Published: June 28, 2016 • Behind the scenes / Process

The first week of November last year, my husband and I found ourselves in a massive, black warehouse in the middle of the night, bundled in sweaters and gloves because there was no heat, surrounded by haphazard piles of our company’s belongings, listening to the train whine by in the distance, and feeling generally overwhelmed and terrified at what we had done. In a matter of months, we turned our business on its head. We made a decision to move, found a location, spent all of our cash on renovations, and moved our business and small team from a 1,500 square foot space into a 10,000 square foot building. By any standards - even the high-stakes, rapid-growth standards of the start-up world - it was a huge step (skipping lots of in-between steps), and a big risk.

We had clearly outgrown our previous space, even though we were barely a year into our three-year lease on the building. Before the Cruzen Street location, I was working out of my very first studio - a 500 square foot yoga room in the back of a gym (I was there for six months out of a one-year lease, and had to move to accommodate the seamstresses I’d hired). Our business was growing fast, we were selling out of fabrics and pulling long hours to get orders out the door. We needed to add more team members to keep up with demand, but there simply wasn’t room. I knew we needed a longer work table to be cutting more efficiently, more space to store patterns and fabric, and a better setup to execute the lean sewing model I believed in. The production team had their machines pushed up against each other, with stools and carts cluttering the walkways. The office workers (including Chris and I) moved up into an attic space with five foot ceilings to make more room on the ground floor for production. At one point, coming down from “loftice” (as we called it) with books under my arm, I fell from the top of the ladder to the concrete floor ten feet below. We knew something had to change.

We were in the tough position of needing to find a place quickly enough to accommodate our growing workload, but we also needed to keep up with existing demand in the meantime. It was clear that wherever we went, we would have to lay out quite a bit of cash for renovations and that we didn’t have the luxury of experimenting. Moving our operation would be a huge interruption to our already stretched-thin team, and we needed to pick the right place that could house us for a long time. We visited warehouse after warehouse, and saw several that would have been logical candidates. Places around two or three times the size we currently occupied, places that needed only minor cosmetic work. None of them felt right, though, and we kept picturing ourselves a year into the lease and needing to move again. Then we found this place. In a heavy industrial neighborhood, it was a massive building seven times the size of our Cruzen Street studio. It was an old cabinet-making factory, and it was disgusting. But it was huge, it had a big lot, and seven bay doors we would replace with glass. For the price per square foot, it was by far the best deal on the table. We jumped in with both feet, confident we could afford the necessary renovations and that the work could be done quickly. We’d be moving in no time, we’d be able to lease to purchase over the next several years, and we’d have secured ourselves a forward-thinking place to grow into.

Fast-forward to that first week in November, after the doubling of renovation costs and timeline, ancy employees ready to be out of the cramped building, countless late nights of cleaning, assembling fixtures, and problem-solving. The building had been cleaned and painted, the drop-tile ceiling had been removed, the floors finished and sealed, the plumbing redone, a kitchen installed, a bathroom gutted and redone, lighting installed throughout, offices built, glass garage doors put into place, windows put in, furniture delivered. It was the night after the moving truck dropped off all of our equipment. All of that bold confidence and firm logic behind the decision we’d made had sunk so low in my stomach that it couldn’t be rallied. All that was left was an uneasy mixture of fear and foolishness. Why did we think we needed to move into a building this big, sign a lease that long, with a rent payment that high?

We had bet on an uninterrupted growth trajectory and didn’t account for the delay the renovation would put on our business development and production. We knew the first few months would be tough to make rent, but by the next year it would be easier, and eventually we would own the building and have an asset on the books. In that moment, though, we weren’t so sure that growth would return at the rate we’d counted on, making the move - and every decision along with it - in vain.

The good news is, while those fears may not have been unfounded, they were quickly put to rest. Once we settled in and got back to daily routine, the pace picked up. We started to see the real payoff from moving into this space. The available cutting surface has quadrupled - adding two long tables of varying widths that are suited to the different types of fabrics we use. The sewing area is arranged in pods or workstations like I’d always imagined, rather than assembly-line fashion. Each seamstress has all of the machines and equipment she needs to complete a garment from start to finish, and she has ownership of her work area. Shipping is situated right by the loading dock, with ample shelving for storing inventory and table space for packing up orders. The front room of the building (which on its own is the size of the studio we moved from), is our kitchen and team room. We’re able to share meals together, host workshops and activities, and comfortably have team meetings with our growing staff. For the first time, I have a dedicated design studio that isn’t used for production. I’m able to work on patterns and sample making at will, and I have plenty of white walls to gather inspiration on.

We have a beautiful courtyard (that my mom has brought to life) where at any moment you’ll find someone answering emails on a laptop, taking a break with a snack, or enjoying lunch with friends. There are offices for our media and customer experience team members. We have a beautiful showroom where, for the first time, we can display our goods for customers to come shop in person. Every corner of the building has been considered, every piece of furniture or equipment carefully chosen. We have filled the place with light, plants, soft music and the smell of our favorite incense. It has been a surreal experience to witness the physical vision I had for this company turn into reality right before my eyes, so much sooner than I imagined. I didn’t think that barely three years in we’d have digital pattern and marker-making software, fabric spreaders, or two cutting tables. I certainly didn’t think we’d have lean-sewing setups for each seamstress, or that customer experience would have its own office. I didn’t think we’d already have a beautiful environment that provides structure for team engagement and learning, a kitchen full of healthy drinks and snacks for our employees, or that I’d get to see one of our sewers working with her baby happily chattering next to her as she works.

However good it feels, this space, and our business, is far from finished. Even since these images were taken, much has changed. We’ve added a second bathroom with a shower so employees can exercise or get ready for evening plans on-site, three more sewing stations to the production area, two more sections to our cutting tables. We are in the process of putting a new roof and insulation on the entire building. And if you’ve been following along on social media, you know that we’ve been struggling to figure out how to condition the air (Nashville summer came early - it’s been in the high nineties since the first of June). As of yesterday, central air will be going in next month. We just last week completed a huge electrical job that included bringing 3-phase power from the city to the property, and rewiring the entire building. The truth is, these are projects and decisions that have taken up much of Chris' and my time and energy, not to mention every penny of our profit. We’ve found ourselves in a period where we can’t help but regret the time taken away from managing our growth and developing the business.

Part of running a company is always wondering if we’ve made the right decisions - if we’ve gambled too heavily with the profit that is responsible for sixteen people’s livelihoods and the experience of countless customers. But, particularly today, looking back on the same thoughts I had about the move to this building last year, I’m confident we’ve done the right things. We have chosen to invest in the betterment of our workplace, our team’s happiness and well-being, and the long-term reputation of our company and our products. I am consistently blown away by the success you (our customers and supporters) have allowed us to experience, and I am really excited to keep serving this community in new and better ways. We’re on the upend swing, and now that we've addressed the pressing physical issues, we’re starting to get back into focusing on the less tangible elements of the business. We have new, wonderful team members starting this month and next, and you can expect our lead time to start dropping back down to 2-3 weeks. The weight is starting to lift from my chest, and as I look around the building today I can’t help but smile at how full it’s gotten already and wonder why I was ever worried about moving into this space that now feels like home.

This post was originally meant to share a lighthearted tour of our new space, celebratory and proud of what we’ve done and where we work. But, I didn’t feel right just sharing the shiny, well-lit photos without a bit of the backstory behind how we got here and where we have yet to go. So much of our story is closely tied to the physical place we inhabit, and I am honored to be able to share it with you. 

Comments

Leave a comment