Posted on May 12, 2020
This is part of a series of stories about how student entrepreneurs have adapted or shifted their business in the face of a global pandemic.
Again&again had just submitted an order for its first 50 pairs of sustainable, recyclable jeans when a global pandemic hit, throwing a wrench in the young startup’s go-to-market plans. Kellogg MBA candidate and co-founder Marcus Schneider explains, “Our hypothesis was that it would be much easier to make those first 50 sales in person, and that the reviews and social media exposure from those customers would help pave the way for our company’s online sales. Now, we can’t sell in person anymore, so we have to figure out if we can really launch the company entirely online.”
Marcus founded again&again with Kellogg professor Paul Earle, who he had worked with last summer to identify consumer categories ripe for disruption by a brand with beautiful design and aesthetics. When Paul mentioned that he’d one day like to work in apparel, Marcus’ experience working at Nike in Global Operations & Logistics prior to attending Kellogg gave him an idea. “A lot of my role there was working with distribution centers to improve their operations. While there, I saw firsthand just how great clothes could make people feel, but I also witnessed how much waste they can create even at a company who takes sustainability really, really seriously like Nike.”
After diving into research to learn about the feasibility of launching a sustainable apparel brand, Marcus and Paul founded again&again. Shortly after, Marcus was accepted into the Zell Fellowship, and subsequently joined the Residency program at The Garage. Residency was initially valuable to the company for the physical space. “It has been really helpful in terms of having a space to keep supplies and have a professional photo studio, instead of shooting in our apartments. I had also planned to sell our first pairs of jeans out of The Garage, because I could sit in the cafe and ask if anyone wanted to try some comfortable, sustainable jeans.”
In fact, one of the company’s first sales came from The Garage community. “One of The Garage’s mentors, former Uber executive Kenny Tsai, was in my group for a Resident scavenger hunt. We spent most of the time talking about everyone’s business in the group, and Kenny ended up buying a pair of our jeans that afternoon.” More recently, Marcus has been gearing up to compete in VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition. “I recently had one of my VentureCat pitch preparation sessions with Entrepreneur in Residence, Lilia Kogan, which was very helpful. That’s just one more way that The Garage has been helpful; the advising has been really great.”
Since Marcus has been testing Google, Facebook, and Instagram ad campaigns for again&again, he recently shared his learnings so far in a Resident Show & Tell, open to all Garage community members through Zoom. He walked the attendees through a custom-built presentation, shared his own campaign dashboards, and answered questions from the group.
Looking back on his expectations for Kellogg before arriving, Marcus has been pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t realize how good of an entrepreneurship program Kellogg has before coming here. I’ve just been wildly impressed by every resource that’s available. There are so many professors excited to help you out, so much funding available to support this process, and invaluable resources like The Garage. It’s amazing how helpful it is to try to build a business in this environment.”
Although the company’s original go-to-market plan isn’t feasible at the moment, Marcus remains optimistic. “It’s challenging to be an apparel company right this second, but I think there’s a lot of hope. We’re seeing an acceleration of e-commerce that should really help digitally native apparel companies like us. People are shopping online more, and that change is likely here for good. Eventually, I think people will be excited to go back into the world and will want a new outfit to celebrate that.”
In the meantime, along with preparing for VentureCat, again&again is considering a new launch plan in order to scale-up more quickly. “We’re planning to launch a Kickstarter, because we want to move to a new fabric that has a bit of stretch in it that still meets our sustainability requirements, but they have a minimum order quantity of 5,000 yards, or about 3,000 pairs of jeans. With that purchase we’d likely move our factory closer to the facility where that fabric is made to cut down on both waste and cost.”
That is, after all, the mission of again&again: reducing waste while building a comfortable, sustainable brand. Looking back on the journey so far, Marcus feels empowered by the lessons he has learned. “One of the most important skills for entrepreneurs is just being able to learn new things. I didn’t know how to do almost any of this stuff, and the ability to learn it with the support of Kellogg and The Garage has been incredibly valuable.”