Swoveralls was founded by Kyle Bergman with the mission to create the world's comfiest apparel products using sustainable resources and ethical manufacturing methods. With over $600K of the product sold so far, they are a proud member of 1% for the planet, which means that 1% of the company’s top line revenue is donated to nonprofits that help the environment.
Kyle’s journey from conception to production is a unique one. We’ll let him explain how we got there, but today the company generates $30k a month, with the aim to hit the $1MM market in revenue for 2020.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
Hey there! My name is Kyle Bergman and I am the Founder and Chief Swoverall Officer of The Great Fantastic. Based in Brooklyn, New York, The Great Fantastic's mission is to create the world's comfiest apparel products using sustainable resources and ethical manufacturing methods.
Our hero product, Swoveralls, is the combination of sweatpants and overalls into one glorious masterpiece. Since selling our first pair in September 2017, we have now sold over $600k of the product. We are a “triple bottom line” company that always takes into account the impact we have on the planet and those that inhabit it with every decision we make. As a proud member of 1% for the planet, 1% of our top line revenue is donated to nonprofits that help the environment.
Our target audience is led by a psychographic insight we discovered through customer research, which is that our customers love to express themselves through incredibly comfy, yet unique clothing. From a demographic standpoint, our customers range widely in location and age, and as a gender-neutral product we strive to make Swoveralls as inclusive as possible.
An interesting milestone is that up until this December, I was the only employee of The Great Fantastic. I am the owner but I was also the intern, the Chief Marketing Officer, and everything in-between! In January I hired our first employee, Grace, who has been an incredible addition, and although she helps out with everything, she has a ton of experience in operations management and customer service experience.
Last year we were featured on Season 10 of Shark Tank. We didn’t make a deal (we didn’t even get an offer!), but it was still an incredible experience and I’m very grateful for the exposure and awareness our brand received (all while still owning 100% of it).
How did you come up with the idea and brand name?
At first, I was really just trying to solve a personal problem - sweatpant overalls didn’t exist, and I wanted a pair. I’ve always loved overalls for reasons I can’t really explain. Perhaps it’s the fact they’re a little unique to wear, yet functional and practical.
Anyways, a friend actually sent me a BuzzFeed article about a novelty pair of sweatpant overalls. They looked like denim overalls but were made from a sweatpant material. I said to myself, “Man, I would never wear those, but regular sweatpant overalls I would 100% rock!”. Alas, “normal sweatpant overalls” did not exist online after a quick Google search, nor in any stores that I visited. So I made them. But let’s back up for a second…
When my friend showed me the article, it was early 2016 and I was a Merchandise Planner at Bloomingdale’s. Right out of college I went into the Bloomingdale’s executive training program and was there for 4 years learning the ropes of being a retail merchant.
For those that aren’t exactly sure what that is - a merchant or buyer is someone who manages vendor relationships and decides what products a store will sell. Every item you’ve ever looked at in a department store — like Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, or even non-traditional retail stores like Equinox or Cabela’s — has a buying team behind it that is making decisions on what products should be shown. I was an Assistant Buyer in luggage, a Senior Assistant in women’s fragrances, and then an Associate Merchandise Planner in jewelry.
Planners work with buyers to analyze the inventory risks and opportunities of the products and brands they purchase. The skills I acquired from these roles would play a critical role in my brand’s launch and growth.
In May 2016, I left Bloomingdale’s to pursue an amazing opportunity as the Men’s Grooming Buyer at Birchbox. Birchbox is a disruptive tech/e-commerce company that pioneered what is now a massive and very competitive subscription box environment. A little after I joined Birchbox, I began my MBA journey via the part-time program at NYU’s Stern school of business.
Around Winter ‘16/Spring ‘17 is when a few interesting things happen. I learned through school about Alibaba’s B2B platform, where a potential buyer no matter how big could procure goods from a seller. Additionally, I learned about Google’s Keyword Search Planner tool, where you could see what the search demand was for a given keyword, during a certain timeframe. Lastly, I began to learn more about Amazon’s fulfillment service. These 3 concepts would be instrumental to my company ever even getting off the ground.
What I didn’t realize is that you needed a legitimate business to start an Amazon seller’s account, and so I incorporated The Great Fantastic, LLC. in March 2017.
Why The Great Fantastic? Well, I knew I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself right out of the gate with a company name like “Sweatpant Overalls, Inc.”... so I chose a funky term that I thought could one day could become an amazing brand. Taking a trip into the great fantastic is something my mom would say when referring to risk-taking and adventuring into the unknown.
It always stuck with me, and I thought it was such a cool term that could comprise the vibe and message I was trying to communicate that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we don’t mess around when it comes to comfort.
Describe the process of launching Swoveralls
While I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for when I Googled “sweatpant overalls”, I did notice a search result for what looked like a rendering of sweatpant overalls on a mannequin. This result was on Alibaba’s website, and the item was indeed called “sweatpant overalls”.
Problem was, the minimum order quantity was 300 units. In other words, the supplier would only make sweatpant overalls for anyone who wanted 300 pairs or more. At the time, I had no intention of obtaining more than 1 (for myself!). However, I knew based on my buying experience at Bloomies that if I bluffed and looked like a serious buyer, I could get a sample for next to nothing (which at the time would solve my problem of simply just wanting a pair for myself). I did in fact negotiate a price for 1 sample (think it was about $80 US), and actually received my pair - problem solved!
But then a couple of new “good” problems arose: 1) the french terry cotton they were made out of was really soft and amazing, and as a result, 2) friends & family wanted a pair too!
Google’s Keyword Search Planner
Once I realized other people might want sweatpant overalls too, I used Google’s Keyword Search Planner to see roughly how many people were looking for this term online. In the month of March 2017, this tool showed that between 100-1,000 people were also looking for sweatpant overalls.
A part of me was shocked, but after I thought about it., it made sense. Some of it probably came from an awareness created from the BuzzFeed article, but more importantly, people just like me were looking for an awesome, comfy combo.
Amazon’s FBA service
Once I realized I had a supplier and there was some sort of demand for this unique apparel item that didn’t exist, I knew the only way I would have any chance of selling sweatpant overalls was through Amazon’s fulfillment service.
Living in a shoebox apartment in NYC, I didn’t have any room for inventory, nor did I want to spend my time picking and packing orders — or finding a warehouse that would do the same.
Additionally, I didn’t have any experience or budget to do a meaningful marketing campaign, but I knew Amazon would help me overcome these obstacles by:
1) holding my inventory in their warehouses
2) listing my product on their site
Funding the business
But how did I initially fund it? Well, in order to pay for business school, I had to take out a bunch of student loan money. For better or worse, I took out too much money for my first term and received a disbursement to my bank account for the funds that were not used for tuition, which was about $10,000. Normally, a rationally-minded individual would send that money back to the lender as it’ll lower your student loan debt. I decided to use this money to kickstart my sweatpant overalls project, and used most of it to pay for my first order from overseas.
Designing, prototyping, and manufacturing Swoveralls
Because of the Alibaba supplier, I was able to leapfrog some initial design and manufacturing steps that would come back later to bite me in the ass.
Every entrepreneur gets incredibly lucky at one point or another. It could be simple timing, or it could be a blissful ignorance of the enormous risks that are not recognized, and therefore unknowingly avoided by chance. I guess you could say I had both kinds of luck. Timing for me was important - my friend sending me the article, the item not existing, business school starting, etc. There was a blissful Ignorance too - I sent $10,000 to a supplier in China I had never met in person, and only spoke to through the Alibaba messaging platform. Crazy!
I went back and forth via email with the initial supplier on design tweaks: we widened the straps, we added the jogger cuff, and we adjusted the fit and sizes for men and women accordingly. But at the end of the day, the “overalls” pattern was such a ubiquitous design that we were simply changing a well-known recipe slightly by adding a new ingredient… sweatpants.
Throughout this process I never received a “tech-pack” for the Swoveralls which is analogous to a blueprint for a house - it is the schematic of your apparel item that can then be used by any knowledgeable manufacturer to reproduce your product. I also didn’t realize how lucky I was getting with the order minimums (also known as MOQs aka minimum order quantity). This supplier would allow me to do 250 pairs per color, so for my first order, I ordered 500 pairs: 250 in grey, and 250 in navy.
I didn’t create any patents because I knew (from my Bloomingdale’s and Birchbox days) that patenting apparel designs is like the wild west - the biggest brands in the world are constantly copying (and sueing) each other, and there was nothing proprietary about my design — just a unique combo of design and fabric. I did however trademark the term “Swoveralls”.
Launching the business
Initially, I had no intention of launching my own website, let alone fulfilling product through it. I thought this whole project would be a nice form of passive income solely through Amazon’s platform. Shortly after launching on Amazon though, I realized that for all the positive benefits FBA possessed, it was extremely difficult to build an audience as Amazon does not share customer data, and makes it very difficult to communicate with customers.
Additionally, I understood there were better margin opportunities shipping directly to consumers, and so I initially created a Squarespace shop, but then migrated over to Shopify as I found it a much more intuitive and effective e-commerce platform.
The initial “funding” was from the student loan disbursement I mentioned earlier, and I was able to reinvest the profits from subsequent sales back into the business in the form of more orders to my supplier. In the first year, we did a little over $65k in sales between Amazon and my own site.
About 7 months after launching, I decided to do a Kickstarter + Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to create “Swoveralls 2.0”, which had more color options, more functionality, and higher quality, sustainably made fabric. When a Kickstarter campaign is successfully funded, IndieGogo allows you to “roll over” the campaign on to their platform so you can keep accepting preorders, and acquiring more customers/awareness. I raised about $75k on Kickstarter, and another $33k on Indiegogo for about $108k in total crowdfunding sales.
Prior to these campaigns I moved production from overseas to Los Angeles to also capitalize on the “Made in the USA” aspect, as well as cut production lead times down, and, in theory, have a better line of communication with my supplier (who spoke English as their native language are were only a 3 hour time zone difference away).
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
Prior to Shark Tank, I had a couple big events/milestones that have worked to attract customers, but the large majority of my website traffic and customers has been organic either through earned media (here’s the first article anyone ever wrote about us & here’s another one I received mainly due to my Birchbox job at the time), social (people see our posts and visit), or search (people googling sweatpant overalls and finding us).
This last channel is the main reason I started this whole project in the first place. I knew at least at the beginning I would not have to do a ton of heavy lifting to attract customers because no one was selling a product there was clearly demand for.
Crowdfunding was a perfect blend of customer acquisition and retention. I was fortunate to beat my goal within the first 24 hours of launching which created a little PR buzz. Additionally, one of my FB videos went viral during the campaign (9M+ views) which led to a huge influx in traffic/sales.
Important to note this viral moment was orchestrated and not organic. I worked with a company called Margle Media based out of Milwaukee to create a fun, engaging video based on existing video assets I had, and with their FB network relationships, they (for a fee) dropped the video on a page called “22 words” that had millions of followers. The video spread like wildfire, and was a huge moment for my brand.
The Facebook Viral Video
I think crowdfunding also comprises retention characteristics as well because this is a special and loyal type of consumer. They’ve been with me since the beginning of Swoveralls 2.0, and were incredibly patient and understanding during the development delays. More importantly, the product came out awesome, and so at the end of the day, I think these people took a chance on me and my brand, and were rewarded with a high-quality product that they now love. For the risk they took on me, I’ll love these customers for life.
Retention in other aspects has been lacking for me. I’m very weird about email. As a brand, I know it’s arguably the best way to stay in touch with your customers, but as an individual, I can’t stand getting most brand emails. The two exceptions are Chubbies and Allbirds, and for different reasons, but both emails I open up almost every time. Chubbies voice and style is hysterical. Allbirds has beautiful imagery and stories. It’s also important to note both brands make really great products.
Chubbies and AllBirds are two brands I truly aspire to be like. I think they get it, and are a constant source of motivation and inspiration for me. In fact, I guess you could say I want The Great Fantastic to be the passionate love child of these two companies.
As far as being different, being a solo founder makes the brand really an extension of my own personality. I’ve always naturally gravitated towards zigging when others zag… and I’ve tried to be consistent with that vibe in the voice and feel of the brand. I want to be a quirky, inclusive space that people feel gravitated towards because we make them smile (while offering comfort).
We’ll be launching an internal crowdfunding platform in a few months which will allow us to give our customers a stronger voice when it comes to deciding which products we make, while also mitigating the inventory and upfront capital risk that comes along with apparel production – it’s going to be awesome!
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
Below is a screenshot taken from a recent investor deck we share that shows our big milestones and customer and revenue traction in our first 3 years. 2020 has been off to our best start yet!
Revenue and customer growth since launch
I can’t believe I made it as far as I did without the help of Grace, my lovely teammate. Because the business has grown to a size now that requires more attention in all buckets (marketing, operations, product development, customer service, etc.), it’s been critical to have another pair of eyes and hands on the business to not only help with day-to-day executional tasks, but to also re-evaluate certain processes and methods we use. For example, we’re currently looking at our supply chain strategy, and seeing where we can capitalize on cost-savings.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
It’s never been a more exciting time to be captaining the comfy ship. As mentioned above, we’ll be launching an internal crowdfunding platform to feature new products we have in the pipeline. Based on customer feedback and white space we’ve identified in the market, we’ll be launching some exciting new concepts that will cater to not only our existing customer base, but also to some new audiences we currently do not provide products for. We’ll be focusing on the Swoveralls concept for 2020, but are excited to offer more options for people to get comfy in!
From a sales standpoint, our stretch goal is surpassing the $1MM market in revenue for 2020. With the products and marketing strategy we have in place (and a little bit of good fortune and timing) we believe it’s doable. Our longer term strategy is to solidify our position as a brand that is known for producing high-quality, unique, and incredibly comfy things.
Through my journey as an entrepreneur and professional in the retail landscape, I’ve come to truly believe in and understand the value of becoming an expert in a handful of products or concepts, versus trying to be everything to everyone. With that in mind, we plan on building our brand around Swoveralls and becoming the universe’s foremost expert in supersoft onesies.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
The biggest learning experience is being aware of the imaginary deadlines you set for yourself. I love to get stuff done. I’m very task-oriented and love checking off my to-do list. But this can come at a cost if you set unrealistic deadlines, which then force you into making a decision you’re not ready to make.
You’ll never know 100% of the information, and there will always be an aspect of risk in decision-making. I’ve learned over the last 3 years that if you have the luxury of time (and most often you do) the best thing you can do is nothing, and allow the situation to unfold, which in turn provides you with more information and clarity.
The pressure of wanting to be first to market, or thinking that someone else will steal your idea, or missing out on a key selling period, are often much bigger deals in our own head then they’d ever be in reality. I've rushed into decisions and/or events because of these imaginary guardrails or deadlines we impose on ourself. Conversely, at times when I was either forced to wait, or decided to approach an opportunity with more patience...there was new information that arose, or a change of events that benefited our brand objective.
Therefore, I’ve learned to become more mindful of using time as a resource, and not rushing when it comes to making bigger, strategic decisions.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
1) Less is more. You don’t need to set up all of the bells and whistles right out of the gate (and maybe ever). If you have an awesome product, it will sell itself, and thus you want to make the path to purchase and checkout as fluid and seamlessly as possible.
2) Shopafree is a great service. This company will help design your site at no cost to you because they’re paid a commission directly from Shopify based on the plan you select. They helped us redesign ours, and could be a low cost option to a pricey agency/designer.
3) Understand the size of the pond you’ll be fishing in, and how many other fishermen there are! The number 1 reason I started this whole thing is because I discovered people were literally searching for sweatpant overalls and finding nothing. I knew if I made them I would be the only fisherman in a pond with fish in it.
Often, ecom stores go into a big ocean with a small dingy and nowhere near enough resources to compete with the big players. It’s not always about finding a gap in the market. Sometimes new brands are able to solve a problem more effectively, but just know that you have to have a clear competitive advantage to get noticed or else it’ll be very hard to acquire customers.
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Swoveralls?
Without Shopify and Amazon, none of this happens. Both platforms have their faults no doubt, but they’ve also made it possible for a guy with no website development or warehouse/manufacturing experience to successfully sell thousands of units online.
I live and die by my Gmail calendar and the Google suite of products (spreadsheets, docs, forms, etc.) has been instrumental in helping run daily ops as well.
Instagram and Facebook have allowed us to spread our brand and unique voice while also providing inspiration and introducing us to brands we would have otherwise never connected with.
See what tools other founders use here.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
Helpful podcasts include How I built This with Guy Raz, as well as The Mentors podcast with brothers Sergei and Vadim Revzin. Both podcasts highlight entrepreneurs and, similar to My Brand Journey, can be a huge source of inspiration.
Books – Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Traction by Gabriel Weinberg, and Get Backed by Evan Behr and Evan Loomis are 3 books that come to mind that I’ve found either incredibly helpful from a tactical standpoint, motivational, or both.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
It truly takes a small village to bring even a small apparel brand to life, and I have so many people to thank that have been, and continue to be influential and supportive along the way. My group of advisors hold me accountable on a monthly basis, and are also there to help if I have any specific requests. My parents, sister, and my Senior Vice President of Life (aka my Girlfriend Elizabeth) have all been through the entire rollercoaster with me. Without their support, I wouldn’t have made it anywhere near this far.
Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s cliché, but there’s rarely a better time than now to get started. I am a risk-taker and love shooting from the hip and going with my gut. However, I have become more risk averse as my company grows and the stakes become bigger. But I constantly remind myself of the leap and multiple failures I took in getting here. I was never an amazing student, and hardly ever did my best the first time I attempted something. Understanding these abilities (or lack thereof) about myself didn’t happen overnight, but instead when I started exploring the “what if?” outside of my own head, and in the real world!
A quote from one of my business school teachers Susan Davis on failure – “Failure is not an indication of inadequacy”. No, failure is simply an indication of a gap in your understanding or skill set, and therefore something that can be remedied with more time and effort.”'It’s cliché, but there’s rarely a better time than now to get started.'Click To Tweet
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
We’re luckily in a place that allows us to grow organically without the need for immediate outside funding, but we’re always open to speaking with investors about potential partnership opportunities. As far as hires, we’d also be happy to connect with a freelance/contractor apparel designers or pattern makers located in the NYC area.
Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?
We’ll always let our email audience know about an current offers and promotions first, and you can sign up on swoveralls.com