Downtown Phoenix-based children’s wear designer Tiffe Fermaint and her clothing company, Baby Teith, recently joined in the crowdfunding fashion craze, garnering more than $10,000 in support after a month-long online campaign.
Fermaint began designing clothing on a sewing machine she received as a present for her 15th birthday. Over the years, she went from styling magazine shoots to creating sold-out, unique collections for Buffalo Exchange under her own line.
But when she became a mom two years ago, everything changed. With the birth of her daughter, Violet, with fiancé Keith Walker, came the birth of a new design plan — and target audience. Fermaint began creating for the baby and kids set, developing a line of leggings, onesies and accessories that challenged the blue-and-pink choices of kidswear and offered an alternative.
The response, and company, quickly grew. Baby Teith’s Etsy retail store was selling out as fast as Fermaint could sew. The success of the business, and the constant care of a newborn, prompted her to turn to a life of stay-at-home parenting and designing — one that, so far, seems beneficial to both.
(Last year, Phoenix New Times crowned Fermaint's Baby Teith The Valley's "Best Kid's Clothing." The year before that the designer was named "Best Fashion Designer.")
Now, much like Violet, Baby Teith is entering its toddler years. With that come new challenges and opportunities: trade shows, sold-out lines, and celebrity requests.
“I think about bigger sizes as [Violet] grows, as well as the functionality of our clothing for different age sets,” Fermaint says. “I approach fashion design in a more practical way now while still maintaining my futuristic style.”
She hand-makes each item out of the apartment she shares with Walker and their daughter off the Roosevelt District. It’s a meticulous and detailed process, one that uses organic cotton and eco-friendly materials. The use of these materials is part of what Fermaint sees as a bigger movement across the fashion spectrum, what she calls a “big shift in consciousness” about what we buy and where it comes from.
“Social responsibility is becoming more of a priority. Sweatshops can become something of the past, and the future generations will be the ones to end them,” she says. “I think people get that. So, [I believe] the positive response has to do with our items being in line with our customer's values as well as their aesthetics.”
It’s an awareness-driven change that’s going hand in hand with a surge in online, crowd-funded projects. Through online sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, consumers are able to directly influence who has the ability to create a business and increase awareness of what they’re buying and from whom. Choosing what companies and projects to fund is a new reach for customers — and arguably an even bigger opportunity for businesses to connect with them directly.
“I do think there are more fashion projects on crowdfunding sites now than ever before. This is allowing innovative projects to invite people to invest and become a part of their success,” Fermaint says. “I love to discover new designers and labels this way, and I think a lot of other people do too. I hope that crowdfunding can also be an option to new designers who want to grow their business in an exciting, socially engaged way — locally or otherwise.”
With big expenses coming up and the company’s popularity steadily growing, the 30-year-old designer decided to give crowdfunding a shot.
The choice to settle on Kickstarter as a platform was tricky: the site’s all-or-nothing approach to funding means that being a few dollars short on the last day completely voids all of the money raised. Though risky, Fermaint and Walker welcomed the challenge — and the public relations opportunity.
“The all-or-nothing factor . . . ensured us that we would not become content during the campaign,” Fermaint says. “We worked hard every day to the get the word out, to make sure backers were receiving value for their pledge, and also creative ways to spread our message.
“The experience was a rollercoaster of highs and lows,” she continues. “Thankfully, our friend Heather Birt partnered with us and was a huge help along the way. It helps to have as many people on your team as possible. We are still very moved by the amount of support we received from those who backed and shared our project.”
Like many crowdfunding campaigns, Baby Teith saw the biggest swells in support at the campaign’s inception in early May and again at the end during the first week of June, which correlated with increased media exposure and an article on The Huffington Post.
“I think a lot of people wanted to help push us over the finish line when they saw how close we were to the goal,” Fermaint says. “We tried to stay positive throughout the campaign. We knew in our hearts that we would meet our goal, and even if we didn't, the support given to us from those around us was valued just as much to us as the financial goal.”
The company raised $10,744 through 164 unique online pledges. Donations ranged from $5 to $1,000, with the most popular package incentive being the $5 thank-you (with 11 backers) and $52 reward backers. The seven people who pledged the latter amount will receive three pairs of Baby Teith’s organic cotton baby leggings — arguably their most recognizable item. (Three pairs of leggings retail at $87 otherwise.)
The funds will first be used to pay for the costs of the Kickstarter campaign and those associated with them, like photography production and the costs of making the clothing and thank-you postcards for those who offered money. From there, the company will pay off the costs to attend the Magic: Playground trade show in Las Vegas and take the remaining funds to produce more inventory — which has been flying off the virtual shelves.
“Our most popular rewards were the reversible slouchy beanie and hooded scarf both in sizes for babies, kids, and adults,” Fermaint says. “This wasn't as surprising, as the beanie is one of our top sellers.”
As for Fermaint’s favorite design?
“I really love our organic cotton body suits. These [and] our leggings are our staple items [that] come in a large array of prints. We try to be innovative with our prints by drawing inspirations outside of kids wear. Our hologram, VHS glitch and monsoon prints are my favorite, [though] our most popular designs are the nebula, moon and crystal print organic cotton leggings.”
As of yet, the company produces solely for babies and young children, though they hope to expand to adult sizes of their designs in the future.
And while she’s dressing her daughter and her friends instead of adults, Baby Teith is also being worn on a new set: the children of celebrities. The clothing is being sold in boutiques and as silent-auction items at star-studded events like An Evening With Women, which was recently held at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The line is becoming so recognizable that Fermaint is fielding calls from stars themselves.
“We are sending Jaime King a big gift package for her son and baby on the way,” Fermaint says. “She’s a fan of the line, and I spoke to her over the weekend! So that’s exciting!”
King is well known for her high-profile shoots in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and roles in 2001’s Pearl Harbor and the cult favorite Sin City. She has a son with “Fanboys” director Kyle Newman. The couple is expecting their second child later this year. (Taylor Swift will reportedly be godmother to King’s baby.)
All the exposure isn’t going to Fermaint’s head, she says, nor is it slowing down her family. Baby Teith is still designing new collections, keeping up with orders and preparing for a big-name trade show at the end of the summer.
The company — mom, dad, and Violet — will be attending Magic: Playground, a twice-yearly fashion event held in Las Vegas. The juried trade show offers insight into what’s next for modern toddler and contemporary kiddie clothes. Baby Teith will be joined by brands like Miss Behave, Puma Kids Apparel, and Ralph Lauren Childrenswear from Monday, August 17, to Wednesday, August 19, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“We have big goals and dreams but are trying to focus on the present. Magic has a lot of our attention right now, along with building inventory to create an even better experience for our customers,” Fermaint says. “We will see where this ride takes us!”