Introducing NOVEL SUPPLY CO: Conscious Apparel for the Urban Adventurer

This is an interview with Factory45’er Kaya Dorey about the launch of her brand NOVEL SUPPLY CO. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Kaya is raising money (update: has raised money) for her first production run of conscious apparel for the urban adventurer.

Can you give us a brief overview of your brand and the pieces you’re pre-selling?

NOVEL SUPPLY CO. is conscious apparel for the urban adventurer. My line is made up of three comfy, casual, gender neutral styles made from all natural hemp and organic cotton including:

The Cabin Crew, The Adventure Tee and The Muscle Tank.

My brand connects with adventurers who love active lifestyles and mindful living, but also care about their style. The goal for NOVEL is to provide people with conscious apparel that doesn’t sacrifice style. Rad graphics created by local artists keep our designs fresh and manufacturing locally allows for transparency throughout the manufacturing process.

novel-supply-1

Why did you choose to launch your brand through Kickstarter?

I chose Kickstarter because I was familiar with the platform and I had seen several other entrepreneurs (including Shannon and my fellow Factory45’ers) have success with their campaigns.

Kickstarter’s branding is super on point and their website is easy to navigate so I thought it would be the best fit for my campaign. Also, the demographic of people that use Kickstarter, or even know what it is, fit with my target market.

You’ve done months of prep. What helped you keep up your momentum and motivation?

As I am still working full-time to help fund my business and life, it was crucial that I work somewhere that was relatively flexible, with people who supported me from the get-go. I am so grateful for my team at work and their constant support and motivation.

Also, my guy – and marketing guru – has been an integral part in helping me to launch this campaign, manage my time and has been there every step of the way to cheer me on. He believes in me sometimes more than I believe in myself and has been crucial in keeping my fire stoked.

My friends and family have also helped me maintain momentum not only financially but also just by believing in my vision, connecting me with the people I need to know and constantly encouraging me to hustle.

novel-supply-2

Can you give us a little insight into your campaign strategy? What has been working and what hasn’t worked as well?

Stoke my networks. The NOVEL tribe is made up of some of the raddest, most supportive people. They are the adventurers, they are the ones who make conscious decisions about what they buy, they are the ones who are making sustainability cool, and they love all things creative. They have also turned out to be the mavens of my campaign.

I am super lucky to have collaborated with some of the most talented and creative entrepreneurs in Vancouver and, because of that, I have a solid lineup of visual content that will help spread the word about NOVEL. Stay tuned 😉

What do you do when self doubt starts to creep up?

When self-doubt creeps up – which, I can tell you, it does – I go to the mountains, I have my friends over for a glass of wine, I have a good cry, I go stretch it out with some yoga, or take a timeout for myself and meditate. It’s the only way to tame a creative mind.

novel-supply-co-3

What’s your favorite reward being offered in your campaign?

I love what I have come up with in terms of NOVEL apparel, and maybe I’m a little bit biased, but hey, my heart and soul is in The Muscle Tank, The Adventure Tee AND The Cabin Crew.

BUT, my favourite rewards being offered are the ones that I collaborated with others on! The growlers are sick! The handmade and hand-painted paddles are love at first sight! And, the designs, whether they are on the postcards, prints or NOVEL apparel are on point! It’s impossible to choose a favourite and I guess I haven’t really answered your question. Sarry.

If you had one piece advice for someone considering launching a Kickstarter, what would it be?

Adventure always!

You can check out Kaya’s campaign for NOVEL SUPPLY CO. here

 

shannon-signature-e1463530563728

 



 

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing APaDS

Note from Shannon: This is a guest post by Savannah Fender who is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. 


When you think of fashion and apparel what are some of the top cities that come to mind?

The majority of people would probably identify with New York and Los Angles or Milan and Paris. However, it is what’s hidden under our noses that can help entrepreneurs thrive.

Against popular belief, the sewn goods and textile industry is alive and well within the United States.

Many times the facilities are a lot closer to home than you think. Perhaps they are even your next-door neighbors.

Today, we are going to be touring Apparel Prototyping and Design Solutions, LLC (APaDS) in Pelzer, SC. With a population of just below 100 people, you probably weren’t taught about Pelzer in your eighth-grade geography class! Pelzer is about a 20-minute drive south of Greenville, SC.

There I met with Darlene Martin, the senior pattern maker at APaDS with 28 years of experience; and Elroy Pierce, Founder of APaDS with over 38 years of experience in apparel manufacturing.

Before we got started with an in-depth discussion about domestic production, I took a tour of APaDS. The facility was established in May 2014, as a result of Clemson University making a decision to shut down Clemson Apparel Research (CAR). APaDS, where Darlene and Elroy are today is located at 6931 Hwy 29 N, Pelzer, SC, with six office spaces, a digital patternmaking room, and an open floorplan sewing/cutting room.

Darlene got started in the industry when she was in her early 20s. She had taken a home economics course in high school and discovered her passion for sewing. Darlene went to work  at a local “blouse plant” and from there, her mentor taught her pattern work straight from fabric draping.

They worked for clients like Victoria’s Secret, Sears, and Coldwater Creek. As CAD (computer-aided design) programs became more popular, Darlene’s company encouraged her to go to Atlanta for a two-week program to learn digitizing and grading. Darlene hasn’t stopped working in the industry since.

Even in shutdowns she managed to keep pushing.

apads, sew shop talk

Today APaDS is working with about 150 different clients, including Reese Witherspoon’s brand Draper James.

When you enter APaDS you can see firsthand the passion the employees put into their work. For the people at APaDS, domestic manufacturing was what they always knew, so why move away from it?

They understand the industry has changed drastically and are willing to adapt everyday.

When asked what trades-off companies have to take to stay domestic, Elroy responded:

“There is still a large skill set in the States, it is diminishing very quickly… companies are going to have to look to semi-automation… produce smaller qualities on a faster turn time, than what they did in old production… ”

APaDS is very optimistic about the future of American manufacturing, although it will take time, they feel they are doing their part to promote domestic manufacturing and help entrepreneurs grow.

APaDS is passionate about what they are creating.

If you are looking for someone in the same time zone (or even just a few hours off) that is willing to work with you face-to-face to produce outstanding quality, this is certainly a place your products can be developed.

apads, sew shop talk

Breaking it down:

  • What can APaDS do for you?

>> They are the front people you want to be working with before manufacturing or mass-producing. APaDS can help with your sewn product needs from pattern design, pattern grading, marker plotting, garment samples, garment costing, industrial engineering, apparel consulting, and even small runs (upon request). These are some of the initial steps you MUST take before finding a manufacturer that will work with you.

  • How much do they cost?

>> They are very competitive and cost varies depending on the services and needs of a client.

  • Do I need a Tech Pack?

>> Not necessarily, however it will save APaDS some time when it comes to product development. If you don’t have a technical pack created, APaDS is more than happy to help you format exactly what you need page by page.

  • Am I allowed to visit the facility?

>> APaDS loves it when their clients come for initial consultations, or later in the process to view their work. However, if you aren’t near the area don’t let that stop you! Darlene is very accessible via phone, email, and even Skype.

  • What is the time frame for a returned product?

>> Anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

  • What if I already have a pattern ready?

>> The timeframe may be shortened a bit, but the pattern will still need to be reviewed by Darlene for marking and digitalizing.  

To learn more about the incredible people working at APaDS, be sure to check out their website here and Facebook page here.


savannah fender, apads, sew shop talk

Savannah Fender is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. She completed her B.F.A at Radford University in Fashion Design and Marketing. She is currently in her last semester at NC State working on her thesis, which focuses on domestic manufacturing within the sewn goods and  textile industry. Savannah is passionate about garment production and helping entrepreneurs thrive!

 

 


5 Tips for Creating a “Made in the USA” Apparel Company

So, I’ve laid it out before — new designers tend to have a bad reputation. Not to say it’s your fault, it’s just that some have, unfortunately, ruined it for others.

Suppliers and manufacturers here in the U.S. have been in this game for a long time. And they’ve seen it all — from NAFTA to their neighboring factories shutting down to the early days of a shaky revival.

They’ve also seen every type of designer and aspiring entrepreneur, and most have come to the assumption that 9 times out of 10, it isn’t worth their time to take on work with someone who is new to the industry.

While navigating the world of sewn manufacturing may be new and probably a little intimidating, there are ways to set yourself up so that you don’t come off as the “new kid on the block.”

Let me break it down for you:

>> First and foremost: Set goals. So you have an idea – that’s great. Now, get it all out of your head and put it down on paper. While keeping in mind the vision of your product, you’ll want to set both long and short term goals. This will not only help to keep you motivated (long term), but also allow you see the little wins (short term) along the way.  

>> Research. Creating your own apparel company takes a lot of time and money. You want to take all the time you need to ensure you have several reliable options for both fabric sourcing and cut and sew. Do all the research you can before narrowing down your list, this usually requires multiple prototypes, and check out any online reviews or references of past clients who have worked with the factories you’re hoping to partner with. 

>> Budget. Not only are you going to need time and a lot of patience, but you will also need startup capital. You can likely negotiate with suppliers, but err on the side of caution and take the time to figure out what your budget is for each phase of development. If money isn’t growing on the trees outside of your house, I would strongly consider launching a Kickstarter campaign.

>> Organize your construction methods. Before you approach a supplier or factory, you want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Ideally, you will have a very detailed description of the fabric and materials you need (including weight, weave and fabrication) or a detailed spec sheet. This should include measurements, materials, colors, trim, hardware, grading, labels, tags, etc. and any other important information that would be needed to create your design. This will show that you know what you’re doing, have thought things through, and are a serious potential client.

>> Communication. You want this to be a two way street and effective communication is critical to your success. When you reach out to a project manager, there are some important “do’s and don’ts”:

DO: Provide a sample, pattern, spec sheet.

DON’T: Say things like “patent,” “sign an NDA,” or “What steps do I need to take?” These are all red flags to the production partner, indicating that youre a newbie.

Above all, be polite, professional, responsive and appreciative. The world of domestic manufacturing is complicated but once you get your foot in the door, other doors will open.


7 Tips For Getting a Fabric Supplier to Respond to Your Email

As a new business owner, it is vital that you know how to write an effective email that will earn a response.

Depending on who you’re writing to, it can be easier said than done.

When it comes to reaching out to fabric suppliers, especially, there are seven key rules to remember:

1.) Consider the audience you’re reaching out. The supplier is likely receiving hundreds of emails per week, so you want to make sure your inquiry gets straight to the point. The supplier does not care about your background or the mission of your company. At the end of the day, they just want to make a sale.

2.) Keep the email short and sweet. Yes, you will want to include a nice “Hello” and an appropriate “Thank you.” But again, make sure you are not wasting the recipient’s time.

3.) Do your due diligence. Make sure you do your own research on the supplier’s website before you reach out. Oftentimes, you can get many of your questions answered on the supplier’s About, Shop and FAQ pages.

4.) Know your stuff. Many fabric suppliers are going to want to see that you actually know what you’re talking about, so they don’t risk wasting their own time. One great way to show that you’re serious about being their customer is to send over a design, spec sheet or a visual example of the piece you’re needing the fabric for.

5.) Don’t ask about MOQ’s. Especially not in your first email. This mistake will make you come off as overly frugal and price-conscious before even making initial contact.

6.) Foster the relationship. Once you’ve received an initial response, take your time in building a relationship with the sales rep. While being courteous of their time, you want to cultivate the relationship and make it easy for them to help you. Down the road, they’ll be much more likely to negotiate MOQ’s with you later on.

7.) Stay persistent. Be mindful of not overwhelming the supplier, but don’t give up. Finding sustainable and low-impact fabrics is not an easy task for anyone. Stick to your values and keep up your search. Fabric sourcing is one of the steps in product development that can take the longest, so be patient.


The Most Important Step of Pre-Production

The Most Important Step of Pre-Production: An Interview with Good Clothing Company

If you’ve been around these parts for awhile, you know that I’m a big fan of Kathryn Hilderbrand, who is the owner of Good Clothing Company, a cut and sew manufacturer in Massachusetts.

From tailor to designer to full-scale manufacturer, Kathryn has seen more parts of the apparel industry than most people. She is an expert in her field and today she is bringing that knowledge to Factory45.

Following up from the last interview I did with Mindy Martell of Clothier Design Source, my interview with Kathryn goes more in depth to focus on only one piece of the apparel production puzzle.

In this 15-minute interview, Kathryn and I discuss:

  • Why it’s so important to know that a home-sewing pattern and production-ready pattern are not the same thing.
  • What an entrepreneur needs to have ready to begin the pattern-making process.
  • Why patternmaking is so important to the pre-production phase.
  • How each step of the patternmaking process work.
  • What an entrepreneur can do to ensure the patternmaking process goes as smoothly as possible.
  • Why you shouldn’t expect the very first pattern to come out perfect.
  • The importance of fit and specs.
  • And much more.

Click the video below to watch the whole interview.


If you thought the interview with Kathryn was helpful, we’d love for you to share it — use the social sharing buttons for the platform of your choice (they’re on the left and down below!).

 

 


apparel production

Preparing for Apparel Production: A Video Interview with Clothier Design Source

The question that so often comes up for new designers is about production. For anyone who is new to the industry, the apparel manufacturing process is something of a mystery.

With every production partner having its own way of doing things, this isn’t surprising. Production is one of those parts of creating a physical product that, until you’re in it, there’s no way to fully prepare.

Challenges will come up for you that won’t come up for your peers. Questions will go unanswered until you’re in the thick of the production line. And truthfully, the best way to learn is by going through it.

With that said, there are ways to prepare yourself, knowledge to obtain and lessons to learn before you dive in. The better prepared you are with the concepts, terms and order of production, the better off your first production run will be.

With this in mind, I interviewed Mindy Martell, the owner and president of Clothier Design Source, an apparel production house in St. Paul, Minnesota. In this 20 minute video interview, Mindy and I talk about:

  • Some of the early mistakes that new designers make in the production process.
  • A list of the 7 most important things you need in place before you can start production.
  • An explanation of what grading is, why you need it and what’s involved in grading a garment.
  • What a new designer should know about ordering labels.
  • How production cutting works, what “yield” is and how different colorways can affect your cost.
  • What to expect when you start production.
  • How to control your quality.
  • And Mindy’s most important piece advice for new designers.

Watch the whole interview here.

If you thought the interview with Mindy was helpful, we’d love for you to share — click to tweet here or use the social share buttons on the left.

To receive the Manufacturing Checklists mentioned in the interview, you can get CDS’ here and Factory45’s here.

 

 

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing COsewn

Jessica Montoya is the literal boots on the ground of the ‘Made in the USA’ movement. Experienced designer, skilled sewer, project manager, entrepreneur and mother, she owns COsewn, an apparel production facility in Colorado.

She has grown from freelancing in her home to opening a full production space in just a few years, while paying all of her employees above minimum wage.

Jessica’s name has come up in various conversations with other skilled professionals in the industry, and I was thrilled when she agreed to do an interview for us. People like Jessica are pivotal to increasing the re-shoring of domestic manufacturing, and we can all learn a lot from her about what it will take.

Tell us about yourself and COsewn – how did you get started in apparel production?

I started sewing seriously in high school, which led to dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Costume Technology and Arts Management. After working in the opera world for a few years, I transitioned into freelance work, mainly custom tailoring and small run production sewing. This led to product development and production pattern making, all of which I did out of my home for a number of years.

In 2014, I moved the business into a commercial warehouse space in order to set up large production cutting tables and additional industrial machines. I’ve also hired several sewing / production assistants and have been focused on expanding our factory’s capabilities.

cosewn-jess

What types of services does COsewn offer?

We offer customized product development packages that include technical design, patterns, and sample making for apparel and accessories. Our experience spans women’s, men’s, children’s, and decor categories.

We offer low minimum cut and sew production, tagging, and packaging of lightweight knits and wovens to clients who are able to provide a production ready pattern and sample; pattern audits are required to ensure the sewing will be accurate and cost effective in a production environment.

Describe your ideal client. What kind of designer do you love working with?

The ideal client is detail oriented and prepared through each stage of the process, and demonstrates willingness and ability to follow the checklists we provide. We work with designers to outline what must be ready for each step in order to effectively manage time and meet deadlines. This process requires designers to be very involved and sufficiently plan ahead.

COsewn is a great fit for sustainable businesses that want their products to be ‘Made in the USA.’  Our clients often use a direct to consumer approach for selling, which helps offset the costs associated with retail mark-ups and the higher per unit rates of small runs.

cosewn jpeg

What are some of the biggest challenges you tackle in your work?

I am committed to paying my staff a living wage vs. minimum wage, and believe in creating local jobs for our communities. Also, Made in the USA is becoming more of a buzz word, and as larger companies are shifting production back to the States, the more established sewing factories are becoming very busy and turning away smaller runs from emerging designers, as they are more difficult to turn a profit on.

Since most of our domestic industry shifted overseas 20 years ago, there is a very small pool of American garment workers remaining with production experience, as many have either retired or moved on to other fields. Now, there is momentum building for small cut & sew shops like COsewn, but most of us are still working very hard to build up our capabilities and get workers trained and up to speed.

It is also unfortunate, but I regularly hear first hand about other domestic factories and home production sewing gigs that rely heavily on undocumented and/or immigrant workers who struggle on piece rates to barely hit minimum wage. We cannot compete with the piece rates that these factories offer, but we can guarantee that our workers at COsewn are American citizens and are treated fairly.

I am passionate about creating an environment that makes factory sewing appealing to young Americans, in order to attract young blood to a work force and skill set that is on the verge of disappearing. This effort requires significant training and investment, and comes with the pressure of keeping workers busy with tasks that are suited to their varying skill levels.

Eventually, I envision having a staff that is fully cross-trained on different machines and jobs throughout the development and production cycles.

cosewn-cutting

Why do you feel U.S. manufacturing is a positive step for the fashion industry as a whole?

There has been tremendous growth in the independent designer category, and consumers are beginning to support a movement to buy locally-made apparel just as they consume locally grown food and microbrews.

By manufacturing in the US, factories are more accessible to designers, who are able to supervise their production first hand; this ensures a higher level of transparency combined with better oversight and communication.

Also, designers have the option of lower minimums than typically offered overseas, coupled with faster turnaround times. As designers establish solid relationship with local factories, we’ll see more brands be able to respond quickly to trends and mid-season reorders at a reasonable cost.

The demand for ‘Made in the USA’ is increasing, but we are currently dealing with a shortage of skilled labor. Hopefully, this interest will create a new draw for people to once again be inspired by the value of learning the sewing trade. This resurgence in the handmade goods sector is bringing back interest and value for quality made products, which hopefully will encourage American solidarity. Thus, the handcrafted skills we possess and desire to sustain are becoming invaluable and should not be taken for granted.

You can read more made-in-the-USA startup success stories here.

Photo credit: Seamly.co, COsewn


launch-1-blog

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing Good Clothing Company

Kathryn Hilderbrand has an infectious enthusiasm. Follow her on Facebook and you’ll see what I mean. She is three parts designer, tailor and entrepreneur, simultaneously selling her own clothing line, GreenLinebyK, and running a tailor shop on Cape Cod called Stitched. This year, she’s going for the trifecta and launching an apparel manufacturing facility in Mashpee, MA.

Kathryn emailed me shortly after she found out about a certified “green” facility that had become available for rent. It was the perfect space to open a sew shop for small batch apparel production. She would have to go through a lot of red tape and get approval from the city, but she was ready to take it on.

Just a couple of months after that first conversation, Kathryn has a two-year lease on the building and is starting production for her first client, a country music singer. I interviewed Kathryn about the nuts and bolts of Good Clothing Company and how it can help small designers.

kathryn-hilderbrand

Tell us about your latest venture, Good Clothing Company.

Good Clothing Company is a sustainable and ethical apparel production facility on Cape Cod. Our focus is small runs and quality craftsmanship.

What inspired you to open your own production facility?

I had reached a point where I needed to go into production for my own label, GreenLinebyK, but I couldn’t find any apparel production facilities offering minimums that were in line with my principles and worked with my budget. A US based facility was very important to me because I believe in supporting our local economy, and I wanted to be able to be hands-on when needed.

good-clothing-co copy

Why is a venture like this important to the fashion industry at large?

By making apparel production available on a local level, we create jobs for displaced sewing industry workers and give many emerging fashion designers the opportunity to grow their businesses.

What type of products / designers are a good fit for Good Clothing Company?

We can deliver on most apparel and soft home goods products. Although we can aid designers with pattern making and sourcing, it’s best for a designer to be well prepared with each piece of the puzzle they need to go into production.  A designer with a solid plan, sourced textiles and a commitment to sustainable production is our ideal client.

good-clothing-4

Why is this venture personally important?

As an industry professional for 30 years, I have seen and weathered the storm that fast fashion so furiously wrought upon the apparel industry in the US. I am committed to engaging in positive change, bringing back industry jobs and producing quality products in a way that is true to my set of principles: ethical and sustainable goods made by well paid people.

If you’re a designer or consumer who believes in similar ideals about fair employment opportunities, ethical manufacturing and sustainable business practices, Kathryn is launching an Indiegogo campaign to buy additional machines for Good Clothing Company. Additional machines means more employed sewers and that means added capacity to work with more designers. 

To support and share Kathryn’s campaign, check it out here.

UPDATE: Kathryn’s Indiegogo campaign was successfully funded!


Sew Shop Talk: Introducing Southwest Creations

“We believe when a woman is given an opportunity to earn income, she will invest in her children first – a strategy shared by organizations around the world. We also understand that women from low-income communities face major barriers to economic success for themselves and their children.”

This is the philosophy behind Southwest Creations, a cut and sew facility in Albuquerque, NM that proves a sustainable business can be driven by a social vision. I spoke with executive director Susan Matteucci on the phone a few weeks ago about how Southwest Creations was started, how it has grown and where the opportunities lie in U.S. manufacturing.

Susan was also gracious enough to offer her own advice to designers looking for a domestic production partner. Read her interview below:

F45: Tell us about Southwest Creations. How did you get started? How long have you been in business? What was the catalyst for opening a manufacturing facility?

Southwest Creations is a women-driven factory that provides contract cut-and-sew handwork and kitting production services. Our clients range from West Elm to a dog collar company for sewing, and multinational to local businesses for kitting and assembly.

Southwest Creations was founded in 1994 and we just celebrated our 20th anniversary.

We operate a successful social enterprise that was founded to create economic opportunities across generations.

southwest-creations

F45: What advice do you have for new designers who are looking for a sewing contractor in the U.S.?

  • Know your product inside and out – know all of your suppliers, components, materials, etc.
  • Have your pre-production samples and patterns 100% to your satisfaction before going to a production contractor.
  • The designer should be the expert on his/her product. twitter-bird-light-bgs1
  • As a production contractor, our minimums are 250 per style and that can include three colors and sizes.

F45: What are some of the things that a designer should look for and ask about when reaching out to a sewing contractor?  

I would ask for references from companies that are similar. I would make sure the company is large enough to handle the agreed upon deadline. I would ask for production samples. It’s best to be within a days drive so you can see the facility and get to know the staff.

F45: What are the red flags or things a designer shouldn’t do or say when looking for a production partner?

  • “I have a dress I want you to copy for me.”
  • “I don’t know where to get my material.”
  • “Can you make five?”
  • Asking for a price for something over the phone that the production partner has never seen.

F45: What sets Southwest Creations apart?

We have an excellent reputation and receive highest ratings for quality, communication, customer service and delivery with competitive pricing. The icing on the cake is that we provide many opportunities for our employees from onsite daycare for $.25/hour to a path to education program for employees’ kids, plus an additional 300 families in our community. By working with us, you get more than just great service, you are part of a movement to alleviate poverty.

For more information on Southwest Creations, you can visit the website here.

Photos courtesy of Southwest Creations and The Albuquerque Journal.

Sew Shop Talk: Introducing the Carolina Textile District

This weekend I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit designers, sewers, project managers, and other industry professionals I’ve only before had a chance to speak with by phone or email.
carolina-1 copy

It never fails to amaze me how much goes into making our clothes, and I’m always grateful to get an inside look at the process. After a weekend exploring downtown Asheville, I started Monday morning bright and early in Burnsville, NC to meet designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell of Be Well Designed.

Three Factory45’ers are working with Kristin on concept designs, samples and patterns, so it was a long overdue treat to meet in her studio. Kristin has an extensive background in design, patterning and samplemaking, and it was awesome to see where all of the magic happens.

carolina-3 copyFrom Burnsville, I headed to Morganton to visit Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned cut and sew facility that has been able to successfully change the traditional business model to one that is as empowering for the sewers as it is for the project managers.
carolina-4 copyMolly Hemstreet, who oversees Opportunity Threads, has been an amazing resource and connection for me throughout the past year, and it already felt like I knew her when I walked inside. She gave me a tour of the facility, shared their plans for expansion, and showed me some of the products they’re working on. OT has been able to steadily grow since they opened their doors in 2008 and are nearly busting at the seams six years later.
carolina-5 copyThere is a prominent Mayan population in Morganton and several of the skilled sewers have come into OT with factory experience from Guatemala. Through the Opportunity Threads model, they have autonomy to track their own output and have a direct stake in profit and losses. From an outsider’s perspective, this balance of independence, leadership and collaboration was something I hadn’t seen in similar facilities before and it was incredibly refreshing.
carolina-6 copy

Both Be Well Designed and Opportunity Threads are members of the Carolina Textile District, a network of textile manufacturers, sewers, printers and professionals that help entrepreneurs start made in the USA businesses when they’re ready to go into production. I was able to also meet with Tanya Wade and Dan St. Louis who are two of the key players in making The District a long-term solution.

At the Manufacturing Solutions Center in Conover, NC, Tanya gave me a tour of the facility where they test everything from furniture to fibers to baby products, and house two 3-D printers. MSC is a non-profit that also serves as an incubator to product-based entrepreneurs in both the textile and tech spaces.
manufacturing-solutions

Both Tanya and Dan are collaborating with community leaders in NC, like Kristin and Molly, to “reshore” jobs back to the States and further grow the Made in the USA movement. They are the incredibly hardworking people behind the scenes, moving forward everyday to bring jobs back home.

So where does Factory45 fit into all of this? Based on conversations with Molly and Tanya, The District gets 5-8 emails a week from entrepreneurs looking for fabric suppliers and production partners. About 30-50 percent of those inquiries are from people who do not yet have a solid business plan, marketing strategy or brand vision.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Does a manufacturer really care if I have my marketing plan together?” the answer is is a resounding “YES.” Every project they take on is a personal investment, and The District does not take on entrepreneurs who do not have an initial business strategy in place.

With Factory45, I’m offering a solution for entrepreneurs to become “production-ready,” preparing them to work with resources like The District.

To learn more about the incredible people working in the Carolina Textile District, you can check out Be Well Designed, Opportunity Threads, Manufacturing Solutions Center & The District.