Clothing manufacturer Fit Couture trip reports 2

Today I have two more trip reports on the lean implementation at Fit Couture earlier this month (previous entry). First up is Susanna Tisa followed by Alex Russel. Thanks guys!

Hi Kathleen. We’ve just gotten back from our travels to Montreal and now I’m ready to do my report. It was so great to meet you at the event and thanks again for your great advice on my sketched designs. I’m throwing myself back into it as we speak. Here’s my report.

Who are we? My name is Susanna Tisa – husband Gary and I attended the Fit Couture event as a team. Gary is a corporate tax guy and I am a bank/finance executive. We are both in career transition, having made the move to consulting firms that offer us the opportunity to manage our time, professional pursuits, and investment dollars according to our own interests. The idea to enter the design entrepreneur field at this stage came from the trouble I had with finding appropriate and versatile professional wear for an up-and-coming executive woman. I solved my own problem by creating one basic outfit I liked, and then commissioned my talented mother-in-law to make variations on that theme for the next 15 years so that I could look presentable in front of Boards, senior executives, investors, and conferences. I have been researching the idea of ‘productionalizing’ my designs for about two months, so this is a relatively new endeavor for us.

How did we come upon the Fit Couture visit? Early on in my research I tumbled upon Fashion-Incubator and ‘the book’. I signed up, bought the book, and immediately engaged with Kathleen about my idea. I also found the America’s 21st website and sent an inquiry about their services relative to what I was thinking about doing. Within days of each other, both Kathleen and the America’s 21st folks mentioned the upcoming Fit Couture visit as a timely opportunity for us to see in person what a small manufacturing operation could look like. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so we signed up.

What did we expect? Gary really had very little idea of what we were going to do on this visit, but he’s always game for a road trip. He was a little concerned that there would be a hard ‘sales pitch’ involved and that we would get roped into something that we were not interested in. But he hadn’t been on the website or read Kathleen’s book, so I went with my gut and said that I didn’t think that this was like a timeshare presentation or a request for funding. The website is so genuine and authentic, and my intuition was that the day would be a learning experience. I was a little nervous that the tour itself would be off the mark or ill-prepared in some way – however, reading Mike’s crisp agenda on the website made me very comfortable that I wasn’t dreaming. But one can never be sure.

How did the day unfold? Exactly as Mike had outlined in the agenda, and then some. Mike and Amy had prepared extremely well for the day – from their presentation to the food to the environment to the employees that they showcased for us. If they ever decide to go public, Mike and Amy would put on one heck of a road show I’m sure. The group was very engaging – it was so nice to meet people from all over the place who share a passion for the design entrepreneur field. Everyone who attended was very open to sharing their ideas and questions. The America’s 21st folks (Len and Fernando) were informative and not hard sell in any way. They were keenly interested in all the different perspectives and fielded many questions. The guys spent quite a bit of time with us looking at my samples and problem-solving the issues. The best part of the tour was seeing the sewing line in action – I had never envisioned such an intricate dance to produce each garment, and the tools/machines/tracking processes were fascinating to watch. The people doing the work seemed very absorbed and focused on what they were doing, moving around and making spot decisions as the ebb and flow of garments moved through the line. I could see how the level of quality would be much higher with the TSS method of garment construction. Kathleen added a lot of commentary and perspective so that those of us new to the field would understand what we were looking at.

What was our big take-away? Two really:

  1. To envision that these multiple SKU, complex products were being made on demand from website orders with a quick turnaround was mind-boggling. We learned a lot from Mike about the interrelationship between Fit Couture’s product strategy, manufacturing techniques, and marketing/delivery channels. The web is really evolving and Fit Couture is at the forefront of leveraging innovative manufacturing technologies into customer-appealing designs with fast delivery.
  2. This is hard work, but passion and discipline go a long way. Mike and Amy have worked extremely hard to get to where they are, long hours and no vacation, so it is not without sacrifice that they have achieved this level of success. But now that they are underway, there is a lot of leverage in their model as long as they can keep up with demand and customer desires for new products.

Hats off to everyone who was involved in organizing this fabulous event!

Hello Kathleen, I know it is a little late, but here is a bit of trip report from the visit to Mike and Amy’s operation.

Going into this visit, I was very interested in seeing how Mike and Amy had set up their business and facilities, because their company is structured similarly to how Marnie and I would like to operate. We will be doing made to order lingerie retailed online, so this was an excellent chance to see how someone else handles this type of business.

Seeing the new line that America’s 21st had built for them was very inspirational. The flexibility it offers and the improvements in time and labor savings it provides are what makes it viable to continue producing garments in North America. I think it was important for us to see what this kind of set up looked like at this early stage in our process, because it lets us see where we can go. Talking to Len and Fernando about this sort of line and hearing Mike’s experience with various machines and has me thinking about how to make sure we can grow from a bootstrap start up sewing in our front room of our house, into a properly designed and equipped lean manufacturer. Managing that growth is difficult, but critical to our success.

I was also impressed with Amy’s CAD demo. We have been considering our software options, and it was good to have an opportunity to see one in action, and to talk to an actual user and find out how they feel about the software. Trying to evaluate something like that from a sales rep’s demo is difficult. It was interesting to hear both Amy and Mike say that they would have had the software from the beginning if they could. The trouble is the expense, and that is always a difficult balancing game. That said, the fabric modeling capabilities can end up saving a lot of time and money on testing and samples. If used properly in conjunction with a responsive production capability, the speed with which you can get new products to market increases dramatically (and the clutter of pattern paper in your space decreases at the same rate ;)

There were a thousand other little things that I tried to absorb, and I hope that whatever I missed is laying dormant in my subconscious. It was an information packed day, and I must thank both Amy and Mike and Kathleen for this excellent opportunity.

Alex Russel

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  1. Robin Denning says:

    I have been following the posts about Fit Couture and Coppley Apparel, as I am fascinated with the possibility of producing custom- cut garments.

    I am a home sewer- I just bought Bernina’s My Label software and it is bundled with OptiTex. It is a truly remarkable product- and I only paid $400 for it.

    In my day gig, I configure, implement and train users on ERP business solution software. My specific expertise is in financial applications, including product cost accounting.
    So I am really interested in how the costing would work in a business model like this. I have some exposure to lean manufacturing through my engineer husband whose employer practices many of the techniques I’ve read about on this site (such as kaisens).

    Keep up the good work. Fascinating stuff. I want to keep learning more. I am sure I would have loved the field trip to Fit Couture.
    Perhaps our paths will cross someday.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Helen B says:

    I agree, this is fascinating stuff – so I’ll echo Marguerite’s thanks.

    I spent 6 years implementing lean practices in a financial services company (much easier in theory, as we don’t have a physical product to worry about).

    I love to hear about lean techniques producing quick turnarounds in response to complex orders. However much that says about my social life (or lack thereof).

    Well done to all concerned!

  3. Stacy Holt says:

    What is apparent from the Trip Report and comments, that technology and systems for market quick response is vital for a sucessful business. Whether it be an ecommerce delivery system or Optitex pattern CAD software. While there are there is a certain investment in these resources, the payback is quick if used properly. For the same reason a small business has accounting software, apparel businesses should also invest in other technologies specific to thier industry. How else do you think small companies become profitable and/or bigger?
    I am interested to hear more comments on Robin’s experience with Bernina MyLabel. I am on the team that created the pattern and model content for the software. Bernina is doing an amazing job of delivering this technology to the home sewer. I am looking forward to seeing all the great fitting outfits the user can create from the 20 base styles in the box.

  4. Nice to meet you, Stacy and Helen.
    Stacy- I am also looking forward to seeing the results from My Label. I’ll be posting on my blog … so here is a link to my blog. Sewing is not rocket science, it is getting a nice fit that we crave and find so challenging. (We, as in us homely home sewers :). It might be amusing if our power was harnessed by something as revolutionary as the My Lable product. What if we, us regular folks, started sewing our own clothes? kinda makes you go hmmmmm…..

    What if there was a way to broker connections between sewers and buyers. hmmm.

    And if I stumble onto any more interesting things about business process software, I’ll post. Cost accounting is hugely interesting to me. Like you Helen, I have to laugh at what entertains me.

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