The Story of Our Earliest Days
This blog post was originally a testimonial we wrote for our warehouse/fulfillment partner team Atomix.
Brand Origin Story
Alex, 23, and Tianshi, 29, are the cofounders of Shiny by Nature. They met each other in 2017 and got married in the summer of 2020.
While Alex majored in engineering in college, she has always been passionate about fashion. Growing up in a small town in Texas, wearing colorful and expressive clothes was often something to be frowned upon, especially for someone with a curvier body shape.
In early 2021, she started making a more dedicated effort in creating fashion-related content on social media, and growing her audience online. At that time, she had less than 3000 followers on Instagram and almost zero on Tiktok. Nevertheless, she felt a strong calling. Shortly after the start of the spring semester, she quit grad school to fully focus on creating digital content.
I (Tianshi) came to the US in 2014 to pursue my dream of becoming a great rapper, musician, and hip hop producer. I majored in philosophy and art history in college, and dedicated all of my free time to making music.
By early 2021, I had created 72 full-length albums with a total runtime of over 3 days. However, I felt my music was far too unique for me to fit in today’s music industry and get a record deal. Over the spring and summer of 2021, I created, designed, and officially released my debut album “Not My Fault” entirely on my own, which turned out to be a commercial failure. As a result, I became disillusioned about the prospect of turning my art into a business and making a real impact in the world.
However, during the experience of making my own album (and a story book), I learned a lot about how to create a product and sell it. It’s actually nothing mysterious: you come up with a design, go find a manufacturer, receive and store the supplies, and find a market for your product. A lightbulb went on: why not combine my recent experience in entrepreneurship with Alex’s passion for fashion, and start a clothing brand? While it’s hard to find a market for art, people need clothes.
As a plus-size girl, Alex has always struggled to find colorful and fun clothes in her size. It’s simply something missing in the fashion market. Large corporations refuse to make their products available to people with larger and curvier bodies. In the case where a clothing brand offers anything above XL, it’s often in black or gray.
Alex learned to sew a few pieces of clothing and accessories in 2019, but she was never professionally trained in fashion design. Nevertheless, she felt tempted to give it a try as she had many design ideas. The only thing missing was a name for the brand.
One day, when I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, a name came to my mind. “What about Shiny by Nature?” It was inspired by the old-school hip hop group Naughty by Nature.
Goals & Early Milestones
We didn’t have a goal at the beginning. I released my debut album on August 4. Within a week, I quickly realized it was not working. After putting 2000 copies of albums and books into a storage unit, we immediately started working on the first product of the new clothing brand. We came up with a logo (with the help of a professional designer), made a website, finished the product design, found an ideal manufacturing partner, received the product samples, and took the product photos all within a month. On September 25, Shiny by Nature was launched.
Unlike many other startups who struggled to find their initial customers, we got 50 orders on the first day. We also already had 1000 followers on Instagram by the time of launch. While this was partly thanks to Alex’s rapidly growing and loyal online audience base, we also felt that there was a market eager for what we could come up with.
Within less than 6 months, we have created and launched a full line of products, a few of which have been sold out. People are in love with our products, many of whom have reached out to us saying our products were what they had been looking for for years.
This kind of reaction from customers motivates us to dream bigger. Instead of focusing on marketing, we believe the sole key to our success is relentlessly iterating on our products and creating extremely unique products of the highest quality which simply do not exist anywhere else in the world. Instead of trying to market ourselves as a cool new brand, we let our products speak for themselves.
We believe we are onto something much bigger than just a clothing brand. We wrote in our mission statement:
“Aside from the negative environmental impacts of fast fashion, there may be an even greater loss, which is the intimate and meaningful relationship between what we wear and who we are. When virtually every piece of clothing in our closets is replaceable and disposable, we no longer put much meaning into what we wear. The clothing items that we own are no longer friends, but merely strangers. In return, they are no longer capable of telling our stories.
When this kind of disconnection spreads to all aspects of our lives, our culture becomes utterly empty. When the whole emphasis of society is on what we own, instead of the meaning we put into what we own, we are utterly lost, no matter how ‘prosperous’ we seem to be.”
We dream to make a difference in the world and help steer the fashion industry towards a more sustainable, fun, and inclusive direction. Meanwhile, we wish the positivity and boldness of Shiny by Nature could inspire more people, especially the younger generation, to pursue their dreams and help make our future exciting.
Shipping & Fulfillment
We basically had zero experience in shipping and fulfillment, except a small bunch of packages that we shipped out for my debut album. This ignorance emboldened us to do everything ourselves. We rented two nice offices in Brooklyn as our warehouse and photography studio, without knowing how physically and mentally demanding warehousing could be.
Another reason was that we thought we had no other choice. In preparation for the launch of my debut album, we got in touch with a bunch of 3PL companies out there, and we were convinced that 3PL companies that were willing to work with small startups like ours simply did not exist.
If we had known about Atomix at the beginning, we would have chosen to work with them without a second thought. In fact, when we found out about Atomix during the Christmas/New Year break, I was thinking to myself: how foolish we were packing and shipping orders ourselves the whole time? If we had worked with Atomix from the very beginning, we would have saved a ton of money spent on rent, our inventories would have been professionally managed from the very beginning, and we would have had much more time working on other things.
Indeed, our offices were part of a coworking community, and all of the people there were white-collar workers doing traditional office jobs. Every time we walked into the building, laid out our packaging materials, and started doing our thing, we could sense everyone around us was at least mildly amused. Especially when a huge batch of inventories arrived and dozens of big packages piled up in the lobby area, it must have been quite a scene.
One night, after a long day of exhausting “blue-collar” work, we were ready to go home. A guy in his 50s walked into our office and marveled at our operation. He turned out to be the CEO of the coworking company, and the company’s headquarter turned out to be a few humble-looking offices right next to ours. He introduced himself and made a few friendly comments, before saying goodnight. While we were having a lot of fun doing our thing at the office, we suddenly had a feeling that this was probably not a great long-term solution.
Honestly, I still do not have a clear answer to whether doing shipping/warehousing all by ourselves at the beginning was the dumbest decision ever or a genius idea. In the back of my mind, I am kind of grateful for the blissful ignorance that we had. Thanks to that, we went down the harder path, and did a lot of things we never imagined ourselves capable of doing. We made ourselves look like idiots, but through the experience, we became more and more committed to what we are doing. Indeed, to founders who are truly passionate about their mission, nothing can be more satisfying than putting your own products into a poly mailer or a box, sealing it, putting a shipping label on it, and dropping it off at a UPS store. There was a magical feeling. That feeling makes you want to believe you can actually change the world.
There was also a more tangible benefit. Because we did the hard work ourselves, we will never take it for granted when someone else takes care of it for us. And I believe this makes us a more understanding and better partner and client.
At the end of the day, was it worth it? Was it not? I still have no idea. I kind of feel nostalgic about this earliest stage of our journey. One thing is certain: the two carts we used to take packages to the nearby UPS store will be kept in our storage unit. One day, after we have taken over the fashion industry, we will display them at our headquarter as a reminder of our “good old days”.
New Partnership with Atomix
At one point, what used to feel special became a draining task. The limitation of storage space at the office made it impossible for us to launch new products before our existing products were sold out. Around the time of New Year, the inventories for a few different products were scheduled to be delivered almost simultaneously. We realized that this time the task was too overwhelming for us to handle.
We researched about 3PL companies and the name Atomix popped up. Why did we never encounter this name a few months ago around the time of our launch? Was it the work of destiny? We requested a meeting. Austin met with us promptly. Two days later, we signed up with team Atomix.
What team Atomix had to offer sounded almost too good to be true: high-quality service, reasonable costs, and prompt communication. We were a bit skeptical but nevertheless took a leap of faith. Now that we have almost finished the work of the transitional period, we are starting to realize some of the key benefits of this new partnership which we did not even think of at the beginning.
We noticed a shift in our mentality: we can finally bring our focus back to product development, which is the number one key to our long-term success. First of all, the cost saving aspect of the partnership took the draining financial pressure off our shoulders, so we no longer need to constantly chase after month-to-month sales numbers just to survive. We can finally go back to doing what we do best, which is designing new products.
What is truly priceless is the peace of mind knowing that all of our existing as well as future inventories will be professionally managed, and all incoming orders will be shipped out in a timely manner and with almost zero error. We suddenly feel we are no longer on our own on the battlefield. All of the support provided by team Atomix feels like a permission that we can stay focused on executing on our core mission, and much of the most physically and mentally demanding work will be properly taken care of. This empowering feeling is truly invaluable.
Another rewarding aspect of the partnership is the motivation we get every day from working together with a fellow startup. Atomix is definitely further along their journey than us. Nevertheless, we feel the refreshing drive and optimistic spirit from team Atomix every single day.
However, unsurprisingly, there were also challenges that we had to overcome together at the beginning. Because we had always been fulfilling orders ourselves, we never felt the need to assign SKUs to any of our products. This turned into a disastrous situation at the beginning of the transition period. Several wrong items got sent out in a single day.
What was truly impressive was how quickly team Atomix was able to implement new solutions, and how effectively those new procedures turned things around. Recently, the rate of error has dropped to basically zero, which is perhaps unheard-of in the 3PL industry. When Austin sent us a panorama photo showing all of our inventories being professionally stored and managed, I understood that warehousing was a form of art, and team Atomix were as serious about their craft as we were about ours.