Tuesday, October 1, 2013

{Factory Girl} Month 2

I've always thought of myself as a factory girl.  When I worked in the fashion industry in New York in my twenties, I worked with local factories in the garment center of Manhattan to have salesman samples made.  Then I took the helm of our in-house sample room and managed teams of patternmakers, cutters and sewers.  Eventually my career took me to China, where I spent up to 4 months out of the year working with some of the largest factories in southeast Asia.  Nothing thrills me more than heavy machinery, the sound of productivity, and a beautifully constructed product.

As some of you who follow us on our Facebook page know, on July 23 2013 I got my very own factory.  Our new 4,000 sq ft space on the waterfront in Brooklyn was, literally, a dream come true.

Until that point, my company, alexandra ferguson, had been based in New Rochelle in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City where I grew up.  The first pillows I ever made in the first few months after launching our Etsy shop in January 2009 were in my living room of my loft apartment.  There was a photo of me sewing in my living room with my sunglasses on, late afternoon sun streaming through the windows with probably CNN running on the television in the background.  I can't to find it, which is a bummer.

By spring of that first year, we moved all the bolts of fabric and supplies to my mom's garage and set up shop.  Talk about *big time.*  Now, in fairness, this wasn't your typical garage space.  My mom had hand stenciled the floors, and together we had painted the walls with folk art inspired trees over white washed wood paneling.  The only heat source was an old fashioned wood burning stove (which kicked some serious heat) and double glass sliding doors opened up to the garden.  For a year and a half, I toiled away with a small team in this lovely little space.  When I worked evening shifts, my mom would pop her head in to announce dinner was ready.  Life was good.

By the summer of 2011, we were bursting out of the space.  Thankfully when the weather was nice, we spilled our packaging into the lawn and prayed it wouldn't rain before the UPS truck showed up.

Fortunately my loft apartment about a mile away was zoned as a work/live space.  So I personally moved out, and the company moved in.  Heat that could be turned on with a button, my own private office and a sprawling 800 square foot work room felt truly luxurious.

One of our online retailers, Vau.lt, came in and shot this super fun 2 minute video where we demonstrate our process.  You can watch it here.  This was definitely the only day (dare I say, hour) that the space looked this clean and tidy.  We had designated areas for cutting base panels, sewing machines and packaging.  We learned to pile boxes 4 high, make tables serve double and triple duty, and organize our supply chain to ship us exactly what we needed when we needed it.  By the holidays of 2012, we were storing our inventory of shipping boxes in the kitchen with only enough room to crack the fridge door open to grab a soda can.  It was a great exercise in efficiency.

Shortly after the company turned 4, it had become clear that it was time to move again.  There were some important criteria: the new space would be in the outer boroughs of New York so that we could tap into a larger talent pool to build our team.  It had to be light and airy, close to public transportation and in a safe neighborhood.  And it had to fit our budget.

The search took 3 months, and in the end we decided on a raw industrial loft space in Industry City.  It was perfect.  Sweeping views from the 6th floor of New York Harbor, including downtown manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.  Wall to wall wrap around windows.  And over 4x the space we were currently in.  Manual operated freight elevators and loading docks felt like a luxury that I couldn't wait to indulge in.

On Tuesday July 23rd, the moving truck came.   On wednesday, our sewing machines were delivered. By Friday, the sweet sound of needle and thread joining fabric together could be heard echoing in the space.  For all I knew, it sounded like Mozart.  How we pulled off manufacturing within 3 days of the move is a miracle in human determination that I will never fully understand.  But boy, I do know that I've never worked so hard in my life as I did this summer.

 Custom steel 10' high aqua colored shelving running the length of our 120' long wall was one of my most delightful purchases.

So here we are!  2 months in to our new space.  Besides real estate, what's different?

-We've grown our team to 8 full time employees (and still hiring!)

-we've consolidated all of our manufacturing under one roof

-due to efficiencies of scale, we were able to lower our prices 15%

-we introduced a brand new category of personal accessories.  This week we did our first production run of candy colored makeup cases!  Look for them in stores and on the web within about a week.

-we have "greened up" our shipping by installing a custom built pillow "compressor" which will dramatically slash shipping costs, packaging materials as well as our carbon footprint. (go, team, go!)

Our custom built pillow compressor

-we have teamed up with our neighbors: our latest batch of hangtags were printed on the 3rd floor.  Our makeup case panels were cut in a cutting room on the 5th floor.  And we will start working with a silkscreen printer across the courtyard later this week.  My landlord has officially become my sourcing agent, simply by recommending other tenants in the complex.

Most of all, I am so excited to be part of the growing movement of makers who are bringing manufacturing back to the States.  Everyday I'm reading articles about different factories who have carved out new niches for themselves, jobs being created in communities that desperately needed them, and an overall spark of energy in the air.  This is such a great space to be working in right now and I feel so lucky to be in the middle of it.

What can I say?  So far, with two months under our belt...yes, it's everything this factory girl dreamed it would be.


  1. I'm so happy for your success Alex! I remember when you first started on Etsy so to see you grow as much have you have is just amazing and inspiring. Nothing can stop you now! :)

  2. I am just in the process of rethinking my business goals your success story has been great to read. well done and I like the community vibe of makers you have going on.