Oct 29 2013
This week we’re shining the spotlight on those makers who have a focus on vertical manufacturing. Who’s up? Britt Howard from The Portland Garment Factory. This full service factory not only produces their in-house line (titled, HouseLine), but also is home to weekly projects from small American-made brands to large ones such as New Balance. What does it take to own your own factory? Scroll down and find out.
What is it like to own your own factory? What kind of services do you guys offer? It is intense and daunting and exciting to own a factory…..but since we started it on our own we have been able to control how we do things, what we specialize in and what type of customers and products work best with our crew (for instance we make high-end structured womenswear because that is where the talent of our workers falls…we don’t do much production on athletic/performance apparel because we do have workers versed in rainwear or bag making)…so in that sense I would say it is liberating and creatively fulfilling! We are full service so we do everything from consult on design, draft initial patterns, create samples, source materials, all the way to full scale production.
Capsule is very familiar with the Portland Garment Factory in-house brand, how did that come to be? I applied for Capsule last season and was admitted! We were very excited because it was HouseLine’s first trade show. The folks at Capsule have been super supportive and we made a lot of friends that I look forward to seeing next season.
What are the perks of manufacturing a brand in house? Total control and better business. We can change something (the width of a hem) mid-stream or add special details like hand made labels to each garment. One of the best things about owning the factory where HouseLine is made, is that we are very much invested, integrated and dedicated at every single step….it can be exhausting but it definitely fills a creative void that I was experiencing while just running the factory in the years prior. I say ‘better business’ because in a way I am my own customer….so it helps me determine what works here and how we can better serve the people we work with.
You guys have a lot of clients in many different industries! Tell us about that and the types of work you might encounter in a regular month. We have regular/ongoing production orders that we fill either weekly or monthly. These are for mostly accessories and small items that designers turn around often (scarves, small sewn products, aprons). And then we are always working on the fashion calendar at the same time…..patterns/samples/sourcing for AW14 right now for instance and scheduling all of the SS14 productions we do for various independent designers….and then there are the rush jobs for big guys like New Balance and Nike or Levi’s and commercial stuff that comes our way….TOTAL MIXED BAG! All in all we are almost always slammed and booked to the gills. We just hired 3 new people so hopefully we will be feeling a little less panicked than this time last year!
What hurdles did you encounter in starting a factory? Well we don’t have a traditional garment industry in Portland as there is in NY or LA…..So basically everything was tough. Finding a machine sales/repair person, skilled workers, pattern paper….it was a long journey but we have created so many relationships and have such reliable partners in Portland and other cities that we have the supply chain all linked up now! Rosemary and I are extremely dedicated to making this happen for the long haul in Portland so the hurdles are viewed as necessary.
Any advice to give to someone who wants to start their own factory? Number one is passion. This side of the industry (manufacturing) is not glamorous or particularly forgiving at any point….so you have to want to make it work! I’d say to do hard core research first (are there skilled workers available? What are the talents in the community–because some groups tend to be skilled in very specific ways: knitting or hand work or tailoring for instance). I would get the community behind you as much as possible.
Best advice you’ve ever been given? Go ahead and bite off more than you can chew….but then just chew slowly and carefully! (my awesome mom) Also the old standard: Measure twice cut once…..that’s no joke.
As you guys grow, are there any changes for the factory or the brand to look forward to? HouseLine is basically the next step for PGF. We will always put the factory first (because it is the foundation for everything) but building up our in-house line and putting the best of Portland Garment Factory’s collective talent out into the world is something I see as an important part of keeping local industry, domestically made, slow fashion movement (whatever you want to call it), relevant in the ever-changing apparel industry. Making and selling American made has seen a marked increase in popularity since we started in 2008, so in a sense I feel we are just now starting to see the benefits of the resurgence. As it continues to get off the ground again and take off, we continue plans grow but we cannot reveal it just yet what these plans are!
Thanks for the wisdom Britt, we look forward to seeing more of the HouseLine at the Capsule Womens shows!