In this exclusive interview, we dive into the entrepreneurial journey of Jennifer Ferguson, the founder of Handful, an activewear brand renowned for its versatile and breast cancer-supportive products. From humble beginnings to becoming a formidable presence in the activewear industry, Jennifer shares her insights, challenges, and the ethos behind Handful's success.
Chris: Jennifer, could you start by sharing what inspired you to start Handful and how your journey as an entrepreneur has evolved?
Jennifer: Absolutely, Chris. As a group fitness instructor, I was constantly juggling different gear for various activities. Whether teaching cycling, yoga, or outdoor running, I needed attire that was not just functional but also fashionable. This need led to the creation of Handful - a brand that focuses on versatile activewear. Our key philosophy is the "Handful high five": fashion, function, feel, fun, and fighting against breast cancer. We've designed products like our ADJUSTABLE Handful bra that caters to diverse needs, including breast cancer survivors.
Chris: That's fascinating. How did you initially bring your product to market, and who were your first customers?
Jennifer: Our journey began before the widespread use of smartphones. My background in group fitness allowed me to introduce Handful at a fitness workshop, initially selling products directly from my car and through home parties. We then expanded to online sales and our first trade show in Austin, Texas, The Running Event (TRE).
Chris: With such a unique product, what were some of the challenges and breakthroughs in developing, designing, and manufacturing it?
Jennifer: Initially, we offered limited sizes and colors, which we later expanded to cater to a broader customer base. Being based in Portland, OR, the heart of activewear innovation, allowed us to collaborate with world-class designers and fabric experts. Significant breakthroughs included expanding our team with skilled partners and advisors, particularly in operations and financial management.
Chris: Can you tell us about your current distribution channels?
Jennifer: While we faced challenges in manufacturing in the USA, we've now partnered with tier-one manufacturers overseas. Handful is distributed through retail stores nationwide, focusing on running, outdoor, group fitness, and breast cancer survivor boutiques. We also participate in various trade shows to expand our reach.
Chris: Over ten years into Handful, how do you stay motivated and driven?
Jennifer: The key to my motivation is our incredible team, who share a commitment to supporting women. The journey of Handful, akin to nurturing a child, has been a long-term investment. The highs and lows of entrepreneurship are balanced by the collective effort and shared vision of our team.
Chris: Regarding investment, how did raising outside money impact Handful, and do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs seeking funding?
Jennifer: Networking was crucial in our fundraising. Starting with a crowdfunding campaign, we gradually built connections leading to significant investments. My advice is to build a diverse advisory board and leverage connections for potential funding opportunities.
Chris: What are the current challenges for Handful, and what are your goals for the next three years?
Jennifer: Cash flow remains our biggest challenge, primarily due to the long lead times and high minimums required by manufacturers. The pandemic and supply chain issues further complicated this. Our focus now is on finding strategic growth partners to increase our reach and manage inventory more effectively.
Chris: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Jennifer: Entrepreneurship is a long-term commitment and not a quick path to financial gain. It’s essential to embark on this journey with a passion for your business concept, as it requires dedication and resilience.
Jennifer Ferguson's story is a testament to the power of innovation, perseverance, and a strong team. Handful stands as a beacon of inspiration, not just in the world of activewear but for entrepreneurs everywhere seeking to make a meaningful impact.