WONDERLAND - a new summer collection just dropped

Thread Talks

Starting a factory from scratch...

Starting a factory from scratch...

Welcome back to our slightly sporadic accounts of what it’s like building an apparel factory from scratch. I feel like this are like the too-long mass-printed Christmas letters you get from your childhood neighbor that update you on the comings and goings of their lives that you're not really plugged into but you kinda think are interesting. Maybe?

Read more

an anorak saga: aka we hate LA

an anorak saga: aka we hate LA

This time last year, I was writing a story summarizing the wild journey of bringing our Ambition Anorak to market. It was a celebratory post – about overcoming great obstacles in product development to finally bring a dream product to life. And today I’m writing another story about the Ambition Anorak. A saga, this one less triumphant. A real dumpster fire of a month – March 2024. Here’s everything that we’ve been through in the last 20 something days. But there is a major lesson to be learned in it.

Read more

one year later...

one year later...

One year ago, I was heading out on a trip thinking “I can’t leave right now, what was I thinking. Was this a bad idea? Can we really do this? It needs so much more before it’s going to work”.

 

These were thoughts about the “factory” we had just started. And yes, then it was just an air quote factory. Our sewing labor was made up of me and Sarah in all our ‘spare time’, and Vicky who worked 5pm-10pm after working her other full-time job (today she’s our Production Floor Supervisor). I’d work 7am-10pm and question all day long if this was the right idea as we struggled through our first batch of 200 croptops- one of the simplest things in our collection.

 

As I drove 15 hours to Colorado that week, I thought deeply about why I wanted to do this. Why I made the wild decision to bring production in-house. The motivation was enormous loss of valuable product and materials to countless production mistakes at our partner facilities in California over the last decade.  I knew for our future to exist, we would need to be vertically integrated. And all of this was part of the process.

 

One year later, we’re now a team of 8 wrapping up production of a batch of Superpower Blazers – the most technical piece in our collection. They’re kind of revolutionary – an athletic blazer made from legging fabric We’ve made 1000 pieces of clothing in here so far this year, and our Youniverse is buzzing with nearly a dozen machines (interrupted but the sound of air compressors charging them)  and lively conversation between teammates over an instrumental playlist of Celtic lute.

 

The strides we’ve made in the last year are pretty astounding when I step back and look at it (which I’m trying to do more often). We’ve hired 9 people (with some ebbs and flows to make 8 today), acquired some fancy new equipment, written policies, established protocols, created a language we gather data from and a whole set of digital tools that help us track and improve and remain accountable.


(Vicky working on our latest production run of Superpower Blazers, dropping later this month!) 

We’re small, and only making half of our product here (the rest remains in CA) but our success this year has been against some serious odds. In the last year, 21 American factories have closed.

 

Which makes we wonder if we’re doing the right thing. Are we about to come up against some serious odds that are going to make this endeavor impossible? Are we naïve to the challenges we’re yet to face?

 

Maybe!

 

But for now, we’re cruising along, trying our best and re-engineering the way we do things with every new milestone.  Our 3 big takeaways from the last year of sewing are

 

  • Making new things every month keeps us on our toes. Our sewing team learns a lot of skills quickly because we make new product every single month and don’t repeat anything until the next year - this is new for a lot of production sewers. Right when our team is like “ok, I’m getting the hang of this” we’re like “alright, time for something new”.
  • Our location has been a real challenge. Montana is a sparsely populated state with no apparel manufacturing industry. We don’t even have an industrial sewing machine mechanic locally! So finding sewing talent in Montana has been a real challenge – our state has no commercial apparel production industry so our team is made up of people with experience sewing in other industries.
  • Our inspection process is our key differentiator between our production and that of our contracted partners. Because everything is housed under one roof, we have the financial flexibility to spend a little more time quality controlling each piece to make sure it’s perfect before it goes into our warehouse. We spend about 2 minutes per garment inspecting.


(Lauren inspecting a batch of Outta Seitz Hoodies that dropped last month) 

To all of you who have supported our journey over the last year, cheered us on, bought the things we’ve proudly made and come in to see how clothes are made, thank you for being here and learning as we learn. We can’t wait to see where we’re at a year from now!

 

Mallory
Founder, Chief Everything Officer

We made a men's hoodie and it's not an April Fool's joke.

We made a men's hoodie and it's not an April Fool's joke.

Well, we made a men's hoodie. There’s a big story behind this hoodie. We swore we’d never make a men’s silhouette, but one guy changed that. Greg Seitz, a dear friend and longtime Youer supporter voluntarily put a $50 deposit down on a hoodie years ago for “when you make that first men’s hoodie”. This is Greg, at home in the woods with his saw. 

Greg Seitz, the inspiration behind our Outta Seitz Hoodie

“We’re never gonna make a men’s hoodie Greg” we said repeatedly, and it became kind of a joke. Every fall he would remind us “it’s hoodie season”. 8 years and many laughs later, we finally decided to make it happen in late 2023 - a small run

of men’s hoodies and Greg would get the first one. He chose the colors and was going to star in the photo campaign showing his life as a sawyer.

On September 18 of 2018, Greg‘s friend Mike Manhardt was injured by a tree falling on him at work, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. His tenacity allowed him to recover independence and return to a life of activity in the outdoors. Greg advocated for Mike and Adaptive recreation everystep of the way; mountain biking, skiing, or just pumping up wheelchair tires. Greg always said: “…we are all one wreck away from needing Adaptive recreation“.


Greg and Mike on a mountain bike ride together. 

Mike and Greg knew that they would have to start an organization in Missoula if they wanted it. They started by having conversations with local foundations and donors to try to figure out the best way to fund this endeavor. Because of this pursuit, Mike and a group of volunteers were able to establish

Missoula Adaptive Recreation and Sports (MARS).

They voted on the first board of directors on the same day we made the first hoodie prototype - September 12, 2023.

But later that day, we would all find out that Greg had died in a tree felling accident in the mountains. We knew we had to continue with the hoodie in his memory, but in partnership with the young organization he had been passionate about establishing.

 The Outta Seitz hoodie is made in colors Greg chose, featuring prints that celebrate the mountains he made his life and work in.

This joint effort will help bring funding to MARS thanks to Greg's relentless pursuit of the first Youer men's hoodie.


Shereen & Kelsey, both adaptive athletes involved with MARS.  

A portion of the sales from this Outta Seitz Hoodie go to fund Missoula Adaptive Recreation & Sports. They work to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities through recreational activities & advocacy in our local Montana community. They’re 100% volunteer run and their programs are designed to promote independence, build confidence, and foster a sense of community.

We made these in Missoula - in our factory - and hosted a launch party for locals to check them out early. Many of Greg's friends showed up to get hoodies, support MARS and drink a beer in his memory and he would have been so stoked to see it all. You can get yourself a hoodie here. 

Production Diaries - what we learned last month

Production Diaries - what we learned last month

It's been nearly 1 year since we started this Youniverse – the wacky factory where we make clothes in Missoula Montana. After a decade of working with contract factories across the U.S., we thought we could do it better (I know, ballsy) and so far we have been able to do it in a way that’s definitely better for us.

 

When we started this, I vowed to write a weekly blog summarizing our learnings of building a factory because I couldn’t find any of this info when I was looking. I wanted it to be a resource for other small businesses who might want to do the same thing. Writing every week was totally impossible to keep up with. But over the last year I’ve had so many calls and conversations with others who are trying to do this too, so I’m back at it – documenting what we’re doing, but this time just once a month. If you’re interested in getting deep into the details of how we’re starting and scaling a factory with no prior experience working in a factory then read on!

 

Here's what we learned in The Youniverse in January 2024

 

Every January we start the year off with a full day of leadership development and goal setting so Sarah, Vicky, Olivia and myself (Mallory) hit the ground running right after that with some big goals for the year.

 

Goal #1 is to get our damn flatlocks operational. We bought them 6 months ago and since then they have been mostly sitting in the corner collecting dust because we have struggled with building our team to having enough fulltime employees to invest training into.

 

But we just booked the training for this summer! We found what seems to be a fantastic mechanical training program for us through America’s 21st. Because there are no industrial sewing machine mechanics in Montana, we will have to be our own. So this program involves a trainer coming to our facility and our team getting mechanic certified on all our machines by the end of the week of training.

 

The main thing that happened this month is that we had to write a new production language. This time last year, we were figuring out what language to write our production in – like, how do we talk about it, track it, record it, measure it. We created a series of tools that worked well for us for the year, but now it needs to evolve. We’re a team of 7, and we have 4-5 people working in production on a daily basis so we all need to be able to understand what’s going on with as little effort as possible.

 

Main change is making Vicky our new Production Floor Supervisor (she’s working on a more interesting title, don’t worry). We’re growing to the point where we really have ‘departments’ and  ‘teams’ within our team. So Vicky now communicates production stuff to our product team (Me and Sarah) and we work collaboratively to problem solve.

 

We still heavily rely on our Maps to start any production. They’re a calendar roadmap that tells us how long it’s going to take to make a production run. And they were single-handedly the most challenging thing to figure out that we needed. I’m really not sure how other factories track stuff, but here’s how we do it.

 

Our Product Lead (Sarah) sews a sample with our Production Lead (Vicky) and they time each seam and make tweaks to the construction if needed. Those times then get communicated to me, and I use them combined with the number of products we’re making to build out our Maps. Vicky then manages these maps to keep the team on schedule with sewing and finishing.  If we get on track, I simply adjust the date and excel will spit out a new completion date for us.

 

The Map is kind of a big bite – a high level idea of timing. So we use WIPs (work in progress) daily to track performance of each team member and understand our speed and completion on a daily basis. It’s pretty manual, but it’s working for now until we’re larger and can use an automated system. We were using a production software for a bit, but it was expensive and ultimately more data than our small team needed.  We adjusted our WIPs this month so that each team member is writing their start and stop times/dates alongside the step the completed with their initials and quantity produced. Weekly, we take this info and break it down to see how our actual timing is comparing to our projected timing from sampling.

 

This system actually recently helped us catch a pretty persistent problem with one of our machines before pieces got to inspection.

 

Speaking of inspection, IT HAS WITHOUT A DOUBT BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRODUCT MADE AT OUR FACTORY AND PRODUCT MADE AT OUR PARTNER FACTORIES!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, I’m shouting. Because being absolute detail snobs about our own quality has resulted in our ability to repair literally anything (also Vicky has an insane ability to repair anything).

this looks like a mess, but this is what inspection looks like - Lauren is putting cords in hoodies and inspecting and packaging.

The main motivator behind opening The Youniverse was getting loads of shitty product from other factories that we paid tons of money for and couldn’t sell. We’ve lost a ridiculous amount of money due to these mistakes. That could have been avoided if more attention had been paid at inspection!!

 

So, at our factory we now spend several minutes per garment inspecting. It takes a long time, and eats into our profits, but not nearly as much as having unsellable inventory does. The fact that is takes so long is seemingly why other factories we’ve worked with have spent so little time doing it.

 

This is getting long enough, and if you’re still here then I hope you learned a bit and it was worth your read. The project for February? Really try to dial in costing. When we work with other factories, they give us a price quote per piece. But it’s kind of hard to figure out how much it costs us per piece to make stuff in house so I’m working on the right equation. We have labor, rent, utilities, tools and machines. But amortizing our equipment costs over our pieces is tricky. And our space-related costs are shared by other parts of the business too, BUT what is very clear is that it is VERY expensive to make clothes in America  (we knew this) and that many factories who we’ve worked with were likely not covering their costs. Also several have gone out of business so that might be the truth. So, I’m signing off now. But here’s to another day in business, and staying in business!

-Mallory and the team at Youer-