Textile Insight

May / June 2018

Issue link: https://viewer.e-digitaledition.com/i/981680

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Page 41 of 43

MAKER'S SPACES, INCUBATORS, LAUNCH pads; we've had all kinds of new interest in firing up the sewn goods industry in Colorado recently. Groups as divergent as suburban cities, e-commerce hipsters, rural mountain counties and small-scale manufacturers are itching to grow and looking for communal solutions for Colorado's lack of cut and sew resources. They are searching for a way to teach skills, create jobs, and assist with entrepreneurs' dreams of the next great thing. Their vision is one of a workshop / studio space where designers can play, seamstresses can teach and at the end of the day there is value and commerce created. It is an awesome idea. A few of these groups have hunted me down in person, both to see the shop that I work from and ask about the how-to's and what-if's regarding what they are planning. My answer is, I believe, an unexpected lecture consisting of two main parts. First is a quick discussion about distribution. The vast majority of successful sewn goods enterprises are direct-to-customer based models. The single gross margin between the maker and the consumer is a huge advantage vs. the traditional branded retail formula with its double margin structure. Add to this the cultural value placed on made in USA goods, the ease of using the internet to replace advertising, the macro trend towards selling through bazaars and festivals and the increasingly artisanal relationship between small batch makers and their markets. It's easy to see why Ralph's Powersew, our local industrial sewing machine distributor, is selling more sewing machines than they ever have and yet their sales of cutting paper, used in big cut and sew operations, continues to decline. The growth of sew shops is centered around being small scale, close to market, made to measure and using high quality materials to create unique and limited- run products. It is very difficult for a local small-scale factory to make sewn goods at a price where the tra- ditional street retail price is anywhere near competitive. The cost of production can't withstand an addi- tional manufacturing margin, then a whole- sale markup added by a brand, and finally the doubling of that whole- sale price, at least, by the brick and mortar retailer. American factories will only be able to dance with partners that sell directly to the market. The second part of the answer is less obvious. Sewing isn't the problem, a lack of technical sup- port is. Laying the groundwork for a sewn goods industry involves having all the skills surrounding production sewing in place. Think of it this way, one patternmaker can support a handful of small companies, one cutter can cut enough pieces for dozens of sewers to work on turning into product, and one mechanic can service hundreds of industrial machines. The missing background in most plans for a locally grown sewn goods industry are the technical arts of pattern making, marker making, cutting / batch- ing and setting up sewing machines to reliably make the exact kind of stitches needed for each product. It is a group effort to successfully take an idea to market and it always surprises me how often people who don't know anything about production sewing assume the answer is "just teaching people how to sew."* There is no doubt; American sewing in the future will reflect the Americans that choose to do the work. Small shop or home based, the industry is dependent on the stitchers themselves and will be made in their image. Before incubators launch their overnight sewn goods success stories, I think they need to ask themselves a couple of questions. Who are the people that will make their products? How do they want to live? Will they learn and grow in their profession and integrate their skill set on a commercial scale? And most importantly, what is the mechanism that supports their effort? *Like any of the artistic trades, teaching sewing is entirely heuristic and experiential. It is a full body- mind experience to sew successfully at even the craft level and production sewing is another animal altogether. To teach sewing requires a methodical approach with plenty of practice across a wide spectrum of fabrics and construction methodolo- gies. Great seamstresses are dedicated, adroit and magical to watch. They teach by example. O Disclaimer: Mr. Gray also teaches sewing by exam- ple, as in the, "don't do this like I did" type example. His opinions and poorly sewn seams are his own and the Publisher may not share them. An Industry of Interdependence by Kurt Gray 42 • Textile Insight ~ May/June 2018 textileinsight.com What is the future of American made sewn goods? OUT OF CONTEXT

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