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Up Close: In Conversation with Blacksmith International’s Brian Sather

Join McKinsey & Company, NewTimes Group, Arvind Limited, Asmara, Google, Bluesign, the Retail Prophet and more at Sourcing Journal’s Virtual Sourcing Summit, R/Evolution: Overhauling Fashion’s Outmoded Supply Chain, Oct 14 & 15.

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Brian Sather, CEO of Blacksmith International, explains why he chooses quality over quantity and why fashion needs to adopt more demand-driven production models.

Brian Sather, CEO of Blacksmith International

Name: Brian Sather

Title: CEO

Company: Blacksmith International, LLC

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

I think the industry we all tend to look to is the automotive industry. Many of the innovations that we should and do aspire to either started in or were perfected in automotive. To me, the most important thing we need is transparent connections between the brand, factory and consumer. We need data to flow freely so that every stakeholder can act from insights rather than flying blind and hoping the right moves are being made. Transparency is the key to unlocking true just-in-time manufacturing, to manufacturing based on demand versus supply and to getting rid of the extreme amount of discounted or landfilled apparel.

Do you consider yourself a typical consumer?

I am not sure what typical really is. There are probably statistics that show all kinds of averages and tendencies for consumption, but if direct to consumer has taught us anything, it is that patterns of consumption can change with the wind.

For me, I am a consumer of quality items. I tend to avoid throwaway items as much as possible. Quality over quantity any day. At Blacksmith, we take that same approach with our clients. If you are a large-volume, fast-fashion brand, we are not for you. If you are a D2C brand that values partnership, is market responsive, needs fast high quality production, we are the very best option there is.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

I want a brand to stand behind their products and to absolutely love what they are selling. If they love it, there is a chance I will love it. If they are just pawning another crappy product they do not believe in, that will come through as well. I also want a brand to know me. As a consumer, I love targeted advertising. I want brands to engage me at the right time and right place. When I purchase I want to love the experience of receiving that product. I want them to continue to engage me and to show that they are interested in creating a great brand around their great products.

What’s your typical uniform?

I am a jeans and T-shirt or button-down wearer. I love cool shoes, so whether they are leather boots from Taft or Thatcher Finch or wool runners from Allbirds, I tend to think about my shoes a lot.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

’50s and ’70s.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

To focus heavily on reducing time to market. We have built up our domestic manufacturing capabilities and can generally turn most orders within two weeks or less.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Our culture is relaxed but hard driving. Our team functions at a very high level and everyone feels empowered and responsible for our success. In return, everyone shares in the success.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

The industry needs to focus on sustainable, local-for-local manufacturing practices and start to move towards a demand-based model for production.

What keeps you up at night?

I have some anxiety around what is going to happen to the U.S. economy when our politicians preach self-reliance during a period of 25 percent unemployment. We need government leadership to get through this, not lectures about self-reliance and less government. I also believe that the economic warfare we are engaged in with China is going to be a lose-lose situation. If any economy emerges stronger, it will most likely be China, not the U.S.

What makes you most optimistic?

I am optimistic that voters will make a better choice in November. Trump will be gone and we can get started repairing the damage done to the global economy. I am also optimistic that Blacksmith will soon unveil the manufacturing solutions the industry has been waiting for.

Tell us about your company’s latest introduction:

Blacksmith has introduced demand-based domestic manufacturing options that allow brands to right-size inventory, reduce waste and increase margin.

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