As I sit in the waiting area of the Primary HQ, my attention is diverted from the brightly accented office to an interaction taking place on the other side of the room. A smiling, casually dressed woman has one knee on a chair she’s rolled over to her male colleague’s desk. Holding her laptop by the base with one hand, she uses the other to point to something on the screen of his desktop computer. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but her demeanor radiates warmth and presence. What a lovely exchange, I think to myself. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if she were one of the founders?
Moments later, she greets me and introduces herself as Galyn Bernard (who is indeed, along with Christina Carbonell, the genius behind Primary). I grin, partially due to pleasantry but mostly because I know I’ve made the right choice in interviewing them.
Bernard and Carbonell started Primary in response to their frustrations buying clothes for their kids. While working at Diapers.com (acquired by Amazon), the friends identified a gap in the baby and children’s clothing space. They dreamt of a direct-to-consumer, reliable basics brand with evergreen styles they could replenish as their kids grew. Knowing there was a demand for classic children’s apparel, they left Amazon, got memberships at Reebok Sports Club, and began realizing their vision. Two years later, Primary’s colorful Flatiron HQ employs 26, and they’ve just launched swim.
But in our interview, the duo reveals there was a dark period during which “customers and investors were pissed.” Why? Bernard and Carbonell had hired a CTO, creative director, and customer service representative, but had opted to take care of marketing (in which they had ample background) and supply chain (in which they didn’t) themselves.
“We sort of felt like with that core team we were in really good shape to launch this brand we were so excited about,” Bernard explained. “But looking back, we didn’t put enough resources against it to manage the supply chain. And unfortunately, for a company that wanted to be the best place to shop for kids clothes, we just weren’t. And we scrambled. It was total stress. It was all we were thinking about, and the biggest stress was we didn’t know how to fix it.”
Unprepared for the complications, intricacies, and politics of the manufacturing process, they found themselves grossly understocked and frantically looking for a solution. At one point, out of desperation, they nearly gave away a large stake in the company to a potential partner promising to alleviate their supply-chain problems. At another point, they considered building a factor in the US – a massive investment – in the hopes it might be the solution.
“That was a real possibility for us.” Carbonell shared. “It was an option and it was a way forward we could see, and it was really appealing given where we were.”
Fortunately, they didn’t follow through on either “solution.” “Luckily the other part of what we were doing was talking to everyone we could about what we should do…and we asked our investors for time. We had to be transparent about what was happening”
Through their humility, communication, and the time they’d “bought” with investors, the women made a connection that brought experience and clarity to their challenge. This resource helped them see there was a better way to operate manufacturing, inventory, and delivery; that they didn’t have to give away their company; and that building their own factory was not a viable option.
And finally, Carbonell and Bernard hired a supply chain manager – albeit twenty employees later than they should’ve, in their opinion: “You have to really pick and choose what matters [when it comes to hiring].” they emphasize as their most valuable lesson to come out of the experience. “Leaning in on what can change the business and deliver on your value proposition in a fundamental way becomes everything.”
To hear the duo’s full story; their advice for securing manufacturing partners and optimizing supply chain; their ritual for coping with rejection; and how they manage conflict, listen to the full interview.