How a Hudson Valley family of entrepreneurs bootstraps their textile business

Posted in Cottage Industry

A family grows its textile business with help from TSEC and the Orange County Accelerator

Robin Hayes, Hudson Valley born and raised  (she’s from Wappingers Falls, N.Y), moved with her engineer husband to Santa Cruz, CA where they enjoyed a twenty year run starting a family, pursuing work and other interests.

About fifteen years ago she moved back to the Hudson Valley and with the same enthusiasm, jumped right into the mix of raising her family, pursuing work, and rediscovering the beautiful Hudson Valley she loved.

Robin is entrepreneurial by nature, and in Santa Cruz, though she was a Spanish teacher in the California public schools, also spent a portion of her spare time as a general contractor rehabbing Monterey Coast Area real estate.

This entrepreneurial spirit led her to look for community involvement when she moved to the Hudson Valley community town of Gardiner, N.Y.
This quest for community as well as the fact that Robin could no longer teach (her license didn’t meet state requirements in New York) left her restless for something to do.

 

She became intrigued and then involved in Gardiner’s main street revitalization movement, buying a dilapidated old building and renting it out, among other real estate ventures.

 

In addition, she involved herself in the marketing of Gardiner which exposed her to a thriving community of makers and doers interested in transforming the Hudson Valley town into the kind of thriving small town with the charm, economy, and activities that encourages attraction.

 

 

Of the makers whose path she crossed, Robin was fortunate to meet the folks behind Tuthilltown Spirits (recently acquired by William Grant and Sons).

 

Robin began working at Tuthilltown in marketing, and a colleague and the daughter in law of the owner became Robin’s friend.

 

This friend, Cathy Erenzo, began fostering babies, and Robin, being a good friend, offered to help her out

  • Robin babysat
  • Had overnights
  • Spent days with the babies

In fact Robin grew to love her involvement with the babies so much  she was inspired to approach her son, Samuel Hayes, in order to have him apply his creative skills design a pattern for the infant and toddler clothes she wanted the babies dressed in.

Samuel is an animator and a cartoonist by inclination with a lifelong fascination for bugs and abstract, kinetic figures, he loves to draw!

Turns out, Samuel’s skills and talent couldn’t have been a more perfect fit for the designs to match Robin’s plan to bootstrap a textile business in the Hudson Valley.  Specifically, his talent aligned with her vision of baby clothes handmade and designed in the Hudson Valley. Bonus? It’s her son!

Pleased with his work, Robin contacted a custom print service known as Spoonflower which makes  on demand prints,  and the start of the line of baby clothing commenced.

 

Spoonflower, born in 2008, and based in South Carolina, enables a maker to design a print, select a fabric, which Spoonflower than prints creating material that can be fashioned into a garment.

 

 

Adorable baby in Lucky Bug made in the Hudson Valley baby clothes

A baby in Lucky Bug clothes

Robin got such positive reactions from people who saw adorable babies in her adorable clothes, and this, of course, delighted her.

 

A Family Business Takes Shape

 

Eva Hayes is all in.

 

All the while that Robin was pursuing her passions, her daughter Eva Hayes was at Northeastern University studying marine biology and international affairs.

 

Time spent studying in Hong Kong enlightened Eva about the plethora of manufacturing and design hubs there.

 

When she visited home in Gardiner, and spent time with her mom and the foster babies, Eva would see the reaction the baby clothes would get.

 

At some point inspired by the clothes and what she had seen in Hong Kong’s manufacturing and design hubs, Eva was inspired to say: “Mom, we should make this a business.”

 

And so a business began to be hatched.

 

Philosophy

 

Because of Eva’s work in marine biology, care for the environment is paramount for her:

 

“Sustainable fashion is very interesting to me. I like companies like Everlane which emphasizes ethical sources, environmental responsibility, and a focus that seems to be much better than fast fashion.

 

“We saw that in the baby industry there was a void in the market for unique pieces, and so we embraced the notion that we would strive to ‘create the things you wish existed,’ and that were ethically sourced and environmentally sensitive .’” Eva explains.

 

Eva currently serves as Lucky Bug’s Chief Operations Officer. She is enrolled in FIT’s Sustainable Fashion Certificate program.

Eva’s interest is on trend with a movement being popularized by millennials who seek:

” …transparency and responsibility from corporations.

“This increasing demand coupled with the recognition of their buying power will undoubtedly influence not only the luxury sector, but also many industries for the better in the future.” Gucci’s CEO François-Henri Pinault recently told the Huffington Post.

 

Samuel Hayes wants in, too.

 

Ever since he was little, Eva’s brother Samuel Hayes has had a fascination for squiggly, scrawly things. His whimsical and quirky doodles have a kind of kinetic presence that is perfect for animation, which is what Samuel studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Upon graduating, Samuel worked in Boston, Massachusetts; Oakland, California; and now in New York City, N.Y. as an animator, but his aesthetic also lends itself perfectly to the kinds of repeat pattern designs the clothes his mom and sister envision require.

With Samuel on board, the trio decided to name their clothing line Lucky Bug Clothing since that worked so well with Samuel’s lifelong fascination for drawing fun,  bug-like figures.

And as they suspected, his illustrated creative, quirky characters lent themselves perfectly to the repeat patterns necessary for the whimsical, soft fabric clothing geared towards babies.

Although he is an in-demand animator, Samuel prioritizes time with the family business, scheduling creative strategy meetings at inspiring Hudson Valley locations, such as Hudson, N.Y., where he, Robin and Eva brainstorm upcoming lines, as Samuel acts as lead designer.

 

Lucky Bug baby clothes are designed and made in the Hudson Valley. Pictured here, Samuel Hayes, lead designer 

Onboarding the business

 

Material and Production, the steps to market

With a box of clothes saved from various fostered children, Robin headed to NYC to a sample maker to find out how long it would take to get her first line going, using the clothing as inspiration.

Step by step, she figured out how to get her business up and running:

  1. She got a price in production for small to medium batch runs
  2. She began the painstaking process of sourcing fabrics for Samuel’s prints
  3. After incredible amounts of research, she found a bamboo fabric obtained in China
  4. She also found a printing service in Asia. “At the time, we could not do it here, it’s not affordable for a small startup. That find was a big turning point.”

 

She had lined up all the resources needed to begin production, but now what was needed was a place.

 

A Place To Nurture the Business

Eva Hayes inspects and packs a Lucky Bug baby clothing made in the Hudson Valley product for shipment

Eva Hayes inspects and packs a Lucky Bug outfit for shipment

The Orange County Accelerator as explained, here, is a regional economic development incubator so designated by a division of the New York Empire State Development agency.

 

Such agencies help accelerate a business from start up to a stable, goal- oriented business experiencing growth. Just the sort of businesses the City of Newburgh needs for economic development.

 

Robin Hayes: “A couple of people told me all about The Accelerator, and I just called and Melanie (Melanie Schouten Program Director) answered. After meeting with Vinnie and Laurie (Vincent Cozzolino, Managing Director and Laurie Villasuso, Chief Operating Officer), I was introduced to the pattern making technology, TukaTech which they offer at the Accelerator. (Like much of the Accelerator’s capitalized production capability, TukaTech is funded by TSEC , learn more here).

 

“I explained to Laurie and Vinnie, my belief that there needs to be access to a quality digital textile printer, although they are costly, in order to grow textile manufacturing here, in the Hudson Valley .

 

“Laurie and Vinnie encouraged me to look beyond what I was doing and pursue sourcing.

 

“They introduced me to Unshattererd who used the Tuka Tech software while they were at The Accelerator, and who have now moved out and up into a full up production shop.

 

“They encouraged me to think about producing right at the Accelerator.

 

“I had to think about it, I talked to Eva and came back and said “yes!

 

Robin and crew moved into The Accelerator’s facility in New Windsor (a nicely renovated shared workspace with individual pods where a number of businesses can set up shop) started January, 2017, and with The Accelerator’s expert business guidance, is starting to grow.A Hudson Valley family of entrepreneurs bootstraps their textile business. Robin Hayes, Samuel Hayes, Eva Hayes

Robin, Samuel and Eva Hayes

“We are building a sewing team with a grant for training provided by SUNY Orange, and we have just completed our first training course with five women who completed the training,” Robin explained noting even more success:

“Recently, we also got funding from the WDI (Workforce Development Institute) allowing us to train a team for industrial embroidery as well as other related skills, and we will train 4-5 individuals in that piece of the industry, as well.

“Our goal is to source and print fabric here and sew the fabric here,” she finished.

Right now, Lucky Bug is using a resource that Knickerbocker Manufacturing of Brooklyn fame uses, Johnny Designs, to cut and sew the articles of clothing.

Knickerbocker is world famous for crafting timeless, American made products in an old hat factory in Brooklyn.

Lucky Bug anticipates that sometime this year,  60 to 70% of the sewing will be done right here in the Hudson Valley at the Accelerator’s pods in New Windsor.

 

Ribbon cutting of The Accelerator’s new shared work spaces April, 2017

 

“Meeting the goals of sourcing, printing, and sewing our product here meets our mission goal of transparency.

“We want our customers to buy with confidence, knowing that our product is ethically and sustainably sourced and primarily in the US.

“By training and working with these seamstresses the work is guaranteed to be done here, in New Windsor,” Robin said.

 

 

Samuel Hayes' "sunny side up" repeat pattern, one of the whimsical Lucky Bug children's clothing patterns Samuel designed

A Lucky Bug Clothing Pattern Design created by Lead Designer, Samuel Hayes

 

Robin, Eva and team work at one of the refurbished army barrack pods created by The Accelerator at Stewart Airport’s decommissioned military campus (pictured in this story).

 

Who does The Accelerator work with?

 

Qualifying startups in the area of:

 

  • Textiles
  • Fashion Design
  • Artisan bottling
  • Artisan food production
  • Artisan foods

 

These startups find:

  • mentoring
  • workforce training
  • below-market office space
  • a high tech environment designed to support these businesses as they grow

Because The Accelerator, funded by TSEC and other grantors, hopes that the startups they nurture will expand, hire, and move into bigger spaces, their efforts accrue as a positive for Newburgh‘s future.

Logically, these “graduates” will move up and out, and when they do, they will ultimately move into commercial real estate in cities like Newburgh.

Newburgh is attractive to makers such as Lucky Bug’s entrepreneurial family given its tremendous stock of retail and commercial manufacturing space at extremely competitive prices.
To learn more about The Accelerator, contact them here.

To learn more about Lucky Bug Clothing, and to order baby clothing from them, visit them here.