Creating a Retail Brand with Custom Printed Brands

“I am so impressed by WORK+SHELTER’s efforts in helping women because it is not just about paying them a fair wage, but also about giving them a better life overall and a chance for a better future for themselves + their families. I have always felt like there needs to be a purpose to the work you do, and I feel extremely proud to be working with WORK+SHELTER.”

-Erin Glanz, Collective Heart Founder

Erin Glanz, Curator of Collective Heart

Our CEO + Founder Theresa VanderMeer sat down (virtually!) with Erin Glanz, curator of Collective Heart, for a conversation about being women entrepreneurs and what it was like collaborating on the launch of our fair-trade accessories line. Collective Heart is owned by women, made by women, and loved by women.

Theresa and Erin were initially connected through a mutual friend and sparked a conversation over a LinkedIn message.

W+S: Tell us a little bit about that first conversation-

EG: I had been recently laid off due to Covid after 13 years working for the same company in wholesale apparel sales and it was the first time I had to look for a job in as long as I can remember. Then it was as if the universe threw me a bone when I got Theresa’s message… 

Originally she had contacted me to see if I may be interested in helping W+S with some outside sales for their promo items and custom goods for indie designers. As we chatted, I told her it was something I was sure I COULD do, since I do know how to do sales. However, I do not have any contacts in the promo world, so I would be really starting from square one in that regard. 

I explained that the majority of my contacts were all retail buyers and we began to discuss the possibility of bringing W+S products to the retail market. Of course, there were many, many logistics that would need to be discussed in the months to come, but it all started with this “what if…?” conversation.

W+S: Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how it has made you uniquely suited for this collaboration?

EG: In my past job our focus was on clothing with a conscience, so I had the pleasure of working with many brands & specialty boutiques over the years that supported our organic, sustainable, fair trade, zero waste, made in the US, and/or woman-owned designers. So I was instantly drawn to the mission of W+S and the incredible work they are doing in the lives of the women who work for them. I also knew that many of the buyers that I have strong relationships with hold similar values and would absolutely love to support this company. It felt like such a natural fit. 

Because of my 13 years of working with eco-friendly designers and also directly with buyers and hearing their feedback on every design, I had a pretty clear idea of which styles were going to be the best to start out with for the first season—like the decision to start out with accessories only. We did have to go back and forth quite a bit about pricing in order to make the collection approachable and available to many types of stores. Most buyers do know that organic cotton is more expensive than conventional cotton or that fair trade goods are more expensive than mass produced, but we wanted it to feel inclusive rather than exclusive. 

My background also gave me the eyes to look at the collection from a buyer’s perspective, knowing that they like to place orders that will merchandise together. So I chose prints and created distinct color stories per delivery so that all of the prints, however different, could all work back to each other!

Left- Square Tote & Makeup Bag   |   Right- Market Tote & Dopp Pouch

W+S: We love all of the fun prints + colors! How did you go about finding the independent artists and subsequent artwork?

EG: I initially created a Pinterest board for print inspiration and discovered through one of the pins this site called Creative Market, which has the work of independent freelance artists from all over the world! We are using prints from women artists in the UK, Greece, Ukraine, Russia & Berlin.  I chose designs based on color stories, with a separate color story per delivery, but with a mix of prints that all merchandise well together. 

Prints are very subjective, so that is why I wanted to offer a wide variety per delivery. While some stores LOVED the ladies & tigers from our first collection (or first “drop” in industry lingo), others went more the tropical & abstract route… everyone tends to buy each collection a little differently, which is fun! When going over pricing, we kept coming back to the fact that digital printing costs more the larger the bag and screen printing could be less expensive, so we decided to also add in some screen prints. 

At that point, I was excited about adding in the “Give Back Tote of the Month” program, where I chose one screen print per month (2 for our third drop) that would correspond to and celebrate a nationally recognized holiday in the upcoming month and give back $1 of the sale of each bag to a non-profit or charitable organization associated with that holiday. In keeping with the overall mission of the brand, the organizations that were chosen were picked in order to help specifically women (and children) and any other marginalized groups they are a part of. 

A selection of prints from Drop 3 and Drop 4.

W+S: What are your top 3 go-to items from the collection?

EG: My favorite style since the first round of W+S samples I received has been the Market Tote! It is the perfect carry ALL and fits so much!! I love that it is fully lined and has 2 separate compartments and an inner zip pouch for your valuables. And I also love that on one side of the inner piece is another panel of print! 

I also love the Small Silk Scarf! I am on the busty side, so never have been into scarves since I always felt like they added bulk to an already large area on my body. But I have been loving the small size as a cute neckerchief & hair accessory. Also cute tied on your wrist or on a bag strap! 

And I do use the Silk Eye Mask every morning once the light starts creeping in. And it’s the best when I realize I still have a few hours to sleep and get to put my eye mask on and really fall back asleep in the dark! It’s probably my favorite few hours of sleep!

The Market Tote, Small Silk Scarf, & Silk Eye Mask.

W+S: What has it been like working with WORK+SHELTER so far?

EG: Working with W+S has been beyond a pleasure. Everyone has been incredibly professional, super detail-oriented and always follow-up on my millions of questions! I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and love a fellow salt of the earth Midwesterner, so Theresa (CEO + Founder of WORK+SHELTER) and I definitely got along right away. And we share a very strong work ethic so that always makes for a great working relationship. 

The entire team has been so lovely and accommodating and have consistently helped to find solutions to any challenges that have come up along the way.  It has been a true partnership where we have all invested so much time and energy and it is feeling so fulfilling to be so close to finally shipping our first delivery! We are currently working out the logistics to add some organic cotton tees and crewneck sweatshirts with fun screen prints into the Pre-Fall collection, which I am super excited about.

WORK+SHELTER team members enjoying a chai break on the roof of our production facility in Delhi, India.

W+S: Why is our mission so important to you personally as well as Collective Heart as a brand?

EG:  Knowing that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting and the most wasteful, it is hard to understand how any brand can close their eyes to this and keep doing what they have always been doing. It is also devastating to see how workers (especially women) have been treated in factories that produce fast fashion. I am so impressed by W+S’s efforts in helping women because it is not just about paying them a fair wage, but it is also about giving them a better life overall and a chance for a better future for themselves and their families. 

This project has definitely given me a purpose again and I feel extremely proud to be working with W+S. I personally feel that I really could not sell something that I didn’t believe in, and it is so rewarding to also be working with like-minded buyers that also share the same values and are so enthusiastic about this collaboration. My personal goal is to be able to sell enough Collective Heart so that W+S will be able to keep hiring more & more women!

Meenu, WORK+SHELTER tailor, hard at work while making the Collective Heart products.

W+S: Can you talk about some of the challenges and benefits of being a female entrepreneur?

EG: For me, since this is the first time I have ventured out on my own, the challenges I am facing are mainly just that of being a new entrepreneur and trying to figure it all out. I actually think the timing has been pretty good to become a new woman entrepreneur due to the current collective consciousness and this moment in time where there is so much active support of women-owned businesses. 

I have gotten a lot of empathy about my job loss and have gotten so much encouragement about turning it into something positive. And that support has helped me to believe that this was all possible! And I think we have all reevaluated priorities and values during this past year and I want to spend my time doing something good that supports other women because we are definitely stronger together! 

There is a sense of sisterhood that feels so amazing that connects the tailors at the production facility, the US-based team, the print designers, myself, my family, the women entrepreneur boutique owners and ultimately the end consumer who gets to enjoy the product that was realized due to the efforts of so many women’s heads, hands and hearts.

The Standard Tote in two of Erin’s favorite prints from Drop 3.

W+S: How many stores have picked up the line already? And how can stores get in contact with you if they’d like to place an order?

EG: We have been so thrilled by the amazing turn out of support for this brand new line, especially during a time when a lot of buyers are cutting down on the number of vendors they are working with and/or reassessing their inventory mix. 

We have had 26 stores pick up the line for Spring 21 so far, some with multiple locations so it will be in 30 doors. And there are many more interested in bringing in the next delivery! It has been really amazing to reconnect with buyers I have worked with for over a decade and they have been super supportive and very enthusiastic about the new endeavor of mine. I have also been fortunate to have connected with some new buyers that I am very excited about partnering with, and it is so fun to meet these lovely new women, whether on Zoom or just over email!

Anyone interested in taking a closer look at the line and potentially stocking it in their stores can reach out to me via email at [email protected] or at 786-253-1970 and I will be happy to send linesheets. 

A big THANK YOU goes out to Erin Glanz for taking the time to sit down with us and share her knowledge & experience! Keep an eye out at the end of the month for a GIVEAWAY with some of the fabulous Collective Heart products. 

If you have an exciting apparel or accessory design in mind that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected].