An Apprentices Journey
Tracy shares her Apprenticeship Experience:
Start your ethical fashion business in as little as 2 months! That’s all it takes when you do an apprenticeship with Purse & Clutch. This virtual (that’s right, all at your convenience) 8-week apprenticeship provides the information you need to create a success ethical business by focusing on fair trade practices, pricing, strategic marketing and public relations, and scalability.
Each week, you’ll be provided curated materials by Purse & Clutch’s founder, Jen Lewis, that include articles, podcasts, and videos based on that week’s topic. Most weeks, Jen posts a personal video in which she discusses her personal experiences with her brand, and any updates regarding her business. I would say this is a nice value-added touch because not only does she provide the positives and successes of her social enterprise, but she also addresses what has not worked, and the changes that were made or will be made to address challenges. I appreciated the honesty because we all know that running a business is difficult.
Although I majored in Business in university, have an interest in fashion, and a general idea of the fair trade movement, I didn’t feel secure in my knowledge or skills to pursue my social enterprise; a line of quality minimalist fashion produced in some Sub-Saharan African cities.
They say that almost every successful entrepreneur had some sort of mentor, and with a lack of experience in fashion, particularly ethical fashion, I knew I needed to connect with someone that had experience running a successful ethical fashion business.
So how did I stumble upon this apprenticeship opportunity? As I was looking for work and with little to do during the day, having just returned from a three-month South American adventure that I took after I quit my job due an existential crisis, I knew I had the time to do some research and finally get on the trajectory to starting this looming dream of mine.
I browsed online for any information or even a virtual position within the fashion industry that would help me realize my goal, that was when I landed on the Purse & Clutch Apprenticeship and gained immediate interest.
As I looked over Purse & Clutch’s simple, visually-appealing, and well-organized website; analyzed the products; and learned of the artisans in Ethiopia and Guatemala that were behind the well-crafted bags and accessories, I applied to the apprenticeship.
The application process was simple, just answer questions about your interest in the apprenticeship and any prior experience that would enhance your apprenticeship experience. Unlike other interview/essays, answering the questions was not only easy for me, but also enjoyable. Due to my genuine interest in the industry, I watched the words flow easily on my screen.
Once I finished the application and paid (it’s only $140, and is refundable if you don’t get accepted to the program), I submitted my application. A few weeks later, I received the email that I had been accepted to the program. Success!
During the apprenticeship, you have a cohort of other participants. You all agree on a day and time to have a weekly Skype to go over the meeting agenda and any assigned tasks for the week. This can be somewhat difficult depending on what time zone your cohort members are, but we were all flexible and decided on a day and time quickly.
I enjoyed participating with others because it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one that seemed lost on where to start or how to run a fashion business. Some, like me, wanted to start their own brands, while others wanted to work with artisans to sell specific products.
For example, a woman in my cohort met a co-op while she was traveling in Indonesia that asked for her help in selling their bags, and she signed up for the apprenticeship to learn how to do so.
The first weeks as an Apprentice, you learn more about Purse & Clutch, how it started, its value proposition and mission, and the work that it does with its artisans. You even get to watch a video about its Guatemalan production process.
During the Apprenticeship, you use Purse & Clutch as a model for some of the tasks, which I found helpful. One of the tasks for the first weeks was to do a SWOT analysis for Purse & Clutch; you analyze its internal strengths and weaknesses, and its external opportunities and threats. Doing the SWOT analysis was definitely an amusing throwback to my college days; it was the first time I’ve actually utilized the method outside of a college setting. The experience proved to be useful as I was able to provide a detailed and well-constructed analysis, based on Jen’s review.
We used Slack as a platform to communicate, post our finished tasks, and receive feedback from Jen. The feedback you receive also provides some useful tidbits.
For example, one of the assignments called for us to suggest new products for Purse & Clutch’s collection. One of my suggestions was sandals, and Jen wrote that she thought about having sandals in the collection but was told by a fellow ethical fashion brand owner that sandal sizing can be extremely difficult so she decided against it. As someone who was thinking of including sandals as a collection for her future brand, it made me think to research it more and determine if that would be plausible for me to include in my initial offerings.
Other tasks included researching and analyzing other ethical fashion businesses, conceptualizing ways that Purse & Clutch can increase its conversion rates, value pricing of the products, and doing a comparison of brick and mortar vs. online store.
The videos, podcasts, and articles served in each week’s email were beneficial. They ranged from the practical and useful, to opinion-based articles on the issues of fair-trade and ethical fashion movements
So far, I’ve learned best practices to increase conversion rates on your website; how to create effective social media messages/captions; effective e-commerce design, SEO, and value pricing. I previously found some of these topics to be overwhelming, but the resources broke them down in an easy-to-read way that made sense (one website even gives you a free e-book on optimizing conversion rates).
I will definitely use some of these resources when I start running my website. It was interesting to not only think about running my business strategically, but also philosophically. For example, how do I present the workers and artisans without presenting them as charity cases or poverty-stricken, or alluding a “savior complex.”
Do I want a slow-fashion business, or is there a way I can make “mediumly-paced” (as I’ve decided against fast-fashion) fashion while still being “ethical?” How do I make consumers want to continue to purchase these products and see them for their quality, beauty, and timelessness while also considering the people behind the products? How can this brand, and most importantly these workers, help shape the global narrative surrounding their communities?
These are the questions I need to answer as I continue in developing this brand and my marketing/PR strategy. I know that I will be met with both success and failures along the way, but I feel that this apprenticeship will help shape how I’ll adapt through the process.
I still have a few more weeks to go on the apprenticeship, and after that, I think I’ll be ready to get moving. What I know, especially through working with Jen and reading other entrepreneur experiences, is that they, too, started off like me, probably lost and not knowing where to begin. At least knowing that gives me hope that this venture is possible.
If you’re like me and others, interested in starting your own ethical/sustainable business (it doesn’t have to be in fashion, most of the materials can be applied to various industries and products), you should definitely consider doing this Apprenticeship.