What Sewing Contractors Wish You Knew About Fabric

As a sewing contractor, individuals or companies who are designing products to be sewn, such as apparel, frequently contact me. It occurred to me that many of them have come from backgrounds that have little to nothing to do with the materials usually used for sewing such as fabric. Many people or organizations don’t take the time to learn about the materials they’ll be asking me to construct something from. This lack of understanding, impacts their ability to talk to me about what they really want. To help those customers who are intending to call me or another sewing contractor, I offer another excerpt from the Introduction to my book Industry Clothing Construction Methods.

 

This excerpt contains the most basic concepts about fabric. For more really useful info on the materials usually used for constructing products by sewing, I recommend the text that I used when teaching fashion design. It’s the same one that most college level programs use as well. There is no better, more comprehensive learning tool on the subject.

You can click here for an earlier blog post containing an excerpt from the Introduction to my book about a key concept for selling–satisfying your customer. Knowing the concepts in that post may also help you define what materials to use in your project. After reading that, click here for my list of 10 things sewing contractors wish you would figure out before contacting us to save you time and money.

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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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Your Business Creates Waste. Here’s How to Deal With It.

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.

From the largest to the smallest, every business creates waste of some kind. Paper, old copier cartridges, used motor oil, shopping bags, metal shavings, outdated tech, Brian’s lunch from last week that he left in the break room fridge. Much of the material that ends up in your trash destined for the landfill doesn’t have to go there. I introduced some methods to implement for reducing the amount of waste that your business generates in my blog post of July 20th about closing the consumption circle. All of the materials I listed above, with the exception of Brian’s problematic lunch, already have recycling methods in place preventing those materials from being added to landfills.

Here are some additional, nationally available resources for diverting material from the waste stream into uses that provide meaningful work opportunities, sustain businesses and non-profits, support our economy, reduce dependence on social safety nets, and make your company look good.

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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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Hiring a Sewing Contractor? Ten Things to Do to Get the Best Results

ake time to prepare for your meeting with a sewing contractor by doing these 10 tasks.
Take time to prepare for your meeting with a sewing contractor by doing these 10 tasks. Photo by alejandro-escamilla

You’re really excited about the new product you’ve envisioned and rightly so! It’s made of a flexible material (fabric, vinyl, felt, rubber, leather, etc.) so you know it needs to be sewn.  You don’t know how to sew but you’re sure you’re ready to take the next step to have it manufactured. At this point, you realize you want to maximize your investment in time and money but you’re concerned about how to explain what you want and get the best quality result. What to do?

There are ten things you can do before you meet with United Sewing and Design or another sewing contractor to insure that you are prepared. These tasks are what I wish all of my customers had done ahead. Thought invested doing these will save money during the consultation period and speed up the time it takes to get started. Sketches do not need to be attractive or perfect. None of the answers to these questions need to be exact at this point. Actually, it’s better if you’re open to suggestions from the sewing contractor you are hiring. They should be able to suggest changes that are right for your product and might save you materials, time and money while delivering the best possible results.

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Get Off the Over-consumption Truck!

trusted clothes post
Photo by Yuriy Trubitsyn on Unsplash

Ever bought a shirt or blouse that you wore once then never again? Perhaps you just plucked it off the rack in that trendy store you like without even really thinking about when, where or how often you’d wear it? Maybe you even bought the same item in 3 colors! Did you take a minute to think about whether or not purchasing something you really weren’t going to use is a good idea? How about what impact your purchase would have on the fashion industry, the environment or the people who made the shirt?

One of the purposes of my blog at unitedsewinganddesign.com, is to present different ways of thinking about consuming and manufacturing soft goods, ways that have less negative impact on our environment, that are sustainable both environmentally and economically and that are fair to workers. Often, when I mention the fine points of conscious manufacturing to fashion professionals, they roll their eyes and sigh or wonder aloud how they are supposed to compete in an industry fueled by constant consumption of trendy clothes and accessories if they don’t take part in the same overproduction/overconsumption cycle.

On Twitter last week, I ran across a post by one of the most insightful organizations that I follow.

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