When last we talked about the Lawrence Trouser company, we were talking about the human side – a company of artisan sewers who came to this country with a bird’s eye appreciation of the opportunity and steel determination to look back at country they left from the vantage point of becoming the best at what they do in an American Industry.
That alone will get you exceptional pants.
When you hear people toss around the word quality with regard to clothes, it typically means, “It doesn’t fall apart in a week and I like it.” I too did not really know what to look for, but I interviewed Ed Pap of Lawrence, and now define the word differently.
One of the qualities of quality (ahhhh) is consistency. As a company, the difference between a one hit wonder and a brand is creating the habitual impression in the customer’s mind that every time they buy X, it will be the X they bought the last time. With Lawrence, that consistency is enforced by a contract to produce pants for the Department of Defense.
“The standards of the military are so exacting that it forces a consistent quality whether you are reaching for that or not,” Ed says. “Take the zipper, for example. The specs are so detailed, they call for a measurement of 1/8th of an inch exactly at the bottom of the zipper. Exactly. And they inspect the lot. If we do not achieve a success rate of 97% for the lot, the lot is not taken. That is a ton of pressure, but what it does is create a culture of meticulousness and precision. We have that reflex, and it is in the DNA of all the pants we make, especially the Essex Chino and the Broadway Dress Trouser.”
“All of our work is ISO 9001 Standard Compliant,” Ed continued. Don’t know what that means? Either did I. So I looked it up, and it is an international organization of standard bearers who are essentially obsessed with quality and have developed systems and procedures to help companies achieve that. For more on ISO 9000 and 9001, click here.
Of course, more goes into it than a 97% perfection rate and a global consortium of quality-obsessed analysts. There are the little things, like shading. Take a look at your pants. See how there are two pieces of cloth sewn together? (Doesn’t matter where you look, there are gonna be two pieces of cloth sewn together somewhere.) Those two pieces aren’t… oh god … cut from the same cloth. They are cut from different lots, and they have to match. That’s shading, the perfect matching of color to color. It is an all-day every day affair, and it is NOT a process every pants maker engages in.
The hand made thing. Last time we covered the Essex Chino, there were pictures of sewing machines, and there was a note about the pants not really being hand made. That didn’t make any sense to me. Is a portrait not hand painted unless you use only your fingers? But I asked.
“Hand Made’ in this context, it means not using automatic machines,” Ed answered.
And listen to this. There are 79 steps from start to end for the Essex and the Broadway. Ed emailed me:
“The main stages would be broken down into the following:
Patterns & Cutting – This is handled by a sub-contractor in Fall River as we don’t have the space or enough volume for a cutting facility. We can hand cut prototypes and samples to keep the product development cycle going, test materials and see how the garment will fit and look.
Production Staging / QC of raw fabric and trim – As the cut material arrives, it has to staged and place into production carts. We work on 10 pieces bundles and we track all the steps as it goes thru the production cycle. As our main volume currently is driven by being a subcontractor for Army dress pants. Department of Defense’s version of ISO 9001 is the current quality standard that’s needed to pass weekly inspection of production lots. We have use this similar QC methodology towards our new consumer products.
Fusing/WB/Small parts – Part of the challenge in this factory was re-imagining of the production process. Typically, garment manufacturing is done as linear or cell based production lines. To be competitive, a similar output from the former BB facility would have to get done with half the work force. Hence, we broke down the 79 steps into a mixed production system structure.
The small parts/fusing/WB is the 1st stage on wheel or beehive system, the raw materials are staged and place in the center of a work zone and sewers in that zone process the various small parts asynchronous of one another. In that manner, we can improve our overall efficiency but it requires skilled workers that can perform a number of operations precisely.
The 2nd stage after complete small parts, it’s a parallel processing system, where right and left sides of the pants are processed asynchronously as the production carts are run down the middle and bounce back and forth from completing the right and left side of the trousers. Here we are attaching the pockets, top stitching, closing the pockets bags, back welts, n line pressing, etc.
The 3rd stage is a traditional line system. As trousers at this junction have to completed in sequential process until cleaning/1st visual inspections.
After cleaning and 1st inspection, trousers will go thru a final press process to get that crisp finish. Buttons, joker tags follows and then proceed to packing and final inspection.”
Some other data points about Lawrence Quality.
- Their internal rejection rate is under 1.4
- Returns from customers for quality issues is under 0.2%
- Each operation averages 0.86 minutes. (That didn’t mean anything to me, until I thought, “Wait, they know that it is 0.86 minutes.”
I have a pair of the Essex, I reviewed them here. All of this attention to quality, it viscerally transfers to the pants.