Trip report: Denim processing contractor pt.1
Have you been waiting for the trip report to the denim processing facility in El Paso? I certainly have been. I couldn’t write it because I’d leave either my camera (with the photos) at home, or the notebook, or vice versa and back and forth they’d go with neither in the same place at the same time. This is too long for one entry so this is part one.
The company I visited was PPR (stands for Patricia, Peter and Robert but they’re changing their name to Denim Works) owned by Robert White. Like many contractors, they don’t have a website but I’ll include the contact information at close. Robert has about a billion jizillion years in denim processing working for everyone from Express and Guess to Wrangler. He also spent a spate of years selling chemicals used in denim processing. Here’s a picture of him (right) with a client (Mark Tierney, Alina Jeans).
PPR is a smaller denim processor which is great for people looking for small lots. The smallest lot he’ll do is fifty pieces. Lot must be quantified. Lot doesn’t mean fifty pieces coming in the door, it means 50 pieces needing the identical processing. If you have ten needing sanding, another ten are resin, and the rest tumbled around in rock wash soup (stone washing), then this is three lots. Anything under 50 pieces is done at sample prices which runs about $20-$25 a pair depending on the treatment. The price for production quantities can average $6 a pair but again, the cost depends on lot size, chemicals, and hand work. Resin is definitely more expensive; the chemical cost (his direct cost) is $1 to $2 a pair.
I asked him when was the best time to get involved with processing. He said it’s ideal to do it during the sourcing process, before you make a final decision. It’s a good idea to buy some sample goods and send them in for processing. He showed me the best way to prepare a sample, he calls them “legs” (right).
To make a leg, you take a length of goods and sew a pocket in the middle of it, just the way you intend to have your pockets done. It doesn’t have to be full size. Then sew the legs in a tube with hemming at top and bottom. You want to send a few legs for each kind of treatment. It is a good idea to mark the sample in such a way that they can be tracked. For example, if you want three done one way, three done another but it’s all the same goods, mark them. Further down is a photo showing the marked samples. I can’t put it here because of that photo hogging space over on the right.
The cost of wash and process testing is $2 per leg. It makes more sense to wash legs than an actual pair of jeans because the sample sewing costs of those run about $65. If you don’t have the means to have legs made, he works with a sewing contractor who might be able to help. Obviously it’s a win win situation for a processor and contractor to be close together. That way you only have to walk things across the parking lot, or roll it in a laundry cart as the case may be.
I’ll show you the actual processing stuff in my second entry. For now, I’ll introduce you to his staff. Below is a photo of Janie (left) and Patricia who work in the office. Janie is the quality control manager. She worked for Levi’s for 19 years before being laid off in 1999. After that she worked for Guess, Timberland and I don’t know who else because I can’t read my writing. Janie says the business is never the same. Just when you think you have it all figured out -BOOM! It’s something new you have to figure out.
Patricia is the admin person who does all the accounting, billing and I imagine, computer stuff. She’s been with Robert about two years and had never worked in the apparel industry before but she says she’s learning. Every day it’s something new. She had no idea it was this complicated.
By the way, with regard to yesterday’s quiz, Robert says the darker denim is the more expensive goods. Which still doesn’t answer my question about quality. Just because something is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s higher quality. It only means there’s more demand than supply. I’m still holding out for a textile engineer to weigh in on that. Denim aficionados say the Japanese denim is better quality but once they start talking about it, they talk about slubbing, washes, and so on, things that are fashion features but aren’t related to product integrity, strength and longevity.
Here’s Robert’s info:
El Paso TX