By Angela Rose | Mar 05, 2022
Los Angeles, California
Apparel manufacturing services
"I call it the COVID shuffle because so many people I know have relocated," says Miller of her family's move to Texas in March 2020. She recalls getting on the plane with a plan to visit relatives until the worst of the pandemic had passed in Los Angeles. "We thought we were going to be [in Texas] for four weeks while everything blew over," Miller continues. "But four weeks turned into four more, and now we live here."
Like many other parents, Miller and her husband had kids attending school on Zoom and no alternatives for childcare as COVID-19 began its rapid sweep across the nation. Staying in Texas enabled the couple to "get the family support we needed so that I could continue running Lefty," she explains. "My mother-in-law found herself with a new job as a first-grade teacher."
The move to remote management of her LA cut-and-sew business has required some adjustment. "I really had to build a strong team in order to not be physically present," Miller says. "But Lefty has really thrived, and my employees now have a lot more of an entrepreneurial spirit because they aren't being micromanaged. It has allowed the company to blossom to another level in a lot of ways."
Miller's relocation also enabled her to expand her cut-and-sew empire with the purchase of Stitch Texas, an Austin-based sewn product development company, in early 2022.
"Right now, my goal for the purchase is to get settled and understand who Stitch's clients are so I can help them bring their production to [Lefty's] Los Angeles facility," Miller says. "A lot of them are currently struggling to do production [in the U.S.] or they're sending it overseas."
Though she intends to continue the focus on product development at Stitch's Austin location long-term, Miller envisions an eventual build out to allow for manufacturing in Texas as well.
Lefty Production Co. currently offers product development -- including patternmaking and sampling -- along with pre-production marking and grading and manufacturing services at the 12,000-square foot LA location where it works with more than 100 different brands to produce apparel, hair accessories, leather goods, handbags, and home textiles.
"The world has changed," Miller muses, "and therefore, we've had to change. We've leaned on technology a lot more, surviving almost a year where we were making patterns from home and doing Zoom fittings. All of that has really changed our efficiency."
Miller recently invested in new enterprise software to enhance both locations' internal and client communication. Though she says she's unable to announce the name of the software until the roll-out in May, it should enable her teams to engage in real-time collaboration. Lefty Production Co. and Stitch Texas will also continue using TUKATECH design software and machinery.
Miller says that demand for U.S. cut-and-sew services has been increasing over the past decade for a number of reasons ranging from tariffs to a growing consumer insistence on sustainability. Recently, she has seen supply chain issues drive more U.S. businesses to reshore at least a portion of their production.
"I don't think they're going to move everything home from overseas," she continues, "that's kind of a pipe dream. But they are starting to understand that in order to be successful, at least part of their business should be something they have a little more access to and control over. As a result, inquiries and calls [about Lefty's services] have tripled."
Another factor driving growth is direct-to-consumer sales. Because brands are able to bypass retail middlemen and the associated nickel and diming, their margins are increasing even with the higher costs of manufacturing in the U.S. "It allows people to have the ability to produce domestically because they're not working off pennies anymore," Miller adds.
Challenges: "The new generation isn't the old generation," Miller says. "Training the new generation to have the work ethic of the generation before is kind of our biggest challenge. But it's also kind of fun because they want to do it but just haven't been taught to do it."
Opportunities: Miller says while she wants to attract new clients, her current focus is on stabilizing the growth Lefty Production Co has enjoyed over the past two years while streamlining processes. "We're one of the first factories in America to get [this new software]," Miller continues. "I think it's going to help us tremendously in giving customers a real understanding of their work in progress along with education on what they can do to help their process go smoother."
Needs: "I never think about what I need," Millers says. "I always think about how grateful I am. I'm so grateful for what I have, and I just want to focus on that."