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: 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.
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.