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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Apparel manufacturing in Texas

This article has been published previously under, "An apparel manufacturing facility in Texas".



A manufacturing facility in Texas. That's one I've heard in conversations with seasoned former apparel workers. I've read it in the Austin American-Statesman, among others. Up and coming couturiers in Austin search for that elusive manufacturing facility. If it exists it's a well-kept secret.

Secret

What is not a secret is the extraordinary number of displaced apparel workers. How about the fact Texas, formerly the nation's number one in apparel manufacturing, is number one in the number of displaced apparel workers. I have a good friend who is an extremely talented and knowledgeable individual. Her experience ranges from production worker to trainer to supervisor to the wheeling and dealing for fabric that once bustled back and forth between the US and Mexico border. "If a manufacturing facility were to open in Austin it could be fully staffed with 500 workers in one month" she says. I won't argue with her. I believe she is right.

Seedlings

However, it would probably not be more than a month before the cost of operations, including labor, machinery and materials, would drive the manufacturer (as well as contractors and subcontractors) to squeeze "more for less" from (low) paid workers in order to accommodate suppliers and retailers. Therein are the seedlings for sweatshops, outsourcing and a product dubbed by disillusioned consumers as, "one size fits none". I do not wish to be a party to such.

A virtual apparel manufacturing facility

The cyber world of the Internet has revealed you do not necessarily need to be physically present to have a virtual experience of something in your senses. The automotive and real estate industries have marketed successfully many a sale by providing their clients the opportunity of a virtual experience of the car or home of their choice before they buy it. It's not a stretch to envision a virtual apparel manufacturing (VAM) facility without the existence of a plant in the conventional sense. Do you necessarily need 500 people working multiple shifts in one physical locale to create an apparel experience for you?

What prevents a VAM facility from taking root in Texas? Old thinking.

Independent apparel producers and independent retailers can have a face-to-face, personal and dignified, mutually beneficial business relationship. It's more than "someone in the 500" or a worker abroad whose gender, age and working conditions are unknown to you.

The elements

The elements of a VAM facility include: a home. Throughout homes in Texas (and America) are individuals experienced as pattern-makers, cutters, sewers, quality control and more. The popular credit card commerical comes to mind:

Conventional apparel manufacturing in America: costly
"Conventional " overseas : cheap*
"Virtual " America : priceless *

America has seen what "cheap" got us in pet food, human food, children's toys and apparel all in 2007. There are more than a few who would take up the opportunity of using their resources to create an at-home income as being priceless. No one individual is likely to possess, or would want necessarily, to "do it all". Each one contributes to the process as they wish, are able and agreed upon by business parties. What is important to understand is the skills that populated the production floor are in homes in your community.

Networks

How do individuals in a VAM facility come together? The are brought together through Independent Contractor Networks to "staff", not so much a "facility", as a network.

Networks create an environment of interaction for retailers and apparel producers
Networks create a constant growing source of talent retailers may need to meet apparel demands
Networks create revenue for members whether retailer or apparel producer
Networks create a salesforce for your product among apparel producers
Networks start locally, but grow regionally, state and nationwide
Networks grow exponentially


Business owners are familiar with risk and loss. You know how to assess risk. You know how to manage risk when you determine to take it on. You know how to overcome loss.
There's no greater truth than to, "love one another", to "do" good for one another just as you would have it done to you.

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