If I were to produce a line

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:
32 A/B
32 C/D
34 A/B
34 C/D
36 B
36 C/D
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.

Related entries:
If I were to produce a line pt.2

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  1. Liana says:

    Everything about your blouse styles sounds fabulous, and I can think of nothing like this on the market now. The only thing I’m against is your colors. I HATE white blouses, and cream is near the bottom of my list. I can see why these would be good to start with, though. I’ll be interested to see what colors you go for when you get to that point. I would vote for a soft gray-green first.

  2. Actually, that sounds really good, you should do it. Can I help you draw them? I *like* the drawing part. (insert Valley Girl accent here. I kinda have one for real, anyway.)

    That was really great, I wish you’d had a similar outline in your book, except that for general purposes, you’d have to put
    “market research” at the very beginning. Can I convince you to post a summary of the market research efforts you went through in order to develop this idea?

    Why such limited sizing? is 5’6″ really the average height for business women? How do you know?

    I think $250 is awful high, but I hate spending money on clothes.

    I think your rep will really complain about the one fabric thing. The reps I’ve met seem to like variety (it looks better in the showroom?) That being said, it neatly solves many of the problems that plague me regarding fabric!

    sorry, try as I might, I just can’t kick hard enough to deflate the tires. tee hee.

  3. Jess says:

    The one thing I would do is not use a box. Wouldn’t that discourage people from seeing the product? I also like the idea of picking something that almost every woman would be interested in having. Make your money on one very good idea and then go for expanding the line.
    There was this great documentary on the Sundance network (Seamless 2005) It followed three of the nominees for the Vogue award for new designers. I was amazed that almost all the designers said they were not making a profit even though they were considered successful. It was interesting to see how they worked. One design group was renting a building for 6,000 a month (to me that seems like a lot of money, maybe it doesn’t to someone who lives in the city) and another designer was using her parents dry cleaning business as her studio and had her parents doing the sewing, hee.

  4. Natasha says:

    I have no problem paying $250 for an excellent blouse that fits wells. You might want to sub black for cream though. A nice fabrication might be some kind of mens inspired cotton but of course it depends on the style. Black with cream pinstripes?

    I am short and most of the ppl I know are short. I only know a couple of ppl I know that are 5’6″ or above.

    Finding petite sized shirts that fit my 36C’s is fustrating to say the least.

  5. Kurtiss says:

    Nice post. For your initial product launch would you approach different outlets personally or through a sales rep? Would you approach online only merchants in addition to brick and mortar? If you sold online even at full MSRP, would there be a backlash with retailers that sold your brand?

  6. MW says:

    The one thing I would do is not use a box. Wouldn’t that discourage people from seeing the product? I also like the idea of picking something that almost every woman would be interested in having. Make your money on one very good idea and then go for expanding the line.

    Actually, a box is not a bad idea. High end men’s dress shirts come in boxes (sometimes) with window panels to peek at the color. Stores that sell these shirts have the appropriate displays and usually have one open per style. Since men’s dress shirt sizes are just what they are, there’s no need to have it hanging on a rack to hold it up to your body to see if it fits.

    If women were able to get used to shirt sizing based on bra sizing, then it would work well.

    Though, Kathleen, a huge issue is women who are wearing the wrong size bra (it’s a large percentage) and how that affects your product line.

    And, I’d go up to *at least* a 38 C/D. You’ll still find a lot of women at that size who are in your market (price and style wise).

  7. Camille says:

    Camille wants one with sleeves that will cover her overly long arms…. down to the wrists, sniff.

    What kind of zipper? How long is it? I’m guessing it doesn’t open up at the hem?

    They sound lovely, anyway.

  8. Joe Ely says:

    Oh my, business plans!! Wow, Kathleen!

    I know nothing about blouses. Only business and finance.

    Business plans are a lot more than just operations. I know, I ran my own business for a couple of years. The sales thing is huge.

    It strikes me that everything here hinges off of your assessment that you can sell a blouse for $250 retail. Can you ground that assessment? Could this group of loyal readers help you? For example, if we each sent an email to 5-10 professional women we know asking them 3 key questions (such as Would you buy this? Pay $250? If not $250, how much?) and asked them to feel free to foward to others, you could get 50-100 direct consumer reactions to the blouse, quickly, for free.

    From that, you could construct some sort of business plan.

    You gotta have cash to do this. Lean is a fabulous way to conserve cash but it still takes cash to get it started. Subsequent cash flow all derives from your sales level.

    The key equation in Lean on this matter is

    Profit=(Price-Cost)x Volume

    The only thing you can really, really control is cost. Volume and price will largely be determined in the marketplace, despite your best efforts.

    I could go on…this is very exciting, to think of an American manufacturer of fine garments, done in a very rapid response manner.

    I look forward to hearing more.

  9. Gigi says:

    I’m with Liana, everything sounds fabulous! But I’d really rather have some color – rich jewel tones to be exact. Personally, I don’t think the price is out of line.

  10. Mike C says:

    Can you ground that assessment? Could this group of loyal readers help you? For example, if we each sent an email to 5-10 professional women we know asking them 3 key questions (such as Would you buy this? Pay $250? If not $250, how much?) and asked them to feel free to foward to others, you could get 50-100 direct consumer reactions to the blouse, quickly, for free.

    Its probably easier than that.

    Go into a boutiques that you see as the right fit for carrying the blouses and see where their price points land. If $250/blouse would give sticker shock (high or low), it may take some further research. If $250 fits nicely in the range of others sold, then you can be pretty sure the market will support it.

    One of the wonderful things about the apparel business is that its incredible vastness means that just about any garment/price point combination can support a small, profitable, company IF that company is well run.

  11. Diane says:

    You’ve chosen to fit the “average” 5’6″ woman so that excludes petites. I’m on the other end of the spectrum at 5’11” and if you cut the sleeves a tad longer like fine clothing then you’d catch my group and the extra length for the average would be elegantly long but not sloppy.

    I would drop the 32C and replace it with a 38C as this seems to be a more popular bra size. Ok, it also happens to be mine.

    White and cream are classic and would certainly show the details but that seems limiting just as the company name is a “blouse” company even though you are considering making suits as well.

    Men’s shirts are neat and tidy on shelves, usually made of cotton or a blend and feeling the fabric is not really necessary before purchase. I would want to feel the silk or linen, try it on, check the drape, make sure it was long enough. This requires taking it out of the box or poly bag and while it keeps the product clean it produces waste.

    A retail website has to deal with consumers who may or may not know the brand and how it fits. This requires eXtra effort to educate and also deal with refunds, returns, etc.

    I believe the vintage reproduction market is largely untapped as younger women are just discovering how to dress like a lady even in jeans.

    Remember that I know enough to know that I don’t know anything. You know what they say about opinions!

  12. christy fisher says:

    I agree with Mike C. on the pricepoint: there is a NICHE market for almost anything..but if one plans to “go large” then, more demographic research would be necessary. I, personally, do not know anyone who would spend $250. on a blouse. Most of the stores I sell to keep their tops in the $80- $100 range.

    On the color/non-color issue:
    If you look at runway collections at places like style.com, you will see that “most” designers will go with cream/white, black, and ONE or TWO other colors to do their entire line and then spice it up with perhaps ONE major print story.

    I like the idea of one fabrication (I ran my sweater company off of ONE yarn for 8 years..and just had different dyelots run).
    (Now I am taking a break from that and having FUN playing with mixed fabrications.)
    Garment dyeing, however, is very pricey-unless you are doing volume.

    BTW.. since I have never done garment dyeing myself (but I did check out pricing at a couple of sources)..I have a question:
    When you make a garment in linen, cotton, etc (some natural fiber) and you want to get it garment dyed later- what type of THREAD do you use?
    If you use polyester or any synthetic thread, the dye for the natural fiber is not going to take.. and cotton thread is not usually strong enough for production.

  13. La BellaDonna says:

    I look forward to the day when your line takes off and you can consider adding pretty, detailed, SLEEVELESS blouses for those of us who are now cursed with our own perpetual summers (also known as “power surges”).

    You can consider calling them “Hot Stuff.” Hee.

    Really. Please. And while I wear a lot of black, there’s always room for good-looking white cotton blouses, which, since I know you will preshrink the fabric, I can always dye. (Thank you, Dharma Trading!) And, seriously, I’m not going to be able to wedge my 36D into a C/D size, unless it’s going to be loose on the 36C woman. (And 5’6″ seems pretty average to me. Of course, I’m 5’6″.)

  14. MW says:

    Garment dyeing, however, is very pricey-unless you are doing volume.

    Not really, there are tons of dye houses in LA with $35 dye lot minimums. I use them all the time for dyeing trims and small batches.

    When you make a garment in linen, cotton, etc (some natural fiber) and you want to get it garment dyed later- what type of THREAD do you use?
    If you use polyester or any synthetic thread, the dye for the natural fiber is not going to take.. and cotton thread is not usually strong enough for production

    You use cotton thread on garments that will be dyed using fiber rective dyes. Cotton thread is strong enough for production when you purchase the right kind, there are tons of garment dyed product lines (Rebecca Beeson is one) that use cotton thread.

  15. Mike C says:


    Can you email me contact info for the LA dye houses you mention?

    I tried to find someone that would dye a roll of knit polyester Coolmax a while back and had no luck unless I was doing in the 500 yard range.

  16. Cinnamon says:

    I love the idea of styling influenced by 1920’s-40’s design. I’ve been snatching up vintage sewing patterns left and right for years. And someday I’ll make myself an entire wardrobe based on the designs. Somday.

    And while I probably wouldn’t purchase many blouses in the $250 price range, based on the quick tour of a few boutiques in the suburb I work in, they might be able to fit although $175 might be easier to sell. Significant price difference I know.

    And I’d never wear a white blouse. I know it’s the classic and realize why it would be important, but I’d be more likely to go with a subdued color.

    I’ll just wait patiently while you figure out how to make this happen, Kathleen.

  17. jinjer says:

    and cotton thread is not usually strong enough for production.

    Well, Dharma trading also sells pre-made items sewn in cotton thread, so there must be a type that works well in production. You could ask the people there.

    Can you email me contact info for the LA dye houses you mention?
    I tried to find someone that would dye a roll of knit polyester Coolmax a while back and had no luck unless I was doing in the 500 yard range.

    Mike, I was looking for a place in LA to dye yardage and ran into the problem that most dye-houses will only dye garments, not fabric yardage. I did find a couple of places, which I’m happy to share with you, but I wanted natural fibers dyes–and dying polyesters is completely, totally different.

    Kathleen, wouldn’t it be wonderfully customer-centric to dye single garments to order? It’s not all that difficult to get quality results even with a home washer, and as long as you are real scientific about it, you can get consistent results, too. White/cream blouses would be cheaper, but colored ones could be had at an extra charge? (you’d determine the formulas ahead of time, and ship color swatches with the blouses.)

  18. christy fisher says:

    When I was doing dyehouse research, the pricing I received was by the pound and when I did the math it came to $4- $8 per garment, which for me, was prohibitive at the wholesale range. (It added about $2. a yard to the wholesale cost of the fabric). I would LOVE to find some reliable garment dyers who were less expensive.

  19. Carol Kimball says:

    Christy Fisher:
    Industry standard is 3-ply cotton-wrapped polyester thread. The home-market version is C&C’s Dual Duty. Comparable stuff is available in 6000-yard cones from a number of suppliers.

    I have done considerable custom work with fiber-reactive dyes. Dyeing the yardage gives much more consistant results.

    This wastes dye and limits how many garments’ worth of fabric can be accommodated in one run. Cutting, framing (serging the edges, as non-blotchy dyeing requires high agitation which will distort even non-raveling knits), tagging the corners of each garment’s pieces together (loosely!) and dyeing works. The handling escalates far past cost-effectiveness for even lean, small-quantity production.

    The difficulty in dyeing sewn garments is that every fabric (and every yardage put-up of the same fabric) will take the dye differently. Even when there is plenty of room for the garments to agitate freely (expensive), there will usually be lighter or darker lines along anywhere the fabric is constricted (seams) or overlaid, so “vintage” details are a problem, though with cotton-wrapped poly thread, extensive topstitching isn’t. 100% cotton rib knit on 100% cotton shirting or knit is going to come out different shades. A new order of dye will be close but not the same, all of which is why you cannot swatch for clients.

    Dyeing one blouse, or batch of blouses, is a two- to three-hour investment of time, even if dye formulas are predetermined, fabric/garment(s) prewashed and everything ready to go.

    Knowing where the pitfalls lie means even more joy when you surmount them.

  20. MW says:

    I would love to post the info. Unfortunately, it’s a document I got from Cotton Incorporated, and I will have to contact them and ask permission. But in the meantime, you can contact their LA office at (213) 627-3561 and ask for their list of Garment Dyers, they also have one for piece dyeing of fabric. They are incredibly helpful with sourcing fabric mills, converters, jobbers and anything cotton related.

    Jinjer– La Corona Dye House will dye fabric, but it has to be cut into 5 yard pieces. They use fiber reactive dyes, not sure how natural you need it. It’s not the *best* way to do things (cutting fabric into 5 yard pieces), but, we have to work with what we can.

  21. Carol Kimball says:

    Pesticides and prophylactic megadoses of antibiotics that pervade our food chain have generated an understandable but mistaken belief that something that occurs naturally in the environment is going to be safer or better.

    The most dangerous venoms, toxic alkaloids, and deadly diseases come from Mother Nature.

    One of my earliest experiences with dyeing involved a company using “all natural dyes”. The “organic” mordants used to fix the stuff were terribly toxic and polluting. Mordant comes from the root for “death”.

    I did extensive research after encountering these folks. That they were also paranoid bozos didn’t help.

    Fiber-reactive dyes and natural fibers are the happiest of partners. Once the molecular binding has occurred, any dyes and catalysts left quickly and safely biodegrade. Soda ash is caustic, but no more so than anything else possible to use, with rubber gloves and a simple dust mask adequate for safe handling.

    The only more environmentally friendly method is to accept or modify how the color of the fiber grows in the first place.

    “Ecru” means the color of natural linen.

  22. Camille says:

    About tags… can they be printed on silk ribbon? Not scratchy, I think….

    One thing I HATE about white blouses, especially, is seeing the tag through the blouse when a woman is wearing it. I don’t like stiff embroidered tags, either, but the look really bad.

    I’m voting for white, cream and black for starters. Then red. Then a pale celadon green. Then maybe a dusty light blue… and later black and navy wool suits, longish skirt… so that the jacket lapels compliment the blouse collar (and visa versa). Yeah. And you can call your line “Camille Fassanella” if you want. No charge for using my first name. :-) I used to know the people who own “Camille Beckman”. They didn’t name it after me, but I thought it was cool that they had a hand cream with my name on it.

    I get the simplicity of “American Blouse Company” but it’s a little stiff to say aloud, and maybe a tiny bit like “Triangle shirtwaist”, I don’t want to be too negative there, it’s a nice name, but I think maybe even plainer would work. “Company Blouse”? “Facile” or fancier… “Legendary Blouse Company” ‘Lyrical Blouse Company”
    “Klein Bottle Blouse Company” :-)

  23. The only more environmentally friendly method is to accept or modify how the color of the fiber grows in the first place.

    Personally, I think this would be a really great use of genetic engineering, but for some reason most green people I meet are anti-genetic engineering. Very sad…it’s not ALL bad.

  24. Susan McElroy says:

    Wow. I’m overwhelmed by the wealth of knowlege, experience, and creativity here.

    Why don’t we all come up with an imaginary line? Talk about a brainstorm! Is there a place on the forum we could do this?

  25. christy fisher says:

    re: one fabric
    I understand your point here, Kathleen. You could give me 3 yards of muslin and put me in a room and I could design forever using only that fabric…but would I WANT to? no.
    I think there is a fine line between lean production with one fabrication/one color and becoming anorexic.
    The concept of lean production is GREAT..don’t get me wrong..but I feel there needs to be a balance or (here is the problem I encountered in my “past manufacturing history”):
    you can get pegged into a very tiny hole.
    Your buyers (and consumers) will only know you as “that linen blousemaker”. Now that is great- as long as linen and blouses are in fashion- but when the climate changes-and it always does- you can get “stuck” with that reputation. Ask me how I know.
    (Knitwear designer, cotton sweaters)
    Even making the switch from “knits only” to adding woven counterparts was difficult- not because of manufacturing- but because I was having to start a whole NEW batch of educating my buyers that this is not the only thing I did.
    These days it seems a bit easier to transition..even Vera Wang is doing daywear (but don’t you still know her as bridal?)
    Most fashion designers want a variation of textiles/colorways, etc. It doesn’t mean you have to rely on the fabrics..it just means you are not just eating white rice for dinner every night.
    Perhaps a solution (which I am trying to incorporate into our new structure) is 90% lean and 10% “ya-ya”. We still work in blocks and construct lean, but we use more variety of fabrication. This has enabled us to reach a broader market. Some people want to be “manufacturers of a product”..and some are more right brain oriented. There is a difference between people who want to “design fashion” and people who want to “manufacture clothing”..and there can be a balance somewhere..mostly lean..with a few cookies allowed. n’cest pas?

  26. MW says:

    I think there is a fine line between lean production with one fabrication/one color and becoming anorexic.

    Denim… tee shirts…

    That’s like saying, wow, your denim jeans are great, how about making them in linen. Some people would rather focus on a specific product and do a terrific job of making that one product, being more of a product engineer and focusing on other areas (such as fit and construction) than consider themselves artistic designers who must constantly wow everyone with their creativity, collection after collection.

    Either which way you define yourself as a DE, there’s room for both. Most denim companies started out with one fabric and most tee shirt companies (i.e. C&C California) started out with one fabric. Fit, cut and wash for denim, fit and color for tees. These were the building blocks for many successful brands. When they got into the 8 figure sales, then they added product lines to grow, so there is sufficient evidence that there is substantial opportunity even with such “anorexic limitations.”

    Besides, Kathleen’s not doing it to get rich anyway :)

  27. Kathleen says:

    re: one fabric
    You could give me 3 yards of muslin and put me in a room and I could design forever using only that fabric…but would I WANT to? no.

    Well then, it’s a good thing you don’t have to do it then. However, just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean that I don’t.

    you can get pegged into a very tiny hole.
    Your buyers (and consumers) will only know you as “that linen blousemaker”.

    Actually, I plan on bamboo and silk but otherwise, that’d be excellent. Exactly what I was shooting for. Please do peg me into a very tiny hole. That hole is plenty big for me; I can’t begin to satisfy all of the demand in even that tiny hole. Women always need blouses regardless of whatever’s “fashionable”. Mine would be staples, they could be worn year after year without being dated. Just pure classics. No drama, no theatrics are just fine with me.

    It doesn’t mean you have to rely on the fabrics..it just means you are not just eating white rice for dinner every night.

    I cannot possibly be all things to all people. It’s impossible. I want to do just one thing but do it very very well. I don’t want to be blown all over the map. If you want to call it “white rice”, you’re entitled to your opinion. Personally, I wouldn’t make that analogy. I don’t want busy fabric because it would conceal the design and construction details; I wouldn’t be making simple shells; there’s no contest to that.

    Why does it threaten or annoy you so much that I only need one fabrication? I think everyone agrees that it’s much harder to do it my way -a real test of skill and imagination- than letting pretty fabrics “make” the sale for you. If I really just wanted to sell fabric, I wouldn’t go to the bother of cutting it into pieces and sewing it up. Rather, I’d just design fabric.

    There is a difference between people who want to “design fashion” and people who want to “manufacture clothing”..and there can be a balance somewhere..mostly lean..with a few cookies allowed. n’cest pas?

    I don’t think you get it. I wouldn’t be “manufacturing clothing” in the way you intend that to mean. What you also don’t realize is that lean has nothing to do with it. I didn’t decide on one fabrication because it was lean, I decided on one fabrication because I liked the incredible challenge and complexity. That it also happened to be lean was icing on the cake.

    However, neither would I be designing “fashion”. I don’t do “fashion”. I have very simple, classic tastes. I don’t presume to be a fashion solution for anyone -head to toe- so I have no desire to dress them either. One has to start somewhere. Blouses are a way for me to start. And personally, I think my blouses would be very fine cookies indeed. Butter ones I think.

  28. This is so hilarious!

    When you first put up this post, I felt heart palpitations. I thought “Damnit, so many of my ideas came from Kathleen, maybe she’s beat me to it!” then I read the body and felt vaguely disappointed. Then I digested the info and liked the idea, now I’m digesting this argument and realizing just how hilarious my initial reaction was.

    In reality, MY interpretation of how to implement a satisfying, lean company is really different from YOURS, which is really different from Christy’s. The funny thing is, I thought silently that we were on the same wavelength, so surely our ideas would be really similar–and while I was afraid of that, when I realized they’re not similar, I initially resented that “betrayal”.

    But now, after seeing the fallacy of this thinking in action, I’m ready to start talking about MY idea. Anyone who wants to tell me how dumb it is– I’ll put it in the discussion forum. I welcome the clarity that comes from a good argument.

  29. Jan says:

    I think your idea is good; you’re right, almost every woman needs good, standard blouses. I wonder from some of the comments posted about this if it wouldn’t be a good idea to include different sleeve lengths in your sizing along the lines of men’s dress shirts. I think women’s arm lengths are as variable as their bust sizes. Another thing I see all the time is women with large busts but narrow shoulders. These women are desperate not only for a well fitting blouse, but for anything that fits their shoulders and their bust (and their arms).

  30. christy fisher says:

    I think it is wonderful if that is where you are comfortable. You arecorrect in the fact that I “didn’t get it”.
    I think where I went “wrong” was watching everyone add, subtract and multiply your concept and thinking this was like an “exercise in concept”(and asking for opinions)..rather than accept that this is your personal prefernce. I did not mean to offend by any means.
    ..and MW: I would be totally bored working with a company like C and C.. or even True Religion..or many of the other “brands” that are out there working Tshirt knits and denim. I think Kathleen’s idea is far more interesting than any of those companies.

  31. SB says:


    I’m with you. When we finally got to choose the type of dye to use, we settled on fiber reactive for our organic cotton. It’s easy to get sucked in by “natural” without stopping to think it through fully. The other thing to consider is that fiber reactive dyes will hold their color longer and not bleed on your customers :-)


  32. jeanette says:

    As a 5’5″ professional woman (read consumer) I think $250 for an elegant cream or white (everyone needs one or two of those) blouse that I would wear for 5 or more years is a good deal, I also like the bra sizing as I am very slim with no bustline persay and longer arms than average. this is something that would sell, I am speaking ONLY as someone who is a shopper at heart. :-)

  33. Eileen says:

    Kathleen, I started my clothing company a year ago (planned it for about a year before that) with my focus to be on better fitting pants for professional women.

    Some pitfalls we’ve encountered have been mostly industry related, with very little push back or returns when we sell direct to customers. Tradeshows, showrooms and industry magazines can all make you lose focus on the original product and target customer. They are used to dealing with large financially sound companies selling “30 piece collections” rather than being item driven. We have broadened our offerings beyond just pants for this reason, but my most profitable, highest quality, most distinct and needed item is the pant.

    Most people don’t know the expense of adding an additional cut or color to the line which can cost as much as $5K and up if you are producing small lots manufactured in the U.S. This is for patterns, grading, cutting all sizes, fabric minimums, plus unsold inventory AND screw-ups (and you will be amazed at the creative ways in which production can get screwed up).

    Our tailored pant is comprised of 49 individual pieces because I didn’t want to just throw spandex at the fit issue. But with a very detailed tailored garment (and Kathleen I’m sure you can understand this) it took 12 tries to get the fit right and 3 production runs to work out all the kinks and production mishaps (although I’m sure there are unlimited ways to still mess up one of the 49 pieces along the way).

    Would we like to do a full line and design more options? You bet. But financially, the best option for a start up is to focus on a few key items to build a quality reputation then expand (like Ralph Lauren who only started with a tie, or Kenneth Cole and shoes – expansion takes time). Or become a couture shop and work on a variety of custom made pieces at a custom made price.

    I greatly value and seek out customer and industry feedback, but I can’t let it drive my financial timeline or we wouldn’t be around next season. You can see the survey we used to get customer feedback at http://www.eileenkelley.com/survey.html

  34. Dave says:

    I think your idea for creating a line with only a few styles and one fabric is great. I think your target audience would shell out $250 easily, if you incorporate a distinct fabric and impeccable
    workmanship. In England, Turnbull and Asser have been making fine white shirts for men since medieval times ( OK,I think since Victorian times), and they go for alot more than $250. They of course over the years, have added different variations, but their # seller is the mens L/S
    Fr.Cuffed shirt. They do business alongside the finest tailors on Saville Row, who also made shirts, but they made them better. I guess they just focused on making shirts, and making them well. Kathleen, while you are at it, why not throw in a few men’s styles ? I think a high end shirt purchased for Fathers Day from your company would be well received by any Dad. And I hope you get rich while doing it too. Do you have any leeway on your labels name ? American Blouse is kinda boring.

  35. Alison says:

    I know people have been saying that “American Blouse Company” is too simple and boring for a brand, but the clean old-fashioned simplicity of the name is what I love about it.

    As a Canadian with dual (American) citizenship, my concern is that it sounds political.

    Now I know that for Kathleen, it is: she is making the statement that American manufacturers can be successful. She wants to make that point, and it’s an important one. I also know that in these troubled times, many Americans will be pleased to see the name of their country associated with something as simple and pleasing as a well-cut, locally-made blouse.

    But outside the US, specifically in these troubled times, “American” can have connotations of things that we’d rather not think about, and that may discourage potential customers.

    This may not be an issue: many of the deep pockets that will pay $250 for a blouse to wear to work are found in the US. But it might be: with the projected economic downturn in the US, the blouse might actually be sold at a lower price point as an export because of lower exchange rates, and Kathleen will not want to alienate the export market.

    What about “Kathleen’s Blouse”? Also simple, and makes an alternative political point about women in manufacturing.

  36. SB says:

    American Apparel has made the same political statement and made it work quite well. I think American Blouse Company speaks to the same issues, and is just fine.

    But then again, I’m an American. So my view is biased. I guess it means so much to me to believe that US production can work well, that I hope the other political connotations will be forgiven.

  37. Alison Cummins says:

    Yes, absolutely, American Blouse Company is just fine. Just pointing out that it will “read” a little differently in the export market from the way it reads in the US, and that Kathleen will need to decide that she’s cool with that.

    In the US, “made in the USA” means “home-grown.” Outside the US – say, in Canada or Hong Kong or England – it can mean many different things: “made in yet another foreign country,” “made by evil imperialists,” “made by cool innovators,” “made in a country that reduces corporate costs by denying health insurance to those most in need,” “made by people who know how to do things right,” “made in a country with a decent minimum wage.”

    I’m not saying that all of these connotations are right or appropriate, or suggesting that they are all equally distributed among the target clientèle, just that from a branding/marketing perspective you have much less control over the meaning of “American” once it crosses the border.

    Kathleen may decide that her blouses are going to serve as ambassadors for her country, adding the connotation “makers of damn fine blouses” to the already very long list of connotations for “American.” Which is very cool, and I can’t and won’t argue.

    Just noting that it’s a decision to be made thoughtfully. EOM

  38. La BellaDonna says:

    I like American Blouse Company just fine, myself. It says what it is, no murky misinterpretations. And I’d like to put a plug in emphasizing vintage details (still hoping for pretty details on those sleeveless blouses too), especially the type which might be finished with a small peplum, so you that if you wear a blouse untucked, you still look dressed when you take your suit jacket off (for those of us who don’t like the bulk of something tucked in or who are obfuscating the fit of skirts or trousers). For those who like cottons, you might want to look into Foxfibre fabrics (Colours of Arizona) – the cotton is grown in colours and not dyed; I believe green and brown are among the colours available.

  39. Neil says:

    For a start up collection, how many pcs is best to start with and does the “pcs” mean “oufit” or 1 – blouse , 1 pants etc.

  40. Tammie Welch says:

    I have been to our web-site many times, because I enjoy reading what you have to say
    about many topics regarding women’s fashions, from the beginning foundation of a garment.
    You seem to have so much knowledge and I hear your passion when I read your words, very inspiring.
    What is your background?
    Do you mentor?
    I am building a starter company, and no, it is not easy,
    but my passion, most times, LOL.

    Thank you,

  41. Tammie,

    You can find out more about Kathleen by going o the About page of this site.

    You can also check out the Products and Services page.

    I recommend that you buy Kathleen’s book, which will allow you to join the forum where you can ask questions.

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