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Ladies who launched: Heather Kaye and Itee Soni of Finch

I've always been an entrepreneurship fangirl, and one of the highlights of starting Flatter:Me has been getting to know the women behind businesses I admire. Heather and Itee, the founders of Shanghai-based eco label FINCH, generously agreed to sit down for a chat about how they got started themselves, and why anyone would leave a plush job in the international industry to start a business from scratch.

Everyone's got enough coffee? Cupcakes? Right - let's get started. Did you always expect to be entrepreneurs?

Heather: No. Itee and I moved to China 6 and 7 years ago as designers for international apparel companies that had Shanghai-based Asia operations. When we started FINCH in 2010, it was because of the amount of waste we witnessed in the garment supply chain during our years working for global fashion brands. 

Itee: Nope. We were typical corporates living the expat dream, sipping coffee in fancy shopping plazas that surround office towers here, discussing itineraries for the next business trip to Hong Kong or Indonesia, and wondering why (and, more importantly, how) people give all this AND health insurance up for a life where you don't know where your next cheque's going to come from. Guess we found out!

Can you tell our readers a little about how FINCH is taking an eco-friendlier approach to garment manufacturing?

Heather: We saw that we could build a low-waste process just by:

  1. Making seasonless, timeless clothes (imagine a world of fashion that wasn’t always trying to sell us the next trend, or push something season-specific... even though most of us spend our time in temperature-controlled indoor environments!)
  2. Using only recycled and eco-friendly fabrics (no chemicals, pesticides, or petro-chemical inputs)
  3. Making fewer sizes and keeping our collections tightly edited, so that we don’t over-produce
  4. Using little or no packaging by designing products that are self-contained or, as with our swimwear and ponchos, come in their own reusable waterproof bag

I love the colours and prints that you two come up with. Are people ever surprised to see such vibrancy from an "eco" brand? 

Heather: From the beginning, we’ve been very clear that being eco-friendly should be the fourth - not first - perk for our customers. She has to love the product, it has to fit and be flattering, and she has to be confident in the value of the pricing (we use high-quality craftsmanship, and our fabrics are 6 to 10 times more expensive than Zara’s – but we try to keep our prices on-par all the same).  Finally, she finds out that her swimsuit or wrap dress is made from 87% recycled PET bottles. That is pretty cool!

What's been the biggest surprise for each of you as you've started and maintained FINCH?

Heather: For me, it’s really getting my head around selling a product.  I am so in love with our product – we work so hard to make it better than anything you can find from even a seasoned fashion brand – and yet I’ve discovered it’s really against my grain to go out and promote it. My hat goes off to all of those born salespeople out there! Please come work with us! (Note from Claire: if Heather won't say it, I will - 2013 was a huge year for FINCH. They sponsored the swimsuit portion of Miss Earth China, launched new patterns in every one of their categories, and were featured by press all over the place... for starters!)

Itee: When we started out, the biggest surprise was the absolute wealth of information people around us were willing to share. Having worked in fashion for a combined time span of 22 years, the one thing you constantly notice is how no one shares their sources or any information. It became such a huge deal recently when H&M decided to make the list of their manufacturers public - but in the Shanghai entrepreneurial community, you just need to ask with the right intent. People will volunteer as much as they can. 

It's cool to hear you say that, because you've been such a help to Flatter:Me - talk about paying it forward! What's ahead for FINCH this month? This year? 

Itee: We're in the process of finalizing a new print for our rain capes, and we have a secret new product line we're really excited about! Long term goals for the year are to get distribution channels and wholesale contacts in place for exports to the U.S., Europe and Singapore.

Guess what? FINCH and Flatter:Me will be collaborating on a limited-edition belt this year. See the process behind-the-scenes on Facebook and Instagram!

Visit FINCH's online home at www.finchdesigns.com

 




Claire Theaker-Brown
Claire Theaker-Brown

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