So you might be wondering by now–is this chick actually in the business of making apparel or does she just like to yammer to us about her thoughts on this and that? Yes I know. It is slow goings. Starting an apparel company when you are not super rich is sort of like rowing a canoe to China, with the usual weather pushing it backwards here and there.
But I am happy to report that things are finally moving so I’ve decided to write an actual update on the business. In the beginning of December I wrote in “On seaworthy vessels” that I had decided to begin work with a new production partner who could handle the made to measure production model (i.e. clothing tailored to each clients measurements).
A word about this factory and a bit of background on the search for the right partner: The vast majority of made-to-measure production is done overseas. Though North Carolina is one of the top apparel manufacturing states, there are no groups doing made to measure production for this sort of garment. I also wanted to find a manufacture that valued labor and the details of how a product comes together. I frankly didn’t want to make garments where we took short cuts on quality for speed, and I really wanted to support high quality U.S. jobs. And so I was referred to Western Carolina Sewing Company, a.k.a. Sew Co., in Hendersonville, North Carolina, a small town south of Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The founder/owner, Libby O’Bryan, a veteran of high-end apparel production, opened Sew Co. in 2010 to offer a domestic cut and sew service to companies who desire high quality, design focused products where the craftsmanship and labor are the priority. While they have not previously done made to measure clothing–indeed very few in the U.S. currently produce apparel this way–they are uniquely situated to experiment with made-to-measure production due to their flexible yet extremely well-organized production space and talented sewers.
AND Libby shares my passion for social justice. Their factory hours are such that the working mother’s who woman the machines arrive at 8am and leave by 3pm to care for their family (I tend to geek out over how awesome this is having previously been a maternal and child health researcher). Libby herself has two children. And she is excited to take on this experiment that could revolutionize manufacturing in North Carolina and, with any luck, the U.S.
By the first of February Sew Co. had beautifully replicated the Riding Jacket. Together we are putting in place a production process that takes advantage of the latest advances in apparel technology–virtual pattern adaptation for individual measurements, and laser fabric cutting (which together create the sort of efficiency that puts a high quality, bespoke blazer within the reaches of an upper-middle class consumer rather than the elite). Yet, don’t mistake all the technology as eliminating the need for valuable hands. The sewing is done by real people who take great care with each garment.
Since our prototype is finished, our next step is test out the making of a blazer using the output from the body scanning technology. Then come the test clients. Women will have the opportunity to order a blazer based on their measurement and receive a Riding Jacket for a discounted price while we work to achieve the sort of efficiency the average consumer (and not just die hard fans) would expect from our company.
The big dream has a couple of main goals: 1) To be able to make to measure a small, curated set of timeless wardrobe staples–blazer, blouse, trousers, vest–for the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter using innovative twists on classic fabrics and tailoring techniques. 2) To show other factories that it is worth hiring and updating their production processes for made to measure apparel to meet the demands from the modern consumer and rebuilt manufacturing in America.
Whereas many factories would want to hide their innovative experimentation, Libby O’Bryan has the same interest: sharing her work for the benefit of the larger manufacturing ecosystem.
And I can’t help but see something come together here. A female owned apparel factory. Hours that work for working moms. Collaboration and sharing versus secretive competition. A keen interest from all involved parties in social and environmental responsibility. Might this be a feminine approach to an apparel business that could fundamentally changes the way we do business?
Go, fight, win!