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CompanyWeek Features Sonoran Stitch contract manufacturing in apparel and sewn goods

Jun 6, 2022

Article by Angela Rose of CompanyWeek

Founder and President Erica Yngve’s contract manufacturing operation is offering services that are a cut above other apparel and sewn goods product manufacturers while helping to train a new industrial sewing workforce.

Yngve discovered her interest in sewing at the age of nine while participating in a local 4-H club. She was soon doing alterations for friends and family and later sewed her own wedding dress -- but she didn't think it was a skill she could turn into a career until she started her own clothing line.

A collection of modest clothing for women who prefer to be braless, Yngve's line, aptly named Bralessly, began with a prototype and a connection with a Phoenix business incubator. "They helped me get the pre-production process going, and I learned a lot from them," Yngve says, "from sample making and grading patterns to fabric sourcing."

While searching for someone to provide small-batch production for her apparel in Tucson, Yngve met the owner of a cut-and-sew operation who wanted to retire. She wound up buying the assets of the small company including its equipment and one client account.

"It was really timing and opportunity that all came to place in just the right moment," Yngve says, noting that the first acquisition was quickly followed by a second -- this time a 90-year-old company by the name of Postcraft Products.

"Postcraft’s owner asked if I would mind purchasing his business because he was looking to retire as well," Yngve recounts. "And it felt like it was meant to be because I had developed all these skills, and it's something I have a passion for. I really love the manufacturing operation side of it in addition to the creativity."

Since then, Yngve has combined her companies under the umbrella of Sonoran Stitch Factory in a 20,000-square-foot facility with office, production, and warehousing space in addition to two shipping docks. The ample real estate enables her to offer more than just typical cut-and-sew services.

In addition to design development, pattern making, prototyping, sourcing, cutting, and small- and medium-batch contract production, Yngve can provide clients with storage, warehousing, and fulfillment.

"We can hold your inventory for you and fulfill and ship your orders directly to your customer," Yngve explains. "About five of my apparel brands actually do that with me. They essentially dropship their materials, we get it in the que for cutting, production, and quality checking, and then we actually store it in our shipping area and then log into their website and shipping carrier to fulfill orders for them. We do anywhere from 25 to 250 pieces a day, depending on the season, the style, and the product."

Sonoran Stitch Factory's customers include Yngve's Bralessly line as well as several local designers and a variety of other apparel brands. The company also manufactures commercial products including shower curtains, mattress covers, pillow covers, and other protective covers for retailers and wholesalers across the globe. The minimum production order is 50 pieces, but Yngve stresses this is 50 pieces per style and can include multiple colorways and sizes within it.

While she initially worked with a lot of novice fashion designers and other entrepreneurs with new product ideas, Yngve is starting to narrow her sights on more established brands with consistent sales. "Maybe they've been sewing themselves for a while, or maybe someone else has been doing it but it's not working out," she explains. "I'm starting to look at those brands that are starting to grow and are looking to scale with someone who can provide all these services for them in one spot."

Challenges: Yngve says that workforce has been her biggest challenge, but she has a plan in place to solve the problem. She recently launched AZ Stitch Lab -- an industrial sewing training program -- in conjunction with the City of Tucson Economic Initiatives Team, the local Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Moonshot, a business incubator program.

"As I got into [the business], I realized that someone with home sewing experience is not always the right fit for industrial sewing," Yngve says, “because we use larger machines that go faster as well as a greater variety of machines depending on the product we're manufacturing. And after doing some research, I realized that we have 50 or more businesses [in the Tucson area] that employ industrial sewers."

She created a coalition, crafted a presentation, and was awarded funds from the City of Tucson to start the workforce development program in December 2021. Two classes have been held so far, and more are in the works to train interested locals in everything from apparel manufacturing and industrial applications to entrepreneurship, digital pattern making, and sewing machine repair.

Opportunities: Yngve is seeking additional funding to grow the AZ Stitch Lab into a statewide program. She believes that the more the industrial sewing workforce can be developed in Arizona, the more businesses from other states will want to expand into the area.

"We can become a hub here," Yngve continues. "LA used to be a big one, but that has been falling apart this last year or two because of COVID and other issues. We're seeing a lot of movement from California to Arizona -- and not just in my industry but across the board in manufacturing, tech, and bioscience. I think it's a huge opportunity going forward if we can create this workforce in the industry's interest."

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