“If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” I’m not sure where that quote originates and I don’t particularly care to research it. Truth is truth. In a modern world where “women are doing it for themselves,” this doesn’t even begin to touch on what life is like for a middle-aged woman, raising a […]
In today’s business climate, every advantage counts. To truly understand what your customer wants, you have to listen to them. This short excerpt from the introduction to Industry Clothing Construction Methods by Mary Ruth Shields, highlights the essential concept of product benefits and the features that create them. Although the example is apparel, the design of any product could be made more attractive to customers by understanding these simple concepts and making them the core of your process.
“Designers hear the consumer say that apparel should offer benefits. Consumers believe that apparel benefits should help them achieve their goals as individuals, such as feeling more self-confident, gaining respect, saving time and money, attaining comfort during physical activity, attracting a lover, fitting into a social group or expressing them selves. The task for a fashion professional then is to determine what features should be included in the garments to achieve those apparel benefits. The core of the designer’s, merchandiser’s or buyer’s craft in the ready-to-wear industry is to find the right combination of features–silhouette, fit, shape, color, laundering method, fabric, texture, price, and so on–that entice customers to look, try-on, and feel satisfied with their apparel purchase.”
For more on this topic, additional insight into the apparel merchandising process, and a wealth of concrete information on the construction of retail apparel, add Industry Clothing Construction Methods to your toolkit for manufacturing success.
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.”
What does “fair” even mean? When we see a product that is actually fairly priced for the thought, time, energy and materials that went into it, we don’t know what to do except ask, “why is this so expensive?” It’s “expensive” because the person who made it deserves to be reasonably compensated for the tangible investment they have put into the object. In conventional retailing, price is no representation of the amount of investment in time, money and energy that was put into creating the item. Price is linked more to the market and producing a product as cheaply as possible. Trying to compare the fair price charged for a handcrafted item to a similar product found in the cookie-cutter retail space is folly. Although the items may be able to perform the same task, such as holding your morning coffee, decorating your ears, or warming your neck, the well-crafted item has been carefully designed by the mind of a human and expertly constructed by their hands. The cookie-cutter item was probably generated by a computer program using data bearing little to no relation to you or your lifestyle and then constructed by a bored worker on an assembly line. It’s shoved down your throat because you’ve been taught to accept what’s in the store as what you should buy instead of taking the time to make up your own mind.
Why not invest in products that you really love, that show how thoughtful you are about what you consume, that will last and not go out of style?
Here’s an idea, why not invest in products that you really love, that show how thoughtful you are about what you consume, that will last and not go out of style? If you need it, here’s a trick to convince yourself to break the habit of buying shallow, repetitive, price driven, soulless products. Divide the price of the handcrafted product by the number of years, months or days you expect to use it. For example, a beautifully made jacket at $250, worn 4 times a month over a span of 4 years means your investment in a handcrafted jacket will be only $1.30 for each time you wear it! Completely worth it to be wearing a handmade item that feels amazing on, you will never see someone else wearing and that garners tons of compliments!
Renewable Resources = Sustainable Business
On the tropical island of Kosrae, Micronesia, hidden in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a theory with world wide impact is being proven. The theory maintains that it is possible, actually desirable, to sustainably manufacture well designed, fashionable products that last from renewable materials in a way that leaves no lasting mark on the environment, employs a previously untrained workforce and, of course, makes a profit.
Green Banana Paper, founded and guided by American social entrepreneur Matt Simpson, is proving that theory. Green Banana recycles waste from banana harvesting into weaving materials and paper which are then made into personal accessories and more. Matt’s company creates employment for residents of Kosrae that was previously unavailable to them offering income at home instead of having to go abroad to find work, away from homes and families.
No tech investment bubbles, inflated CEO parachutes, ponzi schemes, or robots taking over jobs here in Kosrae; just sustainable business growth, happy employees and a passionate, socially conscious business owner.
STEAM Learning Finds a New Home in CT
“Yankee Ingenuity” is alive and well in Connecticut! As I wrote in my book, Naugatuck Valley Textile Industry, “The creative spark that inventors and investors shared formed the foundation upon which factories flourished and railroads were built.” The same ingenuity that historically fueled the textile industry in our state will find a home at MakerspaceCT a “springboard for innovation, and a new way to boost careers and interest in traditional and advanced manufacturing, technology, and hardware development.”
MakerspaceCT is part of the “Maker” movement which is creating “renewed interest for both students and adults in critical STEAM learning (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics)” and application. “MakerspaceCT is currently developing a 15,000sf commercial space in the Historic Colt Building that will be the headquarters for making and innovation in Connecticut. “It will have an extensive selection of equipment and tools available for use by the public.” said Bryan Patton MakerspaceCT co-founder, who is trained as a mechanical engineer. “CNC and manual milling and turning machines, a complete wood shop, welding shop, plastics, glassblowing, a water cutter, pottery, electronics, robotics, fiber arts and industrial sewing, digital fabrication, metal fabrication and even a tool lending library will all be available.”
MakerspaceCT “will be a workshop and a playground for innovators and inventors.” said co-founder Devra Sisitsky. “Not only will they have access to equipment that they wouldn’t have at home, there is a wonderful opportunity for collaboration. The possibilities are endless.”
To launch the project, which will open its doors in 2017, Bryan Patton and co-founder Devra Sisitsky are hosting a special event on May 5, 2017 from 6:30-10:00p.m. in the Colt Building at 120 Huyshope Avenue in Hartford. Proceeds from the event, dubbed “Make A Difference” by the founders, will help to fund construction of the new space. The event will feature live music from The Colbys, demonstrations from makers, artisans and craftspeople, a silent auction featuring local artists, tours of the Colt Dome, plus refreshments and cocktails provided by The Bees Knees, Hanging Hills Brewing Co., Hog River Brewing Co. & Hartford Flavor Co.
Tickets must be purchased before April 25, 2017 at Eventbrite
MakerspaceCT is dedicated to organizing, promoting and enabling Making efforts in CT and New England. Our mission includes opening a 15,000 SF Makerspace facility in Hartford to support entrepreneurial activity, provide low cost technical and artistic classes, and engage the community in Making. More information can be found at www.makerspacect.com and www.facebook.com/makerspacect/.
Consistently Great Quality Generates Success
While the theory behind quality can be debated endlessly, the value of putting quality first in your business is irrefutable. As discussed in our past post “High Quality: Competitive Advantage or Pointless Expense,” quality is one of the factors that you can use to differentiate yourself from overseas competition. Tara and Tony Costanzo, of Costanza Clothing, (founded in 2002), have leveraged quality in service, materials and workmanship as an integral part of business success. They have made it their mission to offer a “best dressed” option to professional men and women throughout the U.S.. Their custom made suits are complimented by their expert personal styling and fit guidance. On their website you can sign up for their newsletter (always informing), have your style questions answered, or contact them to schedule a personal fitting at a time the works with your schedule. Here’s an excerpt from an interview we did a while back.
US&D: Could you please give us a profile of Costanzo Clothing?
Tony: We are custom clothiers. We visit our clients in the privacy of their home or office to help them build their wardrobe, everything from custom suits to casual wear or apparel for the golf course. Everything we do is made here in the U.S.. Our clients fall into three categories, typically: they don’t like to shop, they don’t have time to shop, or they have some sort of fit issue. We have men’s and women’s clothing.
Tara: I think our customer likes a lot of options, so that’s a huge advantage for us. If someone’s looking for a navy suit and is female, and it’s winter and there’s no navy, they can get it with us because we have all these mills at our fingertips.
Tara: We like to teach people that if the hot color is magenta, then you should find accents to incorporate in your wardrobe. If you’re someone who is truly looking to build the foundation of a wardrobe there’s no way you can do it on today’s fashion, so you need to be shopping in a more classic way. So that’s why they benefit from what we do. In the long run, they’re actually saving money.
Tony: I just want to add to what you’re saying. With custom clothing, there are some great things that come along side that. Aside from fit, quality, longevity, and performance; it’s green, there’s no waste. It’s made specifically for that individual. With that, is the maintenance of that person. Should that person fluctuate in weight, with custom clothing we can maintain them in it and keep them in that clothing longer.
US&D: How do you measure success?
Tara: Giving us referrals, that’s number one, (our customers) getting on the phone to call their family and colleagues to set up the appointments for us. It just speaks volumes to what we do. Our customers then integrate our products and services into their family. So, it’s not just the husband. His wife begins to buy items from us. The greatest compliment is when they’re doing events and they invite us to display our products to people because they’re proud of what we do for them.
Tony: When we see someone for the first time they know that were not just interested in selling them a suit because they can go and buy a suit anywhere. And of course at this point, much of our business if not all of it is referral based. They know that we’ve already spoken to their friends or colleagues.
US&D: What are you doing that makes you competitive?
Tony: What keeps us competitive I would say is the service that we provide. The craftsmanship is far superior to what is out there, it’s a better value.
US&D: So what is “value” to Costanzo clothing?
Tony: A great product that is going to perform really well.
Tara: You get what you paid for. It’s quality of experience. It’s quality of ease. It’s the quality of the workmanship. (The competition) may be able to price their products a little bit more competitively, or just have larger margins but I’ll tell you, it’s easier for us to pick up unhappy customers from them because the quality of the product is not the same.
Tony: On that note, you might make a little bit of extra money but you’re going to lose customers because that product can’t compete with what we deliver.
US&D: What do apparel industries in CT need to focus on to be competitive?
Tony: Quality. It has to be far superior.
Tara: And consistency.
Tony: And consistency, no doubt about it because in the clothing business, this isn’t die cut steel so there’s a lot of room for error. It has to be consistent because if it’s not you’ll lose your customers.
Take it from Bill Amos, CEO of NW Alpine Gear, LLC and President of Kichatna Apparel Manufacturing, LLC, you need to thoughtfully consider re-shoring your apparel manufacturing to:
- shorten lead time
- get a firm grip on quality control
- save money on shipping and tariffs
- attract consumers who care about “Made in America.”
- Minimize the impact from unpredictable trade policy shifts
Last week we explored the idea of innovation as a necessary component of competitiveness for the U.S. sewn products industry. This week, I take up a topic which has been the downfall of the world wide apparel industry for almost 20 years–quality.
Quality as the Problem
Much has been written on the depressing collapse in quality of the fashion industry, most notably by Teri Agins in her book, “The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever.” In the 1990’s, one could easily find well made designer apparel at retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, such as fully lined women’s slacks of a
beautiful wool, with each pant seam allowance carefully completed with a Hong Kong finish. As Agins points out, the collapse began when giant conglomerates instead of namesake designers became the owners of major fashion labels. Instead of the designer mandating the quality of fabrics and construction; stock holders, demanding ever higher profit margins; began to cut more and more corners. They discovered that the majority of customers had forgotten what their parents knew–garments can be made with quality materials and workmanship and styled with a timeless look. Fortunately for the stock holders, customers had begun to disconnect quality of workmanship and materials from price. Price now became a superficial mark of brand distinction and nothing more. The advent of “fast fashion,” turning around new styles in two weeks or less, was the pit at the bottom.
Customers shopping for ready-to-wear have been well trained to expect poor quality new styles in the shops every time they go in. However, the manufacturing model which enables this system to be profitable is not possible in the U.S. We cannot pay workers $5.00 for a 12 hour workday in a 10 story factory where the elevator doesn’t work and there’s no fire escape.
Quality as the Solution
We must understand that we cannot re-educate consumers overnight. We also must get used to the fact that there are a large number of customers which we may not be sewing for. We will not be returning to the glory days of textile and apparel manufacturing here in the United States with tens of thousands of workers supporting entire local economies by churning out huge quantities of product.
Instead, we must develop business models that pay workers a living wage to support local communities. New business models must be applied that feature impactful training as well as employee buy-in of the processes and outcomes. We must safeguard our environment by reducing manufacturing waste and avoiding the use of harmful contaminants. Higher quality materials can be made using innovative processes that increase wearability as well as longevity. Products designed with timeless (not boring) styles can lead to higher profit margins per piece and less waste after consumption.
The global apparel and textile industry began to change about 9 years or so ago. Back then, I noticed several trends beginning to mature. Notable among them were developing technologies for production, a growing interest in made in the U.S.A., and awareness of labor and environmental issues in production overseas. Connections began to form between these trends leading to thoughts about strategies that the apparel industry in CT (the U.S.A.) should concentrate on to be most competitive. I believe they are:
· high quality
· educating consumers
· dedication to “Made in America”
This week, I’ll be discussing innovation. I would love to hear what you have to say on these subjects.
The inclusion of the latest technology, such as robotics, in the production of apparel is the single most powerful and expedient addition we can make to create a competitive industry in the U.S. After all, that’s what we here in CT do best, right? Innovation and a can do attitude are the core of “Yankee ingenuity!” The cost lowering affects of technology are one of the factors that are creating the “tipping point” between making the choice to manufacture in China or the U.S. This tipping point represents a call to action that has been growing from a whisper to a clamor so loud that even Walmart is hearing it!
Innovation in Manufacturing Methods
Lean manufacturing, a set of production practices developed in the auto industry to cut waste in manufacturing, is currently being used to advantage by manufacturers such as Joseph Abboud in RI. It is not so much a hardware innovation as an innovation in thought from the problematic assembly line where workers are isolated to a reorganization of the manufacturing floor into “pods” or groups of workers who complete garments together. Lean manufacturing can cut production time from days to hours, especially when coupled with the computerization of printing, pattern drafting, marker making, cutting and sewing steps.
Software such as Yunique PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) is only one of the products created by Gerber Technology, one of the world’s leaders in computerized manufacturing support located right in Vernon, CT. Yunique PLM makes it possible for designers and manufacturers to communicate accurately and quickly to insure high quality and profits. 3D body scanning, being spearheaded by [TC]2rd the world leader in body scanning software and hardware located in Cary, NC, is making it possible to easily create a garment fitted to an individual’s exact measurements. AM4U (Apparel Manufacturing for You) located in Palo Alto, CA has created a digital printing process for fabrics which drastically cuts the time needed to print, eliminates the costly, environmentally unsound practice of dyeing in water and produces a print that is impervious to bleaching and fading.
Employing these products in the manufacturing of apparel in CT falls right in line with the state initiatives to enhance high tech manufacturing. This level of manufacturing generates professional careers in high paying jobs and the development of training opportunities and apprenticeships for our technical high schools and community colleges.
I am extremely excited about the position in which we find ourselves! The technological innovations being originated in our country, the growing interest in made in the U.S.A., and the economic tipping in our favor are creating an opportunity which we must seize. Please see the links below for more information.
Next week: how quality impacts competitiveness.
Originally posted on 04/11/2014 in my previous blog
Big names in the U.S. apparel industry are understanding that re-shoring is a way to cut costs, improve quality, sell- through, and customer loyalty, and solve logistics concerns. What are you waiting for? Find out what leading finance company CIT has to say