In January, City Cut & Sew was officially launched at the PPAI show in Las Vegas. Today we take a look back at how the project started, the process behind the collection, and the future of the line. We spoke to Jim Martin, President of Numo Manufacturing and Angie Davis, a Minneapolis-based product designer and studio owner who was brought in to design the collection and direct the branding.
HOW DID CITY CUT & SEW BEGIN?
JIM MARTIN: The idea of starting a new line had been kicked around for a few years. When we purchased NUMO in 2007, we believed that we wouldn’t need to reduce headcount and transition work into our facility in Mexico. Well, the recession hit us pretty hard in 2008, and we were faced with some difficult choices. The reality was that despite our best intentions, we couldn’t compete globally sewing simple products like can holders. Unfortunately, we had to move a good bit of production into Mexico.
Still, we kept coming back to is the idea that we have this collective sewing competency in Texas that continued to be underutilized. Every now and again, we’d talk about a particular product and someone on the floor would say, “We used to make those.” So, we started trying to develop a product line that would better honor these capabilities.
WHAT WERE THE EARLY CHALLENGES?
JIM MARTIN: After fits and starts, we realized that we weren’t designers. We could never get finished products to look quite right. They’d almost get there, but yet not quite be finished. We knew we needed help. Thus began the stalking of Angie Davis and really the beginning of what City Cut and Sew is now.
ANGIE DAVIS: He was persistent but I can appreciate that. I admit that I passed over the first few emails he sent. I just thought we wouldn’t be a good fit.
JIM MARTIN: The biggest early challenge was convincing the right designer to at least hear what we were trying to do. We had a hard time explaining ourselves. Trying to sell Angie on what we were doing via email was really challenging.The promotional products industry isn’t always appealing to folks who only know it for inexpensive commodity items. Angie deciding to come visit was huge for us. We knew even if it didn’t work out with her, then we’d at least have the oppurtunity to pick her brain on what we were trying to do.
ANGIE DAVIS: When those first emails kept arriving, I picked up the phone thinking that at the very least I might be able to help him find someone else. What actually happened was that we talked for about an hour and by the end of the conversation, I agreed to go to Texas.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THAT CONVERSATION?
ANGIE DAVIS: Jim and I have been collaborating on this project for nearly a year now and the thing I connected to in that first call still drives the project today. He was open about the challenges of US-based manufacturing. He wanted to do good work and he wanted to keep his people busy and motivated to also do good work. That in itself was a good enough reason to go but added to that was that they wanted to do something totally new within their industry. Where promotional products are largely about attaching/printing/stamping logos to the outsides of products, they wanted to put the branding on the inside. They wanted to create a higher quality product that would be more respectful of the end-users’ personal aesthetic and in doing so, create pieces that people will actually want to carry for longer. I wanted to help.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THAT FIRST VISIT TO KAUFMAN?
ANGIE DAVIS: On the first visit, I brought pieces from my own collection and we talked level of craft and quality of materials. Jim wanted to start with a series of device cases and sleeves. That would eventually be expanded to include smaller zippered pouches and larger totes and bags. We leaned towards using canvas as it is a material that could be easily handled by the machines their stitchers were already using. We also talked about branding and merchandising and all those things that come along with launching a brand… website, logo, packaging, photography, etc. All of these things need to work in concert.
JIM MARTIN: I think the most unexpected aspect of the process has been the attention to detail Angie has brought to the collaboration. We like to say that we’re the blunt objects of manufacturing. We do what we do in large quantities, and we do it well. During her second trip to Kaufman, Angie spent her entire visit working on the zipper detail. That’s it.
ANGIE DAVIS: Well, that’s only sort of true. Yes, that first day spent on the floor we only had one zipper detail to show but in working through that one detail, we learned everything we needed to know about how the rest of the line would be constructed. We tackled the most difficult thing first to set the tone for the rest of the work. I learned what the stitchers and their machines could do and they learned how precise they would need to be with their sewing. The development part of this project has been even more interesting than the design. Having sewn for years on similar machines myself, the stitchers and I could truly work together to find ways to make not only a better product but make the product in a better way.
JIM MARTIN: Each and every subsequent step has been taken with the same level of detail.
HOW DOES CITY CUTY & SEW FIT INTO THE PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS INDUSTRY?
JIM MARTIN: City Cut & Sew is very different. Decorating on the inside is counterintuitive in our industry. At the same time, we know the promotional products market, and we’ve built everything specifically for to support that space. We sell exclusively through distributors. Further, we have a great partner in NUMO that can support our distributor base from a customer service standpoint.
ANGIE DAVIS: I was in Las Vegas for the launch in January and it was my first real interaction with the larger industry. The project attracted a lot of attention especially from those representatives with a different end-user in mind. End users like myself who would shy away from using a promotional product because of the branding on the outside. The fact that it’s made in the USA with US milled canvas only furthers the interest.
ANGIE DAVIS: We now have a great foundation on which to build a second year collection. I look forward to trying some new details in the product design, introducing new items and new colorways and bringing the entire platform to the next level. My favorite part of last year was working on the floor with the stitchers so I’m looking forward to a few trips south this year.
JIM MARTIN: We’re looking forward to Angie’s trips. We are really looking forward to expanding the line. The level of interest in the line has really been amazing. Distributors have caught on quickly to the concept. We’ve learned that there really is a segment of the industry ready for us. As far as I’m concerned, that is the most exciting aspect.