Visiting a sewing contractor

Quite coincidentally -considering yesterday’s entry– a DE sent me this story of her trip (also yesterday) to meet a sewing contractor. She says she wishes she’d read the entry before she left but says the experience was much as has been described in the past. I asked if I could print it here and she agreed. She wishes to remain anonymous on the front page but is willing to share her resources and contacts in the member’s forum.

I wanted to share my experience yesterday, especially since after my trip to an area sewing contractor, I read your recent post about “textile manufacturing“. I got a kick out of it since I experienced a lot of what you wrote about in that post.

I braved the icy roads yesterday and drove up to the sewing contractor’s plant manager. Overall, I felt really good about it, and I came away from it feeling excited, and a little bit nervous (in a good way), because it’s such a big move to make and I am SO ready to move forward. I’ve waited for this for two years, looking for and interviewing sewing contractors, and I think part of me was starting to believe that sewing contractors would remain elusive and it would never happen.

For my presentation, I brought finished product, a couple of half-sewn products, about 10 samples of fabric, plus some hi-res glossy photos from customers. Those photos were really what made the presentation because he could see the product in context. So he got to see quite a range of what I’ve made, as well as seeing them up-close in-person.

I read your post today about how we expect people in the industry to be abrupt. The plant manager was definitely all business, and there was good reason, he had lots of jobs running and over 70 employees to keep efficiently productive. The “abruptness” was good for me – I had to be on the ball. Before I went there, I re-read my business plan to help stay focused in my presentation (unlike some other sewing contractors, he didn’t request that I bring a copy of my business plan, but I wanted to be prepared to answer questions). In any case, I really liked his demeanor – he wasn’t rude, but he was very direct. Once we got talking and we got past the point where (I assume) he realized I wasn’t just some fly-by-night fruit loop who was wasting his time, it was less “abrupt” -even fun- more casual, but still all business. I was honest with him and he was straightforward with me. I was armed with what I’ve learned in your book, but I also know that I’m still naive about so many things. I answered and asked questions and there was no weird sales pitch double-talk stuff, nor any patronizing treatment.

He told me about the process, the possible snags, the challenges, and so on. What kinds of customers they like to work with and don’t like to, and why they have continue to work with long term clients and have turned other contracts down. He definitely talked ‘building a relationship’, not just sewing products. He talked about how they work with clients to help streamline both the product and the process, without sacrificing quality. He also understood that my venture, for all intents and purposes, is a start-up, even though I’ve been in business for almost 3 years doing custom work.

From an “adventure” point of view, it was so cool to be in a sewing factory! I know you and others on the board have seen your share, but I haven’t been in one since I was a kid, and I don’t remember anything about it. I really felt like a kid in a toy store, wanting to stare at and touch and play with everything, which I had to suppress since I wasn’t there to gawk and drool over sewing machines or to stare over people’s shoulders to see how they were doing things! I got the full tour, from the offices, to the pattern making room, to the production and cutting area, to the warehouse, packing, quality control (they QC every piece!), even the machine room where they fix the sewing machines and customize their own equipment.

It was also just so cool to see a company that has 72 full time employees (and growing) in this region doing so well, considering that so many are gone now. You talked about the blue-collar aspect of this industry – this is where I grew up, and these people were exactly like the people I grew up with. I think one reason it went well is that I said I was from here and I really liked the idea of keeping my products made in my home state. So many businesses that supported so many families here – not just sewing contractors, but nearly all manufacturing companies – are gone now. I would be honored to help keep a thriving business going here, and growing mine here is also important to me.

So, that’s it for now. I have a lot to process and a lot of work to do! As I told one of my good friends, this may not be the Big Step yet, but it felt like a big step toward the Big Step. And I couldn’t have done it without you.

Oh, and I should mention that they didn’t have a sign up, at least not one that I could see. I wandered around the building and had to call them to ask how to get in.

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  1. Thank you for a timely posting. I’m visiting a sewing contractor in Baltimore on Monday and will send a report to Kathleen as well.

    It never occurred to me to take partly finished garments and photos. They did ask me to bring samples. I will be better prepared because of these 2 posts.

    I don’t know if it made a difference, but when I called them I had been recommended by someone and I used her name. After reading Kathleen’s first post, I’m glad I had a name to drop!

    My phone conversations to arrange the visit have been VERY friendly.

    Like the writer above, this is a big step for me towards The Big Step.


  2. anonymous sewing-contractor visitor says:

    It’s good to hear that QC is a regular part of the process at a sewing contractor. I made note of the QC because in Kathleen’s book, in the chapter about hiring a sewing contractor, it recommends specifically to inquire about quality control. Given my lack of experience, I assumed it was something that was hit or miss in some organizations, and I’ve heard some horror stories from DEs. I saw QC managers inspecting product at varied stages, including when threads were being clipped and the product was being packaged.

  3. bethany says:

    My favorite part about this post was how excited she was to be in a sewing plant! It gave me goosebumps, because even though I have been producing for a year now, it STILL makes me happy when I am running around town, buying buttons and trims, sourcing fabric, and then shlepping it back to the contractor, fielding calls from the patternmaker, sales reps, and stores giving me their CC’s so I can ship them.

    And I loved when she said she was trying hard not to gawk because I have totally done that! I once went to a knitting facility where they were making baby rib and the machine had like 100 threads going at the same time! The guy even showed me what happened when one thread broke- they all shut off at exactly the same time. It was awesome. I felt like such a geek. So it is cool that someone else is a geek too :). So keep on living the dream!

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