Chapter 22 - Fit Models, Sales Rep’s & Celebrity Gifting Suites


The next thing we needed to do was to basically start from scratch on proper patterns and grading and get all our women’s jeans fitted properly. I had never got our jeans fitted before as I was only working with men's jeans. I was the fit model! If they fitted me I was happy. So it was time to do things the right way and make them “Nordstroms ready,” as Allen said. It wasn't that I didn't want to do proper fittings, I just never knew it had to be done. As I mentioned before we used to have blankets of patches sewn up by some Chinese women in downtown SF and then take the blankets over to the denim factory who would cut the jean pattern out of the blanket and then sew up the jeans.

 

I had never before considered shrinkage, different denim weights, stretch or non stretch into the denim equation. It was an eye opener. I had even gone out and bought approx 5000 yards of super-heavy and all different types of denim. What a waste of money. (Don’t worry my wife doesn't let us waste any denim. She makes greeting cards and bags and wallets etc out of it).

Before I had met Allen, I actually drove to LA and bought approx 1200 yards of left over denim from a denim factory in LA. The guys didn't know what to make of me. (They probably laughed their asses off as I drove off.) I was driving a Toyota Tacoma flatbed truck at the time. It was lashing rain and I had a tarp over the top of it to stop the denim from getting wet. Also, with the weight of the denim the bed of the truck was nearly scraping off the ground on Highway 5 all the way back to San Francisco. It was nuts. But all part of the learning experience.

When I arrived back in SF I had my buddy Grainger help me unload the huge rolls of denim from the truck and I stored it in his office, a graphic design studio on the second floor of a cool building on 6th and Market.

The problem with all this denim was it was all different weights. And so I learned that when using one pattern, you’re best to use one denim and know the shrinkage so all your jeans come out with the same fit. Consistency. Stores aren't going to buy jeans off you if they all fit different each time they order. It was another expensive lesson learned with my ad hoc MBA/Fashion degree from the School of Life.

One day while out with Allen in LA, we met a friend of his outside a wash house. (He was an ex designer from True Religion.) He took a good look at the jeans inside and out and recommended that we get some new patterns made and this time have the pattern maker individually have every patch put into the pattern. Not only was this an expensive process but it was also some serious work for the pattern maker, she had never made a 50 piece jean before, and it was also a lot of work for the cutter and sewer. Much more labor intensive than making sheets/panels of patches and cutting the pattern from that. But we went for it.
We arrived to the pattern maker with a pair of our jeans with painters tape all over them showing her where we wanted the patches to join each other, she thought we were crazy.
Anyway she worked with us and made up the patterns we needed. It was a nightmare getting them right.
We then had Angel (our amazing sewer still with us today) make us up some samples and had them washed and dyed etc… The next thing was we had to fit them properly. Allen knew an amazing fit model called Jody. She was super cool and had worked with all the major denim companies in LA. She hadn't seen anything quite like our jeans before she told us. We ended up doing approximately four fittings with her. It was beginning to do my head in. Every time we went back, there was an issue with our jeans. Too tight here, too loose there... plus each visit cost a few hundred bucks. Which meant we needed new samples every time. Anyway, after four fittings we got it right! Our jeans finally fi the way we wanted them to fit! Even our pattern maker tried on a pair one day when we were in her office and secretly smiled in the mirror while looking at her ass in our jeans.
Our next step was to get some samples made up and a small amount of production so we could start selling. Our first production run didn't come out the way we wanted them to and they took quite a bit longer than we had anticipated. With a jean that had over 50 pieces we couldn't use cotton thread. It just wasn't strong enough as we found out when people started telling us that there jeans ripped in all the main places. Another expensive lesson learned.
We called into quite a few stores showing them our jeans, but a lot of the buyers wouldn't see us and quite frankly most who did see us weren't willing to take a chance on a new brand. We heard a lot of, “patchwork ain't for us” and some would say, “ok these are cool, what celebrities are wearing them? You need to get some press for our website etc….Come back to us when you get some good press.”
Then, we ended up getting our jeans into a showroom! The sales rep talked a great game but she didn't perform at all, she took our check and didn't do squat. She kept on coming up with excuses after excuses and after two months, we took all our jeans back from her.
As we were working on such a small budget, we didn't have a PR agent and I was trying to do all the marketing I could myself.
We got a call from a lady in LA who ran an event called a gifting suite. I had never heard of such a thing before. Basically the gist of it is, around Oscar/Emmy/MTV Award times a lot of celebrities come to town for the awards. So PR Companies put on events usually in a fancy residence or large hotel convention rooms where brands etc… pay a lot of money and get to set up a booth and gift free swag to celebrities. You don’t actually know who’s going to attend.

You’re taking a chance, hoping some popular celebrities will come by your booth and like your products (jeans in my case) and will try them on and you get a photo with them wearing them. I ended up negotiating a spot at a gifting suite for some trade and a small amount of cash. I must admit it was all pretty new to me. We didn't meet what industry people refer to “A-Lister's” but we actually got to meet some really cool folks who are still in contact with today and have really helped us along our journey. It was tough to get people to try on jeans, they wanted them but didn't want to try them on.
Mind you I told them if they didn't put them on they couldn't have them. Most people were pretty cool about it. They went into the bathroom and put them on for us. I guess they weren't used to that. Most of the booths had company representatives who didn't give a crap about what they gave out etc…. but for us, every pair of jeans was worth a lot of money. So we picked wisely. (And even rejected a few.)
Lessons we learned from this stage of our journey.
1) Spending a bit more time on research and speaking with some consultants could definitely save you more time and money in the long run. Don't go buying a load of material just because it's cheap.
2) Don't just work with any sales rep's you meet, there's a lot of them who talk a lot of BS. Get to know them a bit first, do they really like your line, check out who they sell too and see what other lines the're carrying, do they compliment yours?
3) Gifting suites can be good, if you get in at a good price. But don't just hand out free products to any Tom, Dick & Harry, do some research on people and make sure to get photos on the spot. Also negotiate with the producers, a lot of the time they have extra space and another brand handing out some free products is good for them.

P.S. Our women's jeans are now for sale in five of Margaret O'Leary's stores in San Francisco, Mill Valley, Burlingame, Berkeley & Venice Beach & Gitane Style Boutique in Menlo Park. Also our men's jeans are now sold at Famous Four Fashion Store in Mill Valley as well as Enda King in Venice Beach.

P.P.S. Sorry it's been a while since our last blog, my family and I made the big move to LA a few weeks ago to focus all our efforts on Sonas and we've been extremely busy.

Cheers

Gerry :)