You Don't Make Clothing Anymore?
Updated: Apr 26, 2022
I decided to stop making clothing in the summer of 2019. I was leaning in that direction, but it just had to marinate in my brain for a while. By 2019 clothing was only 1/3 of my collection, and accessories were selling far better. Originally I thought I'd just continue on until I ran out of fabric, but that was going to take a while. Full stop was the way to go. I sold off most of my clothing stock at the fall shows, and told customers about my plans. In the spring of 2020 I'd make a fresh start at shows as Very Eclectic, no more clothing. Well, we all know what happened next.
How did I come to this decision? It started way back in the winter of 2013. The wholesale costs of my silk fabrics were climbing. But that wasn't all. The quality of my most expensive fabric ($20 a yard wholesale) had significantly gone south. It shrank like crazy. A large size blouse shrank to an extra small, and felt like cardboard. It was also unlucky that my best selling blouse (Cameo Blouse) was made out of it. I couldn't use that fabric anymore, and had to redesign the blouse. The distributor hemmed and hawed, but eventually took the fabric back and refunded my money.
What fabric would be next? It turned out to be a great opportunity to expand into knits. My collection already included a few knit designs. I found some nice bamboo knits, that were much cheaper than silk. But new fabrics bring new challenges.
I had to vat dye most of the knits. You know what this is, a big pot of boiling water with dye. You add the clothing and stir. It's easy, but used way too much water and dye. Cleaning it all up was also a pain. Around 2015 I started buying some knits already dyed. I don't think anyone noticed or cared that I wasn't personally dyeing every piece of clothing.
And that leads us to inventory. I sold clothing in six sizes and three to four colorways per design. That's a large inventory to maintain. At times, it seemed all we did was build inventory.
How do all those clothes get made? Every week my assistant and I would cut a set of pieces, say six vests and six tunics. My stitcher (seamstress) would make them, except for finishing details. I would dye and finish them; make buttonholes and sew on buttons. If my stitcher made a mistake sewing vests for example, it would be the same mistake on all six vests. They all had to be corrected. Too much work and frustration.
In the summer of 2016 my long-time assistant quit. She wanted to move on, and I have never held anyone back. I needed to make changes, cut something out. I stopped making skirts and pants. Special orders were good business, but extremely time consuming, and the next to go in 2017. I made a few customers angry, but it was the right decision.
Costs kept going up. I was hardly making a profit on clothing. Raising prices wasn't a good idea. Clothing sales were already down. It made no sense to produce a product that wasn't making money. Accessories, buttons and yarn were selling well, and I enjoyed making them. That was the way to go.
Almost all the scarves were (and are) made in my studio. Ditto for buttons. All the yarn is dyed here. There are no sizes. Fewer chances for mistakes. No driving back and forth to the stitcher. Inventories are SO much smaller. Why didn't I do this sooner?
Decisions are difficult. I didn't want to be one of those artists that hate what they're doing, but just carry on because they can't find a path forward. I'm very happy with my work these days.
And...the world is opening up. Can't wait to see you at a show soon, very soon.
July 1, 2021