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Stacey Blume - China: Manufacturing Problems in Your Pants

By Stacey Blume
I grew up surrounded by industrial emblems in my father’s uniform company. While my dad was focused on acquiring new business with police departments and security companies, I was determined to find a way to make the goods in his warehouse fashionable.

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pon launching in Jan 2003, my company made headlines when Jennifer Lopez celebrated her engagement to Ben Affleck by getting “Ben” name patch thong underwear (you know those same name emblems that gas station attendants wear) It was the height of the “Bennifer” phenomenon so People Magazine and The Today show were happy to report the sexy scoop. Boom… Blume was up and running… the orders were piling in faster then the seamstresses could sew.

So how does a social worker, turned actress, turned panty designer figure out sourcing for her new clothing label? Well, at first that was easy… a domestic company called American Apparel -a wholesale supplier. American Apparel is certainly a key component that provided me with a large variety of ‘bodies’ in an array of colors that could be purchased one case or even one dozen per style, per size, per color… fantastic! As a small business owner and designer, major hurdles of cash flow and manufacturing were solved.

But as a company grows, so do their options…. and thus the overseas market was enticing. Once the company had grown to a point where we needed to manufacture 40,000 thongs at one time, it just seemed to make more sense to do so for ½ the cost in China …. Or does it?

The first time I attempted to work with a Chinese factory, the language barrier was a big obstacle. So then I contacted a broker/agent as an experienced middle man who could communicate what needed to be done. There was a lot of back and forth. Every detail needed to be approved… the weight of cotton, the colors/ lap dips, style/cut, elastic waistband stretchy enough for a range of women’s hip size, inside labels soft, outside labels… clean white with the strong bold red Blume label. Seems easy- right? But, no such luck. The elastic bands that make the Blume thongs s/m fit women size 0-6 did not stretch at all. Uh oh! Thousands of thongs all ready to get personalized with their name patches had to be returned.

So back to the drawing board, and I tried a third time with a different agent. Once again everything seemed to be going smoothly; after 4 months of another detailed approval process, tens of thousands of thongs arrived at the Blume headquarters warehouse.
But it was like a scene out of a nightmare Christmas. Upon opening box after box, it was clear that the thongs were all wrong. Too thin and flimsy and worst of all they were teeny tiny small! The size small/medium was more like a negative zero! Nothing like the original sample approved- the difference was very visible. It was like the case of the incredible shrinking thong.

Although, the savings would have been significant, I am not willing to risk the quality of the Blume brand and therefore I have made a commitment to stick with my original domestic manufacturer… American Apparel- and leave the nightmares of manufacturing overseas behind for good.