“You are never too small to make a difference"
Sometimes, small is an excuse to not know your own suppliers that you partner with to create a business. Especially now with the Internet at our disposal, it has been made even easier to not only source, but also communicate and stay in touch. As business owners we have a personal responsibility and obligation to know the parties we partner with in every area of our business.
At Miann & Co, we currently have three suppliers that we work with of which two are based in China and one in India. We have been visiting our suppliers since we were a team of only one, as it was important from the beginning that these are the relationships that matter the most when it comes to the quality and the product that you put out into the world under a brand.
We would love to add more transparency to all areas of our business and one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to our business is the size of our team. So to add transparency and to give you a bit more background, we would love to share our start to finish process of manufacturing in our small business and also an understanding of where that passion was ignited...
Miann & Co, formerly known as La De Dah Kids, was born like many other businesses... on our kitchen table with me sewing, cutting and sampling our products. It was also born out of a need to find toys from natural fibres. My eldest son turns 11 and when I started my search there were literally nearly no toys made from natural fibres during this time. Fast forward 11 years and the industry and the offer for kids has come so far. I can only imagine how many great things we can do in the next 11 years.
My background is a fashion degree and I have been sewing since a very young age, thanks to mum for passing on these skills. I grew up in a small country town where the nearest shops were a good 2-hour drive. Times were simpler and clothing was cheaper to make than actually purchasing them from a store.
My first ever visit to a factory was to Syria in the Middle East. A young very naïve 21-year-old, in a middle eastern country where most workers were all men or boys. I was sent by my employer at the time and by myself to approve strike offs and speak to the suppliers about improving their production methods.
I was thrown in the deep end with this visit and I have never been more in over my head, ever. It was also confronting for a naïve 21-year-old that had very strong values. This was the first and only time I have seen young children working in factories. Young boys were not working on any machinery, but they were heat-sealing tags and trimming garments. I remember asking one of the boys how old he was and he said 18 but to be honest I think he would have been 9 or 10 years old at the most and he wasn’t the only child there, there where about a handful.
I have since visited probably over 40 other factories in countries like China, Vietnam and India, and never seen young children working in factories.
My first factory visit has stayed with me and is often a driving force for always wanting to do better. It is also a driving force to why we visit and spend time with the suppliers we work with, as that particular factory was accredited and I quickly learned the murkiness around this. I'd like to also add this was 17 years ago and the world has come along way.
I’m not going to lie this experience was a driving force in the building of our business. So here is a start to finish look at our business and who the people are behind our brand and the making of our clothes.
OUR GEELONG TEAM IN AUSTRALIA
Our Geelong team consists of:
Myself, Rebecca - I handle all the designs, manufacturing and marketing of the product, photoshoots, fits and liaising with our gorgeous suppliers etc..
Demi - who handles all our graphics including all those beautiful instagram stories, website management, blog content, assisting on photoshoots, artwork for t-shirts and yardages as well as system management. Demi was our first ever full time employee 4 years ago and she jumps into all areas of the business. We are super lucky to have her on board.
Theunis - he is our systems man. He handles the entire bookkeeping side of the business including payroll and all the IT side of the business. He also does our Facebook and Instagram advertising along with Google Ads. He also helps with all the heavy lifting in the warehouse.
Shelley and Brianna - job share our customer experience role. They answer all your queries and emails, and they process all your returns and also help with the bookwork and systems.
Kel - is our newest member of our team and she has been hired to manage our warehouse and inventory. We are so excited to have Kel on board as she has taken on the role of Marie Kondo in our warehouse after our big move.
We have three amazing casuals who help in our warehouse and they are all university students who help with picking and packing your orders and help with all the duties of warehousing.
So this is our team. Small in size but big in impact. We also work with some incredible freelancers, including photographers, videographers, accountant, web developer, who all play an important role in our business.
NOW TO THE PROCESSES
Range creating is intense. There is a lot of work that goes into the researching at the top end of our development.
Establishing a colour palette is normally our first step. This sometimes comes from an image we love a bedroom or a lifestyle image that catches our eye and we often start a colour palette from a reference picture rather then trends.
Demi and I work closely together on this. We then match it to a Pantone or sometimes we have a piece of fabric or believe it or not a sock that we loved the colour of and will use as part of our colour palette.
Next step is technical sketches. This part takes a long time. We draw up shapes and start playing around with trims and every stitch line is added to these technical drawings.
I like to range on screen onto boards so I can see how the range all comes together. As we like to make all our own fabrics with suppliers and our own unique designs, we have to use a fabric design across a couple of designs to get the minimum order qty. or MOQ in industry terms.
This ranging is something I lose sleep over and it is something that normally consumes my every thought for a good two-week period and making sure we have considered every element both in design and with kids wear, so it has a very practical element.
This is now the fun part … Production packs are like a bible that goes out to our suppliers with every one of our designs and can contain up to 10 pages for one design.
This process can take a week to two weeks now with womenswear added and this happens every season.
These packs include: Details on stitching, what threads to use, fabrication, trims, button size and shape, design, labelling, how is the labelling attached, what labelling to use, how this labelling is constructed, does the product need safety testing, what safety tests are required, labelling artwork, fabric prints sized and sent, what size print goes on what age group, scaled prints, packing, what size boxes they come in.
This then gets packaged up and sent out to our suppliers normally before we go out to visit the suppliers. This gives them time to look over and discuss with fabric mills on foreseen issues with the designs we have created.
These processes happen before the making happens and there is a lot of time and effort and resources that goes into the garment before hitting our makers and it is often an expensive process that needs to be factored into the process. I would also like to add that we save money because I have this skill and I don’t even pay myself the salary I left 9 years ago.
Working with our makers
We normally allow a week before we visit our suppliers in China. We have been working with two main suppliers that I have known for nearly 10 years.
Our knit and crochet supplier I sourced after meeting her at a tradeshow in China and my second supplier was someone that I had worked with previously.
We get a lot of negativity, particularly at events and boutique markets, about producing out of China. We get throw away comments like it 'must be mass-produced' or 'it must be cheap' and very quickly we are being stereotyped because we choose to work with an offshore manufacturer in China. In a way it has been shaming and it took us a long time to be super proud of this partnership.
So to address this we started working out of China producing 10 of our designs. We started with Liu who I count as a friend in the Nantong province in China. Liu works with cotton yarns and produces very small quantities of our handmade toys. Being a kids product, safety was super important, as was the quality of our products.
Our toys were made in a co-operation that allowed both men and women to work from home around their childcare and also farming needs.
This group used to have around 200 women and men and is shrinking. As they are mostly older men and woman and the skills of crochet are not being passed down due to the one child policy. It has increased the expectation of what they would like their kids to be employed in .
Producing in these co-ops have long lead times as production is on their time and it normally means close to 9 months of the year in the making from initial concept to in our warehouse.
With our knitted garments again we run colours over a few designs which allow us to produce our own colours.
Each item with a cut and sew element is done by hand. But, I would like to add something. There is a lot of talk as ‘producing by hand.’ Every garment in the world is made by someones hands. From the $3 t-shirt to the $39 jumper. Again, some products may have a more handmade element, such as hand cut elements or has been hand printed. But we need to remember that every garment is sewn by a human being. Something to think about.
Our second supplier in China is Jo, who is our woven and jersey supplier, he makes all our other products that aren’t knits.
We have trialled different methods with this production type and we have even had some of our woven items in our second season made in homes on domestic machinery (which is like your home machine). However, unfortunately we needed to change this for quality concerns and have since started producing products on industrial machinery which has seen our woven and jersey products being made in a factories.
The Nantong area in China is well known for its yarn dyed fabrics and this has allowed us to design our own stripes and fabrics and to personally know the factories and also test the quality.
Quality and safety
To be honest I feel like quality and fabrication is also a big part of the ethical journey. We try to manufacture and design clothes that surpass trends and last from child to child because of the fabrication, good design and good manufacturing processes.
We safety test toys and rattles for little people and we also in-house test a lot of our clothing. This includes wash testing for colourfastness to try and minimise any issues and also wastage when the product arrives back in Australia.
Our amazing China suppliers also ensure regular checks and they quality check during packaging stages, where the items then pass through a metal detector.
This is a common practice and has to be conducted as when you are sewing with a machine with little needles they can easily break and stay behind in the fabric.
Our products are then handed over to our shipping agents who combine cargo from suppliers to minimise our shipments. This is now a little easier as we have two suppliers in the same region.
The warehousing is the final step and this happens here in Geelong. All warehousing is done in-house and by our team.
Each garment is packaged by size by the supplier before they arrive so that they are already packaged and grouped by size to make the processing easier at our warehouse. They are also in cardboard boxes that we recycle (we pack larger orders and wholesale orders in these boxes) Not always the prettiest boxes but every box in our warehouse that can be used gets a second use.
We also check all orders we receive again and once the order is placed our amazing team pick and pack and have your order in the postal system within the 24 hour process.
These are our China based factories and the journey we have encountered with them. We are in the beginning stages of working with a new supplier in India who can produce a cotton silk fibre, one that we are super excited to add to our natural fibre journey. We promise to add more information as this journey come to light.
I hope that this offers some transparency to our processes and manufacturing and #whomademyclothes. Small doesn’t mean you cannot have impact. In fact, sometimes it can have more impact. We will continue to implement and monitor and have suppliers we visit and aim to formalise accreditation in the near future.
Thanks so much for hanging in till the end. The garment journey is a global community effort one we continue to improve and learn from.