I keep saying I should write out what I would do if I were starting a company but I never have. Most people seem to keep this stuff under wraps, as though it were top secret or something but I just don’t think it’s so easy to run with somebody’s concept. In that vein, here are the core elements to what I’d consider a lean organization to be were I to undertake the task. Never forget; your only advantage over imports can be summarized and reduced to …four weeks on the water. That is your only advantage.
Product: Women’s dressy blouses. Nothing earth shattering as far as the fashion world is concerned. Just a really nice blouse. Every woman needs a really nice blouse in her wardrobe.
Styling: Classic vintage cuts typical of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. A return to the traditional “shirtwaist”. I hate coffin clothes so the backs will have details too. I don’t like sportswear so no button-down blouses either. Rather, think interesting collar, cuff and neckline details. Built in scarf-necklines with soft shirring, tucks, darts and pleats. Sleeves with unexpected lines, details and gussets. Zipper closures concealed in side seams. In short, a blouse that carries its own weight -you won’t need a scarf to dress it up- under a suit but you’d prefer not to wear it that way to show it off to full advantage.
Sizes: I’d cut in six sizes in accordance with bra sizing as follows:
My sleeves will be longer than is typical in smaller sizes (the 32’s should fit a woman 5’6″ in height). My armholes will be higher.
Samples: I’d select 34 C/D as my sample size but do the bulk of style and fit testing in a 32 C/D. I’d be more likely to test styles on a retail mannequin than a dress form. I’d only cut in one color way and carry the second color way on a sample card.
Fabrication: Undecided but I’ll only use one fabric; my order of preference being:
Believe me, I am more than aware of how difficult it is to use just one fabric to produce a line. It’s a lot easier to rely on the design of fabrics to carry your styles for you than it is this way. Still, I expect to sell design details and features, not fabric. This way, I only have to carry two kinds of fabric in inventory which means I can probably make minimums and cut mixed markers.
Packaging: A simple brown box (perhaps with pane) made of recycled materials. Perhaps tissue paper to cushion and diminish fold lines. Product identification on the top and one end.
Price points: $250. (retail). I think -perhaps naively- I can get more once the line is developed but would like to develop a reputation for value in that market niche. All blouses will be 100% washable. I hate dry cleaning.
Label: I’m tempted to name it after my ex-mother in law because her name is pretty and “matches” my last name -Marcella Fasanella but I’ve been advised to just use my own name. The company would be called ABC, the American Blouse Company. Nothing arrogant, just simple. If your details are defined succinctly, you don’t need to trumpet anything.
Initial product launch: I’d approach several different outlets with the goal of getting four accounts. I’d launch with either four or five pieces. My first focus would be boutiques that carry career apparel. My second focus would be lingerie boutiques. I’m hoping bra-sized blouses will do well in women’s lingerie shops. I’d also be likely to experiment with an online store but I won’t be selling except at full MSRP. The problem with the online store is that I’d only want to take orders, with anticipated delivery within one month’s time and I don’t know how difficult it’ll be to “train” consumers to that line of thinking. While I’d really like to do more, at the outset my minimum order would be one piece.
“Sales” belongs next in this list but I’m uncomfortable placing it here until I’ve gained some confidence with at least the first production round. Accordingly, sales follows production.
Production: I’m assuming I’d have to cut and sew the first round of orders myself. I’m uncomfortable cutting blouse weights so I’d most likely look for a cutter who’d help out for the day. Regarding processing, I’d be more likely to do batch sewing rather than single unit production. Not to say I’d always do it like that, just that I’d need more experience with my own product before I’d make other changes. At the outset, I’d rather be safer and slower than sorry.
Sales: I’d definitely need a rep, maybe someone with a permanent showroom. I’d encourage my accounts to order monthly. Until I could develop a relationship with a contractor or ensure reliable on-site production, I wouldn’t hire a PR firm. Once I had production configured, I’d probably hire a firm. Under the current climate, I’d be unlikely to sell to department stores with one exception, that being JC Penney’s. The reason is that if you’re Penney’s certified, anybody will buy from you. I’m unlikely to sell to department stores unless they were willing to change their payment policies but that is highly unlikely. I don’t want or need the drama of carrying accounts.
Growing process: Once I’d completed one round of orders, I’d probably take stock of what I did right and wrong, make adjustments and then re-hit my retailers for reorders. If they reordered, I’d start pumping them for referrals for sales reps they like. Depending on demand, I’d either rerun existing styles while adding new ones with a goal of two new styles per month. I’d also drop styles. I wouldn’t want to carry anymore than 24 different styles at the end of the first year. Or maybe only 12-18. 24 sounds like a lot to manage. Or mangle as the case may be.
Throughout the process of the first year, I’d look for a contractor unless it were more expedient to do it in-house. In my neck of the woods, there’s a lot of stitchers. Still, I’d cap my in-house head count to probably six people, one of which would have to be an assistant and admin person. I currently have the space for that many people and machines. I’d have to move my desk and get another pattern table. My existing table is 20 feet long but that’ll be used for cutting and sorting. I’d probably need to buy some more machines (and get rid of some machines I already have but can’t be used for this type of production). I have a spreader, knife and labeling equipment.
My second year, I’d do all of the same but I’d add another fabrication. I’d also consider adding more colors but only through garment dyeing. Even with garment dyeing, I’d only carry a maximum of 6 color ways, two of them being seasonal. I’d be happiest if I only had to carry four at most. I’d definitely have to have a contractor by now, unless my husband quit his job to help out full time. Ideally, he’d run the company and keep me in line. I’m happier being a grunt rather than the leader of anything.
If everything ran whiz-bang, at some point I’d consider adding women’s suits to match the blouses. Again, they’d be fitted, vintage styles. I see the advantage of what I can produce to be unique product styling and construction, heavily reliant on pattern cutting. Still, my only advantage -and yours- can be summarized as not needing four weeks on the water. Don’t forget it.
Feel free to kick the tires of my plan. If you don’t know why I’ve decided to do some of the things as I’ve outlined them, just ask.
If I were to produce a line pt.2