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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.

And secondly, as a middle aged, middle class, white woman (the definition of a “white moderate”), what personal platform gives me the right to have an opinion that is worthwhile putting out there? I don’t write a blog to listen to myself talk. I write it as a resource for information and as a tool for discussion with the wider world. What content, in my personal life experience, would lend truth to my words, enough that they would be of value to readers?

Recent occurrences of the past years, most notably those of Furguson, Missouri and Charlottesville, Virginia, have served to assure me that the status quo which I enjoyed in my narrowly defined world is much further from the situation that individuals of color experience than I thought. I now believe that we must accept racism as an underlying foundation of our society and hence our businesses. It is pernicious, stubborn, wily and wide spread. It appears in countless forms; loud and obvious, or, as just a fleeting thought, almost escaping notice. It is now obvious that my complacent attitude as a middle class white woman is no longer acceptable. I must take to heart my own words and those of Dr. King and then take action on those words. As Dr. King also said, “the appalling silence of the good people” should be at an end.

But what form should that action take? If you find yourself in the same position as myself, what would you do? Action could take many forms and I welcome suggestions. Obviously, I’ve started with some self-examination, but in my business United Sewing and Design, I choose to start with recognizing and avoiding the “white savior” route. This route assumes that the “other,” a person of seemingly lower means or education than the white savior, needs to be rescued from their plight by whatever means and methods the white person deems appropriate. The person of color need not be consulted because they “don’t know better.” It is surprising how easy it is to fall into this trap and how often it’s methods are still applied by well-meaning people. In my business I choose to conscientiously avoid this trap by simply enacting the following steps:

  1. Enter relationships with employees with unequivocal respect for them as individuals viewing them as equally valuable in their place on earth as yourself
  2. Inquire about what they need that will enable them to function at their highest level in your business
  3. Listen with an open mind
  4. Speak to them honestly
  5. View them as assets to your company as opposed to expenses

Now that I’ve put my practices out there, and I must say, they DO work, why should you give what I say any weight? I refer you to my LinkedIn profile again in which I call attention to my life history as a native of Virginia, and as a parent who has experienced poverty first hand. One can deal with ones heritage and the actions of racist white “good ole boys” abusing black women (among the many egregious actions I witnessed) by either ignoring it as acceptable or by allowing it to change you into an advocate for respect and equality. Living through poverty gives one a familiarity with the numbing despair, daily frustrations and lack of opportunities your fellow humans may be going through and can make you into an advocate for economic justice in the form of offering self affirming, well paid jobs. I genuinely look forward to your comments.

 

 

 

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

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.

Goodwill Industries is one of our country’s most well known non-profits that divert apparel from the waste stream. But did you know you can also recycle un-usable textiles there? When you take damaged textiles of any kind there, bag and label the items as damaged so they can be properly processed. Just don’t bring them items stained with products like motor oil or gasoline. Here’s a page of FAQ’s about the donation process and how your donations are used. Note: those boxes in parking lots for unwanted textiles may be more convenient to use, but Goodwill employs the money your donations generate in your local area in proven programs that benefit your neighbors.

Techsoup.org has a Refurbished Computer Initiative which takes in old computers and related equipment then refurbishes them to donate to non-profits. They also write a great blog featuring meaty tech info aimed at non-profits.

Fabscrap.org has developed the perfect system to help garment designers and manufacturers divert their unused fabrics from the waste stream. Even proprietary textiles are recycled by shredding to be turned into such products as carpet padding. Check out their About page here.

And locally, in CT, here are further resources.

EcoworksCT in New Haven diverts unwanted materials of many kinds from the waste stream then resells it at a very reduced rate, to teachers, artists, schools, etc. From personal experience, I can say that, although you can depend on them to have wall paper samples, pieces of metal and maps, you will always be surprised by some new item that has come in.

Small zippered bags of reclaimed vinyl banners.
Small zippered bags of reclaimed vinyl banners.

United Sewing and Design employs individuals with barriers to well-paid employment to sew one-of-a-kind items from all sorts of materials. In the past we’ve used vintage textiles, denim, paper, trims, and vinyl banners to make new products. Visit our White Horse Style brand page to see examples of what we’ve created then contact us to have a private consultation about remaking your waste into great new products!

 

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Planning to Thrive, Not Just Survive

Get out of your entrepreneurial cave! Seek out mentors for branding and other essential business topics. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Get out of your entrepreneurial cave! Seek out mentors for branding and other essential business topics. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

It’s so easy, when you’re an entrepreneur, to keep your head down and just plow forward. There’s so much to do! Lead generation; contracts to complete; meeting with customers, vendors, and contractors; sorting out what government programs are right for your business, etc., etc. We often forget to take the time to step back and reflect, evaluate, and seek advice when necessary.

On Twitter, I follow several sources of business info of which inc.com is one of the best. No window dressing, no big egos, no verbosity; just concrete, unfluffy, get-to-the-point info that you really need. This recent article by Emily Richett, “These Aren’t Survival Tips. 5 Ways to Actually Thrive in Your New Business” is an especially useful one.

Two sections I really thought were important include info on branding and mentoring. Branding has become much more than a logo and a business name. Now, it’s more about your story and what content you deliver to customers rather than how the specifications of your product relate to a basket of demographic facts. As Richett states, “Don’t underestimate the power of a compelling brand aesthetic.” About mentoring she explains, “Having a mentor or a group that supports you through the growth phases of business can be crucial.” I know you may feel that a mentor might steer you away from your precious vision but mentoring can also help you avoid traps, keep up your spirits and widen your opportunities. In CT, if you’re a female entrepreneur,  you can find mentors at the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford. If you’re focused on Hartford like me, check out the Metro Hartford Alliance. Or, for mentoring on specific business topics from executives that have been there, try SCORE.

What problems are you facing as an entrepreneur? Leave a comment! I’ll probably know a person or an organization that can help.

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.

Anyway, why go through the additional research, planning and execution necessary to do good when I could just focus on earning as much money as possible? Believe me, it’s not because I don’t like money! A recent story from NPR, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Kaiser Health News which I found on the WNPR website, contains three important concepts related to the beliefs I committed to several years ago. These beliefs caused me to focus my business on doing good. The story profiles efforts to use questionnaires, filled out by patients in a health care setting, to discover the circumstances in which they live which impact their physical and emotional health.

  1. Family units are the foundation of our urban communities. Social and environmental factors can impact the viability of urban family units. Businesses can positively impact the social and environmental surroundings of urban communities.

  2. Positive business impact means being located in an urban neighborhood which is easily accessible to workers. Business owners must make a commitment to listening, collaborating and contributing to their neighborhoods to discover what residents truly need.

  3. The individuals in family units need a hand up, not a hand out. A job that pays a fair wage ($15 minimum) for good work is a fundamental part of positive business impact in urban communities. Business owners and workers must create together a work atmosphere that stems from a mutually respectful relationship. Workers and their attributes are valued as an asset rather than an expense by owners. Workers view the business as a place to demonstrate their willingness to contribute, their dedication to providing for their families, and their capacity for growth.

I highly encourage you to read the transcript of the story or listen to it at the link above and to follow the business reporting of WNPR, especially the reporting on local manufacturing. I challenge you to consider incorporating some or all of the above concepts into your business! I would also love to hear your thoughts on my post.

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 a 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.

  1. Sit down and do a simple sketch of your design idea. Include as many measurements in your sketch as you know. Indicate what materials are in your product and where. Point out where hardware such as buttons, zippers or buckles might be. Does it need to fit onto a body or product such as a stroller, car or computer? How will that work?

  2. Why did you design your product? Did it fill some need you had or solve a problem you noticed?

  3. Look up photos of products that are similar or have similar parts or details to show to your contractor.

  4. Think about who will buy your product. Who was it designed for? Why will they want it? What will it do for them? If it’s apparel or an accessory, does it need to be different sizes? What should the fit be like? Answer the same questions if the product is not for sale. For additional help with answering these questions, refer to this blog post on satisfying customers.

  5. How much will your product cost and why? How much do other products like it sell for? If it’s not for sale, what is your budget to get the product made?

  6. Find a sewing contractor in the United States so that you can benefit from the 5 advantages to manufacturing in the U.S., listed in my blog post on Reshoring.

  7. Ask them for dates to expect the work to be done by so that you can keep track of the process. Make them aware of any deadlines you need to meet! This is very important!

  8. Ask the sewing contractor for a cost list and a written estimate. This may take time to generate. Agree on payment terms.

  9. Ask for testimonials or references from their customers.

  10. Schedule a time to meet with them again and agree on what will be done at that point. Make sure you have contact info.

At the end of your consultation, take time to think about your impression of the sewing contractor you met with. Did they listen? Did they address your concerns? Do they have the experience you need? Did they review your project and associated due dates with you so that you know they understand what you want?

Completing these tasks will go a long way toward making your production journey smoother and faster. If you’re in New England or the Tri-State area, come visit us! We’d be happy to meet with you to discuss your needs.

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. This tweet from @TrustedClothes said,

“ Imagine a world with no need to follow the latest fashion trends or buy luxurious brands.”

“Wow!”, I thought, what a great idea, but, isn’t that an impossible goal! How can we turn that giant truck of disposable clothes around to prevent them from being distributed or for that matter, being made in the first place? How can we re-educate the consumer to not prefer to shop for clothes every two weeks and purchase items they don’t need that sit in their closet or get thrown away after one wearing?

If we, designers and manufacturers, want to produce items in a sustainable way, the customer must be retrained to accept products that are made to last, sold at a slower pace and marketed as pieces that are beyond trends. After all, fashion professionals and the fashion marketing apparatus are what created the ridiculous cycle of fast fashion in the first place. We can halt it too!

If you’re going to buy in to sustainable manufacturing, here’s a bit of advice to offer your customer when trying to re-educate them:  Why keep a huge volume of clothes in your closet(s)? Who are you trying to impress? What do you think you’re missing out on? As Trusted Clothes said:

“Confidence is key to success because it does not matter what other people think about your clothing……… people must live in a compact way to ensure that their environmental footprint is at the minimum.”

That is, customers, be yourself! Wear what really looks good on you in silhouette, color, print and detail not what shops tell you to wear. Buy basic pieces of great quality and shop with a plan like Tim Gunn suggests in his book, Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.

Designers! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your pieces need to be boring or predictable to be beyond trends. Stay true to your own aesthetic while producing pieces that you know your customer can appreciate, be satisfied with and enjoy wearing for years. Look at the example of American Giant and their famous, extremely successful, made in America, $89, full zip hoody

For more advice on consuming sustainably, start following Trusted Clothes on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. They are in the business of “promoting ethical, sustainable and healthy fashion.” They have recognized that “in terms of environmental impact, the (fashion) industry is in the same ballpark as Fossil Fuels and Factory Farming making it a significant contributor to global environmental and health issues.  Secondly the nature of the industry and supply chains creates a starting point for poverty, slavery, child labor, human trafficking, abuse, safety issues and….  many other very bad things.” As an apparel/accessories designer or manufacturer and consumer, why would you want to be part of that? Do yourself a favor, stay informed! Visit their website www.trustedclothes.com  You need to know what they’re saying.

Closing Your Consumption Circle–Three Paths That Will Benefit Your Business

We all know that being a business owner is beyond time consuming. Making decisions to move your business forward, managing people, looking for customers, “can I please have an extra day in the week to do all this”? Why would you possibly want to burden yourself or your staff with finding a way to close the consumption circle at your business? What are the benefits?

Think about how your business consumes.
Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

First, let’s define some terms as they relate to manufacturing.

Waste—materials that you have left over from manufacturing.

Upcycle— reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Ex: turning moth eaten, cashmere sweaters into a coat by cutting and recombining them.

Repurposed—using something for a different purpose than that for which it was intended, altering it superficially in the process. Ex: creating pillows from the leather of a used couch.

Recycled— convert (waste) into reusable material, breaking it down and altering its form during the process. Ex: shredding discarded textiles to produce stuffing for quilted boots.

Closing the consumption circle means taking all of the materials that are not used in the products you manufacture, (the waste), and either up-cycling, re-purposing or recycling it so that nothing ends up in the waste stream on its way to a landfill.

 

Here are three ways to close the consumption circle at your business and some of the benefits each method offers.

  1. Invest in hardware, software, or training that reduces the amount of materials and fuel used to manufacture your products. (part of Lean manufacturing) Benefit? Saves time and money! On top of that your company is showered with good vibes from environmentally aware customers because you are reducing your environmental impact.
  2. Find a vendor to pick up your unused materials. Benefit? Saves your resources—time, money, manpower, storage space! You can also make money by selling your waste.
  3. Institute processes that use your own waste to manufacture products that may or may not be related to manufacturing your core product. Benefit? Make money both by selling your products and by not allowing materials you have already paid for to be written off as a loss.

These paths obviously mean an initial investment in planning, time, money, effort and changing attitudes. In return, your company receives the benefits mentioned above as well as public praise, and PR opportunities which attract new customers. Make a better world for your kids and grand kids! Close your company consumption circle!

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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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Entrepreneurial Success is a Quest

“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 […]

via A Young Girl’s Perspective: The Child of a Woman Entrepreneur — 3sidedtruth’s Blog

Truly Satisfying Your Customer

Industry Clothing Construction Methods

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.

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