Make it Yourself
Apr 08,2022 | Steven Fleming
Why I am Blogging.
March and April are slow times for me. Australians have stopped thinking of swimwear, and Americans haven't yet started. Rather than fretting, it seems productive to reflect on all I have learned through this venture, and in so doing, share my experience with others. It's something I can do to push the slow fashion movement along. We should all understand what lies behind a sustainable and ethical purchase, while those with a passion to start producing clothing on-shore, should have honest accounts, such as mine, to learn from.
I Did it My-y Wa-a-a-y-y-y-y!
When I think about the unusual way I started my swim brand, and how it is still in existence, then think about the dozens of new swim brands I have seen launch in the meantime, only to disappear in six months, I get so smug that I want to start quoting the Bible:
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
The narrow road I took, was one of manufacturing my swimsuits, myself. It involved a big investment in skills and machinery, but the alternative (the wide road) would have seen me paying factories who had minimum order quantities of 100 pieces, per colour, per style.
To launch my brand, the way those factories were suggesting, even if it was only with one bikini top, one bikini bottom, one one-piece swimming costume, and one men's style, all in just two-colour options, I would have needed to have purchased 800 items. Once you count hidden extras, that would have cost me $20,000, and that's just for starters!
To have any hope of selling 800 pieces, given my brand would, at that stage, have been completely unheard of, I would have had to have spent, at least, another $100,000, on marketing, trade shows, advertising, photographers, models and everything else you might mention.
Suffice to say, new brands never spend $100,000, on top of their stock. It would mean operating at a loss for ten years, and probable bankruptcy. Once they realise that they are damned if they do, and damned for not spending big on advertising, most of them don't. Better to fail sooner than later, they reason.
With every such failure, roughly 800 never-worn items are surreptitiously burned. If you want to know the most culpable wasters of clothing, it isn't consumers who buy clothes they only ever wear once. It is those allegedly "sustainable", just-starting-out, brands. You would have met them at "local made" markets, and thought they were the most caring and likeable people.
Me though, I took "The Road Not Taken", like that Robert Frost poem I start reciting whenever I get to thinking about just how bloody fantastic I am. I did it My-y-y-y Wa-a-a-y-y-y!
Okay, that's how I feel when I'm up. When I'm down, I think about how little profit I'm clearing, compared to the wage I was earning before this.
Still, compared to all those brands that burned all their money, and literally burned their dead stock, I have a success story to share. And right now, I have time to share it. I am not so successful that my business doesn't have slow times, like now. It is presently Autumn in Australia, which gives me some time to be blogging.
A Blog for Fashion Founders, and All Entrepreneurs.
I'm pitching this blog as a look behind the scenes of a swim brand, as if I've got photos of Naomi Campbell undressed. I'm afraid all the glamour I have, is already all over my web store. What I have to share, that you won't get elsewhere, are the internal workings of a very small, but stable and functioning swim brand, of less interest to the purulent, than anyone with visions of starting a clothes brand. More than that, I hope it will be of interest to anyone with an idea for a business that involves a new physical product.
I have met many such people, through business incubators and accelerator,programs, and without naming names, can categorise them all in this manner: all of them have it in their stupid thick heads, that some coolie will manufacturer their widgets. They don't believe they should have to make stuff themselves, not when they are First World, and there are coolies out there to work for them.
If I am arrogant, for singing My Way sometimes (usually when I have made a few sales), then most entrepreneurs I have talked to, were certifiable loonies. They have thought venture capitalists were going give them millions of dollars to keep making mistakes. They have thought they would just send a sketch on a napkin to China, and have swimsuits, Teslas, iPhones, or whatever, sent back looking perfect, for them to make millions. But all they have had, was thirty or forty thousand dollars in personal savings (or worse, borrowings) to blow on big batches of rubbish.
The message of this blog, is that fashion entrepreneurs, in fact all entrepreneurs, should manufacture their products themselves. When a business person has what Marx called "the means of production", they can make one item then sell it, then make two more and sell those. Without crashing and burning, they can inch their way up to big numbers.
If I Can Do It, You Can.
As I keep writing this blog, I will flesh out my brand's story in detail. For now, here's what I did in a nutshell.
The wide road, advertised to wannabe founders of new fashion labels, would have seen me spend $20,000 dollars on 800 items and hidden costs, only to have ended up burning or dumping most of that stock. I would have been "taken care of" by an agent, whose job it would have been to have made everything easy - parting with my money, especially. My agent's other job, would have been to have hidden things from me, like waste, substitution, and the exploitation of indentured home sewers in poor, "manufacturing", nations.
What I did instead, was spend half that amount on second-hand sewing machines, and the remainder on fasteners, patterns and fabric. Rather than buying a fish, I taught myself to fish, you could say.
I now own the machinery and raw materials to make prototypes that I photograph and put on my website. When a customer places an order, I make one for them, in their size. When early sales tell me I have hit on a winning design, I go ahead and pre-make a small batch, but never so many that I might later be left with dead-stock.
You might be wondering how you, personally, could ever do that, when you are not a trained sewing machinist. News flash: nobody is. Those skills largely disappeared from developed nations way back in the nineties. I had to train myself, not only in the dark arts of applying rubber to "bagged out" neck seams, and sewing darts in four layers of Lycra, but repairing and servicing six different kinds of machines. That is how many machines (not including ones for cutting fabric and heat-pressing labels) are required to make quality swimwear.
It took me more than a year, toiling on my own with no pay, but what I got for my efforts was the independence of being able to make my own products. All my previous training had ever won for me, was the privilege of begging for jobs.
From 2000 to 2015 I was an academic, with a PhD and two undergraduate degrees. That may sound prestigious, but believe me, there is no prestige in being entirely dependent on universities for your employment. There is always somebody much younger, and cheaper, who will do anything to snatch that job from you, meaning universities have a never ending supply of budding academics to choose from.
Customers who are attracted to my designs, and the idea of having me make a swimsuit especially for them, have no one to turn to but me! I have to leave them feeling fantastic, of course. But at least I'm not expendable, like I was with my fancy degrees.
In the history of industrialisation, there are stories much more inspiring than mine. Take the story of the British engineer Andrew Ritchie, who invented the Brompton folding bicycle.
He could have chosen to spend the nineteen eighties earning a professional's wage. Instead, he spent the whole decade, teaching himself to make his own unique folding bicycle frames. Not only that, but he made all his bike's special components as well. There is even a story of him having to recall hundreds of frames that weren't perfect, and re-welding every last one with no help. His reward? Brompton is an untouchable brand, worth a million times more than an engineering degree or CV.
Why You Might Start Sharing This Blog
What Andrew Ritchie doesn't have for you, is a blog of special interest to clothing brand founders, that is current and fairly divulging. I plan to share all I can about building my swim brand. I have some ulterior motives, of course, but none I'm not happy to air.
It is my understanding that Google will drive more traffic to my webstore, if people are reading, and enjoying my blog. While I have time to write, that's cheap advertising, especially given that writing is a skill I have fostered. I'm not just a past author of boring scholarly papers. I have published books that have sold in the thousands and that earned me, for roughly five years, an international speaking career. On top of those books, was my popular blog (Cycle-Space.com - now defunct), that attracted thousands of page views per day. I have a way with words, that is likely to drive traffic across to this webstore.
However, my main reason for blogging, is that I like helping. Stop coughing. This is a genuine weakness of mine. By helping entrepreneurs make their own products, I imagine myself helping nations become great again, with greater manufacturing capacity. I imagine nations achieving diversity in their economies, i.e., not putting all of their eggs in one basket. All thanks to me baby (yeah me!) I imagine myself saving the planet, by providing start-ups with alternatives to bulk orders, which, as I keep saying, end up being burned in most cases. I am one of those people, who without some grand sense of purpose, would go crazy contemplating my death, an event that will stop me ever feeling like a hero again! A swim brand, let's be honest, is a hedonist pursuit. However, that does not make me immune from the human impulse to be helpful.
Topics to Look Forward To.
I have so much to cover, that I know I will keep coming back and updating this list, making it longer and longer. Topics to look forward to include:
- The IP investments you should not avoid, like trademarks and your own unique patterns.
- Saying no to accreditation rackets
- Investing in Industrial Sewing Machines
- Getting what you want from fashion courses.
- Going from zero to hero with industrial sewing.
- Using government-funded business courses and advice centres.
- Procurement of branded hardware and packaging.
- Building interest around your first product.
- The pros, cons and more cons of wholesaling
- The pros, cons and more cons of manufacturing for other brands.
- How to make profits when first-world labour costs are so high
- Becoming your own fashion photographer.
- Fashion photography as a sideline.
- Hiring models, with and without agencies
- Reaching your "buy-local" market
- Reaching global niche markets
- The pros and pros of e-commerce
- How Buy-Now-Pay-Later rips everyone off
- When and where to advertise, and is it even worth doing?
- Getting free press!
- Developing genuine community bonds
- The love between a brand and its buyers!
If there is a topic on this list, that you would like me to write about next, please lodge your request as a comment. Leave a comment too, if there is a topic you would like to see added.
And if you have enjoyed reading this blog post, please share with your friends, and check out the swimsuits I'm making at Pride. The collage below, shows one of my women's styles, that I make with metallic stretch-woven fabric.
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