Episode #62: How to launch & grow a real business w/ Bluffworks

I really struggled with how to title this episode. Stefan Loble is the founder of Bluffworks, a clothing company that makes travel clothes that don’t look like travel clothes. So, our conversation is based on his apparel brand, and it does provide a fascinating and revealing look at how the fashion and garment industry works. But, this is a wide ranging episode that goes far beyond the apparel industry, with concepts you can apply in your own business, regardless of your industry.

Stefan’s story rings so true for so many entrepreneurs. First, he found something that he really liked but wasn’t readily available. Second, he became miserable in his job. Which is a great starting point for launching a company if a) you’re willing to do something about it, and b) you have the courage to leave your job. How he did it provides some key lessons for any entrepreneur. And how he’s grown the brand has lessons for those of us who’ve already made the leap and are trying to figure out the next steps.


Making hard decisions easier

When he was living in Vietnam, he wore travel clothes because they were comfortable. But when he returned to NYC, those clothes weren’t “cool” for a more traditional office job. But he missed the comfort and functionality of them. Simultaneously, his job changed, leaving him with little meaningful work to do, so he made the decision to take classes at the Fashion Institute. Keep in mind, he was doing this while keeping his job, but the future was clear – he was going to launch an apparel brand.

The big takeaway about leaving his job is this: First, he owned his responsibility for not being happy there. It wasn’t his boss’s fault. It wasn’t the company’s fault. It was just that it no longer gave him joy. This is such a great, growth mindset to have. He wasn’t a victim stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be. He was just no longer in the right place, so he did something about it.

Cut your losses early

One of the hard lessons Stefan’s learned is that you need to let go of bad vendors and suppliers quickly. As entrepreneurs, we’re optimists at heart, so we believe everyone can do better. But you can’t put your success on the shoulders of others if they aren’t able to carry the load. Trust your gut, and move quickly to find the best possible business partners you can.

Go where the expertise is

We’re in a global economy, and as nice as it sounds to say something is made close to home (and there are definitely benefits to that for various other reasons), Stefan says some countries simply are better at making some things. Clothing and bicycles are two such things. He says that, for most customers, a quality product at a reasonable price is more important than being “made in the USA”.

Capital, creativity & merchandising

Stefan used Kickstarter not just to come up with the money to launch his original pair of pants, but also for marketing and customer feedback. Used correctly, crowdfunding can help you narrow down exactly what type of product and features you should launch.

Along those lines, most of us have a million ideas, so keeping a product line and brand tightly focused can be hard. Stefan calls it “merchandising”, which simply refers to the types of products he launches under the Bluffworks brand. So, while he may eventually launch a bathing suit, it’s going to take several other products to get there. Just going from a blazer to a pair of swim trunks could create a disconnect for his fans…what does the brand actually stand for? But if he guides them there through a pair of more casual pants, then a T-shirt, then nicer shorts, and then finally a swimsuit, then it becomes a more natural progression that keeps everyone on board.

Using Kickstarter

Stefan’s take on Kickstarter in today’s world is enlightening. He benefited from the early days, when things could go viral on their own. Nowadays, you almost have to bring your own audience, which also oftentimes means advertising your campaign. So, you have to spend a lot of money to make money, sometimes more so than if you didn’t go through crowdfunding. But there are still good reasons to use it, just be sure you know what all you’re signing up and have your expectations grounded in reality.

One quick takeaway? Have a great hook. You need to get people hooked on your campaign and video within a few seconds. That, and read other similar products’ campaigns comments and reviews to see what they did right and wrong.


Like this? Want more? Leave a comment or send me a note with what you’d like to learn more about and I’ll find a great guest with the answer! And please take a second to leave a quick review or rating for me on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher…it only takes a minute, but it helps SOOO much! Thanks!

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