Zoe & Josh Schumm4 All Humanity
She is young, only 25, but incredibly talented.
Zoe Schumm is a past winner of the prestigious Little Black Dress Designer contest and was recently awarded the 2013 Eco Excellence Award for the Best Fashion for Mom, beating out established designers from New York and Los Angeles.
Together with her business partner and husband, Josh Schumm, they own 4 All Humanity, a Topeka-based small business that is on the verge of big things.
HOW DID YOU MEET?
ZOE: We met while working for GTM Sportswear in Manhattan, KS. I was a product developer, responsible for the technical and creative design of their uniform apparel. Josh was responsible for inventory and supply chain management. It took a while for us to like each other (smiles).
YOU DESIGNED THE UNIFORMS AND JOSH PROCURED THEM, AND YOU DIDN’T LIKE EACH OTHER AT FIRST?
ZOE: (still smiling) No, he thought I was crazy and I thought he was weird. Probably because I’m really good at spending money on developing products and Josh is really good at figuring out how to make money.
We did have a change of heart towards each other and we started dating and then before we knew it, we were engaged.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
ZOE: 2012 was a big year. We got married, and Josh left GTM for an opportunity here in Topeka. I had been designing and making bridal wear on the side. In researching whether I was going to continue with the bridal business full time, the subject of fair trade kept coming up. I knew if we were going to start a business in this industry, I wanted something that was going to distinguish ourselves. The more we looked into it, the more we realized that marrying design and fair trade was the idea.
JOSH: At the time, there were not many apparel-related job options for Zoe. We asked the question, is this the time that we strike out and try our own business or do we wait 10 years until we know more? We made a calculated swing for the fence and decided to take the risk.
YOU CASHED OUT YOUR 401K?
JOSH: Yes, but we knew that if we didn’t do it, we may never get the chance again. I know Zoe’s talent; she has won both national and regional awards for her designs.
ZOE: I had saved some money from work and the gowns I had made, but it didn’t go far. For fair trade garments you have to front half of the money for orders and are obligated to pay the remaining 50 percent on delivery. You take all the risk.
YOU BOTH SEEM TO COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER WELL.
ZOE: For our company, I do the design work, make the tech pack, talk to the factories and send what is needed. Josh is responsible for the financial aspect of the business.
JOSH: I have a costing and sourcing background. It’s useful. For example, I know how much a zipper should cost, not just the material, but also the labor.
THAT SEEMS TOO PERFECT, ALMOST ENTREPRENEURIAL SYNCHRONICITY. WAS IT PLANNED THAT WAY?
JOSH: It was an arranged marriage (laughs).
TELL ME ABOUT 4 ALL HUMANITY.
JOSH: 4 All Humanity is a fair trade and eco-friendly online and wholesale women’s clothing apparel and accessories store. We work with cooperative suppliers that are focused on empowering their workers, mostly women, by providing a livable wage.
ZOE: We have relationships with cooperatives in India, Uganda, Peru, and Thailand.
JOSH: Fair trade isn’t a new idea, but what you tend to see when visiting a fair trade retailer or show are generally giftable items made by artisans with not much marketing focus beyond the fair trade label.
ZOE: You do have some fashion designers now venturing into fair trade but the result is typically high-end and priced outside the mainstream market.
JOSH: Our purpose is driven by fair pricing and selling as many units as we can so that people are helped more and more. We intend to be the go to brand for women’s fair trade apparel and accessories in the U.S.
ZOE: We are also eco-friendly, offering organic cottons and locally sourced materials as much as we can. For example, we have designer handbags that are made from vintage fabric, using actual Thailand tribal dresses.
ARE ALL THE CLOTHING THAT 4 ALL HUMANITY SELLS YOUR OWN PROPRIETARY DESIGNS?
ZOE: I am still honestly finding my look. It is a process that every designer goes through. I am always aiming for clothes that any female would be comfortable wearing. You will see designers doing “ultra-sexy”; some are very “mod” and some focused on “boho chic.” I try to take aspects of each and blend them together, finding the juxtaposition that works. You will see in our Fall 2014 line a contrast of androgyny and ultra feminine.
DID YOU WRITE A BUSINESS PLAN?
JOSH: We did write a formal business plan before starting. The weakest section was the marketing, and that is the area that we are most actively focused on improving. If you can’t take the time to write a business plan before starting, you are probably never going to find the time to do it. It wasn’t fun or easy. Zoe wanted to just get started but I knew the business plan was an important part of the calculated risk.
WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT, MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE OR MAKING A PROFIT?
JOSH: 4 All Humanity is a for-profit business by intention because we think a profit model is more sustainable. It is great to have a good cause, but the business needs to work for more reasons than just the cause.
ZOE: It is a balancing act. If you go too extreme on either end, you are doing more harm than good.
YOU KNOW THE NAMES AND FAMILIES OF THE WORKERS THAT MAKE YOUR PRODUCTS. YOU ARE HELPING TO INCREASE THEIR WAGES UP TO THREE TIMES, WHICH MUST BE EXTREMELY SATISFYING.
ZOE: Without question, changing lives is the most important thing we do. It is much more important than the awards or anything else.
JOSH: With the T-shirts for Education Project, our customers have helped send 50 orphans in Haiti to school. That has been a great project, really rewarding.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE PEOPLE THAT YOU ARE HELPING AND YOU WANT TO CONTINUE HELPING, DO YOU FEEL EXTRA PRESSURE?
JOSH: We have only been in business for a year but have already seen other fair trade companies come and go by making bad business decisions that have been too risky. We have to be careful that we make good decisions. If we fail we don’t just fail ourselves, we fail hundreds of individuals at our cooperatives.
WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO GET 4 ALL HUMANITY TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
JOSH: We need to improve our supply so that we can show our designs to boutiques when they are buying, which is typically six months before the season. That is one of our challenges, training the suppliers how the industry works.
ZOE: We need to improve the consistency of our brand across all of our outlets and communicating a really strong story about who we are.
HEART OF THE ENTREPRENEUR LESSONS LEARNED
Project cash flow for your business even when the picture isn’t pretty. Doing so has helped Josh and Zoe plan for non-peak sales months, a financial reality for their retail-based clothing business.
As business partners (and spouses), Josh and Zoe have disagreements on the direction of their business. They approach it as dispassionately as they can and try to be objective. Josh recommends a scale of 1 to 10. How strongly do you feel about your opinion? If your partner feels stronger about their position than you do, then reconsider. Zoe recommends giving a day or two before making a final decision. Sometimes the passion ebbs.
Josh shares, “It is always going to rain, if you systemize the mowing, you’ll stay out of the weeds.” He is working on developing systems and standard positions for his business. As the business scales up, Josh and Zoe will need to be able to move away from the tactical work.