Will your book help with non-fashion items?

I have returned from my trip and am slogging through emails. Speaking of which, I get this question a lot and thought to save myself some time by writing a post about it which I could then forward to people who write me. Your input and corroboration would be helpful too.

I found your website yesterday while searching “how to start a textile company”. My [husband, wife, friend, mother, father, fiancé] and I are [moms, dads, nurses, teachers, scientists, lawyers, accountants] who live [in large urban city, rural town, on a boat, cabin in the woods, yurt/teepee in the desert, in X foreign country] and we want to know if your book will help us produce [toys, table cloths, yurts/teepees, seat coverings, purses, bedding, home decor, automotive accessories, our invention].

The short answer is yes, you’re describing a sewn product. It is not coincidental that my book is titled The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.

Case in point, you were searching about how to start a textile company which is a world away from apparel and sewn products. Having a better understanding of terminology and how it’s used (which you learn in the book) will save you a great deal of frustration, time and money.

You will still need to know how to source fabrics (at wholesale fabric shows, mostly for clothes because there aren’t any stand alone shows for most sewn product types). You have to know how to talk to these people and how to find them -most of the best sources aren’t on the web or if they are, aren’t search accessible. Here is an excerpt from a post in the forum:

I’m a child of the internet era and I didn’t believe Kathleen’s point for a long time. It’s strange but true- this industry operates almost entirely offline! It can be super frustrating for someone who’s used to finding everything they ever wanted by googling, but the upside is people in this industry are super helpful when you develop relationships.

I’d recommend posting specific questions on here [the forum] and asking vendors you currently work with for referrals. Your patternmaker, sample house, contractor, etc. may have experience with some fabrics you need- and if you network with other manufacturers in your space they most definitely will have knowledge of your fabrics.

Lastly, Kathleen is dead on about the trade shows. This is a relationship-based industry- like it or not- and people appreciate a handshake and a little small talk. It is more than worth your time to attend them and make connections.

You also need to know how to hire people who can help you (pattern makers, sewing contractors, sales reps etc) and know the fashion calendar and its delivery dates inside out. Yes, you need to know the fashion calendar because everything revolves around it. If you can be flexible, you can schedule your production for time frames when clothing is slow. Otherwise, it will be an exercise in futility to try to get samples made if everyone is busy sewing for the largest delivery window of the year (Fall).

The only thing in the book you don’t need to know about is grading since your item doesn’t come in a spectrum of tidy sizes but you still need to know about it because graders make markers which you will need. It is so important that there is a whole chapter on markers. And in case anyone asks -they do, often- you do need patterns even if your item amounts to simple rectangles.

People also ask if the 1998 version is the most up to date available. This is also true (much to my continuing dismay). This is a mature industry, not much changes. The core concepts of manufacturing cost effectively have not changed in over 100 years. I realize this also sounds crazy -but a newcomer doesn’t know how desperately we seek much older books long out of print that have solid information that is no longer available. I do not doubt you will think I’m wrong but when it comes to root knowledge of processes, we are losing more institutional knowledge than we gain. It is quite a crisis. Most people won’t believe this either until they start looking for instruction on something so simple as cutting. Only then do they realize there isn’t anything out there and they will either have to figure it out for themselves or find an old codger somewhere who will teach them how to do it.

In a manner of speaking, if I had a magic wand and had a new edition ready tomorrow, there is not much in the book I would replace -it remains the core concepts that aren’t in any other books. It would be a disservice to replace it. The only question is what I would add and handily enough, this site and its forum has posted additions spanning eight years of content. With nearly 3,000 posts on this site and over 50,000 on the forum, it would be impossible to include that in a book anyway. The forum by the way, has the best stuff, things we don’t publish in public being too proprietary (names, prices, reviews etc) but if you buy the book, you can join and gain access.

For what it’s worth (since most people to whom this message is targeted don’t know) don’t be misled by a mistaken impression that this site is low key, struggling and seemingly bumbling along because it remains something of a legend and without parallel in the industry. That it is so successful (well, our members and visitors are) is why I spend $0 on marketing it. Besides, marketing would bring in more of the wrong crowd -such as people who struggle to spell designer (“desinger”). I got a lot of emails from them too while I was away…

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3 comments

  1. Paul says:

    I can vouch for much of what Kathleen wrote in this post, and to the excerpts. My product is not a garment, but certainly could be described as fashion. As for the internet as a source of materials and services offered on a manufacturer’s level, the comment on the industry is right on. I was looking for pattern makers and sewing contractors in Minnesota about 18 months ago (hardly the dark ages of the internet), and had very little luck. So in frustration, I dusted off the several YELLOW PAGES I had sitting around… and this is how I found some good local talent. Even though those companies had websites, and I am a savvy searcher, still could not find them online.

    When suppliers have websites, you often need to call and talk with a sales rep to find what you want. And many in the industry are helpful, you will still find the old school suppliers that won’t even talk unless you can tell them EXACTLY what you want (as in part number). And that is exactly why the F-I resources are so valuable.

  2. Liz W. says:

    Actually, many the business concepts within Kathleen’s book can be applied to most any industry. I purchased her book for my home sewing business but I was able to use the information to further my understanding of practices within the absolutely non-sewing manufacturing plant where I work.

  3. To answer the post’s question: absolutely! The book applies to all kinds of sewn products – fashion/apparel or not, and manufacturing in general.
    And yes, it is totally true that this industry relies on personal relationships and few things are done over the Internet. Coming from an online background where business relationships are often cut-throat and very temporary (since the Internet changes all the time and people don’t stay in the same job for long), it did take some adjustment in the beginning, but it is so much better this way!

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