New South Manufactory
opened its doors on February 11 with one goal in mind, to build a community where emerging fashion designers can grow successful businesses.
Though textile manufacturing may be a smaller industry in North Carolina than in the past, there are a growing number of designers hoping to create new products. And yet, there hasn't been a facility available for them to make patterns and samples and collaborate with other designers.
Founder David Brown
, who also owns outdoor apparel and adventure startup Mts to Sea
, is filling this gap with a cut-and-sew facility that operates kind of like a coworking space for tech companies, a makerspace for inventors or shared kitchen for emerging chefs. Brown wants to build an open and collaborative community, in addition to offering shared equipment and resources.
Because of North Carolina's history in apparel and textile manufacturing and the prominence of NC State's Colleges of Textiles and Design, Brown hopes to foster in our region some of the momentum building nationally around independent fashion brands. According to CB Insights
, funding to startup fashion brands climbed from under $25 million in the first three quarters of 2010 to more than $235 million during that period last year.
Brown graduated from NC State with a degree in finance years ago, but in 2014 decided to start his passion project, Mts to Sea, to blend his love for fashion and the outdoors. It didn't take long for him to realize the difficulties of starting an apparel business. He quickly learned that sourcing, pattern making and small-run prototyping were challenges experienced by other aspiring designers too, which prompted the idea to open a facility and hire seamstresses whose time and talent is available to local designers and entrepreneurs.
“I knew I wanted to have more impact on the work than just creating a new apparel company, I wanted to do some good,” he says. “The best way I could figure out how to do the most good was to create jobs. This sort of manufacturing is labor intensive (…) but we see it as our greatest opportunity to make lives better."
Brown launched the new business last October, signing on 12-15 brands as NSM’s first customers while he negotiated to open the space that opened earlier this month.
Housed in a somewhat tucked away brick industrial building located just inside the Beltline near Raleigh's Midtown, the space takes on a different persona when you enter.
Most of the work gets done in a deceptively large room where there’s a row of sewing machines hugging a far wall, a long cutting table and sporadic racks of clients’ equipment and materials.
Christina Shipman, the production designer and second in command, remembers when Brown shared the idea with her a year ago. Because he had no functional sewing skills or design background, he’d needed help and met Shipman through a mutual friend. After a few discussions, she agreed to put her 35 years of experience in pattern-making, sewing and design to use at Brown’s new businesses. But she was particularly excited about NSM because she recognized a lack of facilities in the Triangle and growing demand from new designers. Shipman is proud that NSM now has three full-time seamstresses.
So far, NSM is bootstrapped. Revenue comes in regularly from clients like Raleigh menswear designer Lumina Clothing
. Though patterning and prototyping rates vary based on the project, prices start at $60 per hour. The New South team regularly conducts time studies to determine the best possible pricing per unit.
A benefit of the cut and sew facility is a no-minimum policy for pattern making and prototype creation. This will allow smaller businesses and even single person teams to get their ideas off the notepad and into the world without the pressure to produce huge orders.
Startup companies like Sluice Hammocks are already taking advantage of the opportunity at NSM, finding it for more efficient to outsource design and production work to this local third party.
Kemp Dunbar, founder of Sluice Hammocks, quickly developed a good working relationship with Brown when they met last fall. NSM could be a key connection to help Sluice streamline its production process and grow, Dunbar thought.
“I was literally living on top of my inventory and I had industrial sewing machines scattered across several locations in downtown Raleigh… and I desperately needed more space to establish a professional production process,” he says.
Sluice is a perfect example of the types of young small companies Brown wants to help. His mission is to help make fashion businesses in the Triangle more sustainable, while also building up his own.
“I get excited to think that while we’re just beginning to hit our stride,” he says. “We’ve each already built something here that is bigger than anything we could have done alone.”