Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sew Sister in Fortune Small Business

My favorite business magazine in the whole wide world is Fortune Small Business. Lucky for me my mother gets it for free at her office and saves me all the issues. On a recent trip home I was thumbing through the June 2007 issue and saw a familiar Austin name, Sew Sister. The cover story of the magazine is called Feisty Factories and is about how small manufactures within the untied states are flourishing. Sew Sister is an Austin based and woman run sewing factory. Pick up a copy of the issue if you get a chance and here is what the Money Magazine / Fortune Small Business had to say online

It's impossible for U.S. garment factories to compete with Asian producers, right? Wrong. True, domestic apparel production is down 46 percent since 2000. Lower overseas labor costs account for much of this plunge, but Asian manufacturers also achieve economies of scale by concentrating on huge, relatively uniform product runs.

Megan Summerville, 33, has built a thriving apparel startup on precisely the opposite strategy. Before writing a business plan to expand her small apparel company in Austin, Summerville interviewed more than 40 U.S. designers, manufacturers, and suppliers. She found demand among apparel buyers who needed to place a number of small orders (as few as 16 pieces for each design) rather than a few big orders.

Says Summerville: "These clients were tired of wait times in port, high minimum orders, and samples that were far superior to the actual product received."

Last August, Summerville bought sewing equipment from a defunct lingerie manufacturer. Today the five employees of Sew Sister Fabrics ( crank out a vast range of jobs on 52 separate machines, including single and double needle, serger, zigzag and labeling devices.

Summerville operates the equipment of a much bigger company, but she happily accepts low-volume orders that her larger competitors can't afford to touch. Her typical order is 100 pieces or fewer for a mix of up to six different items, completed in three to four weeks. Revenues are small but growing, Summerville says.

Sew Sister now serves 24 clients, including local designers and a few national retailers. In fact, Summerville was recently forced to turn away several potential clients until she could hire additional employees. But she has no plans to change course. "A lot of folks in this business like to get in the groove of doing the same widget over and over," she notes. "You get faster, but then you box yourself into saying, 'I am just a lingerie manufacturer,' and your other possibilities just collapse."


Natalie Tischler said...

That is so inspiring!

The Christian Man said...

I am glad she is able to find success in this rough economy! It's been a particularly uphill battle to start out, but for a place to set up some business phone systems Austin is the best!

littleChild said...

My mother's sewing machine is a Singer sewing machine also. I think that small business made the right decision on taking small orders from small companies. That's making opportunity like home business opportunities from the fact, that it answers the local needs.