Lean or Lame?

Mark Graban has applied a new acronym to describe failed Lean implementation, calling it LAME -Lean As Mistakenly Executed. Perfect description. If you’re new to these parts, Lean Manufacturing is the only hope you have in beating out the big boys (I’ve written about Lean extensively, just not in awhile). In a nutshell, only make what’s ordered, purchasing inputs accordingly as I preach non-stop in the book. Also, you can’t be arrogant. You have to do what your employees tell you to do rather than vice versa. Ouch. Once you get it down, you can go from sketch to finished goods ready for delivery inside of three weeks (like Zara) rather than nine months (like Gap). In related news, Zara’s profits are up 25% over last year.

Speaking of Lean, I really don’t know how to write about this, it just beats all. In fact, I passed it off to Kevin Meyer hoping I could crib off of his notes but he hasn’t posted on it yet. Bummer. Basically, one of the sewing lines at one of New Balance’s US plants (a lean manufacturer) has its own “image”. Hyper Beast better describes “Super Team 33“:

What is Super Team 33?
Out of the 6 New Balance factories in the USA, one of the best is located in Skowhegan, Maine – a district famous for its shoe manufacturing. From the engineers in the factory, a special production line was built, made up of the best 28 workers and 5 craftsmen (longest career 25 years, total career of 33 workers: 265.5 years). The collection made from these talented workers was named “Super Team 33″, because of its production line #33, and because of the total number of workers on the team. They value “high quality” and “aggressiveness”, and create the best quality shoes in New Balance.


Here’s another piece that doesn’t fit anywhere, In an Easter Dress, a Social Set Revealed, we find Ellie Dressel, maker of the signature “Cherry Dress”, an icon in children’s wear that’s been selling unchanged for 50 years. Who says styles have to change to be successful? There’s always something that defies conventional “wisdom”.

For 50 years, the cherry dress has been a consistent best seller at the Woman’s Exchange of St. Louis, a modest nonprofit shop and institution itself about as old as electrification, having opened its doors in 1883.

Come Easter, orders at the store are so strong for cherry dresses that Ellie Dressel, who sews them, says her leg is “chained to the sewing machine.” Ms. Dressel, a divorced mother who has supported a family and reared a mentally challenged son at home by sewing this one item (450 dresses a year, she said) for nearly a quarter-century, epitomizes the Horatio Alger principles behind the Woman’s Exchange, which a 19th-century newspaper described as “helping those who try to help themselves.”

In classic form, the cherry dress is a simple box-pleat frock in white cotton, with a piped Peter Pan collar, a snap closure and four paired cotton cherries, in sewing terminology called yo-yos, stitched on the front.

[I disagree that the sewing terminology is “yo-yos”; they look like thread covered balls to me.] The Women’s Exchange is a concept worthy of discussion as well being similar to mutual aid societies, forerunners of government run social programs, common earlier in US history.

Of scores that existed at the height of the movement, there are now about 20 left, including outposts in Memphis, St. Augustine, Fla., and Brooklyn. The women’s exchanges, voluntary social service agencies, originated in 19th-century Philadelphia as places for genteel ladies fallen on hard times to discreetly earn a living without leaving home.

“Consignors were originally known as decayed gentlewomen,” said the historian Kathleen Sander, whose book, “The Business of Charity: The Woman’s Exchange Movement, 1832-1900,” traced the history of a social service federation whose feminist outlines were not always easy to detect behind the chintz-upholstered gentility of the exchanges themselves. Well into the 20th century, society women operated these tearooms and gift shops that sold everything from hand-painted china or smocked christening bonnets to knitted sweaters for dogs. It was the Civil War that propelled the woman’s exchange movement, by depleting an entire marriageable generation of men, and forcing women of all economic backgrounds to leave home and forge careers. The percentage of unmarried women in the post-bellum period, Ms. Sander noted, was higher then than at any other time in American history.

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5 comments

  1. Susan says:

    Kathleen, I agree with you about the “yo-yo’s.” I read the original NY Times story and just about choked on my coffee at the description. Every quilter recognizes yo-yo’s: they are round, flat, and gathered in the centre, not hard, thread-covered, three-dimensional balls. In the Big Apple, guilting has not, apparently, shared the growing popularity of garment and accessory sewing.

    Terminology aside, it’s heart-warming to see some children’s clothing that hasn’t changed in decades. I’m all for classic clothing for little girls. Childhood seems to last from ages one to four these days. Baby-type dolls seem to be aimed at two and three-year-olds, while at five or six, little girls have “outgrown” Barbie dolls. From six on, it’s the miniature pre-adult stage knowns as “tweens,”aka the Hilary, Mary Kate and Ashley crowd, and at ten we get the miniature adult stage itself, what we used to call “teenagers.” We may be living longer, but we have less time to grow up than ever before. A life that may well last ninety years has had childhood reduced to ten years’ duration, and adolescence to six or seven. At eighteen, young people are told they are ready to vote and go to war, but most are facing another four to ten years of higher education before they are prepared, or ready, to live as adults, with jobs, life partners, and children. Am I the only one who finds this situationthis bizarre?

  2. Julie K says:

    I know it’s not the important point of this article, but I was curious, so I blew up the enlargement of the dress to have a closer look.

    Enlarged, the cherries actually look like fabric covered balls. You can see a bit of folding/gathers in the fabric near the top. If so, I can see where they got the yo-yo idea: if you took a red yo-yo, and stuffed it full of batting to form a ball, then attached it to the stem at the point where opening in the ball would be (where the gathers meet)- I think that’s what they’ve done to make the cherries.

  3. Marilyn K says:

    5 years after this was first posted, I finally looked at the pictures. Does anyone else have trouble with the two parts of the collar being very unequal?

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