AOL co-founder Steve Case has been on a journey across America, looking for promising young businesses outside of New York and Silicon Valley.
On one such trip to North Carolina last fall, Case met Brandi Temple (pictured above), founder of a now 5-year-old online children’s apparel company, Lolly Wolly Doodle, which claims to sell 60% of its clothes through Facebook. That meeting led to several more and on Thursday, Case’s Revolution Growth venture fund announced a $20 million investment in the company.
“Part of the Revolution strategy is to invest in big ideas that are small companies, and to try to help them become big companies,” Case said in a phone interview with Mashable on Thursday. “I also believe in the notion of ‘the rise of the rest’ — there are great entrepreneurs all around the company, [but] just a few places are getting all the attention.”
From Garage to Facebook and Beyond
Lolly Wolly Doodle was founded by Temple, a mother of four and hobbyist seamstress, in 2008. With leftover fabric from the dresses she was making for her two daughters, Temple began making extra dresses to sell on eBay. Demand was so high that she began hiring nieces, aunts and friends to help with the sewing. The entire operation was headquartered in Temple’s garage.
In 2010, Temple turned to Facebook, offering dresses for sale first-come-first serve to buyers in the comments. The response was so strong, she recalls, that she moved her entire eBay store to Facebook in just two weeks, and the company continues to sell many of its garments to its more than 580,000 fans. Not long after, Lolly Wolly Doodle moved into a 19,000-square-foot factory in Lexington, N.C., once a booming manufacturing center, and now employs 160 people.
Lolly Wolly Doodle set up its own retailing domain at lollywollydoodle.com just a year ago, and is now looking to other platforms to attract new buyers. Within the last month, the company has launched a mobile app, and set up accounts on Pinterest and Instagram.
A Lean, Made-to-Order Model
Lolly Wolly Doodle’s unusually large Facebook following isn’t the only part about the company that appealed to Case. He was also drawn to its efficient manufacturing model. The company posts designs to its Facebook Page and website, and only makes as many garments as it gets orders, significantly reducing inventory risk.
Temple says the company produces 15 to 20 new skews every day, and so long as they get one order, they will produce the design.Temple says the company produces 15 to 20 new skews every day, and so long as they get one order, they will produce the design. Garments are typically shipped within two to three weeks.
The U.S. children’s apparel industry brings in an estimated $30 billion each year, led by companies like Gap, The Children’s Place and Gymboree. Case believes Lolly Wolly Doodle could one day be a billion-dollar player in the space. Temple says she plans to use the new funding to scale the business, make new hires and expand its marketing budget, which thus far has been in the range of “tens of thousands” of dollars per month.
One thing the company won’t focus on? Pop-up shops or other brick-and-mortar opportunities. “In the near future we’re focused online,” says Temple.
Image courtesy of Lolly Wolly Doodle.