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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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White Colonialism to the Rescue?

As a representative of white, middle class Liberalism in the United States, I have to come to terms with the fact that I have been raised in a certain way which affects my behavior. More specifically, I am a WASP, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. I am not from Connecticut. I was born and raised in Virginia up to age 21 and then chose to live in the northern reaches of our country; for the last 20 years in Connecticut. Having lived on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line, I feel that I am constantly balancing the viewpoints of a southerner and a New Englander on a false assumption.

The assumption is that white, middle class, well educated folks know what’s best for our fellow citizens who happen to be brown or black. I maintain that the attitudes and thoughts which engendered the white colonialism that founded our country, that subjugated and enslaved humans from indigenous societies here and on the African continent, still exist, 200 years later, in the heads of well meaning, white, liberal, middle class business owners in our country today.

Coming to terms with my heritage and upbringing has caused me to examine my thought processes, conclusions and behaviors, as well as those of the people around me, in great detail, especially since President Obama was elected in 2008. (I hope that many of you are also engaging in the same examinations.) Since his election, many facets of race relations in our Country have become the point of much thought and action by white folks who want to make a difference. To take the best course of action to grow my social enterprise, I am thinking about the following questions during the process of scaling up.

Read more!

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.

Read more!

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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Four Takeaways to Act On From Pagan Kennedy’s “Inventology”

"Inventology" by Pagan Kennedy is a great tool to help leverage your creativity as an entrepreneur.
“Inventology” by Pagan Kennedy is a great tool to help leverage your creativity as an entrepreneur.

In a previous post, I described the processes artists use to create and how you can use the same processes to help your business succeed. To achieve some insight into your creative process so that you can direct and apply it more effectively, devour Inventology: How We Can Dream Up Things That Change the World” by Pagan Kennedy. Through extensive research and consideration of evidence, Kennedy has managed to capture the essence of the creative impulses of invention that are often thought of as un-tameable, directionless, risky. Her book gives examples of designers, scientists and engineers who believed in their creative process and persevered when their inventions were ignored or discounted by MBA wielding management types who lacked the creativity to make room for new products and alternative solutions. I’m a big fan of buying a hard copy and having a pen handy for adding your own insights as you read. While you’re waiting for your copy to arrive (though it is available digitally), here are four concepts gleaned from her book that you can apply right now.

Find out more!