Why Made in America?

I imagine most entrepreneurs know this feeling at the outset of whatever it is they’re trying to get off the ground: you’re simultaneously crystal clear…and totally lost. You’re crystal clear about your vision. You know what you want. But getting there? That’s another story. It’s not like the corporate world, where the starting point and the end point are clearly defined and there’s a well-worn, well-trod corporate ladder leading you one rung at a time along your professional journey. For the entrepreneur, the only “ladder” that exists is the one that you build as you go along, and very often that construction process feels like laboring in a pitch-black workshop with tools you can’t find.

When I opened the first of what would become five restaurants, the workshop wasn’t quite pitch black. But it was pretty dim. Although I’d been a waitress, I’d never even managed a restaurant before. Fortunately, I had a partner who was an experienced chef and who had actually owned a restaurant. Even then, it was a lot of trial and error and stress and panic. It was also a hell of a lot of fun. But four restaurants and a decade later, I was ready for something else.

Roxanna in Erin-s Fedora

I wanted to start my own clothing line.

I had a very clear vision of just what that line would look like: timeless classics of the female wardrobe, all made in America. The idea came from three experiences. As a woman, I realized that it was increasingly difficult to find the kind of basic staples I wanted in a single clothing line. At the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware of the humanitarian issues involved in the foreign outsourcing of labor in the creation of many of those lines. The idea of being able to work closely with the manufacturers here in America, developing relationships and being present to oversee the process, was critical. And then I came across a quote by designer Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less. Choose well.” My vision crystallized. A line of basic clothing that would have a kind of “Audrey Hepburn-meets-Jennifer Aniston” classic sensibility, made in America, that would help women shop in the spirit of Vivienne Westwood’s profoundly simple maxim. My vision was clear… but I had absolutely no idea how to proceed. This time, the workshop really did feel pitch black. And this time, I was working in it alone.

lost in thought...

My first foray into the manufacturing world was less than successful. I contacted a “broker” in Los Angeles, someone whose job it is to connect designers with manufacturers. But the vibe I got was less than trustworthy, and the connections he made for me didn’t feel quite “right.” It felt like my absolute lack of knowledge and experience in that world was being taken advantage of. So I returned from that trip without even having placed the first rung on my ladder to realizing my vision.

Of course, I did have something I didn’t have when I opened that first restaurant. I had Google. So I started Googling. One of the first things I Googled was “how to find clothing manufacturers in America.” And that led me to Maker’s Row.

And that, as they say, was a game changer.

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Suddenly, I had access to a vast database of manufacturers. A database that had been vetted. A database that gave me easy-to-navigate options. In a very short time, I connected with Roman Apparel Group, which seemed to be a good fit. After flying down to meet with them, I decided it was. I gave them my samples, they gave me a product. And Katie Brown Los Angeles was born.

Of course, I’m still working on that ladder. I’m still refining and honing my business model, adapting to unforeseen challenges and sometimes making things up as I go along. And it sometimes still feels a little dim in my workshop. That’s the nature of being an entrepreneur.

But discovering Maker’s Row at least helped me find my tools.

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