The first day I went to a sewing factory I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous and felt totally unprepared to explain the design I was supposed to explain. It didn’t help that I was most likely carrying a hastily scribbled sketch and various reference garments with no final sample and a tight deadline.
Luckily, the first shop I ever worked with was managed by Lili and Sandie. They taught me from day one everything I needed to know about manufacturing a sewn garment, no matter how crazy or ridiculous. Anytime I brought a garment in, I would hang out and ask them how they made it so that I would know for next time. I would find out how to get a garment to work better for both the person that would eventually wear it and the sewing construction. That’s how I learned how to design and work with the sewing factories that make garments.
Meet Lili. Lili was born in Indonesia. She learned to sew at a design school and worked in a ‘super size’ garment factory that exported garments to the US.
In the mid-90s she moved to the US. Her sister was already in the Bay Area and within three weeks she found another job in a local sewing factory.
It was in this factory that she met Sandy, who had come to the US from Hong Kong around the same time. After over five years, their boss recommended that Lili and Sandie open their own shop. He even offered to help them out with equipment. They opened shop in SOMA, which is where I first met them.
They got their first order, a big one, and it just so happened that another factory was closing down and many garment sewers needed a new factory. Lili and Sandie welcomed them with open arms and were able to fill their order. Many of those original sewers are still with the shop, all these years later.
Lili really loves what she does. She loves to go to work and connect with people, to take care of people. Every piece she works on, she treats it just like her own and does so out of love. Many of her customers have been with her since her first day. She’s seen many companies start very small and has watched them grow.
All of Lili and Sandie’s work and employees come from referrals. Lili speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Indonesian.
Advice for manufacturers:
“The most important thing is to keep your promise. If you say you’ll finish in two weeks, you have to finish on time. You have to provide high quality and good communication. You eliminate mistakes with good communication.”
Advice for designers:
“Is the design workable? Does the market accept your product? Can you get it produced? You have to design something that is possible to do.”
We interviewed Lili and Sandie in their shop in SOMA. Thanks Lili and Sandie for letting us share your story!