Back in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, I recently found my college diplomas. They were still sealed in envelopes, unopened since I graduated from my alma mater Indiana University in 2011. So you may wonder, why am I just now seeing my diplomas for the first time 5 years later? Well, the short answer is because I haven’t needed them. I’ve been on an entrepreneurial journey since then.
It took me 5 years to graduate college (I spent a year studying abroad in Berlin), and now 5 years later, I feel like I’m graduating in a different fashion. After the highs and lows from the School of Hard Knocks, the small seed of Connect One Threads has grown into a social enterprise. Translation:
THE COT ONLINE SHOP IS FINALLY LAUNCHING!
Check us out on June 1, 2016 as we launch the #CONNECT100 Campaign.
Our goal is simple: Pre-sell 100 of our internationally designed, ethically-sourced, 100% Turkish organic cotton T-shirts.
Once we’ve pre-sold 100 shirts, it’s a win for everybody. COT will have the funds to start sustainable production in Turkey. Our ethical producers will gain enough to meet their minimum requirements. The international artists will have their designs shown to the world, and world citizens will finally be able to make an impact on the complex fashion industry.
Want to be notified when we launch?
It’s been a long journey leading up to this point. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to see what got us here.
The thesis that started it all
Reading about social ventures such as TOM’s Shoes and One Laptop Per Child inspired me to become a social entrepreneur. After being inspired by a course in American consumerism and learning about how much clothing goes to waste every year, I decided to write my final thesis on the environmental and social of the entire clothing supply chain – from the cotton farms to clothing factories to the consumer waste.
Traveling the clothing supply chain
After I graduated I booked a one-way ticket to Spain so that I could speak to the changemakers of the sustainable fashion industry. I spoke with designers, brands, NGO’s, and retailers in Europe, and then traveled across Turkey learning from textile manufacturers and cotton producers. From there I learned that there are those who have identified solutions to the complex issues in fashion, but the challenge is scaling sustainable fashion to make a bigger impact.
Starting a new life in Istanbul
I began life as a world citizen in Istanbul, and amidst all the protests and social movements, I learned about the importance of the collective in Turkey, a stark contrast to the individualistic perspectives we have in the West.
Support from the social entrepreneurship community
Living in Istanbul allowed me to be constantly inspired by the amazing people and organizations doing good things for the world. I volunteered for Mikado, a sustainable development company which also launched a mentorship youth platform; Ashoka, the organization that coined the term “social entrepreneurship”; C@rma, a platform to support NGO’s through pro-bono work from professionals; and MakeSense, a global community that helps social entrepreneur’s challenges by getting the crowd involved in local workshops. The mentorship, advice, and general support from the experiences with these organizations have been priceless in my entrepreneurial journey.
Creating the COT logo with co-founder
You may be wondering how I funded all my travels and was able to live abroad without getting a “real job”. I was actually a digital nomad working remotely for the marketing consulting firm Sparkable. I not only learned a ton about marketing and strategic management (my boss/mentor was a professor for the Berlin School of Economics), I also met the now co-founder of Connect One Threads, Andrew Kiproff. As a multi-talented programmer and media designer, he is the guy behind this awesome website and a lot of our coolness, including creating the COT logo.
Visiting the cotton farms in Turkey
The COT logo idea came to us on our travels visiting the Turkish organic cotton farmers. This was my first time ever speaking to the actual organic cotton farmers themselves, and we learned about why they chose to be organic farmers and go against the convention of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. One of my favorite facts I learned from them: Instead of using dangerous soil-ruining toxic chemicals to kill pests, they use a simple mixture garlic and water to keep them away! GARLIC and WATER! These organic farmers are doing way more to help preserve nature than we realize, and that’s why COT is dedicated to supporting organic cotton.
TEDx Talk: Communicating a global consciousness through clothing
2014 was a big year, and being invited to speak at a TEDx conference was an unexpected blessing. I actually had a nightmare before I gave my talk. That’s how nerve-wracking it was. Turns out that COT Artist Martin Nore, who also gave a talk, had a nightmare too along with the other speakers. Nevertheless, the talk came out well, despite having to repeat the spoken word piece 3 times because of mic issues. Now you know why the talk starts with “Can you hear me now?” 😀
Winning our first grant from the Kenneth Cole Foundation
In the same year we won a small grant from the Kenneth Cole Foundation thanks to the Compass Partners social entrepreneurship community (now Social Impact 360). It was and still is an honor to be supported by Kenneth Cole, a social activist who taught us “It’s not what you stand in. It’s what you stand for.”
Travels for a T-shirt
That year we traveled across Europe and the USA to start collaborations with international artists. In Portugal we met with Arte Viral, an artist collective that connected us with 2 Portuguese artists and a fashion designer who helped us with the design specs of our T-shirt. That lead us to the first 8 COT T-shirts, designed by international artists we met on our travels as we asked them what the concept of “Connect One” meant to them.
Launch in Istanbul and Indianapolis
2015 was a crazy year with hard lessons as an entrepreneur. In true world citizen fashion, we officially launched COT in my two homes: Istanbul and Indianapolis. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t launched in both cities at the same time. First was the burden of work from launching 2 events at the same time, while preparing a crowdfunding campaign. Secondly, I’ll now forever be melancholic that I wasn’t physically there in Istanbul for COT’s launch, where our team put on an amazing exhibition that I wasn’t able to witness with the community I had connected with over the past years.
Fun photoshoots to failed crowdfunding
After getting our first T-shirts, we set out for a photoshoot in the creative neighborhood of Fountain Square in my hometown Indianapolis, IN. It was a fun and exciting shoot that we were able to pull off last-minute, but we made it happen. Perhaps the overconfidence of pulling off the photoshoot was part of the demise of our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Within a 3-month time frame we did a photoshoot, launched simultaneously in 2 cities, and attempted to launch a crowdfunding campaign. It was overkill, and the result was our Indiegogo campaign failed. There were other mistakes as well, including neglecting to do any PR and having too high of a crowdfunding goal with a flawed business model (we asked for $35,000 since the minimum order quantity with our suppliers was ~2,000 shirts with our old business model.) Now we’ve adjusted our model so that we only need to sell 100 shirts to kickstart production.
Where we are now
The failure of the crowdfunding campaign took its toll on me, along with a lot of other mishaps in my personal life at that time. They say when it rains it pours, so let’s just say all the plans I had in those times were washed away. Nevertheless, the entrepreneurial journey didn’t stop there. We didn’t give up.
“Failure is a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
– Henry Ford
The crowdfunding taught us a lot of valuable lessons as we listened to the input from our crowd. Many were confused about what COT actually does and what kind of impact we aim to make. That led us to completely revamp our website to clarify what we’re about:
And collaborating we are. In March we made some new friends from Malaysia with a brand called Real.m, which stands for “real material”. Can you guess what that material is? 😀 Furthermore, within the next year expect to see COT co-creating with international non-profits, street art organizations, and music festivals as we make moves around the world.
What else is in store for COT this year? Well you’ll find out when we launch our online shop next week!
Founder of Connect One Threads
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