Take a look at Rosie the Riveter. A near myth of heroic proportions, she and her friends had to weld planes, build ships, trucks, and armaments, while millions of menfolk went off to fight in World War II. Have you ever wondered how Rosie learned to do her job so quickly? Or maybe you thought that the factories of America were just lucky enough to find several million mechanically inclined women who’d taken machine shop and mechanics in high school. Or that maybe Rosie and her friends took engineering classes at their local colleges in between laundry, cleaning house, and baking cookies for church bake sales. Probably not. So were Rosie and her chums -our grandmothers and great grandmothers-smarter and learned faster than we do? Possibly but most people don’t know that Rosie benefited from a structured method that was scientifically proven to teach complex material in a much faster way -this method has practically become a secret today as so few know about it. Imagine how this could improve your life and your business, or maybe you just want to sew better and faster with less waste. But let’s back up a bit.
According to a recent study conducted by Alvanon, 90% of apparel industry managers say that new hires aren’t sufficiently prepared with needed skills in product development and technical design. McKinsey’s report, Is Apparel Manufacturing Coming Home? says much the same with an imperative that [presumably large] apparel producers must adopt rapidly produced smaller batches if they’re to survive.
I’m not feeling smug or vindicated even though I’ve been saying this for the past 15 years; I’m distressed that the situation continues to deteriorate. Since that’s a dark hole I don’t want to climb into let’s consider proposed solutions. There are three main tacks; one is a call for redirecting apparel programs in colleges and universities but blaming educators, however indirectly, isn’t helpful as the crisis in education is systemic and not something that any one educator can solve no matter how inspired and dedicated. The second is for businesses like Alvanon and McKinsey (and admittedly mine too) to provide fee based training and consultation to cover the shortfall. A third suggestion is for industry employers to pick up more of the load – but few companies have the ability to assess skills in any meaningful way (only 16% have) much less have the technical knowledge, infrastructure and budgets to plan and implement a solution.
Most of the former isn’t going to help small companies with limited resources -but maybe, just maybe- one solution for some of us is the same secret program that solved America’s problem in WWII. And that was? Rosie got TWI, aka Training Within Industry (I’ve written about this before but key links are here, here and here). So maybe you wonder why this program, TWI, is a secret now when it was so successful? And successful it was; in spite of having to hire a completely new staff of unskilled women workers, over 86% of factories increased production by at least 25%, 100% reduced training by 25% or more; 55% reduced waste, yadda yadda yadda. It became a secret for a very simple reason. Simply put, TWI was used to develop a war time workforce but once the war was over and men reclaimed their factory jobs, they went back to how they’d been doing things. Since women left those jobs, there was no glue, no institutional knowledge to pass along to the fellows when they came back. So, TWI disintegrated, dispersed only in the minds of millions of women with no means of making connection to keep the program alive.
We need to reclaim TWI. TWI was ours. It can be ours again.
And that’s what we’re doing, at least the start of it. By “we” I mean me and the volunteers of ABQFI, The Albuquerque Fashion Incubator; a not for profit charity that trains apparel workers and entrepreneurs in my factory. We do this during our Apparel Manufacturing Boot Camps. Twice a year, our charity with the help of volunteers, cuts and sews products that we donate to other charities. Using TWI concepts has always been a part of our DNA but this March, we’re kicking that up a whole other level. We’re doing a crash course on TWI during the event, implementing as many of its practices as testing in Pre-Production shows we can. Only then can we begin to practice Lean Manufacturing -single piece flow. Sure this is ambitious but I think we can do it as we’ve we been phenomenally successful at training people in industrial sewing, even those who’d never sewn before. But I’m getting ahead of myself; because we have to train ourselves first, our next project must be a simpler product to manufacture so that we can focus on developing and implementing the TWI program. Previously we’ve made complex products like warm lined winter coats for kids; school pants, and comparatively complex dresses for senior citizens but this Spring we’ll make a product used in animal rescue. It has to be a simpler product than before or we couldn’t possibly manage the project. If you’re curious about what an event is like and want to see a baseline of how we do it now, see us in action with this video produced by from documentary film maker, Ramona Emerson.
This is an equal opportunity event; you can participate too. And as to what’s in it for you; with TWI you can learn to sew better and faster. You can produce in a more organized, and more disciplined way. TWI means less waste with lower costs. Icing on the cake is that you’ll get lots of practice and direction while you’re sewing a product that will be donated to another needy charity. And your fee (necessary to purchase materials and cover event expenses) is also a tax deduction but the training itself? That’s free. Just like Rosie’s was. The long and short of it is that if you want to learn something that will be life and career changing, join us. Spring registration is open but it closes next Sunday, October 29, 2018. I should mention it is a very popular event but you still have a shot because we hold a lottery (October 30, 2018). Before the lottery, all 25 slots were filled inside of an hour. And in case you didn’t catch this, we train, no experience required.
I hope to see you there!
PS. Since my posting on this site has all but evaporated, some people mistakenly think I’ve retired or scaled back. The truth is that I have less time to write because I more responsibilities in managing the factory and keeping my customers happy. And then when I do have time, I worry more than I should about what people will say because I feel I’ve let them down by failing to post regularly. But I’m still here, I still care. I’m open for business, working 12 hour days providing manufacturing (no minimums) and pattern engineering services. I’m continually pleased with interesting projects and ideas that new customers bring to me. And I’m hiring too, just call me.