Small Business Apparel...Not for the Faint of Heart

I never set out to be a business owner. I didn’t have big dreams of running my own operation or being the boss. I did have dreams of designing. I always wanted to be a designer for someone. I imagined myself sort of like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, but with design, not a magazine. After graduating from FIDM, I went out searching for that job or a way to that job. I no joke walked up and down the LA fashion mart and peeped in to any showroom that would listen. I would tell them I had experience in sales, retail, design, pattern making and marketing. Mind you, I’m only 23 at this time and I definitely exaggerated my skill sets, but hey I was desperate to find my way in. When I think back to that time, I realize how brave I was. I wasn’t scared to talk to anyone and I was happy to take any position. I know because of that attitude I landed my first “professional” position at Hot Kiss.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talk about this first position, but it was hell. I was so stoked to land the job I was easily talked in to doing work I wasn’t skilled for and also things that I just didn’t want to do, but I did and this job ran it’s course. I didn’t last very long, I think 6 or 7 months! I got let go in the middle of July and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I’m so happy I took that position because I learned a lot about apparel manufacturing and apparel sales.
After having such a hard time at the big girl position I decided to take it easy, no that is a lie. I couldn’t find a professional entry-level position anywhere. So I applied at a whole bunch of retail stores, landing a gig at Patagonia. LOL. I didn’t even know what a Patagonia was. Seriously, I remember asking that in my interview. “Um, yes I love the outdoors totally a fan, Sir what’s a Patagonia?
After a few years working for outdoor retailer giant, I learned so much about work place and work environment. I had never had a job that cared so much about ALL it’s employees. I mean, they invested in their staff and made sure they inspired each level of their operations. I had a blast learning so much about our environment and working with charitable groups. It was clear that I wanted to work for this company forever or move on to another company with similar ideals.
I sadly left Patagucci for another chance at a position in pre-production in a major juniors knits company. (Juniors is a category of apparel, it’s teens to the early 20’s. And knits typically means tee shirts or sweaters, in this case tee shirts). I love to share this part of my journey with anyone who will listen, mainly because most people think fashion AKA apparel industry is glamorous and lattes and high heels all day. It’s not. It’s a lot of panic, anxiety, stupid deadlines and waste. I learned all this at this job. A good friend and I got hired for the same position, which was great because She knew what she was doing. I on the other hand faked it ‘til I made it? You know what I mean. I can certainly remember crying outside taking a “smoke” break or hiding in the bathroom to cry while our boss screamed so hard his veins popped through his forehead. The treatment of the staff was horrible and even worse to the migrant workers. This was the first I experienced this type of behavior from a boss. It was scary and needless to say I did not last long there.
Everyone is always interested in how and why I started Strange Bikinis. These past experiences definitely helped sway my thoughts about what type of career, co-workers and boss I wanted to work with/for.
I’m going to fast forward past a few years 2012-2016. These years were amazing, but basically all you need to know is I hand sewed everything and grew a hobby into a small business. In 2016 I got serious about the business side and wrote out a business plan and started thinking about ways to actually be profitable and make something out of Strange Bikinis.
There was really only one option; I had to stop hand making every single swimsuit. It seems so simple. It was and it wasn't. Here is a a little lists of challenges while trying to manufacture a SMALL collection.
Money. How will you fund for your inventory and all the pre production and sample making?Factory. Which factory will make quality products? Will they take you and work with your small quantities?Actually designing a collection. Will the customers like what I design and will they buy it?Communication. Most factories and its workers do not speak English as their 1st language. This didn’t seem like trouble at first but it definitely turned out that way.Trust. You have to trust the factory. I’m naïve and fresh to this and you hope that they lead you the right way.Money. More money. Just like any project production goes over budget.
I kind of leapt in to production without really knowing these answers. I had my savings, but soon that was gone with the pre production phase. (panic time) I won’t bore you with how I got the money but I had to exhaust all my resources.
The factory I worked with for the first collection seemed so great at first. The owner was super nice and seemed to know what she was doing. I trusted her completely. Things went pretty smoothly until we actually started to cut the fabric. I chose this factory because she was going to take care of everything for me. In stead of me having to find my own cutter and then have her just do the sewing. Half way through cutting she insisted they needed more fabric. I thought this was odd because I over estimated my fabric order to be safe, as it was my first time. She then insisted again we were out of fabric a few days later. What could I do but trust her, she was the seasoned factory owner. Needless to say this caused a lot of stress for me. Was she stealing my fabric for another designer? Was she wasting fabric by not cutting correctly? I had no idea.
When I drove to LA to pick up the order, it was clear what mistake had been made. The factory had made double the amount of swimsuits as I ordered!!! Panic time again. This was a huge mistake on their behalf, or was it a mistake at all? Did they take advantage of me because it was very easy to do so? Honestly, I think the latter.
After this huge disaster last year, I decided to try to break up my quantities in the future. Making it easier on the factory to complete and order and making it easier for my staff to manage the inventory. We learned so much from that “mistake” and have had such a smooth ride this year with production. I had to leave that factory because, well I didn’t trust her and honestly I didn’t like her work. I’m so pleased that I left and found a new factory.
Our new factory consists of 7 seamstresses’ and is located in San Francisco. It’s been so much better and the communication has been great. Thank the lord!
Like we said in our newsletter we have two deliveries. The first one releases early February and the second in March, Maybe April. It’s always hard to say because there are several factors involved beyond just sewing; ordering fabric, cutting fabric, sewing all the straps and finally sewing.
Oh I almost forgot to mention that The Ranger set and the Hitchhiker bottoms are back ordered because they require a special laser-cutting machine and they got delayed slightly. Yes laser cutter! I also struggled with getting all the fabric I needed this year. I went to order our new rad Snake print “Natrix” and the fabric vendor told me they were out. OUT! Omg, I just designed my entire collection, ran sampling and also shot the looks and I cannot have them be OUT! So we have to wait for the mill to actually make us a new batch, which is another reason why I can’t give strict deadlines. Once, we receive our swimwear from the factory we then have to go through all of them to check quality. One of our most important tasks. I used to think me hand making each order what the best way for quality but to be honest a factory has better equipment and more means to make a better garment, but I will always be the last one to touch your order. I check every nook and cranny to make sure it’s superb!
I hope I didn’t bore you to death with some insight on how things happen on the back end, I appreciate you taking the time to read this today.
Stay Strange, Ali


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