The Minimum Wage of $15: A Case Study

 

Industrial sewing machine used in manufacturingThe Minimum Wage Debate

The CT State Legislature finally passed a $15/hour wage after a contentious debate as reported in this article by and of the CT Mirror. The debate was contentious, of course, because of the sharp divide between Republicans who put the concerns of business owners at the top of their agendas and majority Democrats who favor the cause of workers. This debate is essentially about what constitutes a “fair Wage” in CT.

A Case Study

I have closely followed this process because of my commitment to basing the pay of the contractors who work with me at a minimum of $15/hr. I have made this commitment because my business, United Sewing and Design, is a social enterprise which focuses on workers first in addition to customers. However, like any business owner, I have to balance the needs of my workers against the opportunities to earn income. l won’t do anyone any good if I don’t stay in business. For example: as a manufacturer, the work we do is often for resale. Therefore, simply put, there is a limit to what our customers can afford to pay us. Often, our customers allow the retail market in which they compete to determine their price and thus, the amount they can afford to pay for manufacturing. This is not anything new.

So far, in order to reach and sustain my pledge to pay a $15 an hour wage, I have had to turn down work from several customers because the retail price of the item being discussed was not high enough. This hasn’t negatively affected our bottom line up to this point. Additionally, I have begun to actively seek out work that sells at a higher retail price and am investigating manufacturing fields where retail price is not a factor. These haven’t been difficult decisions, but I’m making them during the formative stages of business development while I am still scaling up.

Many business leaders are not happy about the gradual increase to a $15 wage. They have legitimate concerns, which I share. But, I feel that the $15/hr wage which approaches a fair wage, is a necessary start to strengthening our entire state economy.

To frame this debate and the action by our legislature, pick up this book by Zeynep Ton, read this about what counts as the “middle class” in CT according to the Census Bureau, and this about what supposedly is a “living wage” in Hartford County. Hint: it will take until fall of 2021 to reach a so called “living wage.” Also, $15 an hour will in no way approach a middle class income in CT.

 

 

 

A Reading List for the Beginning Apparel Designer

apparel photo by Marcus Loke on UnsplashIn the second post of my 20 minute blog posts, (follow this link to the first one) I’m giving beginning fashion entrepreneurs a list of my three favorite books to read before you start and to have on hand as you progress. If you’re in school, you will want to add these to your list of assigned reading if you haven’t been required to read them already.

Kathleen Fasanella’s “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.”

Kathleen’s main subject in this book is how to deal professionally with the vendors who will manufacture your apparel. Her writing style is plain spoken, full of nuts-and-bolts info without useless frills. Write your name in the front of this book,  read it from cover to cover and never get rid of it. Her companion website, is also chock full of meaty info. I always tell customers to buy this book first.

J.J Pizzuto’s Fabric Science Textbook and Swatch Kit

As a sewing contractor, I find that too many of my customers come to me without knowledge of the materials they’re going to work with. This makes their decision making process unnecessarily difficult and time consuming. Customers can save untold amounts of time and money by taking time to read and digest this book and put the swatch kit together. Later, when you run across a fiber, a textile, a chemical process, a type of knit structure that you are unfamiliar with, you can run back to your studio, pull this book off the shelf and educate yourself.

Tim Gunn’s A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style

Frequently, I meet with younger designers who have a rather narrow view of fashion. This is understandable as they are inundated with all manner of media demonstrating a particular viewpoint on what to put on one’s body and how to style it. I wish they would all take the time to read Mr. Gunn’s guide to get a solid foundation of what the core of fashion really is no matter what one chooses to wear. His conversational writing style makes the information contained applicable to anyone. A bit of history, a snippet of culture, a hard truth or two makes the book an entertaining read and worthwhile. Plus, take it from me, he’s just a really nice guy.

Entrepreneur Blogging: A New Model?

Blogging for Entrepreneurs Who Have No Time to Blog

Meeting to scale up a businessHere’s an idea! How about if entrepreneurs who blog as a part of their business get to compose, edit and market a blog post in 10-20 minutes? Here’s why I’m proposing this new model. As you can tell if you look at the frequency of my posts, they are infrequent! From what I have seen on websites I visit, I’m not the only one with this problem. When I review the analytics of this website, I can see dips in visits in between my posts. Not a good thing. Whenever I think about posting, I have no problem with generating ideas, I just can’t seem to set enough time aside to compose the recommended 700-1000 words complete with the proper titles, links, categories, tags, images, etc. Is this you? Is a 10-20 minute blog post optimal? Maybe not. But, is it better than nothing at all? Absolutely! So, until I have a break between filling customer orders which I can use to write a full blog post, I’ll be creating short posts on ideas, issues, and questions I’m thinking about in 20 minutes or less. I’m going to focus mainly on info that readers will find helpful and thought provoking. My first installment is below. Follow my blog for more!

The CT Small Business Development Center

I am currently working on scaling up United Sewing and Design, which is a daunting process but exciting and fulfilling as well. I can’t say enough about my mentor Jim Jackson from the Small Business Development Center. I meet with him in the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce on Main St. in Middletown. He has experience in most of the business issues I’m working on: customer relations, manufacturing, lean practices, business structure, and more. And on top of all that good stuff, it’s free. If you’re an entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur like me, a business owner or are thinking of starting a business, I highly encourage you to connect with them right away.

 

 

 

 

 

United Sewing and Design 2018 Social Enterprise Report

United Sewing and DesignEach year in CT, social enterprises are required to report their progress toward fulfilling their social impact goals for the previous year. This post is the United Sewing and Design report for 2018 about our progress toward meeting our business goals which are:

  • hiring individuals who have barriers to getting and keeping well-paid employment and,
  • diverting materials from the waste stream into our business and preventing materials from our manufacturing processes from entering the waste stream

Goal 1:  Hiring individuals who have barriers to getting and keeping well-paid employment

Our independent contractors have included individuals with social and emotional disabilities, and full time caregivers for individuals who need intensive support in daily life. I work with social service agencies and non-profits to identify individuals who are trustworthy and dependable, know how to sew, have the appropriate workspace and equipment, and are experiencing barriers to getting and keeping well paid work.

This year we added formerly incarcerated individuals to our pool of collaborators. I connected with the Wesleyan University Center for Prison Education to identify ladies who were placed at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic. This was an important goal for us because the inmates at York sew a variety of products including t shirts, prison uniforms and bed linens so they are already trained for the manufacturing skills we need.

In 2018, our pay to contractors increased 527% over 2017. United Sewing and Design paid contract labor wages to independent contractor “M.I.” from Middlesex County. (I do not name my contractors to preserve their privacy.) Although this increase is significant, we consider it essential to grow sustainably and look forward to steady growth for the rest of 2019. I interviewed two new contractors, L.A. from Hartford County and L.M. from New Haven County, both of whom were referred by the Weselyan CPE, who will be working with me in 2019. Much of our work at the moment is geared towards developing and prototyping  patented products for individual designers. I anticipate that these contracts will grow into steady manufacturing work for our contractors.

Read More!

A Sewing Contractor’s 10 Favorite Sources for Soft Goods Manufacturing

 

Mary Ruth Shields, sewing contractor, United Sewing and Design

As a sewing contractor, I spend a lot of time sourcing for customers. Fabrics, trims, interlining, snaps, buttons, etc., etc., etc. For example, it’s taken me hours of traveling, shopping, calling and surfing the web over the past few months to find a lightweight wool in just the right shade of purple for the Masonic Temple costumes we’ve been working on. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen the other costumes we’ve been creating for the Masons. All of the fabrics and trims in the photos came from the vendors listed below.

So, I thought, why not share some of my favorite sources with you to give you a leg up on your next soft goods manufacturing project?

For each vendor, I’ve listed the name, contact info, what they sell and some comments. Most of these suppliers will ship, some are local to CT where I work. Also, see this blog post on knowing your fabrics, this one on working with a sewing contractor, and this one on knowing your customer which will also help you grow your business.

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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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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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Why Entrepreneurs Should Unleash Their Inner Artist

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Before we even start this bog post, let’s banish that voice in your head that tells you you’re no good at art.  I will remind you that you were good at making art when you were little therefore, you still are. Your artistic abilities are still there. Let’s quickly get past this negative assumption by considering what some may deem one of the least “artistic” lines of work–an accountant. As business owners, we rely on accountants to use a rigid set of rules and expectations to monitor, enumerate, and quantify. Creativity with the numbers is discouraged as is experimenting. But, all accountants will eventually run across an anomaly that must be explained then rectified. How could they deal with that? They might apply the same thinking processes that artists, including me, use to create a drawing, a piece of pottery, a weaving or sculpture, the thinking processes that you can easily apply to building then growing your business and effectively solving snags along the way that prevent success. Let’s discover how!

Find out more!

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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An Entrepreneur’s Advice for Solving Work/Life Imbalance

Work Life Balance for Entrepreneurs
Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash

What if you, an entrepreneur, experience a profound change, such as a death, in your personal world that drives your life off the road into a ditch? You know you need to move your business forward but it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning and impossible to string a few meaningful sentences together. You feel exhausted from grief or worry. You’re afraid to admit that you can’t “perform” when your business needs you. You feel ineffectual, weak and even ashamed.

How do you get back on track while giving yourself essential space to process your feelings?

Having experienced this situation myself during the last three months due to the death of my beloved life partner, I’ve decided to share the results of my search for a path back to productivity in the belief that you will undoubtedly need this advice in the future. While I am obviously not a therapist, I’ve included some observations of my own experience that have led me back to the right path to begin moving forward.

Find out more!