On-demand print-cut-sew-ship services for designers and brands
For decades, waste has been the garment industry's dirty little secret -- and one that has grown exponentially in recent years due to the increasing popularity of fast fashion and the persistent throw-away mentality of much of the Western world. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, a nonprofit organization, 85 percent of post-consumer textile waste ends up in landfills each year. That's 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles thrown away by the average U.S. citizen annually.
When Best learned these and other frightening statistics from a movie titled The True Cost, he was inspired to utilize his previous experience in on-demand book printing to revolutionize garment manufacturing in a way that would make a positive difference. The Bespoke Manufacturing Company is the result, and demand for its services are growing so rapidly that Best and his team are already planning an expansion into a second Arizona factory.
"We're currently in 55,000 square feet [in Phoenix]," Best says, "and we're about to build plant number two, which will be 93,000 square feet [in Peoria]." He expects the new factory to be in full production by September 1, a feat that will require a dramatic increase in workforce.
"We have 120 sewing stations here and roughly 50 employees right now," Best continues. "We're trying to expand that to 75 by the middle of next month. The new plant will have 256 sewing stations plus cutting and printing and everything else. So, that new plant should be about 350 people all told. And this plant will probably go to two shifts, so we expect it to be 250 people."
Best says his workforce is currently made up of 60 percent women and 40 percent men, with sewers working on Juki sewing stations in pods that focus on single garments.
"We've created a system we call one-one-one-one," he explains. "We can take one person to learn one machine, one fabric type, and one seam in one day. By focusing on the seam rather than the whole product, we can train sewers faster and give them the confidence they need very, very quickly. That is called seam theory, and this whole factory is based on it."
Garment pieces are transferred from sewer to sewer by robots. "The robots take it between seam to seam to seam," Best continues. "It might start off with a shoulder seam. Then it might go to a side seam, and then a sleeve. And then hardware, maybe, if it has a hook and eye or zipper to put in. And then finally end at the hemming seam where the arms and bottom are hemmed. And then on to pressing, inspection, packing, and then out the door."
The factory also utilizes robots to move materials through the pre-sewing processes of fabric printing and cutting. Kornit Presto S Max presses are used for direct-to-fabric printing, eliminating the possibility of deadstock fabric, and minimizing the amount of ink used to create printed textiles. In the process, the presses also print the outlines of the garment cut file, which the Gerber Z1 digital cutter's robotic arm and laser beam follow to cut out the pattern pieces before placing them in totes for transfer to a sewing pod.
This extensive automation -- in conjunction with the iCreate.fashion software that helps the company's customers build the smart tech packs necessary for the on-demand system -- enables Bespoke Manufacturing Company to begin the manufacturing process within minutes after an order comes in. And it's all done without sacrificing human artistry, a factor that was important to Best.
"When I came to sewing, I fell in love with what sewers could do," he says. "I saw their beautiful work and thought, 'How do you sustain that but automate everything else?' When you start expanding an on-demand plant, you realize that no human could do the calculations necessary on their feet to move the product from place to place to place. [Robots] seven times a second are calculating the best place to take the tote or the garment for the next operation. They can calculate which pod has which machines with what color thread along with who has the least amount of work. They're doing things that we could never have done with a human. That's why we've automated everything except for the beautiful handwork that the sewers do."
Bespoke Manufacturing Company's customers range from new designers to the biggest brands. "But typically, it's really optimized for mid to small clients," Best says. "The ones that can't afford all the big software prices and don't have the money to invest in thousands of pieces."
A truly on-demand manufacturer, the company's minimum order is a single garment. Lead times are generally only three to five days from when the system receives the order to shipment of the product.
"We're the only ones really doing true one-off at the moment," Best adds. "I expect lots of people to join in soon. But right now, there's very few. Our competitors are almost all in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, China, Thailand. We're competing against a long-run model with a very efficient one-off model."
Best notes that the cost per unit manufactured when ordering from his factory is higher than that of other factories that require large runs. However, he says that when designers look at cost per unit sold, they'll find that Bespoke Manufacturing Company is a far better business model.
"[Designers] are always trying to get a lower cost per unit," he explains. "But sometimes, that adds cost at the other end, meaning you can only get the lowest cost per unit by ordering a million instead of one. And then you have to store that million. And then you have to transport that million to your customers or your retailers. And when it doesn't sell, you have to destroy that million. Those additional costs are enormous."
Challenges: Given the manufacturer's imminent expansion plans, Best says that workforce is a challenge. "I would have always said that I want to locate as close to the big markets as possible," he adds. "But now, all I care about is finding pockets of labor, locating near them, and making it easy for that labor to survive by paying them what we call a good living wage."
Opportunities: Best says the market for Bespoke Manufacturing Company's services is booming for multiple reasons.
"When you think about the possibility of forecasting your sales, your sizing, and your colors correctly, it's a very difficult proposition," he explains. "With our model, you don't have to gamble on it. You don't make anything until it's actually sold and ordered by an end customer. So, it's a much better, much more efficient, much more profitable business model. It eliminates all the risk of putting a lot of money into finished inventory."
Additionally, Best notes that younger generations are becoming more concerned with the environmental impact of the fashion they wear -- and designers are listening. "[Our model] is stopping this incredible waste that the garment industry creates," he says.
Needs: Best says customers who understand this new way of doing business are a big need. "They can't look at it the old way," he continues. "They have to look at it the new way. In the end, it's still the bottom line that counts. But hopefully, you've got some sort of social conscience that not only do we think that we can make a better bottom line, but that we can do it without all the waste and pollution that's created in the normal way of doing things."