Saturday, May 31, 2008

Starting An Apparel Company

Over the past few months I've had the opportunity to help six emerging entrepreneurs who are at various stages of starting or expanding their apparel businesses. These interactions made me aware of the fundamental knowledge I acquired in my start-up years by producing apparel domestically before venturing offshore.

Only after developing my experience "tool kit" was I confident enough to venture offshore. I tend to be quick to minimize the benefits of having gone through the rigors of learning product development domestically. Moving our factory from Massachusetts to the Dominican Republic was just as stressful, financially draining and ultimately as rewarding as the start-up of Corky.

For new entrepreneurs starting an apparel company I feel your pain. Fifteen years ago when we started Corky there was an incredible mix of mills, converters, trim supplies and sewing contractors in the United States. And, most importantly, the fabric produced domestically was far superior to the quality of fabric produced offshore. Today however, there are very few resources available in the United States and the quality of cloth produced offshore is now superior to that produced domestically.

From a start-up perspective I understand how overwhelming the process seems and can tell you there are no easy answers. Although you don't need to price your products below your competition, you need to price in a competitive range. My advise in the start-up phase is to find a local cut and sew contractor and develop a great relationship. When you eventually transition offshore, you'll still need the services of a local sewing contractors to make samples, repair garments and add trims that didn't arrive on time to put on offshore.

I would suggest that you work with fabric and finding suppliers that have developed offshore supply channels. When you transition offshore you can continue to work with these suppliers because they will simply ship your purchases from their offshore suppliers to where ever you advise. Be a great customer to your suppliers and they will reward you with prompt deliveries and novel products; the key to being the best in your niche.

Most successful apparel makers will sooner or later need to venture offshore, it's an easy step to take, but an extremely difficult step to master. Initially your deliveries will suffer, but you'll know when you've mastered the process because customers and employees will stop comparing current delivery performance with delivery performance when you produced domestically.