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PopCulturez Movemakers: Renee Williams – Supporting American Craft with ‘Endangered Cultures’

great mushrooms2PopCulturez.Com: Welcome to PopCulturez, can you start by telling us a little bit about ‘Endangered Cultures,’ what’s the science behind the name, and what is it you do?

 

 

If you think about it “handmade” is endangered by modernism, technology and mass production. Individual sewing crafters in America are endangered by the closing of our textile mills and outsourcing production overseas. What a country makes reflects its culture. 

 

I have discovered unemployed and underemployed skilled sewing crafters around our country that find joy in this work. They take pleasure in creating like any other artist. They want to work. They want to create. Through Endangered Cultures they have the opportunity to raise awareness and appreciation of “handmade in America” to a new and broader audience. They get to do work they love in new ways creating dress shirts and sleeves for laptops and tablets.

 

The idea of preserving and sharing cultural creativity is also reflected in our fabric selections – a number are from developing countries.

 

We hand make in the USA, 1 by 1 bespoke and limited production dress shirts and padded laptop and tablet sleeves.

 

 

 

 

PopCulturez.Com: Given your qualifications as a graduate of Fisk University with an M.A. in Economics from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and an MBA in Finance from New York University Stern School, plus your background in marketing and business, it seems strange to find you heading up a clothing company. How did that come about, and why the move into crafts?

 

I love business and marketing. And I think my professional accomplishments have a lot to do with my ability to be creative, even in solving business problems. My move to start Endangered Cultures allows me to be even more creative – in everything from marketing to design and fabric selection.

 

I have to give my son credit for the seed that became Endangered Cultures.  He’s always made his own personal style statement. He’d make observations about the limitations of fabric, print and color for boys’ and men’s clothing. 

 

He was pointing out a need- a niche that wasn’t filled. He didn’t realize it, but I did. That stayed with me.  My mom was a sewer. I have always sewn and designed for myself.  I started out adding colorful African prints to his jeans. His friends took notice. He asked me to make him a shirt. He picked the fabric. It was a print you really wouldn’t see as a men’s shirt.  Everywhere he wore it he was asked about it.

 

 It was like it resonated with other guys wanting their clothes to be an expression of themselves too. It reinforced that there was a market niche to be filled. Before I knew it, I was making shirts for his friends, and I couldn’t keep up. I placed an ad on craigslist for sewers and discovered another niche that needed to be filled — providing fulfilling work for unemployed skilled sewers in their craft.

 

Connecting with these talented American sewers WANTING to work and express their creativity made it all click.

 

And I have network of professional women friends who are involved in an organization called Count Me In. It’s a national organization focused on nurturing and mentoring women business owners. These are talented and dynamic women stepping away from the corporate world and redefining themselves as entrepreneurs.

 

Count Me In actively reaches out to women around the country through a program called Urban Rebound to provide coaching, support, and a dynamic network of successful women business owners.

 

I attended some meetings and workshops as an observer. I talked about what I was experiencing with my handmade shirts and digital cases. They were all encouraging me to “go for it.”  In June, I pitched Endangered Cultures in their L.A. pitch competition and successfully made it through the first round to potentially receive pro-bono business consulting to help me grow the company. Any day now I’ll learn whether Endangered Cultures has been accepted in their Business Accelerator Program.

 

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PopCulturez.Com: As you mentioned, you tried out some of your early designs on your son and friends, how surprised were you when he started giving you positive feedback from people he had met? Was this what pushed you into putting ‘Endangered Cultures’ together?

 

 

As I kept making more shirts for my son and his friends they were a test market. I pulled out fabrics I had collected in my travels and sought out whimsical prints. 

 

One friend came back from a party and said people were trying to buy our shirt off his back plus give him the one they were wearing. Another said he walked in on his dad in his Endangered Cultures shirt looking in the mirror. He said his dad told him, “No I can’t wear it to work but I’d definitely wear it on the weekend.” My son said, “When I wear the shirts guys try to give me their measurements and place orders. His best friend simply told me, “You have to put up a website.”

 

It was surprising and reinforcement at the same time.

 

 

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PopCulturez.Com:  Who are your target market for the company, and with so much competition around these days, what do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?

 

 

The core market is men 20 – 40. But you know they say, “50 is the new 30,” so it is really all about attitude.

 

They tend to be socially conscious. It is important to them that our products are creating jobs in America. They are independent thinkers, trend-setters not followers. They like making their own personal statement. They get a kick knowing they are not going to seem like clones seeing a lot of guys in the same shirt. They are technology early adopters and generally ahead of the curve in social media.  And women are buying for themselves and as “boyfriend shirts.”

 

Our audience loves having options other than stripes, plaids and solids. We bring them whimsical, fanciful prints – everything from French Fries, Christmas Cats and vibrant fabrics from developing countries to American Indian themes.

 

Our shirts are fun to make and fun to wear.  If you don’t want to be noticed – if you don’t want to have a conversation about your shirt or laptop case our products are probably not for you. We use limited production fabrics. Our shirts and digital sleeves are made in limited number. When a print is gone it’s gone. You are not going to find racks of our shirts.

 

Our shirts are individually handmade 1 by 1 by American sewers that understand our audience’s expectation of quality – not factory produced. We are creating jobs at home.  That matters a great deal. I keep an eye on products out there and one of my first questions is always “Where was it made?” If the answer is China I know that is not for our target audience. And our fabric sourcing and selection process is very focused and collaborative. It is literally taking the time to find that needle in the haystack.  I really don’t want to go into that much, as it is an advantage.

 

 

PopCulturez.Com:  While ‘Endangered Cultures’ has a homegrown focus, with the championing of  the “endangered” traditions of American sewing crafters, you are a well-traveled person, having visited Africa, Europe, and the Carribean, among other places. How do you think your travels have changed you, and what would you say to those who have never left the United States?

 

Definitely travel changes you. You not only experience how others see America, you experience music, food, culture and fashion that you had no idea even existed.

 

It changes everything from what you order when you go out to eat, to music you listen to, and your sense of style. If you are a musician I guarantee it affects what you create and the same with fashion.

 

To anyone that hasn’t been outside the United States, I’d say you are limiting your growth. If you are a curious person you are compelled to travel. 

 

The difference in my son’s appreciation of Roman history was after we went to Italy and he stood in Pompeii and the Coliseum. When someone in class asked the teacher about the size of the Coliseum my son corrected the teacher. She reprimanded him. I had to meet with her and explain he had stood in it—she was one of those people that hadn’t been outside the U.S. That to me is a perfect example of not leaving the country and assuming you know the world.

 

 

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PopCulturez.Com: If there was just one message or lesson that you could leave for future generations, what would it be?

 

It is a phrase you will find on the Endangered Cultures’ website and in our messages. That is that we are all connected. It is important to understand that whether it is across the globe, the homeless person with the sign standing by the freeway, or an unemployed sewing crafter, what we do or don’t do about it affects us all.  It can be the attitude or regret that we have for a moment.  If you do nothing then the child watching you, or person next to you or behind you is likely to do nothing. Or you can give back and take action, which will create a ripple effect leading others to do the same.

 

 

 

PopCulturez.Com: Finally, where can people catch you, and get hold of your merchandise?

 

You can find us at www.endangeredcultures.com, on Facebook, Tumblr, Etsy, Pinterest and Big Cartel. You can chat us up on Twitter; @endangeredcltrs and follow us on Instagram.

 

 

 

PopCulturez.Com: Thanks for your time, but before we go, is there anything more that you would like to add?

 

I’m addicted your website. I really enjoy it. When I’m on Popculturez.com I can lose track of time. For all those that feel the same  they can go to our site and enter an exclusive promo code for Poculturez fans “POP25” and get $25.00 off a purchase of $100 or more.

One Comment

  1. It’s just like Renee Williams to spark a venture such as Endangered Cultures. She is smart and innovative. I find encouragement in her refreshing perspective on being creative in business. This concept is a winner!

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  1. Endangered Cultures Shirts Run Wild in Pasadena 2013 | FEATURED | Hometown Pasadena | - […] Renee Williams is the creator of these wild and crazy shirts. She just found out that her Pasadena-based Endangered …

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