Outsider Supply's McKenzie Thompson on Trading DIY Accounting for Bench


Elizabeth Pandolfi


January 16, 2024

This article is Tax Professional approved


As an undergrad, McKenzie Thompson often joked about starting a business after she retired. 

Once she graduated and entered the workforce, though, she realized that the entrepreneurial bug might have bitten her sooner than she thought. 

“I was finding myself in corporate healthcare settings, and I didn’t really like that,” she says. “Even when I went to grad school, I thought I’d go out and do advertising—but none of that really clicked.” 

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Instead, she found herself creating what would become Outsider Supply, an art history-inspired apparel company. While completing her MFA program at the Art Institute of Chicago, she and a business partner began making art together. They turned that into an apparel line, and, as Thompson says, “I’ve been doing that ever since.” 

Embracing the slow

Outsider Supply creates apparel and accessories with the fine art lover in mind, in collections with titles like The Bauhaus Collection and The Pop Conceptual Collection.

But that’s not all that makes Outsider Supply unique. Thompson is also committed to a slow fashion, thoughtful creation process, a decision that came to fruition during the pandemic. 

“I was feeling disconnected from what I really loved, and there were a lot of life changes going on, including supply chain issues,” she says. “I started looking at ways to take a more slow fashion approach, one that was very oriented toward the materiality aspect of it—how things are crafted, where they’re sourced.”

That approach extends toward the concepts Outsider Supply explores, too. 

“My partner and I are also both art history nerds, so we wanted to talk about something that we were both really interested in ourselves. And it just happened that there’s really no one else out there discussing art history through apparel,” Thompson says. 

Each collection is born out of significant research, with many of the pieces hand-rendered in part or in full, meaning every piece takes time. This commitment to slower production, careful sourcing, and attention to detail struck a chord with fashion-forward consumers who are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion, and want a more sustainable alternative.

Fashion finances

As a self-taught business owner who started off with physical storefront and transitioned to an ecommerce shop, Thompson initially managed her own books but soon felt overwhelmed, especially when tax season rolled around.

“I was making the clothes myself, sweeping the floor, washing the windows, having the pop-up events. I was really tired. I was trying to find ways to automate things, outsource things to vetted professionals whom I knew would be good.” 

In 2017, she discovered Bench through Shopify. “That was the only recommendation I needed,” she says. “That’s how I wound up with you, and I continue to love Bench these five years later!”

Bench’s automated, real-time solution took the bookkeeping weight off of Thompson, allowing her to refocus her time back on the part of the business she loved: working with customers and designing pieces.

Bench's integration with Shopify allowed Thompson to connect her store accounts effortlessly, while the platform’s dashboard allowed her to make informed financial decisions. “You actually have time to look and reflect, instead of just constantly tracking your finances,” she says. 

For example, when she was looking into her digital ad spend and figuring out what was working, and what wasn’t, she needed data on how much she was actually spending on advertising each month. With that information, she was able to zero in more closely on the strategies that were actually bringing in revenue. 

“Without that, I’d just be going off on my own guesswork. You can go off what you’re achieving, but when it actually comes to your books, and you’re saying, ‘Ok, well what’s my spend breakdown?’ and ‘What’s my cash flow?’ then you can make the decisions that really move your business forward,” Thompson says. 

With those financial pieces firmly in place, Outsider Supply is positioned to continue making waves—slow ones, that is—in the apparel industry. 

“I’m expecting good things,” Thompson says. “I think we’ve been fortunate, and we’ll be positioned to ride out any economic instability, just from our niche and our clientele. We don’t need all the sales in the world. We just need enough to grow.”

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.
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