How Building Value for Employees Builds a More Valuable Business

All business owners know that the key to long term success is for businesses to deliver value to customers and investors. But, have you considered how essential it is to deliver value to your employees, what that value looks like to them and what the impact of that value will be on your business?

Fortunately, we don’t have to figure out how to deliver value to our employees. Zeynep Ton has already done that for us. In her Good Jobs Strategy, Ton laid out the steps we need to execute, discussed in my last blog post. Here’s a recap of her guidelines paraphrased.

1. Concentrate on fewer, higher quality products.
2. Standardize work requirements so that workers can have the freedom to work more efficiently.
3. Train workers in more than one task to reduce fluctuations in workloads.
4. Have more workers on hand instead of fewer, cross training them so that they can be employed full time on regular schedules.

 The point of these guidelines is to create value for employees. To them, a valuable job would have fair pay; a stable schedule; management that is respectful; engaging tasks that are aligned to the worker’s abilities (emotionally and physically) and intellect;, and, I would add, accessibility by reasonable transportation. Structuring a new business in this way or restructuring an existing one, results in a mindset for owners in which employees are viewed as assets instead of expenses. Here’s how these guidelines function when applied in my own business, United Sewing and Design.

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Why Successful Apparel Manufacturers Should Create “Good Jobs”

The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep TonA few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the concepts in Zeynep Ton’s insightful book, “The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.” Here’s an updated version with links to more meaty info.

Frequently, the expenses associated with hiring in the United States (a fair wage, predictable hours, a respectful workplace) are given as reasons not to attempt apparel manufacturing in the U.S. How can we change this mentality?

Read, internalize, then apply “The Good Jobs Strategy.” Ton’s research and conclusions are sound.

In “The Good Jobs Strategy”, Ton details methods for becoming a company that uses a “virtuous” cycle instead of a “vicious” cycle as the heart of a business. As a graduate of the Sloan School of Management, and an adjunct associate professor in the Operations Management group at MIT Sloan School of Management, Ton researched companies with successful methods honed to perfection such as Trader Joe’s, and Costco.

She breaks down the virtuous strategy into four “operational choices,” proving that these “allow (industries) to deliver value to employees, customers and investors all at the same time.” Although her book primarily uses retail businesses as examples, these methods could easily be adapted to manufacturing. They are:

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How You Can Change Your Bad Consuming Habits and Not End Up Naked

Shop at a Locally Owned Boutique
Photo by Clark Street Mercantile on Unsplash

If you’ve been paying attention to global trade issues lately, you’ve undoubtedly run across discussions about fair wages also known as a “living wage.” Simply put, a living wage is a close approximation of the amount of money it would cost to support a single person or family in the area in which they live. This well written article, by on racked.com about the apparel giant H&M, discusses why they probably aren’t paying their workers a living wage, what it means to make sure a labor force benefits from good pay and how you can make a difference. Please take the time to read it and visit the great links embedded in there. When the people you’ll read about who make the apparel you buy and wear live with their families on the other side of the world, it’s easy to put them out of your mind. However, your consumption of a $10 t-shirt or $20 pair of pants at H&M, Target, Uniqlo or other importer of apparel manufactured overseas impacts the wages of those workers. Your bad consumption habits are denying them a living wage.

The lack of a living wage and safe working conditions for the workers who manufacture over 90% of the apparel available for us to buy in the U.S. is nothing new. I’ve been covering this issue in my lectures, writing and social media for over a decade. So, let’s skip to the questions I know you’re going to ask, “Why should I care? I can’t change what’s in the store to buy. Isn’t it cheaper to live there anyway? I don’t set the prices. I’m just one person. How can I come up with the solution?” Here’s an answer you can use, with some simple steps you can adopt that aren’t too difficult or too expensive.

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United Sewing and Design: Report on Employment and Environmental Impact 2016-2017

Tote bags with phone pockets and zippered pouches handcrafted for White Horse Style from reclaimed vinyl banners.
Tote bags with phone pockets and zippered pouches handcrafted for White Horse Style from reclaimed vinyl banners.

As part of their compact with the communities they serve, social enterprises publish a report to document their impact in the areas they focus on. As a social enterprise, the two areas that United Sewing and Design focuses on are creating work opportunities for marginalized individuals facing barriers to achieving well paid employment and manufacturing products with materials removed from the waste stream for our line “White Horse Style.” (For a portfolio of White Horse Style products visit this page.) Currently, United Sewing and Design works with independent contractors to manufacture products for individual, corporate and non-profit clients. For a profile on Green Banana Paper Company, one of our clients whose company manufactures accessories from recycled banana fiber, click here. For more info, be sure to check out the helpful links at the bottom.

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Have You Thought About Racism and Your Business?

bridges are built with respect
bridges are built with respect Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash

I was planning to write a post about the fast vs slow fashion this week, but decided instead to write on what has been on my mind for months now. I’m in a “put up or shut up” mind set after re-reading my LinkedIn profile the first sentence of which reads

“Business is about putting our beliefs to work. It’s not enough to talk about what you think is wrong; you must apply what you know best to create change.”

Also, I ran across Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he chastises white moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is … the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice…..Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

I’ve been delaying writing about the place of racism in business for two reasons, neither of which I could be faulted for. First, obviously, racism is a controversial topic. As a small business owner, honestly expressing my opinion about it could potentially damage my business in multiple ways not the least of which is alienating potential customers. As you undoubtedly realize, small business owners have a very close relationship with the brand image of their businesses.  It is therefore, fair to assume that the business would suffer if the views of the owner are seen as misguided.

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Why is My Business, United Sewing and Design, a Social Enterprise?

Social enterprises can support families.
Social enterprises can support families. Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

A common definition of a “social enterprise”(SE) could be, “a profit earning business that has, as its primary goal, creating the maximum positive impact possible in society and/or the environment.

As you can see, from this definition, SE’s are profit making unlike not-for-profits. And, unlike a typical business, their primary goal is not to produce maximum profits for owners and shareholders as in a typical for-profit business, but to create positive change in society and the environment. If you’ve read the “About” page on our website, or my profile on LinkedIn, then you know that United Sewing and Design is an SE.

First, a caveat with my explanation. My business is an LLC and so, is not registered as an SE according to the State of Connecticut. The reason that I chose not to participate in that designation, also known as a “B Corp,” is because in CT, to start a B Corp., you are required to register as an “S,” or “stock corporation,” to sell stock, have shareholders (obviously) and a board of directors. This earns significantly more in fees for the state. Additionally, it also requires a layer of reporting to the public about the social or environmental good created by the SE. My contention is that a business can be labelled by its activities as an SE and participate voluntarily in the public reporting without paying burdensome fees. We’ll see how that works out.

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Four Easy Rules You Can Follow to Create Positive Change in the Apparel Industry

victorian jacket 1
Upcycled Talbots jacket embellished with lace, trims, beads, button, more from our White Horse Style line of apparel, personal and home accessories. Check out http://bit.ly/2sJw5BI for more info.

I just retweeted a post on Twitter from Trusted Clothes this morning about the consequences of buying cheap fashion. My previous post on what buying clothing on sale really means, discusses why you should care about where and by whom the clothes you consume are made. Something to always keep in the back of your mind:

Your impact on the apparel industry can be controlled by you! Your purchasing habits directly impact wages and working conditions for garment makers, the health of the environment and the volume of waste that ends up in landfills.

For starters, here are four easy rules to follow to create positive change in the apparel industry:

  • Understand your personal style so that you aren’t sucked in by the latest fast fashion trend and end up purchasing a garment that you only wear once.
  • Purchase clothing that is timeless. Timeless doesn’t mean boring! Timeless means outside of current trends or fads, part of your personal style and constructed to last.
  • Consider purchasing through a consignment shop or service retailer such as Goodwill where you will find items diverted from landfills and can get better quality at a lower price.
  • Buying American made items will reasonably ensure that wages are fair, production occurs in a safe place for workers and the environment is undamaged.

To make it even easier for you to choose well when making your next apparel purchase, here are some shopping resources to help you find out where your clothes are made.

This list of U.S.A. made apparel and footwear from ratherbeshopping.com is from 2016 but I recognize numerous brands on the list as still American made.

The Brothers Crisp is a Hartford handcrafted shoe brand, calling Park St. home, which employs local talent to create beautiful, outside-of-the-trend, shoes and boots for men and women.

Impact Mart, also a CT company, sells apparel and shoes as well as personal and home accessories. Everything sold on the site is manufactured in a sustainable way. Profits benefit causes such as education, the environment and ending human trafficking.

Hartford Denim Company, HARDENCO, hand crafts items of such good quality, that they come with free repairs for the life of the product.

Green America’s Green Business Network is a resource for certified environmentally supportive and anti-sweatshop brands of clothing and more.

Mashable.com posted a very useful list of 5 resources that help you search for ethically made apparel.

 

Happy shopping!

 

 

 

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Can I Get That on Sale??

sale sign

Everyone loves a “deal,” right? We rarely purchase anything that isn’t “on sale.” We love getting one over on the store, bargaining down a vendor or stocking closets full of discounted items that we’ll never use. We are rewarded for this behavior by our peers, the media and the stores themselves.

Insisting on a low price or a markdown on everything is a recent invention. Decades ago, when we knew the seamstress who made our clothes and the man down the street crafted our furniture, we expected to pay a “fair” price for the things we bought from them. However, we don’t remember or haven’t been taught that we should expect to own well-made objects, use them in our daily lives and then pass them on. If things wear out, we don’t know how to refurbish or re-purpose. In a few weeks, we get tired of things that are labelled as “out-of-style.”

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