realistic goal at which we needed to pass to be able to place our first order to not end up with any deadstock ourselves. We knew exactly how many people would be ordering and how many sets we would need. From that we could work out what our first order beyond that would be as well. Having that social proof–and what we were trying to get across in our Kickstarter–was that we did have this engaged community of people that were ready to buy and already trusted in our product.

Our product for underwear is quite different, it's very out there. We wanted people to really get across in their own words how comfortable they found the product and how excited they were for it. That really helped people that didn't know us get on board with the idea. It gave them that impression that not only is this going to be sustainable, but it's also going to do the job and going to be really comfortable as well.

Amanda: Personally, we felt a lot better about launching our Kickstarter when we knew that we could deliver on the product for sure and that we would be very happy with the product. That was quite important for us. When we launched, our own mindset felt most comfortable to us, in terms of making sure that we could deliver and that we knew that everybody who had invested in us and helped us get off the ground would get something that they were happy with.

Felix: Did you already have a plan for the funds raised in the campaign? 

Amanda: We knew exactly what we wanted to do, which was obviously get our stock. We also were co-buying a machine with the production facility because there was one missing part that they needed. The rest was to get our shop up and running and gain a foresight to place on the next order.

How Kickstarter created brand loyalists from day 1 

Felix: You mentioned you were debating between a kickstarter, and doing pre-sales on your own platform. Would you still choose the kickstarter if you were to do it all over again? 

Amanda: I’d do Kickstarter again tomorrow. If we had to do the whole thing again, I feel like it was such a great way for us to launch and to tell our story with the video. 

Katie: I would definitely do it again as well. I completely agree. The structure of Kickstarter and the fact that you have all your information there on one page. You can offer people unique bundles that you wouldn't necessarily offer on your website, and it gives this opportunity to your audience to not just buy a product, but invest into an idea. We've then managed to capture new people through that and bring them along on the journey.

"We've seen people that have bought on our Kickstarter and they've come back and bought on our website. They are truly real advocates for Pantee, and it's amazing to see that."

And there's something really special about it, knowing that you are one of the first people that bought that product. Not only did you buy the product, but you helped to launch a small business. They're really invested in watching Pantee succeed, and they feel really emotionally tied to the company. We've seen people that have bought on our Kickstarter and they've come back and bought on our website. They are truly real advocates for Pantee, and it's amazing to see that.

As well, the Kickstarter gave us a hard deadline that we were going to launch on this date. We had to do so much to prepare, but a lot of that preparation did tie into our website as well. We had all the photography done for the Kickstarter and we used a lot of that for our website. They went side by side, but the Kickstarter really helped give us a boost at the start.

Amanda: It was a lot of work. It was a whole thing. The Kickstarter video itself was a challenge. I live and I'm based in London and Katie lives and is based in Vancouver. We haven't actually seen each other since January 2020, which makes me so sad, but we've done this whole business basically on WhatsApp or Zoom. We had to film our video–our script that we were saying separately and then merge them together. Even that was difficult because our sound was slightly off.

It was a whole journey doing the Kickstarter, but it gave us a commitment to be held accountable to. We said to everyone the date we were launching, we couldn't really budge on that. We had to get ourselves in gear and get everything ready for them.

Katie: Anybody that embarks on doing a crowdfunding campaign, if it's your first one, it's definitely a unique experience and it's maybe something that if we did again and we would know much better how to prepare regarding audience conversions and things like that. We had a really, really good first 24 hours. We were excited. We launched and within 24 hours we had passed the 50% mark, but the way that Kickstarter campaigns do tend to go is that you have a really strong first two days and then it can go a bit flatter, then you'll have a peak at the end.

That's a very natural journey. It goes on for three weeks, so you've got to really keep the momentum up and keep talking about what you're doing. Keep pushing people, keep trying to bring new people into your audience. You've got a hard start and a hard stop, and knowing that timeline, you know that during that time you have to be very active and you have to be talking about what you're doing. If we had launched our website for pre-orders, we might have done as much build up to the launch day and then we might have had a good first couple of days, but keeping that momentum and having that hard end date was really helpful for us.

Navigating paid social media’s uneven imagery restrictions

Felix: Let's talk a little bit about paid advertising, and content being banned for “violating nudity policies.” What has been your experience with that?

Katie: Paid advertising has been a challenge for us. We started running our paid ads when we launched our site in the beginning of this year and the first couple of weeks were rocky. Every time we pushed an ad campaign live, the ads would get blocked. All of our products from our Shopify catalog would get blocked. This is because of the nature of our product. All our products are shot on women–it's women's underwear. We really want to show people how it looks on a female body and female bodies of all different shapes and sizes. That's something we're really passionate about, but the algorithm of the way that the ads platforms work will constantly reject them for violating nudity policies. It's something we found really difficult because our photography is quite modest and we're really, really pro-comfort and our products are very comfortable.

None of our imagery is over sexualized. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with ads for underwear brands that are pushing more in that route. It’s been an interesting thing to navigate and over time we've gotten into a better cadence with things, and we've grown an understanding of what does get past and what doesn't, but sometimes we'll wake up in the morning and again, everything will have been rejected. Even though it's been running for a few days, it's very hit or miss. It has been a challenge for us. Like you say, it's really difficult to bring new people into your audience organically. I think that paid ads for the majority of people running e-commerce sites are a really big part of the puzzle. When you are having that avenue blocked, it can be really challenging.

"I think that paid ads for the majority of people running e-commerce sites are a really big part of the puzzle. When you are having that avenue blocked, it can be really challenging."

We did get our momentum with it. We had our paid ads working quite well for us after navigating these issues. Then with the iOS updates earlier this year, again things changed things for us. When you are experimenting with quite small ad budgets, it can be difficult. It's definitely been a rocky road on the ad side of things.

Amanda: It’s been quite hard because we do like to hit up someone that knows how to help. We have spoken to some people that have been really helpful, but we can never seem to properly speak to someone from Facebook to air these things out. The responses and suggestions we’ve gotten is to maybe show our underwear not on women.

We hate this response because it makes us feel like it's a product for women. It's complete, it's underwear. We shouldn't be having to shoot it on a brick wall or as a flat lay to show people. It has been a bit of a tricky one for us to get our heads around sometimes as well, and it's definitely caused a lot of conversations for us internally. We've not taken that advice, we still have underwear on women on the website and we'll continue to try to get those ads through, but due to those things, we’ve been heavily reliant on organic strategies.

Three models wearing Pantee collections sitting on the floor
Pantee makes everyday, comfortable, basic underwear, so they decided to sell in bundles to incentivize customers to purchase more. 

How Pantee used bundles to raise average order values

Felix: Now, you mentioned one interesting strategy for raising your average order value. Can you tell us a little bit about your bundles? 

Amanda: We can’t believe we didn't do it sooner because when people buy underwear, typically you want to buy it in multi packs, especially the type of underwear we are. We're not necessarily special occasion underwear. We are everyday, comfortable, basic underwear. You want to buy multi packs. We said there was different stages to our journey, but even since launching six months ago, what we've been focused on month to month has changed. One month we’re focused on setting up all our email marketing, and then we are looking at PR and influencers.

Amanda: We had a month where we really focused on our website and all the e-commerce growth strategies. It was something that was suggested to us so we tried it and it worked. It was so effective straight away. Now we're seeing people will come to our site instead of buying one bra they will buy two because there's an incentive to do so. Definitely a great app to plug in and we're still looking for ways that we can better our packs and make them packages that people want.

Felix: What other apps or software do you use on the backend of your website to help you run the business?

Amanda: One of my favorites is definitely return center. I set that up about six weeks ago. Now people can use their order number to request a return or an exchange or anything like that. I have to admit, we don't have a lot of those, but when we do, it's great to have a way to track each stage because otherwise you're relying on an Excel spreadsheet and it can be difficult to make sure that we've done each stage of that quickly and timely. That's been a good one. I'm trying to think because there's been quite a few plugins that we've put in lately. We've just put in Stamped.io, which is a referral app where people can sign up to what we call “the comfort zone” and then they can refer a friend and then they both get a discount. That's another one that we've just integrated.

Katie: We've also integrated Klarna and Clearpay so people can buy now and pay later or pay in installments, which has been really, really helpful. More than anything, we just want to give people spending options to do things easily, pay in the way they want, to get help that they need when they need it. We've just added an app that's a chat bot that we're still trying to set up with automated responses to frequently ask questions around sizing and things like that. 

Felix: What do you think will be the biggest struggle or biggest obstacle that you are both focused on overcoming in the near future? 

Amanda: Keeping the momentum. That's definitely always something that we've learned even in the last six months and also through our Kickstarter. As a small business you've got to be doing new, exciting things all the time. Obviously as a sustainable business, we don't want to be introducing new styles and new products all the time. It's like trying to evolve and trying to give people new conversations or new products, innovating and keeping that momentum going and never really taking your finger off the pulse.

Although we are very much a comfort business, we’re always aware that we can't get too comfortable with where we're at and we've got to be looking months in advance with fashion because of the time it takes for production. 

Katie: I completely agree. We have huge ambitions with Pantee and we sometimes get caught up in the day to day, but it's always like keeping one eye on where you're at now, and the other eye on where you want to be. You have to bridge that gap between now and that point that we want to get to. Momentum, it's all about the momentum.

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