Open tabs 5/4/11

Following the previous entry of open tabs (tagged News From You) and the ADHD side effect of having too many windows open, here is today’s edition.

I should mention the open tabs thing is worse now that I’ve upgraded to FireFox 4. Now you can group tabs according to different subjects in the background (I love it!). Mine are production scheduling, business, cotton and vanity sizing. I have 33 37 55 open…

Manufacturing: Yet another mega consulting firm has realized that outsourcing doesn’t work. Here’s a quote:

[…]Accenture found that 61 percent are considering moving some of their manufacturing back to their home market. Ferreira and Heilala describe this as being a “secret shift” and a “quiet trend.”

Many manufacturing companies that shifted production offshore “likely did so without a complete understanding of the ‘total costs,’ and thus, the total cost of offshoring was considerably higher than initially thought,” write the two analysts. “Part of the issue is that not all costs of offshoring roll up directly to manufacturing; rather, they impact many areas of the enterprise.”

Not that I’ve ever said differently, (I know folks e-pat me on the head and wink behind my back over my irascible inflexibility) I still think the best move anyone can make is to start their own sewing factory because you’ll be much better positioned by the time everyone else figures they need domestic cut and sew and finding any open production slots in the US will be an even harder scramble.

Speaking of, many domestic cut and sew operations are expanding. This operation in Olive Hill KY is hiring 200 sewing machine operators.

Business: Someone in the forum posted a link to a new-to-me blog called In Good Company. Call it preaching to the choir, their mission is supporting the choice to grow smart by starting small. A good introduction is 5 Reasons NOT to grow your business.

In the same vein, BNET has three recent articles posted. The first is How to hit it big (and why you’re not ready yet) -how many times have I hit that theme? Maybe it’ll hit home coming from someone else. The story features the story of one business that bucked the trend of getting into big box stores by starting with one. By the way, Whole Foods isn’t the only major retailer that facilitates small business vendors.

The second BNET story is Beware the Entrepreneur’s Debt Trap, another repeated theme on this site because money is the least of what you need. This story recounts how two brothers built the world’s largest frozen yogurt chain. Here’s an excerpt, the context is they’d originally sought a loan of $100,000:

So rather than signing a five-year commitment to get a permanent storefront in a popular mall, the Serruyas decided to take a two-month lease on a summertime kiosk. They kept their kiosk simple and bought just the yogurt they could sell that day. The Serruyas quickly paid back the $3,000 they had borrowed from their father and started saving their profits. They tested flavors, customer service approaches and price points. By the time they had accumulated enough savings to open a real store, they had hundreds of valuable lessons under their belt. These would serve them very well when they opened their first real shop.

Everyday I read messages from people who don’t have the money to launch their lines because they spent it all on a website, branding, PR, trademarking and IP and had nothing left over to actually create any designs. With no money left, they’re looking for someone to partner with to do that for them. No one is going to partner with you if your priorities (judgement) have been skewed thus far. I’m not saying any of that is bad but it’s cart before the horse. And sure, 99 out of 100 people will say I’m wrong but none of them are manufacturing. If you want a manufacturer to back you, it matters what they think more than any 100 branding experts. If those branding experts think it’s so great then why don’t they back you or front their end of the work?

The third BNET story (maybe you should subscribe) is called The exaggerated rumor of manufacturing’s death. It’s short, not much in it but I post the link so you can see that contrary to popular belief, manufacturing isn’t on its last legs. Five years from now, I think domestic apparel manufacturing will see an appreciable increase with folks running their own shops being in the best position of all.

I liked the Six Hidden Factors of Motivation (slide show) which provides clues on how to communicate with others better. As someone who is very often misinterpreted, I think Preventing Bad Judgement should be required listening. It’s akin to my beef with the Golden Rule -treat others as you want to be treated. If you’re really going to be selfless and put others first, you treat them how they want to be treated, not how you do. When communicating, don’t assume others share the same motivations and goals you do. Above all, if something goes awry, assume incompetence rather than malice because it’s usually more true than not.

Retail: John told me that some retailers in Australia are charging customers to try on clothes. The fee is refundable if you buy. I don’t know how this will go over, I only know that retailers are being hit very hard by shoppers who go to stores to try on clothes and then buy them at the lowest price they can find online. You need to keep this in mind as you try to open accounts. Never undersell your stores if you also retail and you must enforce your price points. If you have internet retail accounts that won’t and they’re scraping sales from your brick and mortar stores, you need to do something about it.

I learned what a “tell” is. In poker, it is a change in a player’s behavior that some say gives a clue as to his hand. I looked it up after reading Sex Tells. The rule is “When your product is indistinguishable from the competition, add sex.” I knew they did that but the pattern hadn’t come together for me. The long and short of it, I think “green” is becoming a tell. People say they will pay more for these products but sales continue to lag or even decrease. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it but I can only hope it is truly your core value. If you’re push manufacturing, it’s not green no matter how organic or fair trade your goods are. Besides, customers do lie to you. Always. Ignore what they say, respond based upon what they do.

Speaking of, it appears that nagging is effective. Who knew? New research shows that project managers who don’t have power or authority but nag, are much more effective using redundant communication strategies. Contrary to what we’d think, managers with power but who don’t nag (probably because they don’t think they need to) are the ones who find themselves up the creek without the proverbial paddle. Maybe the lack of nagging is why some DEs have problems. They assume that because they are the customer (bestowing work) that they hold power. I agree it’s a fine line. You don’t want someone to become so annoyed with you that they stop taking your calls…

Cotton: A story from the WSJ about Hanes moving into flax (linen). I’m sure the flax producers will be happy. Me too, my favorite fiber. Sourcing Journal (via Bloomberg) says farmers have planted record cotton crops. Analysts predict cotton prices will fall 51% by December 31st. Speaking of agriculture generally, I like to read Western Farm Press for balance. Apparel Newsletter has its own take on how it affects producers with Cotton Price Volatility Plagues Apparel Market with Uncertainty. And speaking of Apparel Newsletter, they say luxury sales are on the upswing. Lastly, New York Magazine published Trouser Math; a prediction that cotton inflation will mean skinnier jeans (

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14 comments

  1. Marilynn says:

    In regard to starting a sewing factory in the states, do we have enough appropriately-trained labor? Possibly in California and New York, but the fashion schools are not (or cannot) producing sewers. What is the concensus of opinion?

  2. Lisa Brazus says:

    wow Kathleen there is so much here. I think the 55 open widows will keep you going long after you shut down for the day. Great post My head is swimming as always.

  3. Grace says:

    I couldn’t read the entire flax article because of the paywall.

    But my initial reaction was shock. You mean they have been using only part of the flax plant and wasting the rest even though it had inherent value beyond compost? That hadn’t occurred to me before.

    I love linen, too. I just made a linen shift dress and linen shirt. I also refashioned a linen shirt I found at a thrift store.

    I want to thank you again for your zipper and lining tutorials. I had a topological epiphany and managed to sew faced sleeveless dress without shoulder gymnastics or hand stitching. Thanks a bunch!

  4. Dia in MA says:

    Naturally Advanced is the company that Hanes is using. They have a link to their own copy of the WSJ article at their blog:

    http://naturallyadvanced.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/hemmed-in-by-cotton-hanes-eases-into-flax/

    This is the link to the article:

    http://www.scribd.com/full/52853633?access_key=key-1afzttkonkhyxosa7ut3

    It seems that they’ve come up with an enzyme method to soften the flax so it won’t be as stiff and wrinkle so easily. Should be interesting if it doesn’t reduce the durability of the fibers.

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    This very morning, in the trashy free paper they shove at us on the train, an article about the dearth of qualified help in the eecking-back-up native textile industry of France. Much hand-wringing about how it’s ‘impossible’ to find qualified people, and how they have to actually train workers themselves! How manual dexterity in any field is an important recruiting aspect. How those Breton/Picasso shirts, and gloves from the South, are an industry that’s not really going away. In fact I see local textile businesses doing really well.

    Actually, I know most of the ex-textile workers are not dead, and at least some of them would be happy to work in textiles again. But French business like to hire them young, so they can brainwash them better, and not pay them too much. This reminds me of many hand-wringing articles about the dearth of software engineers, by which they mean young, white, straight, male software engineers :-). Eh.

  6. In regard to starting a sewing factory in the states, do we have enough appropriately-trained labor? Possibly in California and New York, but the fashion schools are not (or cannot) producing sewers. What is the concensus of opinion?

    There is a critical shortage of skilled labor. I don’t know about CA but there is in NY to the extent that Bloomberg is lobbying for more immigrant visas. We discussed it at length in the forum.

    On the blog I’ve alluded to skill shortages recently. It’s a problem across the board and in all respects from sewing, sales, all the way up to management. A lot of brands fold with no one to take them on. These are vibrant going enterprises. See this blog link for more, this forum thread mentions the specifics of the company I mentioned in more detail.

    The shortage of skilled labor is so dire (where are all these people who say they’re looking for jobs?) that I wrote an entry I have yet to publish. If I do publish it, this link to Consequences of the fashion school bubble will be live. As of this writing, it is not.

    The redux is that with the advent of outsourcing, many support positions were lost, those workers either retired or went on to other jobs. So, it is ironic that we have many aspirants for top positions but nobody for the jobs it takes to support those positions. We can’t hire designers without bodies for what many seem to think are the menial jobs (I think much of the unsubstantiated talk of factory work has undermined careers in manufacturing).

    My other main point is that designers have lost sight of how jobs are created. Traditionally, designers HAVE ALWAYS started their own enterprises, that’s how brands start. Unfortunately, too many today most seem to think it is someone else’s responsibility to create a job for them.

    Another problem amounts to the double edged sword of technology. With technology enabling access to partners and markets, many people today think that is all they need but these are relatively soft skills. For example, most marketers either want to send email blasts or post to Facebook all day or sit in showrooms drinking lattes but they don’t want to hit the road with product which remains the primary way that goods are sold. I spoke to several older reps who are ready to retire but they can’t find anyone to take their accounts on the road. The conflict being that technology should have AUGMENTED the way we do business, not replaced it.

    In short, like every other entrepreneur I know with an in-house operation, you should presume you will have to train workers -assuming you can find them. In many places, we wouldn’t have any applicants if it weren’t for immigration.

  7. Quincunx says:

    Should we be looking at the fashion schools for sewers? Seems like, if you are determined to pay money to attain a first job at the sewing machine, it would be better to buy the industrial sewing machine instead of paying tuition, and then quantify it by mailing one of your (flawless, timed) practice sheets stapled along with your resume, instead of a diploma. Look back to May 2007 here to see the practice sheets. (Of course, once you land said job and are in a working factory, you can then have all those ‘home sewing’ bad habits forcibly removed, same as the diploma graduate–but hey, you paid less for them.)

  8. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Quincunx, I don’t think the fashion schools turn out competent sewing line sewers. I think a lot of them are teaching the same old stuff we’ve been dealing with in the home sewing arena. At least that is what I can see from the books available. The textbooks, usually put out by Fairchild, are exorbitantly priced, $90 or so, for a book that didn’t differ much in scope than the $35 Reader’s Digest book. The key to efficiency is when you sit down at the machine you are there to sew; everything that needs to be done is done; and you are striving for uniformity not creativity. That is not taught. It’s just like restaurant cooking; the same dish the same way to the same exacting standard. Like Kathleen says, prepare to train your own.

  9. Andrea says:

    I love the idea of having complete control of my production. It would help if there was a standardized way to train stitchers. There is often a gap in skill between designer and skilled stitcher, which is where I get stuck. I know that I am not knowledgeable enough about work standard to show someone else how to do it. Do you think current CMT factories would lend out their talent ? (lol). Thankfully, I am finally in a position in my business and community to be able to cultivate the talent, we have enough here to service whatever I and maybe one or two other small producers have and I have a shop with the right machines. Now I just have to sell something more significant than one offs and custom orders!!

  10. Kathleen says:

    Theresa, I hope this doesn’t sound argumentative and for gosh sakes, I don’t disagree that schools aren’t churning out line stitchers (not their job) but Samantha had some interesting ideas. I wrote her to ask if I should develop some of them for a future post but I haven’t heard back.

    The idea I found interesting was further developing the idea of training line stitchers. Say a home sewer who was interested in a factory job, how would they go about preparing for one? The sewing practice sheets could only be a start for a serious party (there are three entries in the series). I didn’t re-read those entries so I don’t know if it’s specifically stated but one will need to use an industrial machine. That could be the first hurdle for enthusiasts. They have to get used to the handling. Then again, maybe it’s a bad idea. Once they get used to the handling of an industrial, they’ll never want to sew on a home machine again.

    Once they were accustomed to handling (and had done the stuff in those three entries) they’d need other exercises. The one that came to mind immediately was sewing straight pieces to curves. A lot of those. With the smaller allowances, learning to gauge those consistently.

    A third exercise could be facing those, you know, sandwiching the sets. A fourth would be to top stitch them all.

    As far as getting a job, they wouldn’t need a resume as much as willingness to do a work try out. That sounds scary but they never throw anything horrible at you. They’re more interested in seeing how comfortable you are with the machine (they know you’ll be nervous so don’t sweat it).

    Some intangibles are important to know and these are hard to define. Other than dressing properly (safety in mind, nothing fashion-ey please), having the right tools (nippers or snips) with you, it’s knowing things they’d never know or think to tell you, like you should never cut or trim anything off. It shouldn’t be necessary (if it is, I’m not sure you want to work there unless they’re looking for someone who can help them fix this stuff). Not using pins is a given but if one has become accustomed to an industrial, they’ve become an impediment before now. Etc.

    Feedback?

  11. Colleen P. says:

    I would love to have a job working as a machine operator-I do in fact already know how to use industrial sewing machines and overlock machines, binding machines, flat felling machines and the machine that sews the soles onto shoes (and I cannot for the life of me remember what it is called). I definitely qualify as skilled labor. (I’m not an immigrant either, and the only ones I worked with were from the UK and from the Phillipines, both of whom married Americans.)

    That said-this skill set has done me absolutely no good whatsoever since I was laid off from that job-there are, as far as I have been able to determine, no industrial sewing jobs in my area. I cannot just move to be where the jobs might be available, my husband has a wonderful job that he loves and we own a home that is worth less than we’re paying for it. I am stuck exactly where I am, unable to use the hard won experience that I’ve got.

    My guess is that a lot of the skilled labor that there is such a shortage of, is in exactly the same position I’m in. You’d be amazed at the number of people that have done this kind of work I run across in fabric stores, quilt shops, etc. We’re out here, but there’s a definite communication dead-end between people wanting to fill these jobs and people wanting to do these jobs.

  12. Diane says:

    I recently found out that my cousin’s grandmother worked in a uniform factory in Detroit MI for 50 years! That is my rock star! I never met her, but I wish I could meet someone with any where near that kind of experience. I had to share here, because when I got starry eyed everyone else looked at me like I have 2 heads!

  13. Theresa in Tucson says:

    I’d love to see something about training line stitchers, and no I’m not offended, Kathleen. I’m not, and will never be a DE or a manufacturer but I do want to improve my stitching and I have by reading your posts. We home sewers pick up bad habits and it’s always good when they are pointed out since the reason we sew is for ourselves. No one likes the Becky Home-Ecky look and not everyone has the time for the couture model. Good RTW is what I want my clothes to look like.

  14. Quincunx says:

    So we have to get the employment to Colleen and her colleagues somehow. And yes, employers are looking–one of them turned up at the Stitcher’s Guild forum not that long ago, as baffled as the rest of us. (The questioner was redirected over to this site; it had sites in IL and AZ, if either is close to you, Colleen?) If you are all finding each other at the retail fabric stores, then to the retail fabric stores the employers must go, even at the risk of amateurs taking up valuable job application time. Knowing that the whatchamacallit sole-sewing machine even exists should be enough to differentiate your application from the amateurs’. It should even be possible to hire work-at-home industrial stitchers at a distance; with video links being as cheap as they are nowadays, the second-stage interviewee could do a demonstration live and timed. Any of the various “bid for tiny jobs” websites (best idea in a long while, please let a market leader emerge) could provide video between hiring point and employer for a few hours if either end doesn’t have the tech savvy to do it themselves. . . .It’s still outsourcing with all the logistical problems I know nothing about, but within the country and without the shipping times of, well, ships.

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