#NewtoNext: Evelyn Frison, Pivotte
We’ve all been told that we should buy less and buy better for the sake of our wallets, for the planet, and for the Marie Kondo of it all. But it can be hard to decipher what’s genuine quality from a greenwashed fad, and what we’ll still treasure in six months.
Evelyn Frison recognized this and came up with an apparel line that is truly versatile, functional, beautifully tailored, and sustainable. Timeless clothes that you can wear to a business pitch, midday barre class, hotter-than-hell underground train, and dinner without feeling like a complete monster by the end of the day. We spoke to her about her clothing line, company ethos, and why sometimes brutal honesty is the only way.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your company, Pivotte.
I grew up moving and traveling often, was encouraged to explore all my interests, and played a lot of sports. These activities influenced my need to be constantly “on-the-go” – and this way of life inspired Pivotte.
Pivotte is beautiful, functional clothing for work and beyond. Tailored designs are updated in advanced fabrics for all-day comfort and easy care – everything is machine washable and iron-free.
The line was designed to allow professional women to integrate their full lives into their workday. That means supporting who they are and what they do in and outside of work with clothing that can keep up.
It’s polished enough to wear anywhere, stretchy enough for comfort even in extreme situations like long flights, and worry-free–so you can focus on more meaningful things.
I’m an extreme example – but I do wear the clothes everywhere: I once wore the 24/7 pants to a business-casual office, jumped on a plane after work, and landed in the Amazon rainforest for a hike. I’ve also backpacked in Patagonia in them. I basically wear the 24/7, or the Bravi’s every day. I need clothing that can support constant movement!
What have been the main challenges and joys in founding your own business?
The main challenge has been driving awareness with a limited budget. It’s very difficult to get attention in a crowded market filled with big competitors! We are grateful for our PR placements (such as Fast Co and the Economist’s 1843 Magazine), but press alone isn’t enough for sustained growth. It’s best to experiment with different marketing channels (such as paid advertising, events, social media, content, email marketing, referral marketing and more) until you find out what works, and then double down and optimize from there. But you need the budget to experiment and scale the marketing efforts. Our budget is small and we’ve done a lot with very little, but it would be easier if we had a substantial budget for a fully integrated marketing plan.
Another challenge has been finding how to communicate our value proposition (or various aspects of) to different audiences, and then discovering how to reach them consistently (see above). I’m highlighting this because I think it’s really important for people who are starting businesses to consider their product/market fit and the messaging around that. You have to nail it to get the results you want!
Through experimenting, we now have a better feel for what messages resonate with customers. Some of our customers really “get” what we are trying to do – which brings me to my biggest joy: hearing from repeat buyers who love our products and ask for more. We are trying to do something different in women’s clothing, and when that’s acknowledged and understood – it’s very motivating.
The average woman wears an item of clothing seven times before retiring it to the bottom of the wardrobe or landfill. Part of Pivotte’s sustainability ethos is that we should buy less and buy better. What are the barriers to consumers embracing slow fashion, and how can you help people overcome them?
The barriers include our consumerist culture and the intimidation factor in learning about sustainable clothing. Notice that I did not mention cost as a barrier, which is a common response.
The fashion industry, specifically women’s fashion (and media), is a machine fueled by fast-flying trends. And the time periods in which trends last are getting increasingly shorter. To keep up, one must buy products and goods often – which is not sustainable behavior. The “more is better” mindset is difficult for anyone to avoid, especially those who really get joy out of the creative and expressive side of fashion.
Even though we do live in a materialistic culture, sustainable fashion is a growing topic, and consumers are becoming more educated. There is a lot of information out there, influential people are talking about it, and even controversial big businesses such as H&M are raising public awareness. But all this information can be overwhelming – it’s hard to know where to start.
Pivotte is helping people overcome these barriers with a guiding principle: Buy less, buy better.
Sustainability is about labor, raw materials, the manufacturing process, and production path, waste disposal, water usage, the overarching carbon footprint, and more. This is what usually comes to mind when thinking about sustainable fashion – particularly choosing “eco-friendly” materials.
But sustainability is also about buying with intent and for longevity.
Instead of impulse purchasing two trendy shirts that will end up at beacons in six months, save up and buy one higher-quality shirt that fits you nicely (one you actually look forward to wearing!) can mix and match with other wardrobe items, and will last longer.
Basically, buy what you can afford with a strong eye towards quality, and love it literally to pieces.
At Pivotte, we take the “buy less, buy better” to heart. We produce high-quality, well-constructed, ethical products that a customer can use often and over the long-haul. Additionally, we aim to do more with less – designing garments that can be used in a variety of ways, so one pair of pants for example, can replace a few.
We are committed to decreasing our environmental impact through our choices in materials sourcing and manufacturing.
(Read more about Pivotte’s sustainability efforts)
VCs and other investors often choose to fund companies founded by teams, rather than a solo founder. You started the company with your childhood best friend, Yehua Yang. What are the ingredients of a happy and fruitful co-founder relationship?
The number one most important ingredient is honesty. We are, at times, brutally honest with each other. It can be really emotionally challenging to have certain conversations. But your business will not survive without being able to do this. Secondly, it is important to have complementary skill sets and clearly (very clearly) defined responsibilities.
Do you have any advice for women looking to get into the luxury sustainable fashion space?
- Have a clearly differentiated product
- Nail down what type of business you are going to be.
– Are you DTC, wholesale, both? Carefully analyze your distribution options. What other avenues are available to you?
– Do you want to have a small business or are you looking to scale quickly? If you are looking to scale quickly you will need money. Where will you get this money?
– The answers to these questions (and more) should influence your goals and go-to-market strategy.
- Know your business goals (sales, marketing, etc) and plan your milestones. Do not half-ass this. Make it specific and create a roadmap for short and long-term goals.
- Before you launch, create a marketing strategy with an actual budget against it. Be ready to experiment and change your strategy according to what works and doesn’t. I recommend starting with 1-3 “channels” (PR, Instagram, Paid Advertising, Events, Content marketing, SEO, etc) and going from there.