Success! Fall 2016 Apparel Manufacturing Boot Camp

Above: L-R, Faith, Susan, Jamie, Eric and Jane. This is what 100 coats looks like.

Late in coming, here is a report of the apparel manufacturing boot camp that was held over Labor Day, 2016.

We, the project organizers, feel that this was our most successful event yet. Attendees agreed, rating it 4.95 out of 5.  100% said they would recommend this event. 95% plan to return (the lone exception has a factory to run and can’t get away). I’ll include some comments from attendees at close so scroll down for those.  We successfully completed 70 coats in 4 days. We had inspected, inventoried and hung the last 30 coats by 11 AM the following morning. The most dramatic indicator of success was the very low defect rate, namely 4% and these were very minor details such as a label needing a corner tacked down. Contrast this with our first boot camp in which only 3% of our coats passed inspection. Yes, we were too embarrassed to admit that our defect rate was 97%, some errors being quite grave. We did fix them all before delivering them to our “customers” but it took 4 of us, about 4 week ends to do it.

We didn’t have a dream team this time; we actually had half the staff (22) of the first event. Here is a break down of our attendees:

  • 50% had never sewn on an industrial machine.
  • 25% had no sewing experience at all.
  • Only 15% had production sewing experience (one of whom was only here for 2 days).
  • 0% had production cutting experience (outside of boot camp).
  • The majority of the sewing was done by people who had mostly only sewn at home.
Mimi, showing us how it's done.
Mimi, showing us how it’s done.

We are excited that the new equipment we purchased, and our improved processes and training, are making such dramatic impact on the project’s success. Another thing we did differently this time was to get feedback from attendees every evening which allowed us to make changes overnight. I know that filling out a survey daily was a bit tiring after a long day but we really thank everyone for helping us to make a big difference in outcomes.

Fall 2016 Apparel Manufacturing Boot Camp Team.
Fall 2016 Apparel Manufacturing Boot Camp Team.

I must mention one disappointment. Few of the attendees did the required reading and none of them did the sewing tutorial that was assigned. This lack created quite a few problems during production. It was only then that attendees realized that their experience and performance would have been better if they’d done the tutorial and reading. I’m not sure how to resolve it. Perhaps attendees will be required to pass a quiz before coming and for those who sew, mail in a sewn sample? I cannot stress how important it is for attendees to be prepared for this event. Yes, we have been madly successful; my colleagues in the trade find it difficult to believe that we can take 25 strangers off the street, and have them sew up first quality winter coats -and in only 4 days- but they can’t deny the proof of it. So, although we have done what no one else has ever been able to do, we can’t do as amazing a job as we could if attendees had done their homework.

Now this is dedication; Duey sleeping on the cutting table.
Now this is dedication; Duey sleeping on the cutting table.

We have started delivering product. The Knights of Columbus (Grants NM) picked up 30 coats on September 22, 2016. Sandoval County Head Start will pick up 30 coats on September 28th. We had 30 coats slated for delivery to Ojo Amarillo Elementary in Kirtland NM but that seems to have fallen through so we’ll have to find someone else. 10 coats were being held for local distribution.

Raina & Alice inspecting the coats before approving them for distribution.
Raina & Alice inspecting the coats before approving them for distribution.

Distribution was more challenging this time because our partners from last year (the Nacimiento Community Foundation in Cuba NM & UNM) have lost their funding and are unable to get coats to needy families. The situation is very tragic; needs have not evaporated just because the funding has. Another problem with distribution is that in response to feedback from last year, we made these coats to fit children who are heavier than average so we must interview agencies more carefully to ensure that these coats will go to rounder children. The trunk and sleeve length was increased by an inch and the girth by a total of 4″.

Hannah -happy she's finished her latest bundle.
Hannah -happy she’s finished her latest bundle.

Purchasing materials for the coats was also a bit of a challenge and was detailed here. We are grateful for the assistance of Alvanon, who donated a child’s dress form and Straus Knitting who sold us what amounts to sample yardage, to complete the coats. Again, the post at the hyperlink explains what we bought and from whom -if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Veronica -our only factory grade production seamstress.
Veronica -our only factory grade production seamstress.

Future Events

We have decided that holding a Spring event in May and a Fall event 4 months later, is too stressful. So, future events will be spaced every six months. Spring boot camp will now be held mid March; Fall’s Labor Day schedule remains unchanged. The design boot camps that precede the production phases will take place in mid January (for Spring) and the beginning of July, for Fall.

The products we’ll be making for Spring has also changed. We have decided that the focus of Spring will be wardrobe replenishment for school aged children -specifically pants. The zip front, traditional fly front pants will integrate smoothly with schools that require uniforms and will also provide for children who attend schools without a uniform requirement. So there you have it. If you want to learn how pants are manufactured, get thee to Spring 2017 Apparel Manufacturing Boot Camp. Registration is open.

Joselyn & Duey, inspecting.
Joselyn & Duey, inspecting.

Last but not least, attendee comments from Fall 2016:

The people, all the volunteers were better than I could have imagined. I felt no matter what happened or the mood, everyone pulled together and worked.

I always believed that the factory takes short cuts but now know that production does way more work than I ever have and taught. Seeing a high quality RTW coat come together has been a life changing event for me. I honestly had no idea they were so picky and obsessed with the smallest seam details. This experience has changed how I approach my sewing forever.

The patience and willingness of everyone to help and teach and share information.

Jumping right in. Extreme hands on. You are not kidding when you call it a boot camp.

I finally got over my fear of sewing zippers. I had no idea I could ever sew anything this complicated.

Melanie, MVP
Melanie, MVP

The work ethic of the other campers. The amount of time and effort the factory owners continue to put into improving the boot camp experience and refining the groups’ work process and flow.

The team. Great group of students and excellent hosts.

The amount of planning and coordination needed to make this all happen. I learned way more than I could have imagined.

I wasn’t expecting to meet such great people. Being for the most part self taught, it felt like I found my family in this lovable bunch.

I was very impressed with the spreading and how important it is to be accurate with it. Overall I was most impressed with how much I enjoyed the entire experience.

Seeing the production process from printing the pattern to sewing the garment was helpful in understanding all the information in your book.

Jamie, Ruler of F2016 (L) Faith, willing minion (R)
Jamie, Ruler of F2016 (L) and Faith, willing minion (R)

All the tips that were pointed out. Examples: how to handle fabric, how to sew on a cuff, how important seam allowances are.

How to eyeball seam allowances that were incorrect. The importance of process and quality control.

Attention to detail, focusing on detail and of course, inspecting for detail.

I learned much more about the machines and feel much more confident in the spreading/cutting.

I absolutely loved the opportunity to be here!! Everyone was so helpful and willing to share their stories of trial and error, what works for them and even knowing their skill level. What I loved about the boot camp was that I was given the opportunity to try different activities on each day. No day was ever the same and that’s what I enjoyed because it never got boring. Even the littlest job of taking the jacket to another person was great because it gave me a chance to interact with them.

Your willingness as a production manager to allow us to learn what we wanted was important as well because we are taking back that knowledge we were looking for. All your insights and tips are so valuable. I absolutely loved all the hands on time I had here and I truly, truly had a fun, enjoyable and amazing time. It will always be memorable for me. Thank you for allowing me to be here. 🙂

Leticia, sewing on Ghost, the machine that ran itself.
Letitia, sewing on Ghost, the machine that ran itself.

I came here to meet like minded people who I can connect with about my passion. I feel like this event is going to have a big effect on me. It’s exciting to connect with people who want to do similar work. Anyway, I feel like I can see how this is possible now. Thanks.

Thanks again for all your hard work Kathleen and Eric. I know it’s not your job to track people down to ask for their help but please don’t ever hesitate to call and ask me if you need an extra hand with things in the factory. I’ll be here if I’m not already booked.

First day was exciting and confusing. I loved it. I had never seen fabric spread and cut. Second day, systems starting to come together for me. Felt promising with better understanding.

I learned so much, now I have to figure out what to do with it. I hope someday I will do this knowledge and your generosity, justice. I hope I can come again in the spring. Thanks again for the opportunity!

I didn’t get moved to various jobs but that wasn’t important to me. What I wanted to see was how this whole process happened. Mistakes were the best lessons and we got to see how many mistakes although tiny at their particular section/session creates bigger and bigger problems down the line.

Thank you for everything. This has been a wonderful valuable experience. It has given me the confidence to jump in with 2 feet and be 100% committed to starting my own factory on the east coats. Many thanks!

These boot camps are made possible by this man, Eric, AKA Mr. Fashion-Incubator. Without him, it never would have happened. Plus he is cute. With Susan at right.
These boot camps are made possible by this man, Eric, AKA Mr. Fashion-Incubator, factory co-owner. Without him, none of this would have ever happened. Plus he is cute. With Susan at right.

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4 thoughts on “Success! Fall 2016 Apparel Manufacturing Boot Camp

  1. Kathleen – thanks for a great experience at Boot Camp. One suggestion regarding the reading assignments. Several of us chatted about the fact that even though we had read the material, there was so much of it and for many of us the concepts were new, so it didn’t all sink in. Perhaps if it is possible to give us a heads-up each evening on what the next day’s tasks will be, and where in the reading we can go that evening to refresh our knowledge in those areas – we could all be better informed and prepared. I know it take me more than one exposure to start to “own” new concepts …

  2. This is very useful information, thank you. It actually confirms a plan (closer to a wild idea) I’m thinking of implementing.

    Specifically, I am thinking of issuing a (mostly) multiple choice test in pdf, to attendees once their fee is paid. I’m intending that the test be well written and organized into sections. Each section will highlight information that can be found in a specific post (and or comments of a post) that appears on the required reading list. The questions will target the most important things that I want someone to know so that when they read, the focus and emphasis is already built in.

    I got this idea from a professor of US economic history. The subject sounds kind of boring and it probably usually is, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot. This professor issued the final exam on the first day of class. Many pages long, all multiple choice. We had all semester to finish it. The actual exam was oral, in his office. He asked me to pick a question on a page and to tell him about it. It was closer to a conversation and very comfortable. We did that for every page. I think that many students got an A -and deservedly so because we learned the material. That’s the thing. A test should not follow a bell curve; everyone can get an A if they learn the material required of them. So that’s similar to what I want to do. I don’t want a few star performers because I know that all of our campers can be -and are.

  3. Hi Kathleen! It is such a pleasure to read about the success of the boot camps and see the products you are making for the community. Tho I am currently unable to participate in the camps, in spirit I support what you are doing! I read in your post about the trouble you had sourcing reflective tape. I want to share a couple resources I had used when I owned a pattern and sample making business. They mainly sell products for creating outdoor apparel and the Rainshed sells reflective tape and fun reflective fabric if that is something you want to do in the future. Here are the website links: http://www.therainshed.com/default.htm and http://www.thegreenpepper.com/other-products/
    All the best to you.

    1. Rain shed and green pepper are great for one-off utility projects but we were using a corded piping that was also decorative. It is so pretty that you don’t even realize it is reflective until the light catches it. Here is a close up of it. It looks much nicer in real life.
      reflective bias cording

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