How Jessica Kelly Is Bringing Fashion Brands and Supply Chains Together
Jessica Kelly, Founder and CEO of THR3EFOLD, is providing fashion brands with access to ethical supply chains and training to grow their business for people, planet, and profit.
After a transformative trip to Zimbabwe, Jessica learned how many areas within the fashion industry lack sustainable employment and the astonishing effects this can have on the local community. Jessica was set on building a platform that would provide apparel brands with access to ethical supply chains. To date, THR3EFOLD is the only platform that gives users access to an international database of ethically certified factories, product management software, and training to ensure apparel brands are able to make informed decisions.
We asked Jessica the founding of THR3EFOLD, how she navigates struggles with self-doubt, and the achievements she’s most proud of.
Q: Tell us the story behind the founding of THR3EFOLD: How and why did you start working on THR3EFOLD?
A: During a life-changing trip to Zimbabwe, I saw first hand the devastating effects that a lack of sustainable employment has on a community. After speaking with a matriarch in the community who was forced to make the difficult decision of which grandchild got to go to school, I was set on a mission to create sustainable employment for those in need around the world. I embarked on a research and development trip to India where I encountered incredible factories large and small doing things like employing women who had been rescued out of sex trafficking, providing day care for employee’s children, and utilizing solar power energy and machines that dyed denim with one glass of water.
I was shocked such factories existed given the poor “made in Asia” stigma, but most of them had terrible websites making them impossible to find. They were essentially hiding in plain sight. For decades, fashion brands have sourced based on an exclusive who-you-know, archaic system. It seemed obvious to me that there needed to be one place brands could go to find the factories with the right standards for people and the planet so we could democratize the supply chain, build sustainable employment, and make the fashion industry a safer place for everyone. Thus, THR3EFOLD was born.
Q: What problem does THR3EFOLD solve?
A: The problem is the path to creating an ethical and sustainable fashion industry is unclear. Most production professionals are not educated on the standards in sustainability and labor in order to make the best decisions. Most factories have poor websites and are too busy competing on price within a low profit margin business model to change the way things are done. THR3EFOLD brings them together with a tech platform that provides apparel brands with access to an ethical supply chain, production management, and sustainability training so they can grow their business for people, planet, and profit.
Q: What makes THR3EFOLD different from competitors?
A: In this newly innovating segment of the industry, we are the only platform offering unlimited access to a global database of vetted ethical factories, production management software, and training to empower our customers to make educated decisions.
Q: In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur?
A: I’ve worked in quite a lot of toxic work environments in fashion. I’ve been hit on the head, name called, and had many tearful trips to the bathroom. Don’t be fooled—we have just as much work to do here as overseas. Those experiences have made me passionate not only about creating safe sustainable employment in developing nations but also redefining what the culture is at leading fashion companies here in America. We have all the tools and talent to build an inclusive, supportive, respectful, and empowering workplace. We just have to be honest enough about our shortcomings and get better at practicing grace and healthy communication in order to make the fashion industry a better place to be.
Q: What were the most difficult and most impactful lessons you’ve learned starting and running a company?
A: Learning the VC/investment world has been the longest and hardest learning curve. When you don’t come from wealth, getting access to capital is not your biggest problem—it is actually learning to speak their language and being comfortable with numbers and negotiation. If someone gives you the tools but you don’t know how to use them, what good are they? Bootstrapping is far more comfortable. It took me years that I wish I could have fast-tracked to be ready to approach investors. I’m so glad to see more and more investors are focusing on marginalized founders, however, we still have a massive unidentified gap. This goes to show how many people in this marginalized founder community don’t have the education around how to play in this sandbox. Even if you get invited, you don’t know how to get in or what to do.
Q: Have you struggled with self doubt as an entrepreneur? How do you navigate this? Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: All the time. Choosing to be an entrepreneur means willingly choosing to not know what you are doing every day. I started THR3EFOLD because I saw a problem that needed to be solved. But while I was an expert in fashion, I started a tech company in supply chain and production. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, much less how to do taxes, secure investment, set sales goals, and navigate the constantly changing algorithm of Instagram. I have wanted to give up so many times. But I was smart to surround myself with a tight circle of friends and family who I can trust and who support me through prayer and encouragement. I also have a large community of fellow founder friends who totally get the struggle and can support through encouragement and through connections, resources, and wisdom from hard lessons learned. I wouldn’t be here still without them.
Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of?
A: It’s been a long road with so many ups and downs, and it’s too easy to focus only on the negative. But I’ve achieved some pretty cool feats. I’ve crowdfunded $25,000 to get THR3EFOLD off the ground. I lead a global team and built a two-sided tech platform from scratch for only $15,000. I’ve been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Women’s Wear Daily, and more. I’ve made it to the final rounds in competitions for Business of Fashion, Tommy Hilfiger, $10,000 Grants, and, most recently, Startup Bootcamp’s Fashion Tech accelerator in Milan. I’ve been honored to work with and get sponsorship from some of the world’s top companies in and outside of fashion including Shopify, Google, Absolut Vodka, FIT, and more.
Q: What’s next for you and THR3EFOLD?
A: I’m currently working on securing investment and in conversations with big name brands to secure as many members on our platform, along with setting up likeminded strategic partners to help us grow. As we prepare for this next stage of growth, we are building a sustainability resource center to further train and connect brands to sustainable resources, as well as expanding the platform to include sustainable textile mills so brands can source fabric and factories all in one place with standards they can trust.
Jessica is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.