Kickstarting a Design Career

The unlikely next chapter for a Project Runway alum.

Interlachen Wool Outerwear

It feels decidedly unhip to admit I’ve never contributed to a crowdfunding campaign. With all the needs and demands and causes and expenses in this world, I don’t know, I’ve just not been compelled to give money to someone who wants to make a movie or open a restaurant or start a clothing line. But clearly, others are willing and generous. According to the latest numbers, $936 million has been pledged to projects on Kickstarter, and that’s but one of the crowdfunding websites that enterprising individuals long on ideas and short on cash are using today.

My curiosity was piqued when Minneapolis fashion designer Danielle Everine told me of her plans to launch do-it-yourself wool outerwear through Kickstarter. The product is a wool blanket screenprinted with patterns to make bib overalls, a parka, or mittens. It hardly sounded as promising as a Zach Braff movie (the actor/director raised more than $3 million on Kickstarter for his latest project), but that made it all the more interesting when Everine’s Interlachen Wool Outerwear not only met but exceeded its funding request—seven times over. She asked for $1,000; she received $7,566 from 121 backers. Those who pledged at least $115 received wool blankets from the first batch. Just $25 assured donors some sort of return—a T-shirt or a wool blend blanket.

I’ve been following Everine’s career since she left a design job at Target to compete on Project Runway in 2011. She lasted only a few episodes—not for lack of talent, but because she wasn't loud or controversial enough for reality TV. Afterward, she participated in a number of Twin Cities fashion shows, sold a few pieces online and in local boutiques, designed the Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub space with her husband, David Heisserer, and, like many local fashion designers, frankly left me wondering how it was enough to make a living.

Clearly, I underestimated her business instincts. Raising the seed money to pay for large swaths of wool and develop the cumbersome 88-by-66-inch screens required for printing was only part of the reason for taking to Kickstarter. “We wanted to gauge interest,” Everine says. “If no one liked the concept, the project wouldn’t get funded—and we would not have spent the $1,000 on screens.”

Interlachen is a niche product with a compelling story. As Everine and her husband noted on their Kickstarter page, “We are participants and supporters of the Maker Movement, encouraging all things DIY! The Interlachen line is intended to inspire people to make their own warm clothes. Please support us, as we want to continue to work as independent designers making things here in the USA!”

It’s a relatable call to action that plays well on Kickstarter, which has launched 4,860 fashion-related projects to date, making it the 11th most popular category, behind music, film, art, and publishing.

Not only did Interlachen get more than enough funding to ensure Christmas deliveries, but Everine received valuable consumer feedback that helped her avoid rookie mistakes. For example, she added an XS pattern due to demand for petite and youth sizes. She included an optional lining that she had thought would be too expensive for most buyers but has proven to be the most popular style.

With her backers’ orders fulfilled, Everine is working on getting Interlachen into stores and developing a website, interlachengear.com. So far, she’s noticing a preponderance of orders from Germany, where rugged American-made goods might be even trendier than they are stateside.