Last week, we stressed the importance of building a partnership-style relationship between factory and brand. This week, we have a real-life example to share. Vesta Garcia, owner of a full-service manufacturing house in Austin called Stitch Texas, and Stephanie Beard, owner of a womenswear line called Esby, discuss their roots, their values, and their working relationship with each other.
Stitch Texas is situated “in the wonderful city of Austin.” Austin has traditionally never had a strong apparel manufacturing presence, complete with all of the services necessary to support designers. Stitch Texas is a pioneer in bringing these core services to the region. Vesta Garcia, the owner, is an Austin native and she loves running a business that nurtures the city’s creative spirit.
Surprisingly, Vesta has an advanced degree in neurobiology “of all things” rather than a background in fashion or manufacturing. She decided not to pursue her field of study. In 2002, she started making sewn products for her own brand and over time, became fascinated with “production, operations, and all the backend of apparel manufacturing.” She asked many questions to get a feel for the industry and eventually progressed from designing to consulting to developing to setting up her own manufacturing shop. She believes in taking every opportunity to learn from the experts.
Esby’s founder, Stephanie Beard, had a career as a menswear designer in New York City for several large companies. Menswear influenced her sense of style and the way she dressed personally. She liked that menswear was defined by classics, as opposed to womenswear, defined by fast fashion. As in menswear, she personally sought a wardrobe with fewer but quality pieces with high repeat value. These philosophies as well as certain refined looks in Parisian and Japanese apparel, influenced the concept behind Esby, a “women’s line with menswear mentality.” Stephanie wanted to design a line that couldn’t be found elsewhere. She decided to move from New York City to Austin, where she could produce more from her existing savings. In 2014, she launched the Esby brand.
For Vesta, Texas is an affordable place to manufacture clothing. She is “proud to be a part of the local industry” by providing jobs with a living wage. Even though Austin’s real estate market is the priciest in Texas, it doesn’t compare with that of Los Angeles or New York City. However, it can be difficult to find skilled apparel technicians in the area. The company spends time “searching for gems” and investing in their training, in order to build out a great team.
Stephanie was specifically seeking to produce in America so that she could visit factories and “really know where the clothes come from.” It was also a “completely natural choice” because she wanted to support local communities. She believes that for smaller design houses, the positives of producing domestic outweigh any negatives. Even though it can be costly to product locally, Stephanie values being able to communicate with her factory and manage product quality firsthand.
When Stitch Texas opened, Stephanie went to visit and “[their] teams just hit it off.” They’ve been working closely together ever since. Stitch Texas started off developing a few of Stephanie’s styles. At the time, Stephanie was still sampling with a factory in New Orleans. Now, the brand and factory are embarking on their third season together. At this point, Stitch Texas is developing and managing production for almost all of Esby’s styles.
Stephanie admits that production anywhere, even abroad, comes with challenges. The main one is funding because the apparel industry is cash-heavy upfront. Before a designer invests in a style, the numbers should add up. It can also be challenging to develop new product categories that require specific types of manufacturers, such as sweaters, undergarments, and athletic wear.
Stitch Texas is able to handle Esby’s needs. The company has grown in physical size and personnel since it started. It has ten people in a fully equipped space and is able to offer clients a wide range of development services. When Vesta and her business partner were consultants, they worked with freelance patternmakers and samplemakers. By bringing their services under one roof, they have improved quality and communication. They enjoy working with designers hands-on in the shop, alongside resident experts and machines with various capabilities that are easier to understand in person. Within a few days’ timespan, the factory is able to hammer out prototypes.
These capabilities are a good fit for Stephanie, who values quality apparel. Fit is most important, and she seeks several rounds of samples before approving a final fit. Stephanie produces goods in small batches, so that each purchase is special to the customer. Her company spends a lot of time discussing and selecting the right fabrics for their pieces. All of the fabrics are natural, using materials such as cotton, linen, and silk. Besides her silk styles, everything is pre-wash and pre-shrunk, which adds to the cost but makes the garments easier to care for.
Although Stitch Texas is primarily an apparel development and pre-production shop, they also take on select small runs, mostly of contemporary pieces – a category that can support the higher costs of very small orders. Their favorite projects are contemporary wear “hands down” because of unique construction techniques and the burst of voice and creativity from designers working in this style. Esby falls into that “contemporary sweet spot” and Vesta has found it “a pleasure to watch [Stephanie] refine and expand her line.” Because Stephanie takes interest in technical issues that the factory thinks about every day, she is fun to work with and “it feels like a real partnership.” Stitch Texas has also learned about garment dying and washes by watching Stephanie transform her garments post-production.
Capabilities aside, Stitch Texas’ core values make them a valuable manufacturing partner we well. Their stated mission is to help their designers thrive by building long-term, multi-seasonal relationships. The factory is invested in the brands it works with. Esby’s production process begins with sketches, detailed comments, and specifications. The brand strives for a very cohesive line. Through working with Stitch Texas, Esby has improved construction and stayed true to its style. Stephanie is surprised by “how well [the Stitch Texas team] knows the line.”
It also helps that the team at Stitch Texas is “a really tight bunch.” They eat lunch together every day, family-style. The shop is studded with toys and mementos from past events that staff have participated in together. They work hard and have fun too. For example, they have a rhinestone-studded ballet dress that employees must where when they make a big mistake. It’s no coincidence that mistakes have occurred less frequently.
Esby just moved into its flagship, where retail occurs in the front, and design and administrative work in the back. Stephanie has various ideas for pushing the brand forward. Menswear will continue to be a big inspiration, and she plans to introduce a menswear collection next year. She also plans to expand the womenswear line for a wide range of women – it’s possible because of the brand’s focus on staples rather than fads.
The brand plans to continue supporting American manufacturing by working with local factories. Stephanie laments that a few decades ago, Americans commonly wore American-made clothing, but today it’s a luxury to do so. She is happy to see more American-made brands emerge in the past few years and hopes that local products tranform from a trend to a norm.