A Tale of Two Sustainable Supply Chains, Part II

This is a guest post by Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh. Part I of this series can be read here.

Tale Two: TS Designs – Cotton of the Carolinas – American Soil Organic

After looking at the supply chain of Appalatch, I’m sharing a second example of how to create a sustainable supply chain that can help your business. Founded back in 1977 as a small, manual screenprinting business, TS Designs became a fully-automated manufacturing company and was able to weather the offshoring and outsourcing of the 1990s. Re-orienting themselves to become a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) company, they are now a successful example of how to influence social and environmental change through business.

ts-designsStarting in 2008, TS Designs has brought together multiple stakeholders through Cotton of the Carolinas — from the farmers to the cotton ginners to the designers to the printers to the sewers to the brands – to organize and support the growth of organic cotton in North and South Carolina. Cotton of the Carolinas introduced a ‘Track Your Shirt’ system online so that buyers could input information and find out exactly where and whom made their t-shirts.

They also organized a “Harvest Tour” so consumers could visit the cotton ginning mill and the actual farm where the cotton was grown — a great way to address the disconnect many people have between the clothes they wear and the people who made them.

While attending the 2013 Harvest Tour, I was lucky enough to learn from Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, and Ronnie Burleson, manager of hundreds of farms all over the state of North Carolina. They discussed at length the benefits of knowing who you’re working with — and recounted a time when cotton prices fluctuated so heavily they had to work out a mutually beneficial deal so that each stakeholder could remain in business while trusting that being flexible would later benefit their individual companies.

Stage two of Cotton of the Carolinas has seen an expansion to the west to increase the amount of certified organic cotton available. American Soil Organic will continue where Cotton of the Carolinas left off to create an apparel line with a 100 percent transparent supply chain.TS Designs shirts

So what are the main takeaways from these two supply chain stories: Appalatch and TS Designs? First, these pioneering companies have demonstrated that building a transparent supply chain is possible. Second, they show that you can, in fact, create a sustainable, community-focused supply chain.

Appalatch’s and TS Designs’ experiences show how vital it is to know and trust the people you are working with to make your products. Indeed, creating a sustainable, transparent supply chain filled with mutual trust will leave you far, far better off in the long run.

For more about Redress Raleigh, check it out here.

[Photo credit: TS Designs]


A Tale of Two Sustainable Supply Chains: Part I

This is a guest post by Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh.

When the words “supply chain” are used today, many people envision a long trail of suppliers spread out across the globe in faraway locations — difficult to contact and not necessarily trustworthy. Recent media attention, particularly on textile disasters and human rights issues, has highlighted how non-transparent most of the industry is when it comes to where their products come from and who makes them.

However, there are those companies who recognize the benefits of knowing who you’re working with while developing more sustainable, community-oriented supply chains. Over the course of two guest posts, I’m going to introduce you to two of those companies. The first one is Appalatch.

Tale One: Appalatch – Echoview – Opportunity Threads

AppalatchWeaverville, NC, is located about 20 minutes north of Asheville in the beautiful Appalachian mountains. A small community with a rich heritage, the town now has about 3,500 residents and is home to a number of large manufacturers. It is also home to Appalatch Outdoor Apparel Co., clothing sewn from sustainable fibers made for the modern-day Mr. and Ms. Indiana Jones.

Appalatch is intent on creating honest, high-quality goods and it shows in their supply chain. Working closely with Echoview Fiber Mill, an eco-friendly, living-wage-certified animal fiber processing mill, they are constantly seeking ways to create the best sweater. The founders have gone so far as to further their education on:


  • How to research every type of knitwear to better understand the softest, most durable stitches.
  • What works best in each piece they make.
  • An automated knitting machine to incorporate their knowledge with higher levels of production.
  • Creating a partnership with the fiber mill that has not only enabled each company to learn from each others needs, but provide a unique office environment for their everyday business.

Drive down the road about an hour and a half to Morganton, North Carolina, and you will visit Opportunity Threads, a cut and sew cooperative that has created a new business model for the textile industry. When I visited in mid-September, some of Appalatch’s long sleeve henleys were being prepped to be sent out. Opportunity Threads also works with other businesses such as Project Repat, a Boston-based company that upcycles t-shirts into cozy t-shirt blankets.

opportunity-threads copy

It’s a common misconception that companies have to pay significantly more to manufacture in the U.S. Because so many elements of the supply chain are within close proximity of each other, while working directly with the company, Appalatch is able to keep prices reasonable and keep their waste and carbon footprint to a minimum.

Tomorrow I’ll share Tale Two — the story of TS Designs.

For more about Redress Raleigh, check it out here.

[Photo credit: Appalatch, Opportunity Threads, Project Repat]


Sew Shop Talk: An Interview with Open Arms Shop

The Open Arms Shop started as a sustainable apparel brand empowering refugee women through living wage employment. Currently, its founders and employees are transitioning into a full-development sew shop based in Austin, TX, adding another Made in the USA production facility to the growing comeback.

Unique to Open Arms Shop is its “triple threat” of providing a living wage to refugee women, being based in the USA, and using repurposed and recycled materials. Having already taken on production of established brands such as Raven + Lily and Blue Avocado, I spoke to founder Leslie Beasley about Open Arms’ new business model and her advice for new designers looking to manufacture in the USA.

open-arms-shopFactory45: When you think back on the designers and entrepreneurs you have worked with, can you describe your ideal client? How can new designers be great to work with, too?

Open Arms: Our ideal clients are those who come prepared with their initial mock up along with a detailed tech pack and have a clear vision with the ability to commit to a six-month to a year production contract. It’s a client who is committed to being a socially-conscious brand made in the USA and see a long-term partnership with Open Arms.

New designers can be great to work with as well. It is more of a challenge with new designers because they often need smaller quantities and would like a variety of designs. The ideal new designer for us is one who is committed to being a socially-conscious brand (understanding it will be more expensive than outsourcing out of country), is willing to be flexible in order to make it work, and can commit to one or two designs to begin with instead of multiple designs.

F45: What is the most challenging part of running a sew shop?

One of the most challenging parts is having the client collect all of the elements needed to roll into production at the time production is scheduled to begin. All elements are needed to operate at optimal efficiency. When a customer has the correct amount of fabric, hardware, internal labels, etc. when production begins, things run much more smoothly.

F45: What are your goals for growth and moving the industry forward?

Our goal is to partner with socially-conscious brands that have the ability to commit to a six- month to a year production cycle. This allows us to hire and train refugee women and give them the stability of a long term job. It also gives us the ability to increase efficiencies, allowing more affordable rates. This model will allow us to grow as well as move the industry forward.


F45: What is your advice for designer entrepreneurs who want to manufacture in the USA?

Stick with your conviction to manufacture in the USA! Don’t give up too quickly. Get creative. See your manufacturer as a partner and work closely with them. Have flexibility and creativity in order to keep it affordable. It can be done. Target retailers and customers who are also committed to USA made apparel with a transparent supply chain and who are willing to invest more in your products.

open-arms-shopF45: Price can often be a deterrent for new companies and they end up outsourcing. Do you have any suggestions for keeping manufacturing domestic and affordable?

It is a challenge to keep manufacturing domestic and affordable, no doubt about it. The best way we have found to keep it affordable is to do larger quantity runs of the same or similar designs. This enables our team to become skilled and efficient at one thing increasing production time, insuring quality products, therefore allowing it to be more affordable. In addition, designers should consider sales strategies that allow them to make a commitment for a lower monthly volume for a longer timeframe. This enables designers to spread out the manufacturing expense over time and Open Arms can dedicate fewer staff to the project but for a longer period of time. Peaks and valleys in demand cost more and are harder to manage.

F45: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to encourage any designers who desire to “do it differently” to stay domestic and demonstrate social consciousness. Don’t give up. Stay true to your vision. Stay passionate. Keep believing. You can do it!

To learn more about the work of Open Arms Shop you can check them out here.


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Sew Shop Talk: An Interview with Silver Lining Productions

The goal of the “Sew Shop Talk” series is to bring a voice to the factories and sew shops based in the U.S. Finding a production partner can be one of the most elusive parts of trying to start an apparel business, so these interviews will shed some light on the faces and personalities of the people who make our clothes.

I first came across Grace, Laura Lee and Irma of Silver Lining Productions during their May Kickstarter campaign to raise money to open a sew shop in Eugene, OR. I was drawn to their similar message of bringing manufacturing back home while asking the question, “Where was your shirt made?”

Silver Lining Productions is a breath of fresh air to the oftentimes “old school” industry of domestic manufacturing. I spoke with the founders about their mission, the “Made in America” movement, and their advice for new designers.

Silver Linings Production JPEG

F45: Tell us a little bit about Silver Lining Productions. How did you get started? What was the catalyst for starting a cut and sew facility in Oregon?

Silver Lining Productions was launched by three female partners in April of 2014 with overwhelming community support as the first garment production facility in the area. We have produced fashion shows for years and witnessed a disconnect between local designers and local boutiques/businesses. With our combined experiences in different areas of the industry, we’re providing a solution to producing goods locally.

F45: What is your advice to designers for finding a production partner in the States?

Start as close to home as possible. Local resources can exist just below the surface and word-of-mouth can lead you to great connections in your own area. Get out there and start asking questions about how others are getting their goods made!

silver-linings-productionF45: What are some things for a designer to look for and ask when reaching out to a cut and sew facility?

Ask for honest lead times and fully understand the importance of approving samples. Ask if the manufacturer charges for samples and if so, if there is any way to wrap those costs in with an order. Without an approved sample, you might as well throw your money away! Always remember: a sample may or may not be sellable. Even though sample production may be a high cost, it is an imperative part of the process.

Give yourself a realistic budget and timeframe. You want to have the funds available to support your production. Bring EVERYTHING that the manufacturer needs to complete your production run. Any time they have to stop production to wait for you to bring materials costs time and money.

Ask if the manufacturer can help you source your materials/notions/screen printing/tags etc., as they may have very valuable information for you. Ask about payment terms, upfront costs (deposits) and partial payments or shipments.

F45: What sets Silver Lining Productions apart?

Apart from being the first garment production facility in the area, we are innovating manufacturing techniques based on sustainability and upcycling. We are committed to creating as little waste as possible, paying fair wages to our employees, and working with customers/designers to find ways to work with dead stock, remnants and scraps that not many other manufacturers would be interested in. We also produce local and regional fashion shows to showcase designers we work with (and bolster the local fashion industry). Oh, we do leather-work as well!

F45: Why do you believe the “Made in America” movement is so important?

There is a need and a want for USA made garments. Simply put, it adds value to your product if it is made in the U.S. There are environmental, humanitarian and economic benefits to making and selling your product in the U.S. Sewing, patterning and manufacturing are nearly dying arts in America and by supporting this field in any way (whether you make, buy or sell US goods), you become part of a larger community and connected to the very fiber of this country.

F45: Anything else you’d like to add?

Keep it local, support yourself and help your community, city, state and country by producing here at home!

If you’re based on the west coast, consider Silver Lining Productions as a viable option for manufacturing your product(s). You can find Grace, Laura Lee and Irma on Facebook and through their website.

If you know of a sew shop or garment factory in the U.S. that would like to be part of the “Sew Shop Talk” interview series, please send an email to shannon@factory45.co.