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Ryemarkable Sadia Sharmin

Name: Sadia Sharmin

Family info: Two children (6 and 9) and husband

Pets: None

Name and description of your business:

Cotonly, a sustainable, low-waste line of kids’ clothes for boys and girls in sizes 2 through 12, priced from $20 to $50. Cotonly focuses on ethical, sustainable manufacturing processes designed to reduce waste and produces high-quality clothing designed to withstand wear and be passed down.

Before this, what was your career?

Although working on Cotonly is very demanding, I’ve been fortunate enough to still maintain my full-time job in technology. For the past 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work for many Fortune 500 companies creating scalable platforms and processes, and my knowledge and background in technology has been crucial in finding my competitive advantage as I launched Cotonly.

How would you describe your work?

During my twenties, generally a time of professional and personal discovery, I came to the realization that I am Right-Brain Left-Brain integrated and equal. While I have a technology background and tremendously enjoyed my work as a developer at Microsoft, I was also very business driven. That’s when I decided to get an MBA from MIT focusing on strategy and entrepreneurship, and the better part of my career I have played an integral part connecting the business side with the technology side to scale businesses with technology and stay competitive.

How did you get involved with your current work?

As a mom of two children, I saw a need for high quality, sustainable clothing that would have a positive impact on our planet to combat fast fashion. I was tired of my kids’ clothes getting ruined after one wear or one wash cycle. The quality of clothing today is very poor and as someone who grew up in Bangladesh, I was always well aware of the negative impact that the textile manufacturing industry can have on the environment and on workers. This is why I started Cotonly – to give families better quality clothing for their kids, while also tackling ethical concerns in the fashion industry.

What did you have to do to start? What were some of your past projects/jobs?

It was a learning curve to acquaint myself on the whole apparel manufacturing process, but also exciting as I discovered so many opportunities to introduce sustainable and streamlined manufacturing processes that also reduced waste throughout the production cycle. My background in technology and creating scalable products and operations definitely help here. For example, I was able to completely eliminate physical sampling that is a huge part of the apparel waste created by brands. All my designs are 100% digitally produced before final production.

Why did you choose this path?

I grew up receiving clothing that was passed down for generations -- from my mom’s closet or from older siblings and cousins - The clothing I loved as a child held memories that couldn’t be replaced. A pair of jeans I admired from a cousin or an intricately detailed dress passed on from a sister. These were the clothes that I cherished and sought as I grew up. I knew that how we dress and what we choose to buy plays a larger part in environmental sustainability than we fully appreciate.

I also recognized the consumer demands is shifting right here, with more transparency and awareness to these environmental issues of apparel manufacturing more parents are looking for options to manifest ‘consciousness’ and ethical choices and buy sustainably produced high quality pieces that can be handed down and be part of the circular economy.

Cotonly offers clothes that tell a story worth sharing. Rich organic textiles, bright colors, and classic designs are made for everyone. I am using the highest quality fabric and trims, timeless styles and durability ensure Cotonly will last for years to come.

What have you learned in the process of working on this?

So many things, the biggest learning came from interacting with customers in my Woodbury Outlet, NY pop-up store. I realized I had found a niche with my designs, especially with the colorful options for boys. Also the high-quality 100% cotton clothing that are comfortable and perfect for hand-me-downs are sought after by many families with multiple kids and children with sensitive skin.

What do you love most about what you do?

The impact that we are making in the textile industry. Cotonly is attacking ethical issues in the fashion industry head on by creating a manufacturing and sampling process that reduces waste, and we are doing this by bringing a high-quality, ethically-produced clothing brand to market through 3D modeling instead of sampling. This process reduces excess inventory and eliminates the environmental cost of the sampling process for sizing. What’s more, Cotonly’s high-quality clothing is designed to last for multiple wearers, allowing it to be passed down or resold.

What is the biggest challenge you face? How did you overcome that challenge?

As an entrepreneur, there will always be challenges – nothing will ever go as planned. I felt like in my business I was constantly experiencing roadblocks, particularly in the production process and felt like giving up. Sourcing quality and sustainable materials in quantities appropriate for a small business proved to be one of the greatest challenges. The trick is to realign and refocus, which allowed me to come up with the idea to create a sample-less production that allowed me to be agile and respond to constraints in production and meet demand. What I’ve learned is that every roadblock or challenge is a learning experience and to take it as an opportunity to grow and do better.

What is the thing that has surprised you?

The overwhelmingly positive response I received from both parents and kids in such a short time. I seem to have hit a chord with many families with my design and quality clothing. It was really touching, especially after the holidays I had many children buying my clothes with their gift money, competing with video games and toys is no easy feat!

What is your best tip for others looking to give back to the community? Or your best tip for moms?

It’s all about prioritization and planning ahead as a working mom. You simply can’t do it all, but what you can do is focus on what needs to get done that day and let go of the things that can wait. Also, make sure you leave room in your schedule to do something everyday with your kids. For me, I make sure I can always drop my kids off at school, put them to bed, make myself available for homework and other school-related activities, and more. Be OK with the fact that not everything will get done and not everything will go as planned. As long as you’re making headway everyday you’re on the right track.

How has the virus impacted your work?

The supply chain has been a challenge, with factories closing more than usual. Shipping costs have quadrupled since before the pandemic and it was hard to keep costs down and offer affordable high quality clothing.

What are some alternative careers you would have liked to have?

I have always been an entrepreneur at heart and this is what I love to do, innovating and having a positive impact on the planet. I also always wanted to do something with Bangladesh where I grew up and this is the perfect venture where everything clicked.

Do you have advice regarding reinventing yourself? What do you think is important for other moms to know?

It’s never too late to start your own business. If there’s something that’s bothering you as mom that you think you can do better, do it! Make that change because it’s very likely other moms are feeling the same frustrations as you.

Other fun facts about you? Favorite books, Netflix, fun facts, or other?

We are a very international family, I am from Bangladesh originally, my husband is from Germany and our two kids have 3 different nationalities by birth. As a family, we love to experience new cultures and travel as a family. We usually did at least 2 international trips every year, before COVID.

One of my favorite books is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It’s a story about a boy who demonstrated resilience in all aspects of his life and how that helped him survive in the Pacific ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

My favorite shows are Squid Game, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones.

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