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Upstream Focus: Sweenie Manufacturing’s Diane Walker on Nearshoring, Niche Markets & Navigating Disruption

Upstream Focus is Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and sourcing professionals to get their insights on the state of sourcing, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this Q&A, Diane Walker, sourcing and production director at New York City’s swim and activewear design and production firm Sweenie Manufacturing, discusses what her company looks for in new clients and the benefits of Western Hemisphere production.

Sweenie Manufacturing
Sweenie Manufacturing co-founders Diane Walker (left) and Stacey Demar Courtesy

Name: Diane Walker

Title: Sourcing and production director

Company: Sweenie Manufacturing Corporation

What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?

Most clients want to know how Covid has affected our fabric offerings due to fiber shortages. We had anticipated this and had expanded our mill resources to be able to not have any gaps in our supply chain.

Which processes have you put in place due to Covid that you’d like to see continue even after the health crisis is behind us? Why?

We had expanded our virtual work with clients to include garment fittings via Zoom. This has allowed quicker and more efficient processing. We will continue to work virtually as it gives us more opportunity to work with a wider audience.

How are you evaluating potential brand and retail clients differently now compared to before the pandemic?

Because our demand has been so great and consistent during Covid and after, we have focused on accepting clients that have a niche market and story to tell.

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What should be brands’ and retailers’ top lesson from Covid? How can they address this in their operations?

Keeping abreast of the ongoing supply chain issues in the world, brands should have additional resources that are pre-vetted to pivot to in case of cancellations or shortages in materials.

Sweenie has a network of domestic, European, Asian, South American and Central American resources that are accessible. If one or more sources experience material shortages, we can pivot into another material or trim supplier seamlessly.

New and young brands should also beware of working with only Instagram and Facebook as the sole selling outlets. They monopolize the market, and as we saw last year with the Instagram selling and advertising shutdowns, this greatly affected brands’ selling ability.

How are you working with your factories to support quick-turn, small run orders?

Sweenie always sources new fabric and trim resources each season to keep on top of new trends. This allows us to be in the forefront in development for each brand rather than working with only the tried-and-true fabric mills. Clients come to us to be able to fill a niche market and expect to create their unique vision using unique and customized fabric and trims.

To help support quick turnaround time and be able to run smaller orders, we help our clients merchandise their lines in a cost-effective way. We’re able to achieve maximum variety in the smallest viable units and preplanning for reorders by warehousing excess fabrics and trims for quicker turnaround time.

Which new sourcing regions are you either considering or ramping up today? Why?

We have always produced in South and Central America—we have fabric and trim resources in those areas as well as worldwide. All contractors have re-evaluated their offerings during Covid, and we have worked with our closest suppliers to be able to offer standard fabrics consistently to not have supply chain gaps.

We also have expanded deeper into European mills to be able to offer a larger variety of novelty fabrics in smaller minimums.

What keeps you up at night?

Just keeping on top of world news to be proactive in pivoting around any supply chain issues.

What makes you most optimistic?

We have organically grown since we opened in 2008, and over the years the marketing for direct-to-consumer goods and selling outlets has grown exponentially, allowing entrepreneurs more control over their selling and advertising by not relying as much on brick-and-mortar buyers.

What’s in store for Sweenie Manufacturing in 2022?

We were the first in the U.S. market to offer full package development in one place, with small minimums and end-to-end service. We fine-tune our services each year as we get feedback from our clients to always be in the forefront of trends and superior services and products.