Blog: Sarah Lurtz and Sarah Lapinski

Sarah Lurtz and Sarah Lapinski (affectionately known as 'The Sarahs') are our guest bloggers this week. They are the owners and designers of a local independent clothing label called WOUND Menswear.  They both reside in Detroit proper and enjoy advocating for the city's revival. 

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Throughout our run as guest bloggers we, the "Sarahs," will take you through our world of fashion.  From our experiences in exploring the industry in LA, opening our own factory, and our thoughts on manufacturing as a whole. On Day 5 Sabra Sanzotta of
The Loft Warehouse will join us with her thoughts on Detroit and the LAUNCH event we are producing together.
Post No. 5


By: Sabra Sanzotta

As the Owner of the downtown residential real estate firm, The Loft Warehouse, I am flooded with calls from curious suburbanites and transferees, who hesitantly ask me "What’s it like to live in Detroit?"

And I realized that sometimes, words are just not enough.

The buzz is already out there about Detroit being the starting point for fresh new talent and ideas, and a place for meaningful social interaction, rich with diversity and people who want to make a difference. I just wanted to find the outlet to express those ideas, in a way that everyone can relate to – a party!

Launch is a joyful outreach across regional and cultural boundaries, and a statement that we all share the future. We want to share our enthusiasm for Detroit and its new talent with people from around the region, as well as our fellow Detroiters. We want them to start thinking of Michigan in terms of "we"-not Us vs. Them.

It might sound corny, but we want people to feel "one love" and pull together through times of adversity and change. We want them to feel not only welcome in Detroit, but needed. Our local economy, our spirit, our enthusiasm and creativity takes a village to thrive. No one can do it alone and LAUNCH Is where people come to experience what it feels like to be part of a bigger picture. 

And that, we hope, is how we change the world, one step at a time.

Post No. 4

The State Of Manufacturing

As we all know it is much cheaper to manufacture items overseas. Take for instance Wal-Mart. 70% of the items sold through the world’s largest corporation are made in China. After years and years of the apparel industry shipping jobs out to other countries, a movement has begun to bring some of the production back to America.

American Apparel is a prime example of a highly successful vertically integrated corporation. All aspects of design and production are completed in an old warehouse building in downtown Los Angeles. AA turns an 80% gross margin, is the largest producer of tee-shirts in the country, and treats employees to progressive benefits such as language classes and massage.

Whereas the GAP- the quintessential "American" company out-sources 83% of it’s production to Asia.

Within many retail environments it is becoming fashionable to promote and sell brands that are produced in small factories within the United States. Of course these garments are almost always costlier than their overseas counterparts, but many consumers are willing to pay the extra dollar to support an American label that does it’s part to keep things local. Buying American Apparel is like buying a Cadillac.

We recently opened our own factory here in Detroit. Besides producing WOUND Menswear, Motor City Sewing employees a handful of people and produces clothing for upstart companies from Cleveland, Washington DC, and Naples- to name a few.  

The rewards of being involved in every single aspect of a garment’s creation from the sketch to the final product, without ever losing any control are immeasurable. No surprises. If we want to change a small detail- if something’s not going right- we are right there and ready to get our hands dirty at the drop of a hat.

Each garment that comes out of Motor City Sewing contains an RN Tag that proudly declares "Made in Detroit, USA". We are promoting our city and our home to each and every individual that will buy these garments. Carrying a "Made in Detroit" tag makes the clothing that is made at Motor City Sewing all the more valuable.

Post No. 3

Could Detroit Have An Actual Fashion Industry???

We have the talent. We have the labor. We have the drive. What Detroit doesn’t have is an actual Fashion District.

Whether your on 7th Avenue in New York City or 7th Street in Los Angeles your in the same world. Fashion. America’s East and West Coast fashion hubs offer vibrant fashion districts that support the industry. You can walk a few blocks in any direction and find everything that you need from the raw materials to the human labor that is necessesary to produce a clothing line. 

The fashion industry operates on an “I needed it yesterday” deadline. Well, when you needed something yesterday owning and operating a clothing line without the support of a local fashion district becomes pretty tricky. 

Say the zippers you ordered for a small collection of trousers aren’t going to work with the fabric. You’re on deadline. These 20 pairs of pants are supposed to be delivered to a store in 5 days. In the fashion world if garments are delivered late the store that ordered the collection has every right to cancel the entire order, leaving the small design entrepreneur with extra goods and extra bills to pay. We can guarantee that the closest place to find 20 matching zippers to finish up an order is not Jo Ann Fabrics or Zemco, but Toronto or Chicago. It doesn’t cut it.

In order to keep Detroit’s top designers here in Detroit they need resources.  Take Los Angeles for example. Their fashion district is located in the heart of the city central. In 1996 the Los Angeles Fashion District became the first Business Improvement District in the city. A BID is a non-profit grassroots organization that obtains funds from local business and property owners to improve an supplement the services that are already provided by a municipality.

The Los Angeles Fashion District gets $3 million dollars annually to improve a 90 block area of downtown that supports a $25 billion dollar apparel industry. It is overseen by a Board of Directors and a Management Team that acts as a liason for law enforcement, industry associations and city government. Over one million people from around the world visit the Los Angeles Fashion District each year.

Imagine what a fashion industry could do for Detroit. It’s "cool", creative, glamorous and all that good stuff, but it’s industry. It’s jobs. It’s money. It could be a huge catalyst in the revitalization of the region. A very viable industry, that never goes out of style. People are always going to need new clothes.  

What if Detroit were a hub for fashion? Heck we started the automobile industry. We ruled the music industry. Detroit deserves a piece of the fashion industry’s pie.

Post No. 2

Motor City Sewing

As our business began to grow we sought manufacturing in Los Angeles. We chose LA since we had a personal contact and because the fashion industry there is slightly cheaper and bigger than NY. Also, we know that WOUND would sell great in LA so we were trying to kill two birds with one stone by establishing ourselves on the West Coast.  And who doesn't like the Pacific Ocean...

We had another local friend in the industry who steered us to a manufacturer there. This factory was WAAY too big for us but the owner said that he'd produce our collection. Didn't really happen.

Angeles ended up being too far, too expensive, and too big for our start-up business, so we brought WOUND back to Detroit and opened Motor City Sewing, a boutique-style manufacturing facility, right here in Detroit.

Here is a peek into the factory floor and what it takes to actually manufacture clothing.

The Russell Industrial Center is a great place for our business, having once been a production facility for cars. It was designed by the great industrial architect, Albert Kahn. Armed with loading docks and freight elevators, we can accept all manner of deliveries, rolled quantities of fabric, heavy-duty machinery, you name it.

Opening MCS was no easy task. We literally had bolts of fabric from our collection that were ready to go before we even had electricity in the space. You sign a lease on a space as-is and then build it out to suit. We had to build the mammoth 6x20' cutting table, paint, refinish the floors and get a specific electrical build-out. Not to mention accumulating all of the sewing machines and equipment.

What we are doing is highly risky. We are operating on pennies, which is always difficult as a startup—especially when most sewing machines costs hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Luckily, we have Sarah Lapinski as the rallying force behind Motor City Sewing. She found us a machine from Australia because it was unavailable elsewhere, and we NEED that machine in order to finish our collection!

The hardest aspect is finding and keeping the right employees, especially in such a highly skilled field. Stitching garments is child's play compared to keeping the machines operating and keeping employees and tasks organized. We're just taking one day at a time and trying to learn and accomplish as much as possible. Getting through the WOUND collection will bring us a giant sigh of relief- since it has been a tumultuous year in the making.

Our story has sparked interest in the media including influential blogs, such as; ReadyMade, a national magazine; the local press and word of mouth. This is highly valuable to our business, bringing in clients from all over the country! Notorious artist Derek Hess has produced his samples here and we are working on Wrath Arcane, a quickly expanding clothing business based in Cleveland.  

We are making the region stronger for this kind of work. The establishment of IADT (International School of Design), and improvements in technical offerings at CCS and WSU are training our future employees and clients. Programs such as Queer Eye and Project Runway has created an interest in fashion that anyone can appreciate. People are introduced to the fashion world's analytical side, fascinating viewers worldwide. There is a strong design community here with talents equaling any in the highest of fashion echelons, although unsung and unfunded.

New designers are amongst the hardest to work with. They aren't aware of all the details you must have together to go into production sewing. Contracting out to a home sewer is another world and quality standard. New designers want you to make everything out of nothing and can't understand that certain tasks are certain costs and estimates are indeed that. New designers are overly cautious and under-prepared. We'd like to help these designers out, but they get sticker shock and want a free education. We were these designers. And we are just figuring out the manufacturing end.  

Part of solving that problem is breaking down every job into all of its tasks down to needle and thread changes, which are frequent with small batch jobs. Luckily, we have an able staff and a stable of nimble and organized designers.

At times, we answer phone calls and emails, do promotions and marketing, things we've learned through running the clothing line. Other times we are cutting and sewing, filling in.

To really succeed, we need a larger experienced crew, more sophisticated machinery and highly trained patternmakers—and all this takes money. The jobs are waiting and the ability to tap into other markets is exciting, but we've got to take our time and do it right.

Post No. 1

A clothing company from Detroit? 

It wouldn’t be the first time. Names such as Anna Sui, John Varvatos and Pelle Pelle all got their start here.  But they didn’t stay.

We did decide to stay. Why? Because with the help of the Internet, like-minded friends and support in the industry we believe that we can make a go at a successful international clothing line right here, from our home in Detroit.  

Besides the obvious inexpensive rent Detroit has a very supportive tight-knit community of designers, artists, civic leaders, media partners, and business owners working together not only for the continued success of their personal interests but for the city of Detroit as well.  Where else can you find that kind of support and passion?

We need one another to lean on and grow as individuals, businesses and as a city.

LAUNCH is a lifestyle event  held on Friday, May 11th where we will be launching the WOUND Menswear line. This event is the culmination of a year’s worth of sweat and tears.  It is a celebration about what is best about Detroit and how to involve the surrounding region in a renaissance that benefits us all.

Photograph © Dave Krieger
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