By Jamie Siebrase | Apr 26, 2015
Montoya had over a decade of sewing experience and a background in costume design when she found her way into ready-to-wear manufacturing. "I was doing small batch sewing and custom apparel from home, and I started getting more and more requests for pattern-making and production runs," she recalls.
With credentials spanning custom tailoring to indie fashion boutique retail sales and merchandising, Montoya was well situated to enter the reemerging onshore production industry, and she initially founded COsewn to provide product development services for designers: "That includes pattern-making, sourcing, sample sewing, prototyping, initial consulting and business development," says Montoya.
With a focus on emerging and independent designers, the seamstress's homegrown -- and home-based -- Idaho Springs business moved to its current warehouse last summer when it expanded into low-minimum manufacturing: anything from 20- to 50-piece minimums up to 1,000-piece runs, Montoya explains. Thanks to a large, in-house cutting table, COsewn also added contract cutting services when it relocated.
"On a local level," says Montoya, "There are a number of people doing what I do, and that number's grown in the past year or two as there's been a big push for local apparel manufacturing."
As COsewn grew, Montoya started bringing more of the work under her roof in order to ensure a streamlined process, she says, adding, "I still work with other contractors for various things like digitizing patterns, but I really like to develop relationships with those people so I can trust their output."
It's relationships that set COsewn apart -- relationships with contractors and, also, with employees. The seamstress is committed to employing Americans at a living wage. "It's not worth doing if I can't pay my people a decent wage," she says, adding, "I can't speak for other product development companies in town, but I do know we pay quite a bit better than the larger local factories."
Not all of COsewn's clients are sustainably-focused, but quite a few are, and Montoya caters to that demographic of ethical fashion designers by offering low-impact materials: She keeps organic and recycled fabrics in a sourcing library and taps into made in America fibers whenever possible. COsewn also works to minimize manufacturing waste. "We have a ways to go," Montoya admits, "But that's something I am aware of and care greatly about."
COsewn's growth has been "substantial -- especially in the last few months," Montoya says, noting that she's projecting more growth in 2015. But, Montoya adds, "That's contingent on being able to hire more employees."
Challenges: "Trying to figure out how to attract a new, young generation of sewers," says Montoya. Production sewing has a reputation as a low paying gig, and, adds Montoya, "A lot of Americans don't recognize that this can be a good line of work." By paying living wages and offering safe and healthy work conditions for employees, Montoya's hoping to change the work culture and, more importantly, overarching industry perceptions.
Opportunities: There's plenty of room for expansion, says Montoya. Adding more equipment would allow COsewn to offer more services. "As long as I can get more employees in place, we have the potential to grow out of this 2,000-square-foot warehouse fairly quickly," Montoya adds.
Needs: More employees! As businesses begin to re-shore production, all of the sewers who were out of work are getting snapped up, says Montoya, offering, "It's a challenge to find workers to meet our demand; I'm super busy right now, and I need more sewers." At first, Montoya wanted employees with solid skills and previous factory production experience; recently, though, she's opened a number of entry-level positions in hopes of attracting folks she can train for small-batch manufacturing.