design with care & experience
Being Better with a capital "B"
When we set out to build DTS, we set out to build a Better manufacturing facility. Better for our customers, Better for our employees, Better quality apparel and Better for the environment. We took everything we knew from over 30 years working in and with factories, and laid it out in front of us. We looked at everything with a new lens, in order to analyze from the ground up what worked, and what didn't work. We looked at every item in the chain and asked the question, "How can we do this Better?"
People deserve to be valued
We started with our core philosophies of treating people with value and honor, and taking responsibility in our role as stewards of the planet. The reality is that the apparel industry is historically dirty and messy, but it does not have to be that way. We can build practices that respect both people and planet, while still building profitable businesses. We decided that we would filter everything through this lens.
Why we care
We are passionate about helping brands grow. We spent a number of years on the brand side, so we know first hand how difficult it can be to work with factories. All of a sudden they stop responding to your messages or they are inflexible. They are willing to take your order, but they cannot or will not consult with you so that you are certain you are getting the best product/price/order size/best construction/best fabric for your designs and price point. Our goal at DTS is to help you make Better decisions for your brand and to help your brand grow. We can provide options from a manufacturing perspective so you can make the best possible decisions for your company from a point of knowledge and not guesswork.
When we started working on sustainable apparel practices in the apparel industry 14 years ago, there was not much of a conversation or end consumer interest. Today, that has significantly changed. It's much easier to build sustainability into your brand today because of better access to knowledge and better access to more sustainable fabrics. But it still can be really difficult for brands wanting to become more sustainable - either due to lack of knowledge, time, resources, etc. We've done the homework, and participate in the conferences. We've got the experience and have built the supply chains. We've built the partnerships and created the systems. We're here to educate (not preach) and help provide brands, focused on making Better apparel, with an easy and high quality solution.
What we do
Now to the sewing factory - lots of factories will have a big board up front. If your name is on the board on Monday morning, you have work that week. If not - you go looking down the street to another factory to see if they have space. That really didn't feel like honoring people...how can you make plans for your life and family if you don't have any kind of work security? We did away with the board, and committed to only having full-time, permanent employees. We pay hourly and we pay a living wage.
We knew we had to have a highly trained workforce to digest orders that were the right size for our clients. We couldn't be one of those giant factories where everyone has one job (i.e. - "I am the person that sews the right sleeve into the garment, - not the left sleeve.") We needed a highly skilled troupe that could grow longterm with us. We looked at areas around Guatemala City with a well trained base, which is one of the primary reasons we picked San Pedro. And then we invested time and money into further training those folks on our quality standards and our systems. Our troupe is amazing - they can sew anything from tee shirts to men's dress shirts and pants. We set up a modular system, based on the TSS (Toyota Sewing System) which is highly flexible and allows us to create either traditional lines or smaller sewing modules, depending on what the product and quantity of an order is. This means that our customers get the right size order for their needs, and we can be efficient at virtually any size order. As order sizes hit the sweet spot of efficiency for that particular product, our costs go down, and that savings is passed on to our customer.
How we do it
The standard work week in Central America is 6 days per week. We started out there, but were looking to how we could change that to Monday - Friday. Once everyone was fully trained, we decided to test working M-F. Here's what's really interesting - we really didn't lose any productivity, and our quality ratio actually improved. Training improved speed and quality, and our dedication to the team was returned tenfold. They were earning a living wage and getting an extra day off per week - they feel honored to be part of something special, and they work so hard in return. And because of that - we have virtually no turnover, which is always another thing that can hamper quality and productivity. The extra day off is spent with family or for some of our younger team members - they are pursing education to fulfill their dreams.
The majority of our turnover stems from people finishing their education - and going to work in their dream jobs. - We had one employee, Maria, who was working on our sewing floor but going to culinary school on Saturdays. Her dream - to be a chef one day. With the money she earned, she was able to pay for school, and since we don't work on Saturdays, she was able to enroll in a Saturday program. She finished culinary school last year, and got a job as a sous chef in a James Beard awarded restaurant in Guatemala City. We are so proud of her and so happy seeing her achieving her dream.
Most of our team lives in San Pedro - many of them walk to work. A huge difference from having to commute into the city for work (traffic in Guatemala City would astonish you). They drop their kids off at the local school and them come to work. At lunchtime, many of them go pick up their kids from school and go home to have lunch with them, then back to school and back to work to finish out the day. A real difference in your life when you are not commuting on a bus for 1-2+ hours each way to and from work.
Now with this kickass team of makers, we wanted to provide flexibility to our customers. When we we got into this business 30 years ago - we didn't have outlet malls. We went to the market, took orders, then produced locally to fulfill those orders. There wasn't a lot of extra product left over. Then as we watched all the manufacturing shift overseas - the quantities got higher - the lead times got longer - so then brands had to habitually overproduce - either to get the goods at all or they had to have enough on hand for retailers to re-order since lead times were too long to place a second order. Then came the outlet malls - the leftover product had to go somewhere.
Today we've had another major shift, with most brands selling direct to the consumer as part of their sales strategy. In our Amazon age, consumers expect to receive their product in days - so you have to have product on hand. Apparel production is labor intensive, everything really is made by hand, and we make apparel affordable by making many of one style. But there can be a balance between making enough to be affordable, and making few enough so there is not a lot of leftover "dead stock". We pioneered this idea with one of our early customers - no more seasonal shipping in large quantities, but monthly shipping in smaller quantities. It took some fine tuning, but it's become a great program for both of us. They carry less stock in their warehouse at any given time, we sew smaller orders, but sew consistently, and we carry a small amount of their core fabrics and trims to react quickly if style X or color Y starts taking off in the market so we can replenish quickly.
Our manufacturing facility
We rented this great little space in San Pedro with the most amazing view and cool breezes. A great place to start, but it was really too small and it was built to be an office, not a sewing plant. So there were some challenges with the building layout and facilities. Our landlord really took a liking to what we were doing in the community, so he offered to build us a new building, right next door, and build it to our specifications. Wow. So, of course we took him up on it. We talked with the folks from WRAP (Worldwide Accredited Responsible Production) and got their building requirements for sewing facilities - and we built according to those codes. We've been in the new building about a year, and now we have two floors of sewing with finishing and inspection (one for wovens, one for knits), with another floor housing embellishments and one floor for fabric storage and cutting room, and our sample room and offices on the top floor. We've got great open space with wonderful air flow and plenty of light, and windows to see the amazing view. We have made sure to build and maintain the correct number of bathrooms, and fire escapes, and everything else outlined by local laws and WRAP.
We are working towards our WRAP certification. It's a long process with a lot of details, but we are on the journey. We could have gone for Fair Trade or one of the other certifications, but WRAP is the most comprehensive and hardest to get, so we wanted to go there, as it is the best.
We make many of the fabrics we sew, as we like having control over the entire process to ensure quality in from the ground up. We parter with Unifi (Repreve), BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) and others to secure fiber from sustainable, traceable sources. We like to spin our yarn, knit our fabric and dye and finish locally to reduce our carbon footprint. We spin and knit in certified state of the art facilities. We dye and finish in certified facilities that utilize the latest dye equipment which reduced the quantity of water needs for the dying process and have their own water treatment plants on site. Currently, we are making our own knits, as we continue to work with local partners to develop our own wovens. Today, we buy our wovens from other textile mills, who have great reputations and quality.
Shipping & distribution
It can be a real challenge to import from a new country - the logistics can be mind boggling. That's why we also serve as the importer for our customers in the US. We have regular containers coming to the US from Guatemala each month. And our carbon footprint is not too bad here - it's only a one week transit time from Guatemala City to Miami. We manage customs clearance of the goods and can even arrange transport to the final destination in the US. Most of our importation is done under CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), so it's duty free. And in addition to shorter shipping times, our lead times on production are shorter too.
Updates and looking into the future
Last year the biggest achievements for the company included; moving into our new building, and adding in-house embellishments (water based screen printing, sublimation printing, and embroidery).
In the coming year, we are continuing to work towards our WRAP certification, once the borders re-open. In the meantime we are proceeding with our AS8000 certification, which focuses on ethical standards and treatment of employees. Since the inspection team is local, we don't have to wait too long! One of our largest manufacturing goals is to utilize our fabric scraps more effectively, so we are purchasing a fabric shredding system. Our first idea to help solve this was to put in a boiler system (incinerating the scraps and helping power the factory). After additional research, we decided that the air pollution created by incineration would not be acceptable. So now we're making plans to purchase and run a fabric shredding machine. This machine will consume all of the cutting scraps and any second quality garments or fabrics, shred them and mat them together. We can then take these mats and bind the edges - turning them into sleeping mats/blankets. We will partner with nonprofits to get these items to people who need them.
As with most projects that make a significant positive impact, it is a big undertaking, but if we don't start the journey we will never arrive!