So I bought a sewing factory

Heather_William_Sewing-factory-school_opening-partySo I bought a sewing factory makes a good title but the truther is that I bought a near perfectly sized industrial building and remodeled it to become a sewing factory.  So how did it happen? Well, I was going along, thinking yet again about the dearth of sewing factories in New Mexico and how my business was stuck because I couldn’t really hire anybody to work at my shop at my house because it was at my house, and what or if I should do anything about it. So last winter, Mr. Fashion-Incubator and I decided we could use an investment and agreed to start looking for something. Calling that kind of energy into your life changes things. You start to put things in your life on hold and think in terms of “when I have the sewing factory” or “I can do x once I have the sewing factory” so while I was in no hurry to buy, I really kinda got that way quickly.

I had solid ideas of what I wanted -one must must must have a rectangle-which eliminated a lot of possibilities. It also had to be zoned industrial (M1) -you can’t do this in a retail space- and I didn’t want to pay for any retail amenities. I wanted something in the range of 5,000 square feet and ideally, a space that could be sublet. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Most small sewing factories are too small; there isn’t enough room for the cutting table they need. So going into this, my idea was to have the best cutting room ever (for a small place, 5Ksf is small) and share it among however many people sharing the building. We ended up with a cutting room that is 23 feet by 62 feet. We bought more tables to end up with 2, 48 foot long cutting tables. We have 3 sewing rooms so 2 other businesses could conceivably share the space. Meaning, a sewing contractor subsisting in a 1000 sqft space is very limited because their tables have to be short. What we did was set it up so each space only needs to handle sewing because we share the cutting room -since who in the heck (not us) needs that much table space (right now).

This property is actually two buildings. The larger building has the cutting room, my sewing room, the pattern room, two bathrooms (one has a shower), washer/dryer connections (for fabric testing, dontcha know) and storage. The back building is 2 sewing rooms. All told, just a hair under 5,000 square feet. Here is the floor plan:

Sewing Factory School Floor Plan

Legend: #1 is an over head door (so is #7). #2 is the bath with the shower, #3 bathroom is large enough to be a changing room. #4 & #6 are utility (water heaters, heaters). #5 is the washer and a utility sink. #6 is a largish closet.

Speaking of, we did a lot of remodeling, this place was a cave -a former welding shop. The walls were painted dark grey, there were no windows or any of that. There was no insulation, heating or cooling to speak of. We put in sky lights, lots of them because really, you don’t want windows (no, you don’t. I’m not sure why but the day I figure it out, I’ll wax eloquent about it and pretend I knew all along).

[Edited July 7, 2015] Lynn Barnes emailed me with this comment:
You don’t want windows for two main reasons:
1. Light shifts as the day progresses, since the sun “travels” from east to west. Therefore, reliable daylight for illumination is best accomplished by skylights.
2. Burglars love to break in by window, not so much by skylight.

Okay, that’s enough for this post. I have another one to write and time is of the essence. Oh, and up top is Heather (my assistant) and her BF in sewing room #1 at the opening party we had on June 20th.

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  1. Xochil says:

    Congratulations! I hope to visit the factory one day and see the full set up. This is very exciting though, hoping your next post shares more about the machines and capabilities you have. :)

    • Kathleen says:

      All of my machines are listed on the products and services page. //

  2. Pam says:

    Best wishes on your wonderful venture. Great courage, great planning and great creativity are your amazing tools. Thanks for sharing. Wow

  3. Joan Hawley says:

    Congrats! It’s very exciting to see you endeavor come to fruition. I love your plan and rectangular thinking. Well done!

  4. Jane says:

    Congratulations! This is really awesome. I’d love to know more about your capabilities, minimums and when you’re ready for production.

    • Avatar photo

      You can check out my products and services for equipment etc. //

      As to the rest, it’s a chicken or egg problem. The only certain thing is that sewing will only be available to my pattern customers in the short term. That I couldn’t find downstream sewing for them is why we’ve taken the steps we have.

  5. Paula says:

    Very inspiring. It’s got to be a bit scary to start something like this, but what a feeling of accomplishment when you see all your plans in action.

  6. Laurie says:

    Oooooooooooooo…. I have cutting table envy (from my 1000 sf perspective)! Congratulations on this undertaking, and what a great idea to share the space.

  7. Matt Carmel says:

    Taking risk is what capitalism is all about. Equal opportunity not equal outcome. If you make it rich after years of effort and planning, you will be called “an overnight sensation.” You represent the best and brightest of America. And if you fail, learn from your mistakes, dust yourself off and try again. Never give up.

  8. Karen says:

    I am so, so happy to read all this wonderful news!! I went and re-read your book (since I’m finally ready to launch this year, after many years of reading your blog and dreaming….) and I am so happy for you! Hoping my assistant and I can make it down to help with the coat project. Congratulations Kathleen !

  9. Sarah says:

    I’m so excited for you, Kathleen! This sounds like the perfect space (after all the work you put into it, of course!).

  10. Margaret Crawford says:

    Ok with all this temptation dangling in front of us, are you hiring? This looks like something I would love to be involved in from the ground floor!
    Best of luck

  11. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Kathleen, loads of improvement from what i saw in May when the welders were moving out. You are on your way!

  12. Congrats Kathleen. Could you advise the types of styles you will be focused on (knits?Wovens?Tops, Bottoms?Swimwear?Bridal? etc) and the size run minimums you will require (by style and color). Lots of startup business out there that we cannot service and can steer your way!

    • Avatar photo

      Hi Geoff
      As to all the above, who knows? One must follow the market. I have been entertaining the idea of focusing on complex single needle production such as suits, coats, lined garments and such -anything tricky. Stuff you can currently only get in NYC at exorbitant prices.

      More realistically, I started the factory because I found it increasingly difficult to place work for my pattern making customers so logically, it follows that I’d take more of that work in house. Ideally, we’d take on projects starting with the pattern on through production. I wouldn’t say that I’d never take on work from people who came in with patterns, only that it would be unlikely; I’m dismayed with the level of pattern quality I see currently -evidentally customers agree which is why they hire me to correct and refine work they had done elsewhere.

      At the outset, I won’t be too concerned about order sizes provided customers realize that discounts are based on economies of scale and their prices will reflect the investment of time and work we put into each order. Meaning, we could conceivably do as little as one item. Depending on complexity, perhaps as many as 1000.

      You can find a list of equipment, amenities and services I can provide here.

  13. Laura says:

    The teacher becomes the entrepreneur. I have loved your book and your blogs and now I look forward to seeing it in action. In the words of my favorite author, Dr. Seuss, GO DOG GO!!!!!

    • Avatar photo

      Actually, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years next month. Unlike most consultants and authors, I actually do this for a living. I had a smaller factory before; this latest venture is an expansion of working area and being able to hire more people to take on more jobs.

  14. Robyn Vines Smith says:

    This is so fun and exciting. As a fellow Albuquerquean, it makes me especially excited, even if I have nothing to do with the sewing industry and barely even sew anything at all anymore. Best of luck with this endeavor!

  15. Lisa Blank says:

    Congratulations on finding a place and getting to this point! I know you looked for quite a while, and it’s so exciting to see the result.

  16. vesta says:

    Congratulations, Kathleen. I can’t wait to see it in September.

    As to this: “The only certain thing is that sewing will only be available to my pattern customers in the short term.” You may decide never to run production with other folks’ patterns. We toy with this idea all the time. We spend so much time honing our in-house patterns to eliminate as many production problems as possible, then get destroyed when we put outside “production-ready” patterns into the system. There are very few patterns that come to us truly production-ready. I know it can seem to folks that our pre-production process is expensive and redundant with regard to work they’ve already had done by other service providers, but when the client is going to hold us accountable for the quality of the output, there are no shortcuts.

    Anyway, congrats again!

  17. Cheryl says:

    :) :) HOW WONDERFUL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so happy for you :) This will be FANTASTIC for you :) :) CONGRATULATIONS !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Congratulations!
    This is truly fabulous!
    I’m really interested to see how this goes – what you decide to do. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be creative.

    Best of luck, Kathleen!

  19. kellyt says:

    Congratulations Kathleen! The factory look fantastic. Can’t wait to hear about all the creativity and business this project will generate.

  20. Judith says:

    Congratulations Kathleen!!!
    I would love to come to come to this sewing event.
    I do not know how to sew industrial yet, I am working on this.
    I am also living in Hawaii right now.
    Have been trying to talk DH into taking a contract in New Mexico.
    He will not do it the wages are to low. Heavy sigh…………
    I was learning how to sew till I moved to Hawaii.
    Now it is on hold. I need to learn a lot here.
    My FIL gifted me a brand new serger, this was very nice of him.
    I so need more experience with the serger have to get past jamming it up.
    Best of luck to ya,ll. I am really looking forward to reading all the posts.


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