Stephanie Peng, Co-Founder at St. Frank, on Creating a Private Label of Traditional Artisans

What was the driving force behind starting your brand? Was there a specific event, or series of events, that catalyzed the launch?

St. Frank began with an Indian textile that my co-founder, Christina Bryant, bought abroad and later framed. It was a prominent and unusual item in her home with a rich story, and it became a conversation piece. She realized that it was difficult to find beautiful pieces for her home that spoke to her values as a global citizen. Instead of shopping from a brand she loved in the U.S., she was collecting pieces on her travels and finishing them at home by framing or creating a pillow. We all want our home to tell the story of who we are, and that desire was the foundation for building St. Frank.

We love St. Frank’s focus on connecting with people in low and middle-income countries. How do you source artisan partners, and what steps do you take to foster your relationships with them?

We discover new artisan partners through international sourcing trips, domestic trade shows with a focus on the artisan sector, and our team’s and existing artisan group’s network. We travel abroad one to two times a year on international sourcing trips — far fewer than most people think! On these trips, we are either strengthening an existing relationship, exploring a new country and craft culture, or attending a regional trade show. With the growing trend of artisan craft, there are also a number of US-based trade shows with specialty areas spotlighting artisan products. Finally, between our team and our existing artisan network, we often receive word-of-mouth referrals to new groups.

Our artisan groups range in size from small workshops with a handful of artisans to large family businesses. However, no matter the size, working with these groups is always personal. They are all mom-and-pop shops where the business is not just their livelihood, but often their identity. We’re working in traditional crafts steeped in the local history and culture. We work hard on building long-lasting relationships with our artisan partners. This ranges from something simple like a handwritten Christmas card to understanding the rainy season in a particular region and how that affects production. In fact, we still work with all three of our original partners.

What should a future founder be most aware of before launching a brand? From your experience, what have been your biggest pain points, and what have you found to be the most rewarding?

A strong brand has a well-defined identity and personality. It’s exciting to build a brand, so enjoy the process. Then unlock how to share and communicate that identity with others, and make it resonate with them

You should really understand the economics and the linchpins to your industry. If you’re in food & beverage, your distributors are the key to everything. If you’re DTC, it’s all about acquisition cost and lifetime value. Get a good handle on those key pieces and how you’re going to tackle them.
The trick is bringing the brand and economics together. It’s tricky, but that’s where the fun is!

What are the three tools/platforms you can’t live without for your business? Is there is anything you wish you had started using sooner?

  1. We use Retention Science for email automation. They’ve turned data science into an off-the-shelf tool to customize marketing content for our customers. It’s a huge benefit for a small team like ours!
  2. We’ve used ShipStation since day one, and it’s still a great platform for us. It allows all of our teams in our stores and in our office to easily create and track shipments. Bonus points — it’s simple and intuitive.
  3. We pull all of our sales into a central database. This has allowed us to do deep analysis of our products and sales and use those findings for more effective product development and marketing.

Learn more about Assembled Brands here!

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