Who sells the most at market -and why pt.2

Continuing from yesterday, I believe the second psychological factor that prevents people from opening their own sewing factory is based on an inappropriate emotional response mostly because manufacturing has an image problem. It makes me very very sad. Most people think factories are terrible places, that you only work in one if you have no other options, presumably because factory workers aren’t very bright. I’ll spare you the revisionist semi-rant but I have spent the best years of my life in factories. On one hand we decry the erosion of our economy due to the loss of US manufacturing jobs but on the other, we don’t encourage our young people to pursue careers in it because we think they’re smarter than that and of course, we find it repugnant. This has got to change.

We have a schizophrenic attitude about manufacturing in the US. If we’re not thinking it’s horrible, on the other hand, when we find domestic producers, we celebrate them as some kind of hero, that they are unusual and made of more special stuff than we are. I’m telling you I know they are not. They are no different from you, their sources of information are no different from yours. The only difference I can see is that they don’t think manufacturing is beneath them; manufacturing excites them; they work hard at it. F-I visitors often send me inspiring articles about such and such company producing domestically but I often can’t write about them because I can’t separate what I know directly versus what’s been published in a newspaper or appears in a video -and then it annoys me that some of the facts in the story are wrong and I can’t correct it without betraying confidences.

Grace sent me a link to an interview called The Meaning of Intelligence featuring educator Mike Rose, author of  Lives on the Boundary. Mike could tell you this story both ways. Due to an error in processing his high school test results, he was shunted into remedial classes deemed more appropriate to his IQ. He has a lot to say about the presumed intelligence of workers. He’s probably the nation’s best known advocate for respecting and encouraging education among tradesmen and factory workers. Mike also says that tradesmen and workers harbor deprecatory impressions of the presumed intelligence of college graduates that are likewise dysfunctional with the end result of disrespect between the two camps. I don’t know where the truth of it lies. I only know that mutual disrespect gets us nowhere and if you propose to assume the role of leadership in starting a manufacturing enterprise, it becomes your responsibility to breach and repair the impasse. But you can’t get there by denying your role in the affair because you find manufacturing repugnant to the extent that you deny you’re a manufacturer even though the law says you are. Denial is nothing if not repudiation and distancing.

Recalling the difference between a wannabe and a newbie, wannabes are surprised that contractors don’t want to do business with them? Seriously? Plenty of people find me even via this site and they still treat me like dirt when they call to inquire about services. I do not hate myself so much that I would work for anyone who disrespects me so heartily to the extent they don’t feel compelled to conceal their disdain. They likewise presume we are so marginal that we have no other choice than to take their work according to the -often vicarious and ill formed- mandates they’ve established. That my friends is the truth of it. The only difference between someone like that versus an individual who denies they’re a manufacturer is but a matter of degree.

My circuitous conclusion is that you will find it far more difficult to gain the upper hand in the new economy to deliver immediates unless you respect the work sufficiently to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. I think most of you are afraid too but it doesn’t have to be that way. You will be surprised to learn how exciting, fun, challenging, rewarding and profitable it will be -and I would be delighted to take you there. You’re missing out on a lot, aren’t you curious as to what that is? 

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  1. Devany says:

    Thank you, this post helped inspire me to stay on track and not get discouraged when planning and building my own manufacturing business. It is important that people in the US get over their fears and rebuild our manufacturing industry.

  2. Kirk Watson says:

    Kathleen – I always enjoy your posts. I learn a lot and unlike most of everything else written for electronic consumption, they’re very well written. But for me, the last 2 posts have gone above and beyond simply conveying useful information in an intelligible and persuasive manner. They have been inspiring! Really. I’ve been thinking about this for sometime, about possibly taking control of this process that seems so foreign and beyond my control. Fact is it’s not that foreign and doesn’t need to be beyond my control. I have simply chosen to let it be that way. No more!! Now I have to find an industrial sewing machine or two and a place to put them. My wife’s backyard office? A thousand thank yous!!

  3. Dawn says:

    Thanks for a couple of great posts. I have huge respect for the people who sew my line. I’ve had to ask them to really educate me, not just say “yes ma’am, you’re the boss”. In turn, they have taught me a lot. In the beginning I made extra work for people and didn’t even know I was doing it. It makes a big difference to be able to interact in person regularly.

  4. Lisa Brazus says:

    Interesting article and I enjoyed reading part of the interview The Meaning of Intelligence. He sounds like a fascinating person.

  5. Denise says:

    This reminds me of something said in that HBO Documentary, Schmatta, where someone said that the apparel industry in the US has transitioned into brokers (or something on that order). I guess, in part, not to take on the responsibilities or maybe not to get their hands dirty, and be in the white-collar side of the business without having to deal directly with the production/manufacturing side.

  6. Paul says:

    Thank you. My goal is to be a real manufacturer, for several reasons, but one is that I am really tired of all the ‘businessmen’ in this country being a bunch of whining followers, and not leaders. I can’t do that because my competition isn’t doing it. I have worked in industry and in small business (engineering consulting) and it’s all the same. Greed, greed, greed, and then top it with fear.

    It’s way more complicated than this, of course: the fact that too many of our largest corporations who now manufacture in China are now run by finance and not by engineers who worked up the ranks. Publicly held companies are in one business: to fuel the fortunes of their investors, who are insatiable and entirely self serving. A simple answer, but just ask people like John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Investments, and even Warren Buffet, and they will tell the same story – the financial industry is a big sucker-fish on our economy, and doesn’t MAKE anything! And it drives what everyone does.

    How do we make our nation great? To those of us who are blessed with these abilities, take those seriously and apply them to help your neighbor. Take some responsibility, take some initiative, make a modest income that doesn’t make you look like a king, pay your people well and treat them even better. I’ve seen it done, and it works. Now lets find some entrepreneurs willing to do it! Thanks for letting me rant!

  7. Kevin says:

    I’ve worked for an aerospace manufacturing company for 35+ years, 15 on the shop floor (hourly), 5 more as a foreman or manufacturing engineer, and the rest as a project engineer. Manufacturing is currently being outsourced to Turkey, Russia, Bosnia, China, Poland, Israel and France. The reason given is cost (usually given as a cost per manufacturing man-hour), but with shipping, reluctance of the hourly workers to assist in the transition (imagine that), process learning curves (scrap/rework and unforeseen stack up of tolerances that cause discrepancies) as well as an overall lack of attention to quality, the cost is always higher than the original estimate.

    The real reasons for outsourcing are:

    1) the people outsourcing the work don’t respect the intelligence and knowledge of the hourly factory floor workers,

    2) human resources and supervision aren’t willing or capable of managing the hourly Union workers (even though much of the work is going to Union shops for others to manage),

    3) favorable short-term gains for re-location of manufacturing (such as tax breaks),

    4) moving manufacturing is attention-grabbing within the organization and brings attention to the individuals making the decisions with the hope being that short term gains can be turned into big promotions.

    There has always been a schism between the hourly and salary people. The salary people think the hourly are dullards. The hourly think the salary are arrogant and condescending. Meanwhile the company does nothing to dispel either thought process.

  8. Victoria Kathrein says:

    Ok, I have a question about fabrics. Most European and Asian mills take about 30-45 days to produce fabrics. Plus, another 2-3 weeks for it to get here. Plus, 30% up charge on importing fabrics into US. (that’s a great way to stimulate production – sarcasm). As far as inventory it’s a catch 22. You can buy your fabrics ahead of purchase orders and just on them and hope you will sell your styles. Or, you do it the looong way.

    What do you guys think?

  9. Kathleen says:

    Today’s entry (not posted yet) is aligned with this Victoria. We have a sourcing crisis. If I had another life to live, I’d run a mill.

    We also must consider that the concept of design has changed radically based on the then availability of myriad low cost fabrics. Only now that the situation has changed, our sourcing habits have not reversed themselves.

    Design today is all about fabric -mostly. Whoever has the prettiest fabric wins but is that what design is all about? It didn’t use to be. Vionnet designed dresses with solid unpatterned fabrics, cut (style lines) defined design rather than fabric. Today’s situation is that designers have become more like fabric salesmen except they sell the fabric cut into shapes rather than rolled goods. There needs to be an evolution -call it regression if you like- in the definition of design. If fabric sourcing is restricting one’s expression of creativity, it’s time to go back to unique style lines rather than trying to hit the market with trend silhouettes.

    But in answer to your question Victoria, you can buy goods if you have distribution and continuity across styles from season to season. The problem is getting to that point -all the more reason to stick with basic fabrics, trumping them with cool cuts until you get there. If you stick with basics, you can buy from domestic in stock programs.

  10. vee says:

    What are the steps setting up an small factory to manufacture ladies hats and scarves in one’s basement. I have a business name and RN number. I have purchased fabrics and started making the hats and scarves. I had a sewing partner but she passed away several months ago.
    Please give me any assistance you can.
    Thanks for all the comments.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Hi Vee, I wrote a book on how to set up your manufacturing enterprise (listed off to the right). You can read selected chapters free. I know you’ve been hanging out here for awhile, perhaps it’s time to make it official by joining us. We have a private forum where we discuss all of these things in more detail. You can join it free your first year with proof of purchase of a new copy. More info is here.

  12. Kathleen says:

    Shocking. A new study says 67% of textile/apparel firms misrepresent themselves. Enterprises that correctly label themselves are more successful, hire more employees, have higher sales, more production square footage etc (emphasis is mine).

    “It’s not necessarily that these businesses are purposefully misrepresenting themselves,” Ha-Brookshire said. “Often, these businesses simply use different terminology than the U.S. Census Bureau has designated, or they are genuinely confused about how to classify themselves.”

    Ha-Brookshire’s study also revealed an important economic byproduct of this identity distortion. Her studied concluded that the companies whose identities are congruent with the U.S. Census Bureau are more financially successful than those companies whose identities are incongruent. Ha-Brookshire found that, on average, companies with congruent identities hired more employees, had higher sales, more square footage of production space, and a higher credit score.

    “If a textile or apparel manufacturer reports itself to the U.S. Census Bureau as a wholesaler, or a wholesaler reports itself as an apparel manufacturer, all the economic data the government has compiled are wrong,” Ha-Brookshire said. “Also, it makes it much harder for these small businesses to get bank loans specifically designed for certain small businesses if they don’t have a good grasp on their own identities.”

  13. Lesley says:

    I am glad I hang around with the people I do. None of us are afraid of any type of work. My sewing contractors take pride in their work as do I. We all trade off and do what we have to do. I am a college graduate who was lucky to start off in the service industry with a company (Marriott) that works the snob out of you. I have cleaned many a public bathroom as a manager in my time, helped change adult diapers with care managers in an assisted living facility, so manufacturing work is no biggie. I realized early on that getting a little “dirt” on your hands will make you better able to understand, manage and build teamwork with everyone “on the line.” No one who takes their business seriously can find any aspect of the work demeaning. You have to be willing to have at least some understanding of every aspect. Now back to ironing….so un-American! ha ha

  14. Kathleen says:

    Kay Lancaster sent me a link to a story (with video) about Danner boot company in Portland OR. They’ve recently doubled their production space (nice factory!) and apparently will be hiring at least 25 more operators and leather cutters.

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