Why On Earth Did I Start An Apparel Manufacturing Business?

After college I started work as a fixed income trader, buying and selling treasury contracts on a daily basis. You can make a lot of money trading, but there were two shortfalls that ate at me:

  1. you don’t really make anything useful
  2. prosperity is isolated

Manufacturing as a sector attracted me because you make something. With your hands. In addition, manufacturing tends to be labor intensive, so any growth and prosperity can be shared with employees in the community.

Throwback image of the original Dearborn Denim family

Apparel manufacturing wasn’t my first thought. As a home brewer I considered a number of different brewery/brew pub concepts. I ended up thinking better of that because, well, there are plenty of great breweries out there making great beer, especially in Chicago.

Rob Bottling His Home Brew

I remember when I gave that idea up: I was at my local beer store standing in the craft beer section (which over the years has grown into an entire wall) and thinking “how are you supposed to stand out amongst a great selection and all of them with cool can art to boot!”

In high school I started a tee shirt printing company. Thought about shirt printing, but realized it was sort of like brewing. A lot of folks already doing a good job of it and there wasn’t much of a need for one more. But it did get me thinking about apparel manufacturing.

I started looking into what it would take to start an apparel manufacturer in Chicago. There wasn’t (still isn’t) a lot of apparel manufacturing in Chicago.

Back in the 1920s something like 25% of all apparel consumed in the USA was made in Chicago. Now, we talk about 2% of apparel consumed in the USA is made in the USA. Yeah. 2%. Entire nation. Crazy!

So, sorta how folks become interested in locally made beers, I became interested in locally made apparel - which was short lived because there really wasn’t any!

That is when I started spending significant amounts of time learning about apparel manufacturing.

Started researching the logistics, pattern design, production, ecommerce, retail, history, strategy, rates, machines, suppliers … the list goes on.

One wormhole led to another. One problem lead to another, which lead to a couple solutions … and about 10 more challenges/opportunities … one could only describe starting an endeavor such as this one - as a sort of “jump and the net will appear” … If you hustle down and sew the net before you fall.

Hemming up a fresh pair of jeans for our patient customers

So why Jeans?

Aside from the community benefiting with steady, fair paying, work making something useful that wasn’t already being done - aside from that? Two reasons:

  1. Jeans are THE American garment, and we were going to be an American manufacturer. Makes sense. No?
  2. The second reason is really two nots:
    1. Not just a trend
    2. Not seasonal.

This was going to be a startup company with little money to finance an annual operation with 2-3 months of sales - had to be something that sold year round.

I was going to be making a significant upfront investment in equipment … without much significant investment 😬 so I really didn’t wanna make something that was gonna be out of demand in a couple of years.

Jeans fit quite well (pun intended ;) 

Nice Little Team Selfie Of The Early Days

That process took place 2013 and the first half of 2014.

We didn’t end up signing our lease until March of 2016. Got a little demand going on Kickstarter, and great jeans were coming off the sewing floor early that summer.

✌️ + 🖖


Why on earth did I start an apparel manufacturing business? " ... manufacturing tends to be labor intensive, so any...

Posted by Dearborn Denim & Apparel on Friday, May 4, 2018

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