Businesswoman Carrie Ferguson Weir proves it’s never too young to express Latino pride with her line of baby t-shirts.
LatinaLista — Carrie Ferguson Weir spent all of her professional life asking the hard questions. As a daily newspaper journalist, this Cuban-American Latina was accustomed to asking the kinds of questions that force honest responses.
However, it wasn’t until she had her own daughter and found herself wrestling with the age-old “working mother dilemma” of either returning to work after maternity leave or being a stay-at-home mom that Carrie found herself on the receiving end of her own interrogation.
Carrie Ferguson Weir
What could she do that would give her the freedom to be a stay-at-home mom and a successful businesswoman?
As Carrie wondered about the kinds of jobs she could do from home, she noticed something while on assignment for a holiday shopping story.
“The idea came as a lightening bolt out of nowhere,” Carrie said. “I believe in those messages. The research that followed backed up the hunch.”
What Carrie had noticed was a gap in the baby t-shirt business when it came to exhibiting proud Latino roots.
The yolk of an idea was taking shape.
But where to begin?
“The first step was looking at the marketplace and trying to find what I wanted,” Carrie said. “I shopped, I Googled, I called places. I could not find what I was looking for. So I figured, if I am so excited about a product like this, somebody else must be too.”
Carrie knew she couldn’t operate the business alone and she knew the perfect person who could help her with such a creative venture — Oscar Alonso, a former co-worker and an old friend who happened to be a talented artist.
The two partners decided on the name, Los Pollitos Dicen (The Little Chicks Say) after the traditional Latin lullaby.
“We wanted a Spanish name and we wanted it to make an emotional connection with Latinos,” Carrie confessed. “The sweet, traditional lullaby serves that well. And regardless of language, everyone loves little chicks.”
Soon the two business partners were sketching out ideas for cute designs, discussing vibrant colors, what Spanish sayings mothers would enjoy seeing on their little ones and even how to package them — in their own little wooden huevo (egg).
Yet, that was the easy part. Figuring out the business end was tougher, but that’s where Carrie’s journalistic training kicked into high gear.
“We turned to people who were experts in business and marketing and asked a lot of questions,” Carrie said. “I called in a lot of favors, researched the competition, went to merchandise markets to see what was selling and I quizzed store owners, friends, familia and even strangers.”
Part of that basic research involved finding someone to actually manufacture the t-shirts and packaging materials. From calling their state’s Department of Commerce to get lists of manufacturers, the two also checked with manufacturers of products they liked. They also contacted “private label” manufacturers they found via online searches.
In the end, the two decided on a “private label” manufacturer (a manufacturer that makes clothing for many different national labels) to produce their Los Pollitos Dicen brand.
After ten months of research, preparation and an initial investment of $18,000 to cover legal fees, business creation, trademark filing and inventory, Carrie launched Los Pollitos Dicen a baby t-shirt business unlike anything else in the market.
With a thriving online mail-order business, along with, visiting retailers to convince them Los Pollitos Dicen t-shirts could be big sellers in their stores, Carrie has her hands full.
Carrie puts in anywhere from 5 to 12 hours a day in, depending on what part of the production cycle she’s in.
“Oscar, my business partner and I start the process by throwing out ideas for words we would like to use. We talk about how we would illustrate them, their relevance to the culture and their global appeal. Then Oscar begins illustrations. I give him feedback, and together we decide on changes, new direction, final design and colors.
“I order the t-shirts, which means communicating with our manufacturer and garment-dyer. Sometimes, it also includes dealing with the companies who make our woven labels, our wooden boxes and our paper packaging. Oscar also does all the package design and designed the order forms and stationery we use.
Once the designs are completed and t-shirts are in stock, I send them to the screen-printer. When the stock is in-house, Oscar designs and upkeeps the web pages while I do the order fulfillment for retail and wholesale orders.”
Yet, just like their tiny customers, Carrie knows her company needs to grow.
After spending her first year working on reaching the consumer directly through limited advertising and newspaper, magazine and blog stories, Carrie is ready to take it to the next step.
In the coming year, she and her business partner plan to do a few shows to sell directly to the public and are planning on going to market to reach retail buyers.
“What still is difficult is that I am primary care-giver and Mami to a smart, energetic 3-year-old, AND I am still building the business,” Carrie said. “Some days there is too much work to do, one more call to make, one more box to pack. Mami gets tired.”
But it’s the kind of tired that allows Carrie to sit back with pride and say “I did it.”
Carrie’s three tips for starting your own t-shirt business:
1. Make sure the legalities are firmly in place so your idea or product is secure.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or call the people you believe have the answers. People are generous.
3. Don’t skimp. Put out the best product you can from the beginning. Your customers will appreciate that and keep coming back.