I have a friend of mine who was an indie designer. She started back in 2004. Dynamic vision. Highest standards. Gorgeous prototypes. A designer with allure and personality to spare. What happened? What happened was, right person with the right idea at the wrong time. It was 2004 and the fabric selection was gaunt at best. Customer interested was just as gaunt. These difficulties were just the start.
Finding True Wholesale Fabric Resources in a Sea of Retailers
Indie designers that found their way to New York would have to wade through dozens of store front retailers. Finding your way to the best fabrics with real wholesale pricing, continuity and a reasonable minimum was almost impossible. Who knew about a prized supplier tucked away on the 7th floor of a building like 237 West 37th Street? Real wholesale entities were not exactly putting out the red carpet? We were a good five or six years before indie designers created any kind of excitement. We weren’t called The Sourcing District. We represented four lines part time. Maker’s Row certainly was not to be found. Incubators had not yet begun to incubate! Local shows in Chicago and Dallas featured about 75% jobbers. There was no DG Expo. In our hometown, Chicago, finding a contractor was real needle in a haystack stuff. Directories that did exist listed mills, converters, importers and jobbers together with little designation. That was 2004.
How Technology and Incubators are Changing the Game
OK, what happened? How did we end up with Maker’s Row, The Sourcing District, trade shows, incubators and a pretty decent network of factories, technical designers, product developers, photographers and more and more every day? The answer is a little complex. Take a deep breath. Here we go.
In the first decade of the 21st century stores surrendered to low prices “and that’s the fact Jack” (with apologies to Bill Murray and the graduation scene from the movie Stripes). No price was low enough for America’s largest retailer. Made in the USA absolutely disappeared off the shelves of America’s big box retailers. Popular made to look like the flag shirts were made in China. Before 2008, Chinese workers were making about $200.00 a month. The tech explosion had not really happened in China and other countries in the Asian Basin. With the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese people and others in the region received an up close look at “Western Life”. Chinese salaries accelerated. At the same time, most American retailers were not interested in paying more. Quality suffered. Styles became even more simplified and homogenized. Other forces contributed to the diminished quality of lower priced clothing and consumer goods. Unrest in Egypt and other factors led to cotton prices rising precipitously.
Finally, by 2010, there was for the first time the whiff of hope. More imagination and value arrived in the area of knit fabrics. Over the next three years, designers making bamboo yoga wear, vintage little girl dresses, the first sign of domestic outerwear and real originally styled womenswear appeared. By 2013, lovely man tailored woman’s blouses where popping up on line with real quality features. Design communities in Nashville, Denver, Austin, Seattle, Louisiana and Minnesota became more than just credible. They became industry leaders. Product developers offered a well-financed project expert pattern makers and strength in all of the skill positions. Contractors expanded. Chain stitch and cover stitch machines were no longer a rarity. And here is the kicker. Made in the USA is no longer a handicap. The start of reshoring is starting to develop.
Now we still have some issues. While some Americans have discovered us, many all still on the big box feeding tube. Worse still, those big box stores are absolutely in denial regarding the goodness of domestic sewn product. Not one hanger of product in Wal Mart. Less than 7% in Macy’s. Shamefully little in Nordstrom. Zero in Kohl’s.
What is this telling you as a domestic sewer and domestic producing designer? Make great product. You do not need to make homogenized, middle of the middle of the road vanilla apparel. In fact, that will not work. You are not going to out cheap junk the Big Box Stores and there complete unethical ways.
You simply have better options.
About The Author
Jay Arbetman grew up in Chicago’s apparel trade, and joined the family business in 1971. Since then Jay has served in just about every capacity the industry has to offer, and is a fountain of knowledge and resources for independent and start-up designers. He currently is the owner of The Sourcing District, your one stop shop for the best in wholesale fashion fabrics, zippers, buttons, notions with small minimums and big results.