At a glance
- » What they do: anything apparel, with specialties in children’s wear and women’s basics and athletic wear
- » Location: Philadelphia, PA
- » Ideal client: anyone – work with smaller brands as well as larger department store brands
- » Maker’s Row profile: https://makersrow.com/du-nguyen-sewing-service-llc
- » Fun fact: the company has even made dog jackets!
Du Nguyen Sewing Service is a family business run by Jakarta Nguyen, whom we interviewed, and her two parents. It’s a “true immigrant success story,” of a family that was able to reinvent themselves, thrive, and promote Made in USA through their factory. The factory’s projects range from “baby clothes to dog jackets and golf shirts and everywhere in between.” They consider themselves best at children’s wear and women’s athletic wear and basics – “think T-shirts and tanks.”
Jakarta’s parents arrived in 1994 as refugees from Vietnam by way of Indonesia. Jakarta herself was born and spent the first few years of her life on an island. When her parents finally got their visas, their first (and final) stop in America was Philadelphia. Jakarta’s mom started working as a seamstress in the basement of a Vietnamese family’s home, performing small alterations. To spend more time with Jakarta, she bought her first sewing machine so that she could work from home. The business grew steadily, and “next thing you know, we had 20 machines in our own basement!” At this point, Jakarta’s parents found a warehouse where they could expand their operations.
Jakarta cites her mom as “the brains behind the operation with an expertise in sewing.” Her dad “plays the handyman” by taking care of upkeep and maintenance. Jakarta’s role is to modernize the company, through actions like building a website and attending trade shows such as MAGIC. She wants to make the factory “more relevant” and reach out to a wider customer base. The family recognizes that the key to survival is flexibility. As Jakarta says, “Rome wasn’t built in one day.”
Big or Small
The family decides together whom to take on as clients. Jakarta would love the opportunity to foster smaller brands and “help them grow into the large department store brands that [her] parents love to work with.” The factory has gotten “a lot of entrepreneurial clients” through Maker’s Row. One potential client even works with llama farms to produce their own cotton. Jakarta enjoys working with these new brands because they are open to ideas and to working together – their success is closely tied to the factory. One of her dreams is to help Maker’s Row brands make it onto the shelves of Nordstrom alongside the factory’s more established brands.
Jakarta’s advice to clients before approaching a factory is loud and clear: DO YOUR RESEARCH. She is stunned by how many phone calls she takes from potential clients without any clue about their desired fabric, target audience, or production method, among other considerations. Someone might call her about a shirt without caring about how it’s made as long as they “‘can sell it.’” Jakarta believes that “you have to love the product you’re peddling – if you don’t believe in it, others won’t either.”
Jakarta’s mom enjoys taking on the larger brands because their experience helps them operate in a method “closer to perfection.” Large companies have their production schedules and materials planned out in advance, “down to the weight and size of lots.” Their projects are straight to the point with little room for error – “it’s all very technical.” Her mom loves detailed tech packs where minute considerations such as room for stretch post-wash have been figured out – this is hard to find from beginners.
A Memorable Place
The factory has moved locations several times, but the current factory is an hour northwest of Philadelphia, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Outsiders tend to be familiar with the county seat, Reading (where Reading Railroad comes from, for the monopoly players out there).
The area used to be a major manufacturing hub, Allentown in particular – where Jakarta’s mother started her career. She would drive to Allentown and take on small projects that larger companies couldn’t handle. Allentown became a hub in the 1990s, when Israeli and other Jewish communities set up three large factories there. Towards the mid 2000s, many of these factories had shut down and moved overseas to stay competitive. Says Jakarta – “it was a really sad thing to see all these abandoned factories and leftover machines.”
Full of Hope
Jakarta believes that American manufacturing is making a comeback “surely but steadily.” This makes her happy. She has confidence that overseas manufacturing cannot compete with key aspects of domestic manufacturing, such as quick turnover times, ease of communication, and relatability. New York brands frequently reach out to her, and she’ll exchange stories with those clients – “you can’t find that relationship with a factory in China when there’s a 12-hour time difference and you might have to wait until 9 P.M. to communicate.”
Jakarta keeps up with new trends in manufacturing through “research, research, research.” She spends “a good hour each day” looking for Made in America brands and reaching out to them about how Du Nguyen Sewing Service might be able to help. “It’s amazing what networking to do.”
On working together as a family, Jakarta admits that it’s “great, but also tough – we are all very similar and we speak very fast and loud.” However, running a family business is also extremely rewarding because they “know that all [their] efforts and hard work are reaped by the family and that [they] are the ones benefiting from [their] growth at the end of the day.” They are pursuing their own dream. Parting words from Jakarta – “hooray for Made in America! This is the greatest country on earth, and if you can’t find it, you can definitely have it made here.”
Pursue Your Ambitions
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