It’s American Factory Week! In this post, a California full-service factory will be giving some sage advice to new factory owners and those thinking about starting one.
California New Work was launched by my wife (Monica Leigh Rodriquez, Creative Director and Founder) out of our home studio – a.k.a. – our garage – here in Los Angeles. We’ve seen partners come and go, money come and go, brands come and go, but we’ve stayed steadfast and constant through it all, gradually pushing and taking risks each day, riding the great wave of fashion.
Monica comes from a world of corporate fashion, high-end couture, stringent technicality and quality, intense focus on product knowledge and has worked with executives, celebrities, and stylists across all business sectors. She has worked with and for some of the largest and most successful companies in the apparel industry, but after twenty-three years in the business, Monica wanted to do things differently and start her own company.
Well… that doesn’t come easy.
For me, I come from the entertainment sector – film producing, writing, music – so the technical granularity, the intense administrative learning curves and basically, the entire organism that is the fashion business was something I had to learn from scratch (and from Monica). We’ve both learned and grown the business together. It’s been intense and incredibly satisfying.
California New Work has been thriving for about five years now we have experienced about a 50% growth rate each year. We are now in a beautiful new space in the heart of LA’s Fashion District, adjacent to the California Mart.
It was an honor to be asked by the Maker’s Row team to contribute to the site by providing advice for new factory owners.
Here are some basic things to consider as you get started:
- Make sure you clearly decide to which sector of the industry you want to cater and which services you will be offering. In essence, be clear and honest with yourself what your core competencies are – that will be the nucleus of your business. Be clear and focused in this decision. Will it be bridal or pet clothing? Swimwear or designer? Lingerie or handbags? Decide. You can’t do everything. There is a set of challenges, protocols, and preparations for each of these sectors. Do your research and make sure you know what you are committing to.
- Create a legally sound business entity – complete with all registrations, licenses, documentation, filings, and structures firmly in place. Do your homework. This includes Federal, State, and Local. Pay your taxes, on time. Invest in some solid accounting software, find a great CPA and a great attorney.
- Be fearless and don’t freak out when things get hard. Downtimes are disorienting. When clients fall off – know there are new clients to be had. They are out there. Get them, find them, close the deal. Steady wins the race.
- Invest in good people, treat them well and pay them on time. This includes employees, vendors, and contractors. Fashion culture is shifting, but it is still ruthless and people think that being cruel, aloof, pushy or arrogant is the way to go to get things done. NO, it’s not. Don’t fall prey to old industry habits. Make your own choices and decide what kind of company culture you want. People are the foundation. Make sure they are well taken care of and feel respected. It will show.
- Things get hectic with seasonal due dates, delivery times, photoshoots. Everyone wants everything at the same time. If there is an issue, don’t play the blame game which is common in production and fashion. Designers, brands, labels, and clients forget things very easily when there are problems. If it’s your problem, own it. If it’s not, then properly and diplomatically offer archived documentation, details, numbers, drawings, emails and granular proof why it’s not. Keep track of your data and protect what you are building.
- Customer Service and Account Management are critical. Production management is difficult and is a spindly great web that loves to invite problems. Plan, schedule, track the work and deliver when you say you will. This includes accounting, purchase orders, and financial documentation.
- Don’t be afraid of contracts. NDAs, Manufacturing Agreements, Partnership, Agreements, etc. Read the fine print and paper your relationships. It creates a well-being of doing business.
- Value and protect your schedule and your company calendar. And be very clear what your payments terms are. Brands are notorious for delaying payments. Push to collect on your invoices within an acceptable window and make sure your clients know this. Charge for your time and for every service and make your servicing bundles and costing are easily understood by the client. Be transparent about this by creating and using a dependable pricing schedule for your business. You can control costs and improve sales that way. Mitigate loss and wasted time. Structure and clarity help avoid making promises that can’t be kept.
- Be open to learning new methods, workflows, software, and skill sets. Develop a roster of business “greybeards” and reach out when you need guidance, consultation, a reference point or advice.
- Don’t get too comfortable. Making things for people is complicated and you will always be in a state of problem-solving. Try to enjoy that as much as possible – it will make you better at what you do.
- Social media is great, websites are great – but they are not 100% the answer to all of your challenges. They are tools. The quality of the work, your business acumen, and attitude will speak volumes when your deliverables are en route.
- Running a studio, an atelier, a factory, a business – will pull you into a swirling black hole of tasks – and life can go out of balance. There will always be things to do. Stop and take a break from your business once in a while if you can. Even a few hours.
California New Work is the home of The Monica Leigh Collection and a full-service atelier in the heart of the fashion district in Downtown Los Angeles specializing in design, product development, production, resourcing, sample making, pattern making, technical design, tech packs, draping, and consultation. More information and a full list of services here!
In celebration of American Factory Week, we’re offering special pricing on our Standard plan for factories and Essentials plan for brands! Click here for more information!
Ends June 26, 2017