Focus on the Entrepreneur
With the help of FVTC’s e-seed program, Sandy Martin of Oshkosh built a successful organic clothing business, green3, from the ground up.
Sandy Martin worked hard to climb the corporate ladder. She landed jobs at retail giants such as Carson Pirie Scott and Kohl’s during her career, and knew her way around the apparel business. Still, when she moved to Oshkosh a few years ago so her husband could take a top post at OshKosh B’Gosh, she figured she’d slip easily into soccer-mom mode.
Things didn’t work out exactly as she planned.
It didn’t take long before Martin was kicking around ideas for her own clothing company. She had just one problem. “I really didn’t know how to start,” she says. “But then I saw a notice in the paper about FVTC’s e-seed program.”
The Venture Center's E-seed program promised to help budding entrepreneurs research their venture, put together a business plan, and take first steps to make their dream a reality. In early 2005, Martin enrolled in the 15-week course.
Martin says the rigorous program helped give her insight on every aspect of entrepreneurship. “We had weekly homework assignments, and during each class we reviewed our work and shared constructive criticism,” she notes. “We also had special guests, like lawyers who explained some of the legal aspects of business and accountants who could discuss numbers. It was great to get their perspectives on things every week.”
Martin eventually honed her vague ideas about starting a women’s apparel company to a business that sold organic women’s apparel. “Our instructors had asked us: ‘What will make your business different?’ ‘What makes it unique?’” she says. “I just started getting interested in organic products, and when I came across organic cotton and organic wool, I realized my [clothing business] could tie into what I was already interested in on my own.” The research she did for class also suggested it was a growing and potentially lucrative market.
Martin quickly launched her business after completing the program. Within a couple of months, she trademarked the brand, green 3, and started lining up manufacturers to help her produce a line of t-shirts, sweaters, and tote bags made from 100% organic materials.
She and her husband, Jim (who joined Sandy almost from the very beginning), began showcasing the company’s wares at trade shows around the country, quickly acquiring customers who wanted to feature the eco-friendly wares at their stores. The tiny company also picked up custom work for several companies, including the Discovery Channel.
While business was booming almost from the start, there were a few hitches. The name she’d originally planned for the venture wasn’t available to trademark. She also found strong demand for custom work, something she hadn’t addressed in her original business plan. Fortunately, she knew she could contact her class instructors for advice. “Even after you finish the E-Seed program, you’re never really done,” she says. “I still talk to [the instructors] almost every month. They’re always there if I have any questions.”
These days, Martin is keeping busy developing new products for green 3, including fleece tops, hats, mittens, and scarves. The company’s products are in stores from California to Massachusetts and in cities as far away as Tokyo.
Martin credits e-seed for giving her the jumpstart she needed to make it happen. “I went into the program thinking I’d get a business plan,” she says. “I got so much more than that.”