From Creative Outlet to Lifelong Passion
While working as a graphic designer, Jennifer Long began creating custom bow ties as a creative outlet. As requests for her creations grew and she had to scramble to figure out how to manufacture them, she embarked on a journey that would lead to a lifelong passion for sustainable fashion. Given that the fashion industry is a leading contributor to environmental pollution, Jennifer sought to manufacture her ties locally and identify sustainable button and fabric sources – a process that she found to be “extremely challenging.” As she continued learning about the health and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, Jennifer wondered if she could be doing more to make a difference. She saw baby clothing as a key opportunity. “When you become a mother, your priorities shift. One priority that rises to the top of many parent’s lists is making sure their baby is eating mostly organic foods and wearing mostly organic clothes,” she explained. “I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to educate parents about organic clothing that is not only better for their babies, but better for the planet.”
Turning Her Dream into a Reality
Despite having a successful career at an advertising agency in San Francisco, Jennifer found herself distracted by her idea of manufacturing organic and sustainably produced baby clothing. After a year of not being able to shake the desire to pursue this dream, she decided to move in with her parents in Southern California to focus on turning it into a reality. A key resource early on in her journey was Factory 45, an online accelerator program focused on sustainable fashion brands. “When I started being interested in sustainable fashion, it wasn’t very popular. There were a few standout people talking about sustainable fashion and one of those people was Shannon Lohr, the founder of Factory 45,” Jennifer said. “She had already built a sustainable brand, so I signed up for her program because it promised that I would get to where I wanted to go much quicker than if I were to do it alone.”
Through her participation in the accelerator program, Jennifer realized that before manufacturing her own products, she first needed to understand more about the landscape of eco-friendly baby clothing. She came to understand that by doing this research herself, she could provide a valuable service for parents. “When I was pregnant, I found it super overwhelming to find products that are actually safe to put on my baby’s skin, and also good for the planet.” In 2014, Jennifer launched Noble Carriage, a marketplace that curated the best organic and sustainably produced baby clothing, with her husband and business partner, Kevin Long. As Jennifer explained on the Ecommerce Influence podcast, “The moms that are overthinkers like me can trust that Noble Carriage has done all of the behind the scenes research and work to make sure that when they come to our shop, they don’t even have to worry if it’s safe for their baby and the planet.”
A Crash Course in Business Finance
Neither Jennifer nor Kevin had a background in finance, so getting access to the capital they needed without taking on unsustainable debt became a challenge. After investing $25,000 of their life savings, they turned to credit card debt to continue covering expenses – including salaries for their two employees, web development costs, paid marketing and inventory. They turned to multiple banks to finance their growth, but they kept being turned away because the business was too young. “It was overwhelming going from bank to bank,” Kevin recalled. One of the banks referred them to Accion, which helped them access working capital in order to begin manufacturing their own products. This transition is enabling the company to maintain healthy cash flow and continue investing in business growth.
Kevin and Jennifer also took advantage of free financial coaching offered through Accion’s partnership with Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners. “Neighborhood Trust helped us see the importance of profit and identify places where we could cut expenses. One of the biggest expenses we had was high-interest credit card debt,” Kevin explained. By refinancing this high-interest debt into a long-term loan through a non-profit lender, Opportunity Fund, the business was able to shave $650 off of their monthly expenses to operate more sustainably. “Utilizing that extra cash to improve our business is a huge win for us,” Kevin said.
Building a Sustainable Movement
Noble Carriage has built a loyal following by making sustainable living approachable for busy parents. Jennifer and Kevin regularly share their own experiences of raising their daughter, Sofia, and they also elevate the stories of diverse parents and brands that are putting the “Noble Babe” values into practice. As they prepared to launch their first product, an organic cotton sleeper, Jennifer and Kevin were able to bring their customers on the journey with them by posting previews on Instagram to test styles and colors. They continue to integrate this practice into product development through their “Noble Collective” program, where they work with local seamstresses to release small batch collections and test out products before placing a large factory order.
Now that they have realized their dream of manufacturing their own organic and sustainably produced baby clothing, Jennifer and Kevin are confident that their business will continue to operate for years to come. As the business grows, so, too do their most important customers. As Jennifer put it, “The babies who wear our clothing will grow up and hopefully be the ones who can make actual changes to the policies that will change the fashion industry for the better.”