Is that an oxymoron? I mean, maybe! But there comes a point where me and my $80 brother machine are not going to cut it!
That time came for me in 2017. We were averaging about $4500 sales a month. I was sewing at least 20 items a day, seven days a week. No, I'm not joking. I was committed to the idea that my products were comfortable and brought so much value to my customers.
I had started hiring a few contract seamstresses
(you can read about that journey here)
but even with their help, I was like the hamster on the wheel, yall!
(wait for it!)
Seamstresses are so amazing. You cut, you keep control of the product, but they help with man power. BUT- there are scheduling conflicts, production issues, and sometimes, ya know, they just quit, or hold your stuff ransom, or mess up and still expect full pay even with a contract.
(Yes, that run on sentence was necessary to get the point across)
At the same time I was conducting dozens of interviews for local seamstresses, I was also diving into the world of manufacturing. I knew this would take me, technically, out of the handmade world, but I also knew that three of us sewing 500pc a week wouldn't cut it if we kept growing!
Finding U.S. manufacturers was difficult. There isn't a yellow pages laying around waiting to help you. I remember being so angry because during election years, you hear about how important it is to keep jobs within our country, but here I was looking and it seemed like I had to hop on the dark web just to figure this mess out- alone!
I heard of a service that actually fixes this, Maker's Row.
My issue here is, these facilities seem a little over priced and less likely to focus on you for longer than two seconds, because they had business every place they turned.... because they were listed with the only place around that actually helps you find a manufacturer. I knew my margins (find yours here) and I knew the max I could pay per piece. No one from Maker's Row list went anywhere near my max.
I felt gutted. During this, I was still sewing 20-30 pieces a day and cutting at least 100 pieces a week for my hired contractors. I was dying. Dyyyying!
But here I was. My max price, cardboard cut outs (Yes!) and my little cute pink binder with college ruled paper.
I scoured the world wide web and hit up every person who gave me even a hint that they knew anything about that world.
I ended up with a decent list, and I ended up with a core list of questions for them, but only after talking to three or four of them and them eye rolling and blowing me off.. because I was the most naive idiot who had ever e-mailed them.
Here is my list of manufacturers as well as questions and details, so you don't look like me!
Do you work with (insert your niche/product here)?
Do I have to have a tech pack?
(Find out what a tech pack i here)
Do you handle tech packs?
Do you handle pattern drafting?
What is your overall minimum?
Can I walk the facility?
What is your error rate?
What is your production time?
Will I have my own person of contact?
Do you have a discretionary agreement ?
That last one is paramount! I cannot tell you how many people choose a manufacturer and then three months later, they see their proprietary unique item all over cheap websites.
1.) Stitch Texas
*Tech Pack Capability
*Not Children Production Friendly
Kristopher Robin (co-owner) did not display decent customer service skills. All communication was short and condescending. I truly wanted this one company to work out. They are close and their website is stellar. I have heard incredible things about their company and what they stand for. Unfortunately, he minimizes your sales and production (without you even notifying him of number- he just assumes if you are a WAHM) and he made it clear they were not fans of Children's clothing production. Overall, I wish it had worked out, and their website is amazing! Give them a shot. You may get lucky and not have to deal with Mr. KR
Del Valle, Texas
*Tech Pack Capability
Very quick on responding to e-mails and being patient on phone calls. The reason I decided not to choose this facility was only because I found someone better with children's clothing and that fit my needs in this moment (cutting my own products and controlling my patterns)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
*No Tech Pack Capabilities
*No Product Development
*Semi- Low Minimums
*Incredible Work environment
I enjoyed this company and Shirley was incredible. I spent quite a bit of time asking them about their practices. This place is amazing. They let women work with their children on site, and they pay fair wage. They are the most patient of all production facilities we spoke with, and are great at hand holding (which, let's face it, is what we all need when we are handing our baby over to someone else!) We ultimately went with someone else because we didn't like the idea of paying one company to draft patterns and tech pack and then send them over to SW. It seemed too many hands, and too many chances at falling into the wrong hands! We love this company and cannot wait to see how many of you choose them. I literally cannot say enough good things about this company. If you have your pattern already drafter and are decent at putting together instructions, this is the place for you. It's a quick drive and plane ride for us to check out the facility, also, and let me tell you, it would be quite a fun experience.
(50% deposit on sample making- 250/pc min order per style, 3 different thread changes are allowed in the 250 mix 3% credit processing fee)
4.) Albuquerque Sewing Factory
Albequerque, New Mexico
*Tech Pack Capability
These guys know their stuff, but they aren't the most warm. While they were prompt and answered every dumb question I could think of, it did feel a bit cold and completely business. That isn't a bad thing at all, but it didn't fit with what I was personally looking for. This company has NO minimums which is a HUGE deal! They require 50% deposit and 50% at ship time which is so nice. It helps keep capital in your bank until the time the product arrives to unload. They do require 25% for first date reserved and have a $100 minimum for sampling and pattern drafting. They seem like a great company, and they are a one stop shop with all the boxes checked that a small shop would be looking for in a manufacturer.
5.) Open Arms
Although I have e-mailed this company a few times, I don't recall much of our conversation. I remember being hopeful, because like SW Creations, they are a collaboration and hire immigrants and have similar work styles. I do not think they do anything outside of cut+sew. They work with large companies, so I know they are great, but be prepared for a longer wait, and just a cut+sew facility.
6.) Trinh’s Sewing
Grand Prarie, TX
*No Tech pack necessary
This company was presented to me because of our geographical proximity. It seemingly came out of nowhere, and after just a brief conversation, I decided to take samples directly to Nhi. *Spoiler alert, we go with them* They were quick, thorough and seemed to need little to no guidance from myself- which was such a breath of fresh air, compared to being countered with questions I couldn't answer from other facilities. They are so quick and laid back that it just works. Eventually, Nhi and her company will take over our cutting as well, but for now, we cut and send her batches weekly. Her facility can handle as much as as little as we send their way. It's the perfect balance of business and warmness along with the nonchalant way of production that made me know they were perfect for me.
7.) Sew Detroit
*No listed phone number or e-mail*
Unfortunately, I never got them to respond to me. They do seem the most up to speed on modern technology (social media, etc.) Ironically, they are very vague with ways to communicate with them. We never got a response, but from the looks of social media and their offering is spot on. Good luck if you want to pursue them!
This company seems to have the experience under their belt, but we felt overwhlemed and that they really just wanted another client. They were very patient and answered all of our questions, thoroughly, but it felt like they rushed the vetting process with us, which turned us off and we decided not to go with them.
I ended up choosing Nhi Trang. She is local, her minimums were easy for me, and she didn't charge per color. She was most knowledgeable with children products and since she is local, I can still cut my items for her company while I draft official patterns for her company to eventually take over cutting for our brand. She also has the capability of adding our KAM snaps which is a big deal for me!
Whoever you choose (even if not from this list) be sure to keep a positive attitude, don't leave invoices unpaid, and make sure they know you value what they give your business.
Hiring is all about taking your business to the next level. It is crucial to scaling, and it's so a hard journey!
List of other US mfq that we have not been in contact with: