This is the 3rd part of a multi-post “story” documenting You and Who‘s journey to make our own t-shirts. Parts 1 and 2, about what took place in April and May of 2013, explained how we learned more about the global garment industry and how and why we decided we wanted to switch to using shirts that were made in America.
First, we researched. I read The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, and we looked into finding U.S. based companies that made their shirts here at home.
Right off the bat, my first thought was to make the shirts ourselves. I knew M. Wile had a long history of garment production in Buffalo, as well as other companies. I thought, “Let’s get some sewing machines and we can figure this out ourselves.” I figured there must still be people in the Buffalo area with the skills needed and I knew that our immigrant and refugee populations are growing – perhaps people that worked at companies abroad could do similar work here but in much better conditions. Our office is in the Tri-Main building, a classic example of a daylight factory, and I thought it was perfect for setting up a garment manufacturing company. However, then I did the math. Even a $100,000 crowdfunding campaign I estimated would have kept two people busy sewing the shirts together for two months. And then what?
Maybe someday we will do our own production in house. But I realized that it was a bit too ambitious for now.
We happened to be headed to New York in June of 2013 and decided to visit with a company based there that makes shirts made in America. But you know what? We discovered that they weren’t as good as the shirts we had been using. They weren’t as soft. And people loved our shirts so we didn’t want to sacrifice quality at all.
I went back to the idea of making them ourselves. I spent a lot of time researching where to get the cotton and what it would take to make the shirts. I’ll be honest – it wasn’t easy getting information. I used the site Maker’s Row and it helped, but it turned out it was some very nice people at companies that I called that weren’t a good fit that led me to one that was. And then once I knew one that was a good fit I was able to search for companies like them. Eventually I ended up talking to Ned Pilchman at American Fabrics International. We hit if off right away. Real straight shooter. He’s based in NYC. He recommended a cut and sew factory in Allentown, PA – Monalisa Fashions – and I set up a road trip to visit the factory and meet with Ned who took the train in from NYC to meet me at Monalisa. I trust my gut a lot, and just like I hit it off with Ned, Mereille at Monalisa was great and I really liked the place. She’s been super helpful during this whole process and I haven’t regretted that decision at all(more on this in a later post).
Sometimes I forget that, ultimately, You and Who is a fashion company. It’s a social good company, and it’s an e-commerce company, but we sell clothing. And I’m a computer nerd. To say this whole experience has been a learning experience is an understatement. But one thing I always say is, “It wouldn’t be fun if it was easy.”