Last week we held our American Manufacturing Bootcamp in Boston where manufacturers and brands joined to learn about manufacturing, sourcing, and more! Thank you to all the incredible brands who attended and as an appreciation we interviewed a few to get to know what #IAmAmericanMade means in Boston!
Kim Clark, National Fiber Technology
Kim Clark is one of the owners of National Fiber Technology. The company, which was originally founded in 1970, manufactures long hair fur for the entertainment industry. A large amount of long hair fur is produced by NFTech (including Chewbacca!). She notes, “we’re really the last mill in the world that makes long pile fur.” The company, which began as a wig manufacturer in the 40s, eventually pivoted to providing fabric for the Hollywood industry. Kim talked about starting a non-traditional business, leveraging your fellow community members, and more!
How did you get started?
It was actually a company that was already in existence. It started in the 40’s as a wig-making company, that was when they used to make domestic wigs here in the United States. And over the years the wig-making business went overseas, but they had a Hollywood clientele that continued to use their fabric, because wigs used to be made out of fabric instead of the way they’re made today. And it evolved. In the 70’s they hooked up with Jim Henson. In the 80’s they hooked up with Rick Baker. I used to buy fabric from this company (National Fiber Technology) when I worked for the Disney corporation in Los Angeles. We bought from a gentleman named John Moot in 2001. He was ready to retire. He was not part of the entertainment industry, so we took it and we’ve really exploded in the last 15 years — and I say we, my partner Fred Fehrman and I.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start a business that is not a typical company?
My husband and I had no textile experience when we bought this company. Our background was just making things for the entertainment industry. My background is costume design, my husband’s is set-building. Together, we collaboratively said “let’s jump and we did this.” So, my biggest advice is you have to be passionate about it. Even if it’s something you’ve never done before, if you don’t have the passion for it you’re not going to be as successful. Now you probably could still be successful, but you have to live, eat, and breathe it in the beginning. You have to have that passion — that’s my biggest thing.
What does being Made in America mean to you?
Made in American means to me: quality, passion, pride, ownership. It’s ownership and community because if we don’t have community strength — we need the community and we need each other to be successful and without each other we’re just lost in the wind.
Do you have any words of wisdom for small businesses just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The only stupid question is an unasked question. So you have to ask lots of questions. Find somebody in your community, even if they’re not in your specific genre. Talk to them and ask for advice! That includes lawyers and bankers and other business people. If you’re a woman, find a women’s group to join because it still is a man’s world out there, but finding women that could support you is a great backbone to have.
Jim and Sandra, Beehive Handmade
Beehive Handmade offers handmade kitchen utensils and supplies based out of Boston! We talked about bringing their business to the Northeast and working with manufacturers.
Tell me a little bit about your company
Jim: So we started in 1999 and we both went through traditional craft programs at UMass Dartmouth and SUNY New Paltz. We were in love with the flea market finds. Sandy’s family ran a restaurant in Newton for a few generations, so she was a bit of a foodie and a lot of her graduate school work was food referenced, food and baking and things like that. So we started this company and wanted to be in the greater providence area because there’s this hub of manufacturing mostly in the jewelry industry, so we landed in Fall River.
Sandra: An hour south of here. It’s another old manufacturing town, but it’s mostly geared towards textiles, but that’s all gone now. So there’s a lot of empty mill space. That’s why we landed there, because it was cheap and close to the contractors we wanted to use. Coming out of art school you never learn about manufacturing and we didn’t really have an interest in being manufacturers ourselves. We didn’t think feel like we could efficiently manufacture. That’s why we came to this area because there still are these dye makers and mold makers and casters and platers — so we could be close to all that.
Do you have any advice for building a business?
Jim: We were sort of the king and queen of the $500 mistakes when we first started because we basically were good at making one of something and then segueing that one of something into a collection — there was a learning curve there. So I think building the relationships with the manufacturers is really the key that we have found and a lot of times you’ll find someone who you think “this is perfect!” and then you walk in there with your bottle opener and they’re like “I’m running 50,000 parts a day, so I don’t really have time to talk to you.” So finding people who are willing to take a chance on you because they don’t know. Once you get these relationships, they lead to others.
Luke Aaron, Luke Aaron Boston
Luke Aaron is a made-to-order designer clothing brand based in Boston. Launched in 2011, he began with a brick-and-mortar store to sell his high-quality clothing. He spoke about his theater background and how to start a couture line.
Want to start out talking about how you got started with your brand?
I founded this company in 2011. I was living in New York. My background is in theatre. So I went to Yale School of Drama for costume design and set design. I was assisting designers in New York and doing my own small projects — my family actually lives in the Boston area so when I was doing some assisting for costumes, I bled over a little into fashion and styling, so I ultimately decided that I wanted to do my own line and I moved back to Boston to do it to be nearer to my family. There are also fewer people doing this in Boston, so it’s an opportunity to stand out as opposed to the New York market, which is very saturated with young designers trying to start collections.
Specifically for anyone who’s trying to create a couture line?
It really has to be a labor of love. It has to be something you’re passionate about because understanding the fashion industry you have to realize it’s not glamorous at all. I think a lot of people that are trying to start lines have a very limited view of what it actually means to be in this business, which is very difficult. So specifically for made-to-order, the whole thing now is that I see a lot of companies that are making customized clothing at low price points and doing it online is a thing and every single one of them says they’re the only one doing it. It’s all about knowing who your target customers are and speaking to those people and having a product that matches those people’s expectations. If you’re going to start a truly couture line your garments have to — it has to be justifiable to them to spend that kind of money, so you can’t just design basic clothes. It has to be luxurious instead of being “I can’t believe I have to pay $3,000.”