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Article: Katelyn's Dispatch: We're Changing {Just a Little Bit}

Katelyn's Dispatch: We're Changing {Just a Little Bit}

Yes, that's right. But don't worry, we're certainly not going anywhere! 

Over the past few years, it has been my immense pleasure to develop a very unique system of crafting clothing. Instead of mass-manufacturing at an outsourced factory, we ARE the factory: sewing on a made-to-order or small batch basis. 

The motivations for pursuing this were mixed. There was definitely a sustainability element - of never ending up with overstock (which traditionally in the garment industry ends up in the landfill or burned). Some of it was financial. I realized that I would be able to jump into full-time employment with S&S sooner if I was willing to learn how to sew each item. But as we got deeper into it, a love and passion for this part of the business blossomed. I love the drafting, the cutting, the sewing, setting snaps and the million other tasks associated with taking a chunk of fabric and turning it into a masterpiece. I love working with talented coworkers; the joint problem solving, the creative back-and-forth. I honestly believe that all designers should spend more time working in factories. the end product is so much better when creative and technical forces are in the same room - instead of halfway across the world. 

It's definitely not all sunshine and daisies. As rewarding as perfecting a new design is, I spent countless hours crouched under a sewing machine with my hands covered in grease, heaving heavy rolls of fabric, or as I lovingly say: crying over fractions. 

This is a very uncommon way to run an apparel business nowadays. In search of any relevant literature, I found myself ordering textbooks from fifty years ago. There weren't many business I could use for reference - so we mainly had to figure everything out as we went along. 

And figure it out, we did! When I say "we," I need to give a big shout out to Ciel, who has been with S&S since day one (technically before - since we went to design school together!). She brought in a huge amount of design and sewing background that I was missing, and her can-do attitude has gotten us through a lot of challenges. The two of us split the cutting, sewing and finishing. Some items get passed back and forth between us three or four times before completion. Most bosses struggle to keep quality top-notch, for me it's the opposite: I can always count on Ciel to spot a flaw and point it out (albeit with a raised eyebrow). 

(I would be remiss not to include Shane, Rachael, Amy, Brenda, Megan, Emma, Neha, Caiomhe, Kyle, and Cassie on this vaunted list of collaborators)

The best way to describe this method would be "lean manufacturing." Of only making what was needed, when it was needed. It afforded us great capacity to experiment and offer a wide range of styles. So much so that visitors to the studio are often taken aback by how small the operation actually is. Not wanting to rely on "scarcity marketing," I kept styles online for as long as possible, to encourage thoughtful shopping. 

Recently, we've taken to offering some fun and totally unique ways to shop. Our Friday Faves, for example, is a now-beloved monthly instalment of a brand new style or colourway, made from our leftover past-season fabrics. A few weeks ago, a good friend sent me a bag of beautiful mismatched vintage buttons. There was only enough of each for one shirt, which was exactly what we did by pairing each set with their own fabric and showing them off on our Instagram story. Those, on top of our usual custom orders, have been such a rewarding way to bring our community into the design process. 

But (and you knew there would be a but), I always knew that this system would be excellent for survival but hinder growth. In order to maintain our efficiency and consistency, Ciel and I had to memorize the order of operations, steps and techniques for the 65+ styles that we currently have listed online. Each one has over a hundred individual steps, which means that each of us has a library of over three thousand tiny processes in our brains. I didn't realize until writing this how absolutely insane that is. 

I'm sure you're thinking - can't you just have instruction manuals? The answer is yes, which I did attempt to put together before realizing that sewing is so damn visual. Words are cumbersome when you're putting together a 3D object and meeting a time objective. Videos would have suited the purpose, but to film and create a platform for those would have been outside our realm of resources. 

I'm sure business analyst would read this and bang their head on a wall. A business model that relies heavily on the expertise of two, totally irreplaceable individuals? Unfathomable. But where they may see fault, I see a beautiful one of a kind brand, built by passion and resilient to the storms the world has thrown at us as of late, ready to pivot at a moment's notice. One that has the ability to not only serve but inspire our community, to make them feel included and valued (because they are!). 

So we're not going to change how we do things. We're not going to outsource our manufacturing. But we are going to slow down a bit, because as I joked to Ciel, if we try to cram anything else in our brains, it's going to start leaking out our ears. We've spent so long rigorously innovating, perfecting and honing in on what makes Street & Saddle tick. It's time to distill. I'm sure a business analyst would approve of that. 

So over the next few months, we will be shaving down what we have available on the online shop, to a carefully curated collection. And we will shift that energy into more custom, limited-edition offerings. We are going to lean into all the skills we painstakingly perfected and keep creating styles that you quite literally can't find anywhere else in the world. 

So thank you for sticking around to the end of my drawn-out ramblings. Thank you for the SUPPORT all of you have shown, so that during these trying times we were able to flourish. With my hand over my heart, I'm humbly so excited to keep crafting gorgeous clothing for you for a long time to come. 

-Xoxo, Katelyn


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