Mike and Amy Cerny of Fit Couture have recently installed a lean manufacturing module at their small factory in Houston! I don’t want to steal any of their thunder at this amazing accomplishment but I am so proud and gratified to have been involved with their company over the past three years. I first met them in 2004 when they hired me to consult with them, having decided they wanted to get serious. Amy had inadvertently started the company when after joining a gym, had decided she didn’t like available fitness apparel. So, she decided to make her own. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but she didn’t know how to sew at the time. Being a quick study, she learned fast. By the time I caught up with them, the business had taken over the second story of their home. Mike cut garments on a 8’X6′ table that Amy’s father built and Amy was sewing on home sewing machines.
They were quite a challenge, especially Mike. Anytime I made a suggestion, Mike always had a contrary opinion. At one point I looked him in the eye and said “why did you hire me if you’re going to contradict everything I say”? A particular sore spot at the time was I didn’t like their use of clear plastic to cut out their patterns. I remember telling Mike that if he wanted to make it, sooner or later, he was going to have to do it my way, regardless of how much he argued (they’re using real pattern paper now). I learned some lessons from them as well, particularly about stubbornness. Stubborn people make it. New ideas just take time to meld in their brains almost to the point that they have to own them, become them, reformulating to the extent that they originated the concept. I don’t care who’s idea it was, just as long as it gets done. Which brings us to today. Fit Couture is my first baby to go lean -officially! Not to say they hadn’t already been practicing its principles. From day one (before I met them), they’d been cutting most of their products -onsies and twosies- to order, so lean fit right in with their existing experience.
Here’s a picture of their sewing mod:
Mike has started a thread in the forum explaining their lean implementation, there’s also more photos of their shop there as well. He explains the system (installed by America’s 21st) in part by saying
The basic concept of the system is that you want a continuous product flow of garments in the system. For each operator in the cell, you want to have one garment in process.
The garments get started on one side of the line (the right side in the pictures) and then move through their production stages via machines to their left. At the end of the line, pieces are packaged, scanned, and dropped into the finish goods bucket.
When a garment is finished, the worker who completed it moves back towards the start of the line until she reaches the other worker. She then takes the work-in-progress from that worker and handles all steps required to complete. The newly “bumped” worker then goes to the beginning of the line and starts a new piece. The process repeats itself every time a piece is completed.
Mike describes the set up as “mesmerizing, I spend a lot of time back there just watching it”. All of us who saw the demo at the Spesa show can relate (entry). There’s a beauty to watching the flow of construction, it’s addicting. You can’t help but stand and watch until your legs get tired. It’s amazing to see cut pieces being formed into garments right before your eyes in a matter of scant minutes.
Mike was very pleased with America’s 21st, the US franchise for TSS. He said they didn’t work as he expected. They gave him a price and afterward during the implementation cycle, the consultants decided he didn’t need certain attributes of the system so they pulled these out and adjusted the invoice accordingly. In most of our experiences, consultants look for ways to pad a system, not subtract from it. He had a lot of good things to say about the company. Still, I think we have a lot to teach America’s 21st. There’s a lot of small companies running bigger than expected numbers and can afford a system like this. They said Fit Couture was the smallest company in which they’d ever installed a system. I have every confidence those numbers will increase.
Treat: Mike has graciously agreed to host an orientation to lean manufacturing implementation at his facility in Houston for those interested in adopting the system. This will be held on Friday November 2nd, bright and early, all day so fly in the night before (I’ll arrive Wednesday evening). A $100 fee will offset expenses and a catered lunch. Space is limited! Email me if you’re interested in attending. Mike will answer any questions -including costs- that you may have. If you can’t attend, there’s still the thread in the forum.
In closing, heartiest congratulations to Mike and Amy!
…and I nearly forgot. Mike and Amy are adding another person to the Fit Couture team, due to arrive on or about the first of next March, so double congratulations are in order! Mike says they plan to put “him” on cutting before he gets out of short pants. I guess child labor is okay, as long as they’re your own…