When Bonnie Korte went back to her managing job at an IP law firm after the birth of her firstborn, she hated that her clothes made breastfeeding and pumping difficult. The clothes that were half amenable weren’t flattering enough to socialize or professional enough for her office. Then she had her second child, and she had the same problem. Finally, in January 2019, she sketched up a solution: the Butterfly Feeder top. By May 2019, she decided to transition into a part-time role to spend more time with her children and, as a bonus, have more time to work on her idea, which grew into a product and a company.
SheFeeds, founded by Korte, is an apparel brand for women who are breastfeeding and breast pumping. With a patent-pending butterfly wrap top that can attach and detach from each side seam individually, the Butterfly Feeder is classic, flattering, professional, and casual all while providing convenience and coverage when breastfeeding or pumping for sizes XS-2XL. Backers can receive rewards including a baby bib, tee, and the Butterfly Feeder top. Five percent of all sales after the campaign will go toward hunger-solving nonprofits such as the Children’s Hunger Fund, and during the campaign, SheFeeds will donate Butterfly Feeder tops to moms in need.
“I wanted to solve this problem, and I always wanted to start my own business,” Korte says. “It wouldn’t be as exciting for me if I didn’t have the opportunity to help people at the same time. I loved my job as a manager—there were a lot of opportunities to help people in my job—but the fact that I get to pick the purpose and feeding children couldn’t be more important, that was a big motivator.”
A little before 11 a.m. on March 19, the one-woman company was almost a third of the way to its goal of $10,000 with 20 days left on its 30-day Kickstarter. It reached more than 20% of funding—which almost 60% of all fashion Kickstarters have stalled out on. However, it has a ways to go. Unlike crowdraising platforms like Indiegogo (which offers flexible funding) and Gofundme (which allows you to keep your funds no matter how below budget you end), it’s all or nothing with Kickstarter.
While $10,000 may seem like a lofty goal for a first-time brand, it is the amount Korte needs to meet her factory’s requirements. While some apparel brands are made in small studios or through custom apparel businesses, most of the time when creators work directly with factories, the factories require a certain amount to make it worth running.
Peregrine Kidswear creator Kristie Case was able to avoid this when she launched her line because of her business partner’s connections and lucky timing. Instead of paying for what would have been a full run of 1,000 garments of one style, she was able to get an extended sampling, receiving 400 garments total across four different print styles.
Although Case didn’t use Kickstarter for her apparel line, she did use it for her brick-and-mortar store Teeny Bee Boutique. Back in 2014, Case had wanted to convert the area into a community space for kids to play in and attend classes. The goal was $5,000, and at that point, Case guesses that Teeny Bee had about 1,000 Facebook followers.
“Of course you think if everyone donates $5, we’ll get there, but it just really doesn’t look that way,” Case says. “It’s really hard to get the word out on Kickstarter. You can put it out to all your family and friends, and they can put it out to their friends, and it’s really driven on Facebook. You have a limited reach, you know?”
Teeny Bee was able to eke it out, raising $493 extra with 71 backers. Case says she learned a lot and it helped spread the word about her boutique, but Kickstarter might not be the best platform for her future projects. “I’m a ‘never say never kind of girl,’ so maybe. But I think the right place for Kickstarter is when you have a really innovative new product like Bonnie [Korte] has. I’m not sure that anything I’m making is innovative enough that people are going to jump on it on Kickstarter versus my own website. … Something that can become viral is really what it needs to be for Kickstarter to be easy—although I don’t know if it’s ever going to be easy,” Case says.
The Track Record
For Minnesota-based fashion, past Kickstarter successes include former Gopher football player Connor Cosgrove’s ComfPort (2015), which raised $38,339 of its $30,000 goal to create comfortable tees that allow easy access to chemotherapy chest ports. Fatimah Hussein and Jamie Glover were able to raise $38,159 of their $25,000 goal in 2016 to launch Asiya, a modest, athletic headwear brand for Muslim girls and women to play sports in. (It is worth noting that Asiya had momentum as the winners of Minnesota Cup’s social enterprise category less than a month prior.)
Not all campaigns on Kickstarter have to be as news-catching as these ones. 4Lyf Clothing Co. ran a couple campaigns in 2018, reaching 150% of its $1,000 goals for streetwear that supported suicide prevention. Meg Rohs of Nine56 Studio began her luxury loungewear in 2019 with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,510 of its $15,000 goal.
However, these successes aren’t the majority. Kickstarter stats say that as of March 19, 62% of the 30,991 campaigns created under the fashion category have failed. Just in January, the Duluth-based incubator MCCubed tried to launch Rainbow Rain apparel for people to express their identity and raise money for causes they care about through an embroidered shirt. The team received press from Fox 21 and the Duluth News Tribune, and they put out what felt like a year’s worth of content in a month.
Over the course of the Kickstarter, the brand grew from about 100 Facebook likes to 1,500 between paid social media posts, sharing incentives, and organic growth. Even so, its 45 backers only raised $2,468 of the $15,000 needed to start manufacturing the shirts in St. Paul. “A big aspect of starting a Kickstarter is developing a really large following and right when you launch the Kickstarter, going to the dedicated followers and saying here we are live, let’s do this,” says MCCubed founder Nathan Lipinski. “We didn’t have that with Rainbow Rain.”
Lipinski says his team is open to pursuing Rainbow Rain in the future. However, given MCCubed’s varied interests (like its friend-matching app, Platonic), the brand will most likely be sidelined for now. If and when it does make its return, Lipinski is open to exploring fundraising methods that fit Rainbow Rain’s philanthropic model more, such as connecting with equity partners.
To prep for her business, Korte reached out to other women business owners, including Glover and Case. With Case, she actually interned a couple of months, coming in once a week to help her complete orders and refine company processes. Case showed her the backend of owning an apparel business, and Korte provided the workshop period Case needed to see how adding a staff member to the Peregrine team would look.
As Case reflects, the most difficult hurdle Korte might face is that her target audience only thinks about nursing for a short amount of time. While breastfeeding has been tied with equal rights and feminism, it doesn’t necessarily instill a sense of urgency that ideas like ComfPort might. To add to that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of Korte’s press coverage has been canceled, and events where she was going to show off her product have been postponed (and those that haven’t been might have low turnout).
In the face of it all, Korte will continue doing everything she can. She’s working on her social media presence and finding connections in mother and breastfeeding support groups. She’s asking friends to share SheFeeds and its purpose, and she’s continuing to power her one-woman company.
“It’s the idea that you’re helping mothers more easily feed their children. It’s not me [doing this]. It’s [the backers]. They’re willing to pay for the price of the shirt and feed other children as well,” Korte says.
Update April 7, 2020: Because of the disruption COVID-19 has caused, as of March 27, Bonnie Korte has canceled her campaign. In her Kickstarter post, she writes, “Many of you pledged generously before realizing the impact that the pandemic would have on our economy. Also, I am unsure of the impact that COVID-19 will have on my supplier in India. Therefore, out of respect for the situation that we are all in, I am canceling this Kickstarter and will fund my first factory order through other means when the timing is right.”