Cynthia Jamin on her Childhood Horror, Being Authentic and Running a Thriving Kids’ Clothing Business
It’s been 7 years since Cynthia started TwirlyGirl with her first Original ‘Reversible Twirly Dress’, and today she is the owner of a thriving children’s wear brand. TwirlyGirl has sold tens of thousands of dresses and is carried in over a hundred kids boutiques across the US and around the world.
That said, there is more to her story…much more, and it’s what inspired me to ask her to spill the beans. Her journey has involved childhood abuse, pain and much more. In other words, she battles the same challenges and life setback that many-many of us do.
The thing I love most about TwirlyGirl is the authentic voice of this brand. They not just sell beautiful dresses that any girl of that age would love to wear and twirl around but also inspire many mothers. The happiness and the clothes seem to go just hand in hand.
So last week, I spoke with Cynthia and asked her few questions about her amazing journey thus far and the unique challenges she faced in starting and running a kids clothing label. It’s a must read post for anyone looking to start a successful children’s clothing line.
Enter Cynthia Jamin
1. Pulkit: I saw that video about your childhood horror and how that inspired you to start Twirlygirl. I am really, really moved. What was your biggest objective for making the video and what do you hope your customers will get out of it?
Cynthia: It means a great deal to me that the video moves people, so I appreciate your comments. My biggest motivation was to be authentic. In my life and with my business. I didn’t start out thinking I would reveal anything personal about myself when I started TwirlyGirl. It was all about creating high quality girls garments with the softest fabrics I could find. As time went on, I saw that many companies started out just as I did. They were “stay at home moms creating something for their kids.” I knew that there was more to my story than just that. I started to feel like I wasn’t being completely forthright with who I was and what drove me to do what I do. That’s because I was keeping a secret. Telling my story was important for me to not only differentiate myself from others, but to share a bigger purpose with my customers. In doing so, I’ve allowed myself to come out of the shadows and heal even more. People know that they are connecting to real person who has a higher purpose than just selling clothes. My goal is to create something beautiful as a testament to the innocence of childhood. Through our partnership with Childhelp.org, we can help bring awareness, and ultimately healing, to the abuse that still goes on.
2. Pulkit: Having worked with some of the other clients in the kidswear industry, I know it’s more challenging to sell kids clothing than adults. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced selling clothing for kids, both online and offline?
Cynthia: It’s a very competitive market. I’ve learned that I can’t be all things to everyone. Our specialty is all things Twirly. While it’s tempting to think that we should branch out and do t-shirts, jeans, jackets, etc., it’s not the right decision for us. Our success lies in sticking with what we know, and doing it better than anyone else. Wholesale is challenging because the margins are much lower and buyers don’t like to take chances on new lines. It’s not easy to get your foot in the door. When we do, we almost always do well and our reorder rate for the stores that understand how to sell our line is phenomenal. Brick & Mortar stores allow us to get in front of more customers in a physical way, so they are important to us. However, we feel more connected selling directly to our customers through our retail website. The challenge lies in raising our visibility. We invest in online advertising and social media to help increase awareness. It’s working. We take the slow and steady route. We try everything and then see what sticks.
3. Pulkit: Most people that I know who’re selling kids clothing online or offline today ended-up in this business, especially after they became parents. I don’t know anyone who said right after passing out from the college that I want to start a kidswear label. When did you decide that you want to get into the business?
Cynthia: I was an actress for many years, so I was always creative and happy being independent. But I didn’t like waiting for people to give me the chance to do what I love to do. After having my daughters, I took sewing classes. I loved the instant gratification I got from making something. Sewing clothes for my daughters was more interesting and rewarding than than making clothes for myself. Girls clothing can be more fanciful and creative. My first dress, a super soft reversible twirly dress, really caught on. Soon, other mothers were asking me to sew dresses for their children. At first, I was making them by hand in my dining room, but I couldn’t keep up with demand. So we invested a little seed money to grow the business. We’ve remained debt free and in the black every year since.
4. Pulkit: Children wear is that Fashion niche in which the consumer of your product is not actually your customer. I am curious to know – how you go about reaching out your customers? And what does it take to make parents buy?
Cynthia: Actually, I approach it with an eye towards selling to the girls first. I know that if they love it and enjoy wearing it, they will insist on having it. When girls walk into stores, they immediately run over to the TwirlyGirl rack because it’s totally appealing to them. It’s eye candy. I know some children’s lines try to appeal to the adults that buy for their children, using colors and prints that are more in keeping with an older aesthetic. But my whole motivation is to make it FOR THE GIRLS, not the adults. So on our website, it’s all about showing the models having fun, twirling, and being playful. The fabrics are irresistibly soft, so girls can’t wait to put it on. What parent doesn’t want their kid to feel that way? We do hear comments from the adults, “I’m not crazy about the rainbow print” and to that we say, “Okay, but the girls LOVE it.” Who can argue with that? Once the customers realize it’s not about them, they start to get on board. They go on our website with them and have fun together, picking out all the unique styles, colors and prints.
5. Pulkit: When you design clothes, do you take the fashion trends into consideration? Or you stick with the classic designs? Please share with us how (if at all) trends impact the designs of your new collection and how are you able to keep your collection fresh each season?
I don’t pay attention to trends at all. I’ve never been one to follow what’s happening in fashion anyway. I wear what I want to wear, and I encourage our young customers to do the same. Be unique. Embrace your own creativity. That’s the message of empowerment we try to get across. So in that sense, our line is exactly the opposite of what’s trending.
6. Pulkit: Design and quality are important. Another dynamic that’s important when you’re selling kidswear is garment functionality and utility. How important is garment functionality when you’re selling products for kids?
Quality and design are extremely important to us. Our goal is to create clothing that girls “love to live in.” Yes, our clothes look fancy, but they’re not meant for special occasions. They’re intended for everyday wear. That means they must be fun to wear, super comfortable, durable, and easy to care for. No dry cleaning necessary. Just toss in the washing machine and wear it again. To make this possible, we use only the highest quality fabrics and we use a 4 thread overlock stitch for all of our seams. This makes the garment extra strong, and is not something you see in less expensive garments. We create all of our styles in limited production runs, which means that every piece is as unique as the girl who wears it. Because of this, our inventory is constantly changing and freshening itself.
7. Pulkit: I could see it on your website that you’re about to launch a new collection for women. Please tell us about this transition.
Our women’s line is now live at: TwirlyGirlShop.com/Pioretta The line is called Piroetta by TwirlyGirl. We have heard 2 things from our customers for many years, “I wish TwirlyGirl came in my size” and “My daughter is growing out of your clothes, she is so sad!” So this fills that demand. This is uncharted territory for us, so we’re starting small. Just six styles. Fortunately, we’ve gotten tremendous initial response from it, so we have reason to be optimistic.
8. Pulkit: What is ‘Thinkery’ and why did you create it?
TwirlyGirl isn’t like many other brands. It’s manufactured differently, it’s sold differently, and it’s priced differently. Only 2% of all clothing sold in this country is actually made here. Isn’t that amazing? TwirlyGirl is proudly Made in the USA, which definitely drives up our labor costs. But it also allows us to make a very high quality garment. To the uninitiated, the differences between a cheaply made garment and one that’s well made might not be obvious. So our Thinkery is a way to inform our customers about why we’re special. People don’t mind paying more for a garment, as long as they’re convinced that they’re getting quality. And of course we stand behind our garments with crazy good customer service. So the Thinkery tells everyone that.
9. Pulkit: I can see that you have a nice wholesale network. Can you walk us through the journey of how you built this network?
Our wholesale chain of retailers has taken years to cultivate and we still find it a little difficult to crack that market. We started out with a bunch of clothing sales representatives all over the country and Canada. They got us into a lot of stores nationwide but after a couple of years, they stopped sending new stores our way. Most Reps don’t really venture out of their known relationships. So we started taking care of all our accounts and representing ourselves. Today, we have only two Reps — one in Canada and the other in the MidWest. New stores are constantly finding us on the internet. This is a much more advantageous position to be in, because we don’t have to “sell” anyone on our brand. It’s very easy for stores to order directly from our website, and we ship immediately. At this point, our best stores trust our brand so much they just say, “Send us whatever you have.” They don’t even care what it looks like because they know it will sell through. We’re easy to deal with, and our clothes sell themselves, so everyone is happy. We have stores selling TwirlyGirl in the US, Canada, Virgin Islands, UK, and China. We have a dedicated sales person on staff who handles new accounts, as well as maintaining existing ones.
10. Pulkit: Given that you have this strong offline retail network, how important is ecommerce for TwirlyGirl?
Our ecommerce business is actually stronger than our offline stores, and this is how we want it. We can interact directly with our customers, communicate with them about our line and keep in touch with them through social media and email marketing. It’s crucial to our business. We often pick up new stores when our customers go into them asking if they carry our line. What better way is there to get a new store? That said, we focus almost all of our resources selling direct to consumer online.
11. Pulkit: Finally…what advice would you give to someone starting his/her own kidswear label?
Find your own niche and stick with it. Start small and grow slowly. Find your audience and create your brand. Do your due diligence and make sure no one is already using the brand name you want to use. Be smart about how you market yourself, from branding to messaging. Price your items to sustain your growth with overhead. As you grow, it’s not easy to raise prices, but you can always lower them. Be prepared for growth but don’t overspend on any one thing at first. Follow your passion and your gut. We started out online selling directly to our customers. We lost our way a little bit when we started investing heavily in selling wholesale. In the end, we came back around to retail and couldn’t be happier.
If you think that just having terrific designs is going to make you successful, you’re kidding yourself. At the end of the day, you’re only 10% designer. The other 90% needs to be an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you need to have multiple skill sets. There’s web design, web maintenance, marketing, accounting, negotiating, advertising, etc. Of course, you can outsource all those responsibilities, but there goes your profit. So you need to be willing to teach yourself those skills. That’s where Google can be your best friend. Everything you need to know can be found online. Just the fact that you’re reading this interview on ilovefashionretail.com means you’re already ahead of the game. Read everything there is to be found on this site. There’s tons of useful information here. Ask questions, then continue scouring the internet for more answers. If the thought of doing homework that has nothing to do with fashion design discourages you, you’re not alone. Most people won’t bother. And that works in your favor! Roll up your sleeves, take lots of notes, and prepare for hard work. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We’ve made lots of them. But with every mistake, two more opportunities present themselves, so enjoy the process.
A big thanks to Cynthia for taking out time to chat with me and inspiring us with her amazing story. If you have any questions for her, please feel free to post them in the comment section below.
I am the Founder at ILoveFashionRetail, where we design & develop e-commerce websites & mobile apps for fashion retailers. We also help fashion brands grow their online sales & traffic. My essays are featured at Forbes, Moz, Fairchild, FIT and more. Contact me.