Alex Tschopp wants to bring knitwear production back to the U.S. in a big way—and President Trump’s obsession with slapping tariffs on garments made in China is only helping to cement the case for near- and re-shoring, he says.
The knitwear revival already is underway in the Brooklyn factory run by Tailored Industry, the startup Tschopp co-founded two years ago to help brands produce sweaters and other knit staples in a way that matches supply with demand. Tailored counts Ministry of Supply, American Trench and Allen Edmonds among its clients, the bulk of whom represent contemporary brands and boutiques.
Manufacturing’s main challenges are well known today. Many clothing companies are “forced” into lengthy planning cycles and astronomically high minimum order quantities—which together conspire to keep brands from getting new arrivals on their shelves, whether virtual or physical, in time to serve shoppers bombarded with an endless stream of choice.
“Fashion supply chains face enormous challenge when it comes to fashion brands who are looking to launch new products,” Tschopp said at the Fashinnovation conference earlier this month.
And then there’s the chronic overproduction conundrum that sees vast quantities of unwanted apparel ending up trashed in landfills, a reality that compresses a company’s margins “to a very large degree,” explained Tschopp, who serves as Tailored’s CEO.
That’s why he believes it’s time for a new paradigm in production, and one that many compelling startups embrace: mix one part hardware with one part software and you usually get an output that’s far more efficient and flexible than the status quo, or as Tschopp puts it: “mass-production efficiency on a per-piece basis.”
Tailored Industry has already raised $650,000 and is looking to land another $1 million or $2 million in seed funding, which will jumpstart its goal of tripling a five-person team over the next year by onboarding additional engineers, programmers and operators to keep its 10 Shima Seiki 3D knitting machines running smoothly.
Today, the Brooklyn facility cranks out 1,000 to 2,000 units each month and can produce a range of styles including sweaters, dresses, beanies, cardigans, blazers, tops, scarves and knit ties. Brands tap into the company’s cloud-based manufacturing platform—which Tailored is building itself—to rapidly restock products “with very low risk in their inventory,” Tschopp noted.
Small brands like the startup’s on-demand flexibility and low minimums while mid-size players gravitate to a just-in-time offering that can replenish styles according to sell-through, sales velocity and demand in their stores.
Tailored’s software integrates a brand’s Shopify store with the Brooklyn factory so the startup can review order data for new products, execute production and ship finished goods to customers in as little as five days, though the goal is to trim that number to one, Tschopp pointed out.
Aligning supply with demand and producing on high-tech 3D-knitting machines reduces production waste, generating roughly 1 percent of the excess relative to other manufacturing techniques, according to Tailored. Brands seeking a full-service solution can tap Tailored for everything from yarn sourcing (cashmere, merino, synthetics and blends) and knitting to finishing, packing and shipping. It offers a selection of templates that clients can use as a launching point for their designs if they don’t already have a style in mind.
Tschopp said Tailored has executed a pilot order for Gap Inc.’s new Hill City men’s active brand—which could serve as a “guinea pig for the Gap umbrella”—and also met with the CEO of the apparel giant’s Hong Kong business. As Tailored is “getting swamped with orders,” Tschopp said he’s considering adding 12 more knitting machines to the Brooklyn facility.
But the next step is opening a 100-machine factory in Brooklyn and expanding the lean production model to other close-to-customer regions largely hugging the coastline of the U.S., Tschopp said. “We want a new Brooklyn location to be a model factory and replicate it in other parts of the country,” he concluded.