Student Entrepreneur Series: Georgia Grace Edwards
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you are now!
I’m from the Appalachian Mountains of Western Maryland, went to school between the Green Mountains and the Adirondack Mountains at Middlebury College, and now I’m living in the Rocky Mountains in Gunnison, Colorado. We recently completed the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator, and I haven’t left!
GG at the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska.
That’s awesome! Why don’t you give us some insight into your business?
The summer before my junior year of college I was working eight to ten hours a day as a glacier guide on the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. In comparison to the male guides, who could turn around, unzip, and go to the bathroom whenever and wherever – I found myself having to trek across the glacier to completely remove three to four layers of clothes in freezing temperatures just to do my thing! It was a huge waste of time and energy, and it often left me feeling cold for hours after. It got to the point where I started dehydrating myself and I thought “there has got to be a better way to do this!” I sat on the idea of creating a pair of pants that had an opening better suited for the female anatomy for a while. Eventually, I was able to build out the idea through Middlebury Entrepreneurs, which Sam & Dave teach! I spent that winter break prototyping sweatpants, snow bibs, and cross country ski pants with all different closure mechanisms. We ultimately landed on a zipper, and that’s what I ended up presenting in class! Over the course of those four weeks, we did a few pitch competitions and were able to get some initial funding to buy a URL and raw materials, cover initial legal fees, and pay local seamstresses. After I graduated, I stayed in Burlington and worked out of VCET, where we filed as an LLC. Since then, I’ve made SheFly my full-time job, as has my Co-Founder, Charlotte Massey!
Creating the first pair of Shefly’s and trying on a pair in a Middlebury dorm room!
I wonder why this hasn’t been thought of before!
That’s the most common response we get! While we definitely aren’t the first people to think of this (shoutout to Vermonters Wendy Butler of Trailfeathers and Carolyn Cooke of Isis Women’s Clothing for providing mentorship in our early stages based on similar ideas), we are the first to succeed at this scale. I think widely recognized solutions to this problem have been slow to arise because we as women in society have become so accustomed to being uncomfortable that we don’t even question it anymore. We get so many comments from women talking about how they’ve tried DIY versions of the pants we’re making. If you think about it, pants were originally designed for men and they haven’t been properly adapted since. The women’s pant industry is still very young; up until the 70s, women were still required to wear dresses and skirts on the Senate floor. That wasn’t too long ago, so it’s not surprising that no one has taken this to the next level yet!
Ice climbing in prototypes.
What was it like being a student and managing SheFly Apparel?
I’ve never really known what I wanted to do – I was probably the last person in my class to declare a major! I ended up doing International Politics and Economics with a minor in Global Health because it felt like I got to do a little bit of everything. I loved my liberal arts education and will always cherish it, but there were definitely times where I craved direct applicability for all the skills and ways of thinking I was learning. The Middlebury Entrepreneurs class was one of my favorites for that reason – I got to take the idea in my head and make it a tangible reality that I could show other people and have them wear. I never saw myself being an entrepreneur, but now it’s hard to imagine doing anything else! It’s been very rewarding; instead of just talking about issues, I feel like I’m doing something about them.
SheFly in 2019.
What pushed you to take the Middlebury Entrepreneurs class?
Bianca Gonzalez, one of our other Co-Founders, was one of the first people I shared my idea with and she really encouraged me to take the class! I also did the MiddCORE program following my sophomore year, which was really helpful in realizing how you can apply a problem-solving mindset to other disciplines and areas. I figured my senior year was my last chance to explore that further; in other words, if I ever wanted to see where this idea could go, that was my time to do it. I didn’t feel like it was something I could do on my own, or carve out time for once I had a full-time job. I had a lot of positive peer pressure from people in my life to apply for the class and my favorite thing about Middlebury was taking courses that I felt weren’t available anywhere else!
Co-founder Bianca Gonzales on left, GG center, co-founder Charlotte right, at Peak Pitch.
What do you find to still be some of your biggest challenges?
Funding has continuously been one of the biggest struggles. Women entrepreneurs are less likely to receive funds in general, and being a company and product that heavily relies on intellectual property – we have spent enormous amounts of money on obtaining trademarks, patents, and legal work! It has all paid off though; we would not have been qualified to testify before the US Senate on the topic had we not invested in that upfront. The same goes for our legal council in Vermont, they’ve been extremely helpful! But, when you don’t have thousands of dollars in revenue and are spending a lot of money on legal fees, you can find yourself in a pretty tricky predicament. We have also chosen to bootstrap for a long time; up until this year we operated entirely off of pitch competition wins, personal founder’s bank accounts, a small Dorm Room Fund investment, and an iFundWomen Startup Funding campaign that we did back in 2019. The other main challenge is being an apparel company. It is such a complex world with many time-consuming layers that the average person knows nothing about. It’s only gotten worse with Covid-19…delays are skyrocketing, prices are going through the roof, and cash flow can be get very tied up in inventory! Lastly, being young student entrepreneurs was hard at first because we didn’t have all the appropriate networks.
GG working at VCET and with a pair of altered zipper snow pants.
Was there difficulty balancing school, a business, and social life?
What I struggled with the most was imposter syndrome! I felt like I wasn’t following a traditional pathway. We’re all fed the “Steve Jobs narrative” of entrepreneurship: dropping out of college, building something out of your parent’s basement – and suddenly you’re a millionaire overnight! Those stories get told and reiterated so many times because they’re huge and successful, but they’re outliers. And most importantly, that’s not the only way to do entrepreneurship. We’ve taken a more gradual and sustainable growth approach because it was important for us to complete our education and to enter the workforce in something other than our start-up — to be professionally and financially independent. The challenging part about balancing all of it is that people are always going to tell you what they think is right based on their experience. But the reality of it is that no one can make those decisions for you. When the time is right, you have to figure out what’s important to prioritize. It’s a learning curve but no one else can teach you that – it’s all trial and error!
SheFly patented zipper in action.
Last but not least, do you have an ask for the VCET community?
Check out our website and our Instagram! We’ve been without inventory for about a year and a half due to the pandemic and all of the supply chain issues, so the biggest metric that’s helpful to us right now in getting investment is our waitlist. You can sign up for it on our website and it’s well over 6,000 people, which is crazy, but it’s how we justify to potential investors and manufacturing partners that there is demand for our product. Lastly, if there’s anyone who has connections in the outdoor industry or women-focused brands, we would love to hear from you!
GG and her co-founder Charlotte (on left).
Editor’s note: Since this interview has taken place SheFly Apparel has been chosen as a Diamond Award Winner in the MassChallenge Accelerator! The Diamond Award is the highest offered and comes with a $100,000 equity-free cash prize. Congratulations to GG and Team SheFly!
Published and edited by VCET Marketing Associate Nicole Mattos-Parodi.