Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: Apparel design, prototyping, and manufacturing services
Founder Marta Miller is investing in cutting-edge technology at her one-stop apparel shop.
When Miller launched her own maternity line in 2007, she started by working with local partners for everything from pattern-making to production. "There's a million different pieces to the puzzle," she says, calling the U.S. apparel industry "super fragmented."
And every aspect has its own silo. "There was no collaboration," Miller of her brand's partners. "Nobody was ultimately taking responsibility for anything. Ultimately, it was our issue. Even though we were hiring industry professionals, they weren't working together."
She tried moving production overseas, but encountered more pitfalls. "It was even worse," says Miller. "It was a successful brand. We got ourselves into Target, Walmart, and Nordstrom. . . . Ultimately, the manufacturing component brought us down."
Miller subsequently decided to go into manufacturing with Lefty. "Starting in 2012, we did a lot of private label with Zulily and Gilt Groupe," she says. "We were designing and manufacturing for them."
But private label alone was not enough to maximize the company's manufacturing capacity. "When you own a factory, you have to keep your machines busy," notes Miller. "The workers are there. You have to keep them fed."
It follows that Miller shifted Lefty's focus to smaller accounts in 2016. The move has paid off: The company was working with more than 100 brands as of early 2019 as it doubled the size of its space to about 8,000 square feet in central Los Angeles. The operation now encompasses design, sourcing, development, pre-production, and production.
Some of Lefty's customers are just getting started, while others have prototypes to prepare for production, or else are switching manufacturers or reshoring production. For pre-launch brands, Lefty is a one-stop shop. "We help them with the design of their garment, and we do pattern-making, sample-making, we do the fitting of the garment, and we do revisions," says Miller.
This umbrella approach helps mitigate several common problems for brands. Sampling "is typically a frustrating process for the factories," she says. "They try to rush through to get to bigger dollars in production." But that's not the case at Lefty. "I could sample 'til the cows come home if needed," says Miller.
Likewise, sizing "is another place we really take our time," she adds. With the rise of online clothing sales, returns are more involved and expensive. "It can be really damaging for a brand," says Miller of bad sizing.
After those crucial steps are completed, Lefty handles small-scale manufacturing in-house and has no fixed minimums; Miller says she evaluates small orders on a case-by-case basis. "I don't believe in drowning our clients in inventory," she explains. "It's not a good growth strategy." In lieu of a high minimum order, Lefty looks to cement "a real partnership" with clients, she says, and can make referrals to other vendors if necessary.
In early 2019, Lefty began utilizing a new automated Tukatech laser cutter, the second such machine in operation in LA. "We are a TUKAcenter now," says Miller. "We can now cut with lasers, which is a game changer for me. I was spending a fortune cutting samples by hand."
Challenges: "Finding more great people to join our team," says Miller. "The only limit to our growth is finding amazing, talented people to join our team. We’ll only take on new clients if we're sure we can offer them the highest level of service."
Opportunities: Supplying an ever-changing market by helping brands reshore production. "People aren't planning, people are responding," says Miller of the benefits of quick turns associated with domestic manufacturing. "Huge brands are knocking on our door because they are concerned about their international supply chains or because they need a more nimble supplier to help them be responsive to demand."
Needs: Look for the investment in technology and automation to continue at Lefty. "We're investing in as much technology as possible," says Miller. "Our next investment will be 3D-modeling software. We're going to be able to do 3D modeling before we even sew it."