Am I a manufacturer? I’m not sure if I qualify. I don’t produce my own products, although I did at first. Maybe I’m not a “manufacturer” because I don’t have a factory unless you count my dining room. My neighbors work for me on a contract sewing basis. I package the products myself. Although I’m extremely small, I wholesale to specialty stores and use independent sales reps to sell my line. Also, I don’t make clothing. I make keepsake baby gifts. So, what am I? Am I an independent manufacturer? …Kari S; TX

Manufacturer describes someone who makes goods and articles to sell. It means anyone who is planning or has planned an organized business to produce sewn products. They plan a product first and then find a buyer. Tailors and custom clothiers are not manufacturers because they find a buyer before they produce the product.

Manufacturing has nothing to do with

  • Quality. Being a manufacturer does not mean poor quality products.
  • Price. Being a manufacturer does not mean cheap or low cost products.
  • Quantity of products. It can be ten items or thousands.
  • Owning any equipment or machines.
  • Factories. You don’t need to own a factory (and many don’t) to manufacture.
  • Company size. The number of employees. It can be just one person working part-time.
  • Education, training or experience. Anyone can be a manufacturer.

What Are Sewn Products?
Sewn products have one thing in common: they are made using a sewing machine. Sewn products can be anything from a high fashion blouse to dog collars to wallets to baby bibs. Sewn products are a separate industry because the basic methods of manufacturing are the same, even between different product types.

The process of starting, managing, designing, selling and producing any sewn item is the same. It doesn’t really matter what the actual product is because wallets and blue jeans are manufactured using the same methods, processes and planning. Blue jeans and wallets have more in common with each other than they do with farming or auto manufacturing.

Sewn products have more similarities than differences. Because of this, the entire industry is organized around the same principles. It’s not as specialized as the level consumers see at retail. For example, a manufacturer of wallets and another of baby bibs will attend the same industry shows, buy from the same suppliers, join the same organizations and know the same people.

The sewn products industry has a different timeline than other manufactured items. Of course, each type of product is sold at different times of the year, depending on the type of item. Likewise, the people who sell the products at retail (to buyers) specialize in certain kinds of sewn products.

For example, companies that manufacture golf bags have a lot in common with manufacturers of foundation items like bras and corsets. Although their products are very different, each manufacturer will buy supplies and equipment from the exact same suppliers.

Of course, these manufacturers will sell and market their products very differently. The golf bag manufacturer will sell to sporting goods retailers and the foundations manufacturer will retail to department stores and catalogs. Each type of product has differences too. Their market and delivery dates are different, as well as the kind of item manufactured. But the primary strategy of manufacturing is the same.

Of course, the method of production and the way items are sewn will differ depending on the item. Because these methods are so varied, it’s beyond the range and scope of this book to talk about root production sewing methods for each kind of product.

However, this book will explain how different kinds of manufacturers need to organize their sewing processes based on their product. Any kind of sewn product manufacturer needs to organize their sewing process specific to their type of product, but the methods used to sort and organize their production processes are exactly the same, even when the products are not.

This is how this text can help you. Use the same methods that any kind of sewn product manufacturer will use to organize the production of your item to derive maximum benefit.
What is a Designer Entrepreneur (DE)?

This book was written specifically for a special class of manufacturers that I describe as DEs, or Designer Entrepreneurs. The single most important characteristic of DEs is that they are first generation manufacturers.

DEs are micro manufacturers of fashion and sewn product items. They are different from mainstream manufacturers because they are small companies, very often home based with fewer than twenty employees. Many DEs are ‘virtual’ manufacturers in that they hire other companies to cut and sew their products.

The definition of DE is not defined by sales figures (which is customary in the industry), but by the number of employees for several reasons.

Small companies face unique challenges because they’re often located outside of traditional industry circles. Lack of proximity, access to established resources and experience are their most critical needs.

As education is the most critical of these needs, their growth is limited by an inability to attract imported industry labor. DEs have great difficulty in attracting technically adept mainstream industry professionals until they grow significantly larger. It’s a catch-22; without qualified labor, their growth and successes are limited. Yet without education, they cannot grow.

Likewise, DEs cannot be defined by sales figures because these numbers vary greatly and are often misleading. For example, a one-person DE company generated over five million dollars last year – all from her suburban Houston townhouse. As a “virtual” manufacturer, her employee count is skewed. But as a one-person company, she still cannot induce New York talent to relocate nearby.

A profile of Designer Entrepreneurs *

  • Mostly small or home-based companies.
  • 60% are located outside of traditional industry circles.
  • Design high quality unique products.
  • Produce niche and specialty market products that larger companies ignore.
  • Do not compete on price. Most products cost a lot more than a “comparable” item in retail.
  • Their customers want quality Made in the USA goods and are willing to pay for it.
  • Many never want to become big companies.
  • Many want to remain small to control quality, maintain a peaceful lifestyle, and enjoy their families.
  • 98% are usually female owned and operated.
  • Surprisingly, many DEs enter the industry as retailers and become full or part-time manufacturers later.

Designer Entrepreneurs are not a new phenomenon. Did you know…**

  • Small manufacturing companies produce 68% of US manufactured women’s clothing?
  • 43% of US manufactured children’s wear is produced by DEs?
  • The garment industry has been dominated by home based businesses for over 100 years?
  • Women start 97% of manufacturing companies?
  • Men own 98% of large manufacturing companies?

* Survey: July 97 The Designer’s Network Newsletter
** 1992 US Census Data

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