All Posts in Maria Pinto

January 9, 2014 - No Comments!

Shopify Helps Us Launch Maria Pinto’s New E-commerce Site, M2057.com

The M2057 by Maria Pinto Shop

“It’s certainly no coincidence Maria Pinto’s clothing and accessories make us feel amazing and empowered; it’s by design.”

— Kristina Moore, Forbes Magazine

This week we launched the brand new M2057.com, the e-commerce site for fashion designer Maria Pinto’s new collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, and the follow-up to her groundbreaking Kickstarter project. The successful campaign, which raised more than $270,000 this past fall, proved there was a market for Maria’s designs, so she decided to build an e-commerce site to make them more widely available.

This was a fun and interesting project for us, both since we were excited to continue working with Maria, and because it was our first time using the e-commerce platform, Shopify.

Building an e-commerce site from scratch is a long and expensive process, so for retailers who want to get their stores up quickly and affordably, Shopify presents a good option. The platform offers online retailers a cost-effective, off-the-shelf solution which includes hosting, customizable templates, and software to manage backend processes like order fulfilment and shipping.

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October 24, 2013 - No Comments!

7 Tips for Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

kickstarter-badge-funded-m2057-2Last week we reached the end of a hard-fought race, filled with unforeseen obstacles and a couple of unexpected reroutes. But it was well worth it—when we reached the finish line, we’d beaten our goal and proved more than a few skeptics wrong. No, we didn’t run the Chicago marathon in record time, but we did help fashion designer Maria Pinto launch a new ready-to-wear collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, by raising more than $270,000 on Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that helps artists, technologists, designers, and anyone with an idea and a business plan bring creative projects to life. Since its launch in 2009, 5 million people have pledged $847 million, funding 50,000 creative projects.

Maria Pinto came to us with the idea to launch a 13-piece capsule collection of dresses, jackets, and accessories through Kickstarter. Out of the gate, we knew we were up against some interesting challenges with this particular campaign. Maria is an internationally recognized designer who gained renown for dressing stylish, dynamic women like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Brooke Shields. But after shuttering her high end store in 2010, Maria had been out of the designing game for a while, and the fashion industry can have the memory of a fruit fly.

Moreover, the Kickstarter audience skews heavily male and tech-savvy—not a natural overlap with Maria’s existing customer base or the fashion world. For the most part, potential M2057 customers didn’t know what Kickstarter was or had only heard of it in passing, and almost no one had used the platform previously. A huge part of our mission was to educate consumers about Kickstarter and how it works.

m2057kickstarterwidgetAnd lastly, this was one of the most ambitious fashion projects attempted on a crowdfunding platform. Maria wanted to raise $250,000, and she was offering seven dresses, two jackets, and four accessories in seven colors and five size options. By comparison, the average Kickstarter campaign goal is $5,000, and only 2% of successfully funded fashion projects have raised more than $100,000. We also got more than one skeptical headshake from people in the fashion industry who thought Maria was crazy for attempting to launch a new brand this way.

But Maria’s enthusiasm was infectious and we believed this was a viable, innovative way to bring a fashion collection to market. We were able to prove this concept, help Maria surpass her fundraising goal, and bring a new audience to Kickstarter along the way.

But it wasn’t easy. Here are seven things we learned that can help you get off to the right start.

7 Things You Should Know Before You Kickstart your Campaign

1) Set a strategic goal.

How much do you need to meet your business objectives? Don’t be arbitrary—do your homework first. And remember to take into account details like shipping if your project involves making and distributing a product—those expenses add up fast. Though campaigns can go for up to 60 days, Kickstarter recommends running yours for 30 days or less.

2) Offer relevant rewards.

Sometimes simple is best. Some campaigns offer dozens of rewards, and in doing so, over-commoditize the campaign and distract from the featured product itself. In our case, we thought a $75 original piece of artwork by Maria was a no-brainer: not only would this gift be relevant to a male audience, it would also allow even more people to participate in the campaign at a lower price point. But at the end of the day, it was the dresses and access to the designer herself that moved the needle. Nine people backed the campaign at high-end levels of $5,000 and $10,000, opting for rare opportunities like a day working with Maria in her studio or a custom-fit, one-of-a-kind design from her archive. What  kinds of unique experiences can your campaign offer? Thinking creatively about gifts that matter to your audience can lead to a big payout. As Kickstarter recommends, ask yourself if you'd buy your reward, and go from there.

3) Your video matters. A lot.

Your video is often the first interaction people will have with your campaign. Make it count. An effective video introduces you, demonstrates your experience and passion, and explains what makes your product unique. It doesn’t have to be expensively produced—you and your smartphone could suffice—but it should tell a good story and make people want to engage with you and your idea. Watch Maria's video below, and check out this compelling, authentic video for the Kangaroo Cup.

4) Shout your project from the rooftops.

Now is not the time for shyness. There are lots of campaigns vying for attention—how will you drive traffic to yours? You should have a 30-45 day plan of media outreach, events, and planned communications throughout the campaign. Tap everyone in your network and engage with both traditional and nontraditional media to broaden your reach—a write-up in an influential blog can be just as effective as a newspaper article. We sent email updates at least once a week (and often more) to our contacts, blasted messages on social media, and picked up the phone when we thought that could make a difference. We worked every media contact we had and tried to get Maria and her designs in front of as many people as possible.

5) Recognize what’s working, what isn’t, and adapt quickly.

Kickstarter campaigns move fast, and if you’re not making progress you need to be able to revise your strategy on the fly. Again, knowing who you’re trying to reach is key. We were fortunate that Maria had some good press contacts, but stories in the fashion media (not the natural Kickstarter audience) weren’t translating into pledges. We found the best way to attract backers was to get the dresses in front of women, so we staged a number of local events where women could see, feel, and try on our dress samples. We brought iPads and signed them up for Kickstarter accounts on the spot, and handed out cards with their favorite styles written on them and instructions on how to use Kickstarter. Kickstarter may be an online platform, but for our project, the human touch was crucial.

6) Cultivate your Kickstarter community. Get feedback.

Kickstarter offers a feature called “Updates” that sometimes goes overlooked. It’s like a blog for your Kickstarter project, and it’s an immensely valuable tool that keeps backers and potential backers up-to-date on your progress (or in some cases lack thereof). Updates bring your backers along on your journey: Keep talking and listen to the feedback they leave you in return. We got great feedback—and more pledges—when we started posting updates with photos and videos of Maria styling the clothes and showing off their unique features, like being machine washable and travel friendly. This gave people a greater appreciation for the collection’s value and added a personal touch of seeing Maria at work, in her element.

Plus, if you don’t make your goal, updates will still let you communicate with your backers, and you may yet be able to convert those early supporters into future customers.

7) Your backers are your best ambassadors.

Kickstarter is, above all, a community, and word-of-mouth has a huge impact on your success. The people who support your campaign make natural advertisers, because if you don’t reach your goal, they don’t get their product. We made a lot of sales at our local events, but it wouldn’t have been nearly enough had the women who attended not gone out afterward and told all their friends how much they loved M2057. Many women even volunteered to host their own events for their circles once they saw the collection. Send your backers emails and updates and give them concrete action items: “Forward to 3 friends,” “Share this link on Facebook and Twitter,” “Write a comment testimonial on Kickstarter,” etc. Empower them to be part of the community and the brand and to spread the word. Most likely, they’ll want to help.

"The Evolution of Fashion Show" featuring pieces from M2057 and Maria Pinto's archive collection.

"The Evolution of Fashion Show" featuring pieces from M2057 and Maria Pinto's archive collection.

So there you have it: Seven tips to help guide your Kickstarter. But remember that these are by no means rules—every Kickstarter is different and will have its own challenges and practices that work. Good luck on yours!

And if you missed the M2057 by Maria Pinto Kickstarter but are interested in the collection, don’t worry! An e-commerce site is on the way. Sign up here for updates to be alerted once it’s live.

September 25, 2013 - 1 comment.

5 Questions with Fashion Designer Maria Pinto

MP Headshot crop

We recently began working with renowned Chicago-based fashion designer Maria Pinto on launching her newest collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto. Maria came into the national spotlight several years ago for dressing Michelle Obama for several campaign events, including Election Night. Now she's become one of the first recognized designers to launch a fashion collection on the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. Here she talks about why she decided to do so, and her excitement about the confluence of fashion and technology.

What's unique about your new collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto?

This capsule collection of dresses, jackets, and wraps is all about fitting the needs of the modern woman. It's fashion that keeps up with you, that works for you, rather than the other way around. I'm taking the elements of my old collections, like high-end design, quality, and fabrics, but making them much more accessible. They're still beautiful, architectural clothes, but they're really versatile, machine washable, travel friendly, and they fit a variety of body types and sizes. All the pieces are easy to dress up or down, and could go perfectly from the the office to a cocktail party, and everything retails from $75-$250.

M2057 by Maria Pinto DressesHow can people order M2057?

You can pre-order the M2057 collection right now on Kickstarter, but only until October 14! In addition to the pieces themselves, we're offering some "behind-the-scenes" fashion experiences, where you can shadow me for a day or throw a fashion party at one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Sepia.

Why launch M2057 on Kickstarter?

I really was looking to try something new. Everyone's told me I'm crazy for trying to launch on Kickstarter, and maybe I am, but I think the traditional retail model is evolving, and I think this could be the future of fashion. I love these experiments with bringing technology into the fashion world. It's not just about trying to sell a product—with Kickstarter, I'm building a community that will forever be a part of the brand. All backers will be listed on my website as special contributors, and will get special access to previews of future collections and other exclusive content. It's a way to more directly connect with customers and find out what they really want and need—we'll only produce what gets ordered, which also eliminates a lot of overhead and waste.

Jesse Dress singleSo M2057 is about looking to the future?

Absolutely. Literally, in fact. 2057 is the year I turn 100! But that applies in other ways, too. Looking at the future means looking at the future woman, and she's not slowing down any time soon. She needs clothes that can work for a lot of  occasions, can go a lot of places, and can hold up all day and still look great. I used these wonderful fabrics that have a high-tech feel and really work for modern, wearable designs, while still feeling soft and luxurious on the body. But they're incredibly functional, too. Unique designs that are high quality, machine washable, easy to travel with, and very flattering, all at a great value—to me, that's the future of fashion. A good one, anyway.

What have been some of the challenges with launching on Kickstarter?

It's definitely not a traditional way to sell clothes, nor is it a typical Kickstarter campaign. For a lot of my customers or potential customers, they've never been to the site before, so educating them has been a big part of this, and stressing the urgency and that it's time sensitive. If we don't reach our goal by Oct 14, we don't go into production! So encouraging people to tell their friends, and share the links on Facebook and Twitter has been very important. But it's been gratifying to see that once people go to Kickstarter, they get it, and they're excited about it.

Connect with Maria and M2057 on Facebook and follow on Twitter (@mariapinto).

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September 24, 2013 - No Comments!

Tech + Fashion: How We’re Looking to the Future with M2057 by Maria Pinto

M2057 by Maria Pinto KickstarterFor the past few months, we've been working with internationally renowned fashion designer Maria Pinto to help her launch her new business and fashion collection on Kickstarter. This has been a real labor of passion for me personally. Maria is one of the smartest, most gracious and humble people I've ever met. She, like many entrepreneurs, has taken it on the chin professionally a couple of times over the years, and I'm working my hardest to help her get going again.

For those unfamiliar, Maria Pinto is well known in the fashion world for her work designing for Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities, and for her high-end, highly constructed clothes. We owe the whole cultural consciousness surrounding "Michelle Obama's arms" to Maria's decision to put Michelle in a sleeveless dress at several prominent occasions. These dresses retailed for over a thousand dollars, with some reaching truly stratospheric levels (see Page 10 of the Spring 2010 collection for a yellow chiffon dress that has to be seen to be believed).

M2057 by Maria Pinto Isabella Dress

All of the excitement of the 2008 Obama campaign inspired Maria to expand her operations and open a retail store. Business was great for a while, but the economic headwinds of that era took their toll on her customer base, and Maria closed her store and stopped producing new collections.

I met Maria through our mutual friend, Emmanuel Nony, the fantastic restaurateur behind Sepia and NoMi. He mentioned a “fashion designer friend” who was considering re-launching her business on Kickstarter, and I had to hear more (admittedly, I knew who this friend was, and was very excited about the possibility of helping her with the campaign).

When I met up with Maria, it was clear that instead of re-launching her ultra-high-end collection, she was planning to create a new brand called M2057, named for the year she will turn 100. The new line is stunning, but better reflects the times in which we live. M2057 takes the same principles of structure and design, but the pieces are much more accessible: high quality, high value (dresses are $250), and designed to fit most body types and sizes. These dresses are perfect for any busy woman on the go, be it for work or for pleasure. I happen to be married to such a woman, and she concurs!

Since then, we've been working very closely with Maria on this, consulting on the project and building the M2057 website, so I've had a chance to see and touch the samples. The fabrics of these dresses are incredibly beautiful and they don't wrinkle, are machine-washable, travel well, and can be styled in many ways. I've watched rooms of women at the events we've been having around town light up when they see the product in person—the dresses are really that great. They've also gotten a lot of positive press attention.

In order to get the new business and clothing line off the ground, we've turned to crowd-funding site Kickstarter. The only way to buy the clothes is to "pre-order" by becoming a backer to support the campaign. We'll only be able to launch this new line if $250,000 worth of product is pre-ordered by October 14. When the goal is met, we'll go into production of the dresses and we will follow up with all backers on size, style, and color choices. Product will be delivered to your door in/around March, well in time for the spring season.

M2057 by Maria Pinto Squares Wrap Sophia DressIt’s been a fascinating opportunity and challenge working on this campaign. Nobody has really cracked the nut of online retail for women’s apparel; the personal experience is so important when it comes to high quality fabric and design. Furthermore, to a bunch of techies, Kickstarter seems easy to use—you can create an account directly or just link it to your Facebook account. All payments are handled securely through Amazon. And you don’t pay unless the campaign closes. But to those unfamiliar with crowdfunding, it has proven quite daunting in various cases.

We’re right in the thick of the campaign now, with less than 20 days left to meet our goal. We are optimistic that we’ll get there, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. So, if you’re inclined to check out the video and maybe support the campaign, that would make my day. It’s not everyday you have a chance to buy something truly special for you or a loved one and support a fabulous independent entrepreneur in the process. We’ll look forward to sharing more stories from the trenches and lessons learned from Kickstarter in a subsequent post.

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September 23, 2013 - No Comments!

Tech Tip: Choosing the Right CMS for Your Project

craft-screenshotWhen it comes to building websites there are a couple indisputable facts. First, you'll be working with content. Second, you'll need to maintain that content, be it through edits, updates, or additions. If our content never needed to change, we'd be printing books.

Every good website has an area that only a handful of people ever see: the Content Management System. There are dozens of extremely mature, well developed, flexible Content Management Systems on the market, but the question of which CMS to use for your project is just as nuanced as the systems themselves.

When we recently built the M2057 Pages for Maria Pinto, we decided to use Craft. Why? In our initial conversations with Maria and her team, a handful of requirements stood out to me that mandated a certain type of CMS:

  • Speed - The timeline on this project was short. We needed a CMS that would give us the tools to build the site we wanted, while staying out of the way and letting us easily dictate the final output.
  • Simplicity - Maria Pinto was launching a brand new line of clothes. She had her hands full. When it came to the website we wanted a system that let her log in, write up her posts, and get right back out. The more straightforward the process, the better.
  • Flexibility - While the M2057 Pages are a blog, we wanted a system that was extremely flexible so that we could scale in the future.

Craft is a newer entrant into the lightweight CMS market, built by Pixel & Tonic. I've been familiar with the work that Pixel & Tonic has done in the past through their work developing modules for Expression Engine. What stuck out the most to me in their work was their UI and their attention to detail. When I first heard that they were building their own CMS, it instantly caught my radar.

Getting started with Craft was easy. We were extremely impressed with how quickly we could build functional pages. At Table XI we design our wireframes in the browser with HTML and CSS. Turning those static mockups into functional page templates is not much harder than a bit of well-placed copying and pasting. There were no complex php functions that needed to be written and looped through. There was no template overhead that needed to be put into place before we could start working with data. We simply swapped out the static content from our design mockups with simple template tags that grabbed what we needed, and the site was suddenly functional.

mphomepage

As a developer, this process worked great for me: I'm used to working in the browser all day. The true test of a CMS is how the project's content managers do when they are introduced to the system. What may seem obvious to me can fall apart at the fingers of someone less familiar the interface. If that happens, we failed. In fact, it's fair to say that poor user interfaces are a major shortcoming of many of the Content Management Systems on the market. Some strive for a one-size-fits-all solution that ultimately becomes a lowest common denominator system. Others simply try to do too much and overwhelm less technical users with options instead of clear directions. Craft doesn't suffer from any of these issues. As I mentioned before, the Craft developers pay great attention to the user interactions of the software they develop. The control panel is intuitive and inviting. It leads you to where you need to be to do your job. If you forget how to do something, it's not a problem as the software itself will guide you through the process.

Where M2057 is concerned, we knew we had a system we could get up quickly, and one that would be easy for Maria and her team to use once it was up. But what about the future? How would the site hold up as M2057 grew? Would we have to tear it all down and start over? Would we spend all our time building custom functionality for new features? How many hypotheticals could I fit into a paragraph of this blog post? Who knows, but I do feel confident with Craft.

craft-upgradeAs a lightweight system, it has a fairly simple set of functionality out of the box. The backend lets you determine the structure of your content, and then you can show that content in templates you build on the front end. Keeping the feature set small ensures that the system is fast and easy to use. However, they've built a system that easily supports the addition of new functionality through modules, most of which can be added directly through the control panel itself. This means that as the site grows, either through the addition of new types of content or functionality, Craft gives us a great foundation to build upon and ensures that our time is spent on getting the features right, rather than just getting them to work.

Craft is not right for every project. Be wary of anyone who tells you that a single system is ideal for everything. There are projects that require a custom Rails application and admin interface, while others are perfectly suited for WordPress. Perhaps Drupal gets you 99% of the way to getting your new site launched. In all of those cases, that's the right CMS for you. In the case of the M2057 Pages, Craft was right for us and the results speak for themselves.

September 4, 2013 - No Comments!

Fashion Meets Tech: Maria Pinto Partners with Table XI

Labor Day Weekend marks the end of summer. For some of us, it signals the time to put away the summer clothes and dig out the sweaters. But for the team at Table XI, this Labor Day marked a different kind of fashion milestone. Over the weekend we helped Chicago-based designer Maria Pinto launch her newest collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, offered exclusively for pre-order on Kickstarter. Maria is one of the first internationally known designers to launch a collection on the crowdfunding platform.

For anyone who follows Chicago fashion, Maria Pinto is a familiar name. With more than 20 years in the fashion industry, she’s dressed some of the world’s most stylish and influential women, including Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Brooke Shields. Her return to the fashion world has already started a buzz: This weekend the story was covered by The New York Times and Huffington Post.

It’s been an amazing opportunity to partner with Maria on such a pioneering campaign. We’ve had the chance to be involved from the initial brainstorming and strategy, through the video shoot (take a closer look and you’ll even spot our own Kat Achenbach!), to the launch.

M2057 on Kickstarter is a disruption of the fashion industry. It represents an innovative way to connect with customers, develop product in small iterations, and improve manufacturing efficiencies. The collection is something entirely new to the market, and is the result of years of customer feedback from women who couldn’t find high quality and high value in the same pieces.

Dress Jesse front

Anyone who talks to Maria can feel her excitement. “M2057 merges form and function with an urban flair, and includes seven dresses, two jackets and four accessories. The collection is designed to complement a wide range of body types and sizes. Each piece is made from high-quality Italian fabric that is machine washable and travel-friendly, and can be styled a number of ways,” Maria says.

M2057 Kickstarter backers will have the chance to pre-order garments from the line at levels ranging from $75-$250. At higher levels, backers can spend a day with Ms. Pinto in her studio, or host a party with her for 50 friends at Chicago’s Sepia (a restaurant, coincidentally, that sits right below the old Table XI office, and one of our longtime favorites). All Kickstarter backers will receive a signed thank you note from Maria, be listed as special contributors to the M2057 collection, and be granted special access to online previews of future collections.

We look forward to what’s next.  Follow along with the campaign’s progress at M2057.com, and please share the campaign with your friends, family, and coworkers. We think they’ll like it.

Follow Maria on Twitter at @mariapinto and and like her on Facebook: MariaPinto.

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