#68. Ply-Knits is a knitwear label that marries a modern, direct-to-consumer approach with a high level of technical development and refined aesthetics. We talk with Ply-Knit’s Creative Director Carolyn Yim about the lessons she has learned from her family’s three generations of knitwear manufacturing expertise, what it’s like operating a consumer-facing business while also providing Original Equipment Manufacturing to brands, and how to approach customers as human beings in the age of data and analytics. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 68th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events that drive growth, and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high-pressure filter for consumer news—in context. We also have a newsletter that features the latest open letters to CEOs, podcasts with industry leaders and news from Loose Threads. Check it all out at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:36] Joining me today is Carolyn Yim, the founder of Ply-Knits, a contemporary knitwear label pushing the boundaries of technical development and direct-to-consumer aesthetics.

Carolyn: [00:00:44] Yarns can also have notes, just like fragrance does and whiskeys do and wine does, if it’s from a different period of time or different region.

Richie: [00:00:53] Knitwear is in Carolyn’s blood, as her family has been in knitwear production for generations. Ply-Knits, however, brings a modern approach to technical development, challenging the conventional wisdom of how things are done while putting forth one of the most refined aesthetics I’ve seen from a young brand. Here’s my talk with Carolyn Yim.

Richie: [00:01:13] Why don’t we start. Talk a bit about your background and then we can work our way up to the brand and your integration into the family business and so forth.

Carolyn: [00:01:22] My background came from very non-traditional fashion and retail. I studied at Columbia, studying English literature. So that is not what you usually expect of someone—to start a business right afterwards and also in fashion, as well. But, to me, that actually has a lot of tie-over because what I enjoy most about reading books is, when you read books throughout history of time, you do get a sense of what people are thinking, what they want, their emotions, their sympathies. And, in the end, that’s what clothing is and also what business is—about appealing to people and trying to understand them and making something that is unique and special for each person. And also, what I also enjoy about language is the play of style within, for instance, a poem or with different forms of literature. So, in that, it translates also to fashion and style.

Richie: [00:02:16] And so how did you start on your journey into this industry?

Carolyn: [00:02:21] My first job that was in this industry was at Moncler, as an internship. This was after my sophomore year and I suppose, as a consumer, you always see the very glitzy side—that’s outside—and you’re not privy to what’s going on behind the scenes. So that excited me, to see what actually happens behind the scenes and that was my first foray. And, at that time, Moncler just started their North American division and they had a very tremendous CEO on board and this was Joe Barrato. He was the CEO of Purple Label Ralph Lauren and also of Brioni. So, under that leadership, it was really exciting to see how you build a brand that had established roots, a) elsewhere and, also one very specific specialty, just in down jackets, and how do you grow that. And, in a way, despite that being over 15 years ago now, it still resonates with me—how to think about building one’s specialty product, which is knitwear for me.

Carolyn: [00:03:24] So I joined the family business three years ago. I joined with a few things in mind. This was around the time when direct-to-consumer was really changing how people were shopping and, as a producer, you sense the most changes from that end. You really see, I suppose, in the forefront of who’s placing the orders, who’s cancelling, who has most margins in buying the best yarns. And my family business is in knitwear manufacturing, especially in fully fashion knitwear, and we started with my grandmother, three generations ago. A few generations ago, things were really different. We started in Hong Kong—and this was way before “Made in China” was as what we perceive it today. When China opened up in the 80s, my father, who went to business school here in New York, went back and decided to turn it into a global business.

Richie: [00:04:18] Where did the family business get to—where was it before you started to have a role?

Carolyn: [00:04:23] At that time, we worked through agents and middlemen. So middlemen would be companies […]  such as, for instance, Li & Fung. They have their trading company. You would not directly communicate with the brand but they [would] give you an order and tell you information or agents who would bring you the order. But we did not have a direct person to speak to brands. The reason was there was no email. It was not easy to find another brand. My father, himself, when he does make business trips, would go once a year and make in person meetings and he would carry a suitcase with him that showed all the lookbooks and all the samples of capability. I actually went and accompanied him when I was interning. We went to a few other brands and I got the sense that there was a missing alignment where—I suppose, often, when we meet with a creative director or designer, they would want to see the clothing that is already quite resonant with their aesthetic, as opposed to a very technical array of information, which is what, as a factory, we, and my father who is an engineer, would provide. So I found that there was a slight dissonance to how do you market to another brand if you want to manufacture something?

Carolyn: [00:05:41] So, with that in mind, I started Ply-Knits. Ply-Knits is a knitwear brand. We are consumer-facing but, at the same time, we incorporate, deliberately, a lot of different techniques that we are really special at to show, not only customers but also other brands, what our aesthetic, what our quality is and what capabilities we can do with the arsenal of machinery that we have. And, that, I find, has been the way that most brands in the last few years that have come to approach us for OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturing] has seen the brand first and, then, say, “Hey, can you do this for us? Because we’re inspired by this and we like this.” So that has been really important and to innovate and offer something that is special for the brand too. I suppose, in the past, there is this mentality, as a supplier, that you just want to get the order, just say yes, do it quick and figure it out later if we do it wrong. But I don’t think that’s the right way because it’s not respectful, not only to the customer, but to your product and to your people, and it’s just a waste of money and time. So what we really want to do and what I voiced was that the communication—number one—has to be key. Figure out upfront and have the first sample be correct and be beautiful. And then, also, to try to understand what the customer’s problem is.

Carolyn: [00:07:09] For instance, one of our customers is now a direct-to-consumer brand. They sell out of a subscription service, out of their boxes. Their problem and their concern is entirely different to a brand whose main sales [are] on a rack because, out of a box, you want something that, a) the fit has to be great because they’re probably trying it on at home and they have more time to think about whether they like it; b) it has to look beautiful and drape very well inside the box and it has to survive in the box being shipped and jostled around versus—if you’re on a rack, you want to have something that will stand out among a very big store but, in the box, you want something that’s subtle, perhaps just very intimate and catered. So, thinking of this in mind, we suggest styles, materials, colors that would resonate with different customers in mind.

Richie: [00:08:02] And so it sounds like there were almost two leaps there. The first one was you need to start having a direct relationship with the customer and then, beyond just that, your customer’s entire business model was also changing. You’re basically saying, “Do the same thing but do it entirely differently, especially from a sales perspective.” So how did the journey of socializing that and starting to internalize it go?

Carolyn: [00:08:24] From the factory side, there was met with resistance because it was not usual for us to get the product right the first time. Usually, the way is, because with wholesale you have a six-month lead time, you could make a first product that was 50% there. The designer would come back with it, say, “Change this.” You could get 70% there and then you’re 100% percent there. But, with direct-to-consumer, you have to get from sketch to product very quickly. You often only have three months. With that in mind, we had to get the first product correct on the first go. And, to do that, it has actually helped a lot with apps like WeChat and WhatsApp. Because I was thinking about—my brother’s in the tech world and he was telling me about how he runs project management and task management. How do you keep different people who have a completely different task—how do you keep them on the same goal? In manufacturing, so far, it had always been one person do Step A, one person always do Step B and they don’t have awareness of what the end goal is. They just are aware, “I have to do this.” But I find that, once you actually join everyone together, for instance, the designer, the technical engineer‚from the knitter to the hand-weaver—together, and be saying that, “This is what we actually want to achieve. We want to have a softer sweater or a sweater that has a firmer turtle neck. How do we do this together?” Everyone has their own ideas and it actually helps get to the end goal a lot faster and much more creatively.

Richie: [00:10:02] Right. So I guess it’s important, at this point, to talk a bit about just knitwear itself because it is so different from [the] cut and sew and other assembling pieces. Talk a bit about it, generally, and what was your own interest or learning curve with it and then we can talk a bit about how that, then, manifests as everything pushes forward today.

Carolyn: [00:10:22] Knitwear has 29 steps in the manufacturing process and it starts all with a yarn. So, if you were to cut and sew, you’re making your fabric from scratch every time. So the hardest part is to get the fabric correctly and this word is—the tension is the most important. The tension is everything. It’s whether or not, for instance, if you build a bridge, it would stand. It can easily fall apart. You can easily go through five to ten different trials until you find the right one. That’s where we find that our difference is. So, our specialty is in super fine-gauge knitwear. So that’s very, very thin. It’s about 21 needles to an inch. So, if you can imagine that construction, it’s a grid, and the grid can very easily fall apart if it’s too loose. The garment would warp and that’s why, when you wash a sweater, it shouldn’t warp and you can survive in the washing machine. But, if you have a sweater that comes out a little goofy and funky, that’s often because the tension is not correct and someone, along the way, has decided to use a lighter tension. And the reason why is because it’s cheaper if you have a looser tension. So that’s, usually, a telltale sign of how your sweater is when you’ve worn it and you wash it.

Carolyn: [00:11:35] So the 29 steps. The hardest is, a) getting the tension right and, toward the end, that’s hand-linking. That’s another step that is for all the seams in the shoulders and you can tell that it’s hand-linked when it has has fashioning marks. And that’s just the best way to make a sweater—is via fully-fashioned knitting. And, for us, the difference comes in the minute details of how you do that. Because I always say that there [are] five indicators of a good sweater. The tension will reveal everything and where it shows is in the column. So the tension of that should be a perfect semicircle and, why that’s important is—I think of all yarns as, they are all organic matter. I love the different nuances of different merino wools and different cottons and different cashmere. They’re all different. If they’re from a different region, they’re spun a different way. Yarns can also have notes, just like fragrance does and whiskeys do and wine does, if it’s from a different period of time or different region. Yarn notes [are] something I really want people to think about and compare. And then you really […] enjoy the beauty of organic materials, just like a very sweet organic tomato is sweet and it’s tart versus an industrialized farm tomato that’s big and red but there’s no taste.

Carolyn: [00:12:55] So, back to the five points, the one with the crewneck, and number two is at the hem. The hem should be completely flat at the edges. It should be a straight line. Sometimes you see honeycombing which is when the knit itself kind of bunches together, especially toward the waistline. The third sign is at the cuff of the garment, as well at the rib. It’s the same thing. If it honeycombs, that’s also a sign that it’s not at the right tension.

Carolyn: [00:13:24] Number four is actually the full weave of the sweater. So, a lot of times, we make the mistake of scrunching a sweater in the store to say, “Is it soft or not?” Now that’s problematic. The reason is because there’s many ways makers can cheat to imitate a softness by, a) as I mentioned, making [the tension very loose]. So it’s not dense, it feels fluffy but, as you can imagine, with a gauzy cotton ball—very fluffy but falls apart very quickly. And that’s the problem with a lot of the soft sweaters that you see in stores.

Carolyn: [00:13:55] Now, the fifth one is a little tricky because it’s not direct and applicable for all things but I think [it is when] looking at […] the material tag. Not that this is the penultimate one but, I say, if you find a 70% cashmere, 30% silk garment, that’s always really, really good and better than 100%. And the reason is cashmere, now—the raw material of the goats are just really, really dire right now. The quality of the hair is very fragile and thin. It’s not really at the position it was 20 years ago.

Richie: [00:14:26] Why is that?

Carolyn: [00:14:27] Simply the environmental problems. Climate change. Mongolia’s pollution rating is, I would say, five to six times more than the recommended WHO standard. The goats do not have happy environments and they just get very stressed. And when you have stressed animals, they produce fragile hairs and brittle hairs, just like you would with stressed chickens, stressed cows. So, with 70% cashmere and 30% silk—the cashmere itself, when you make a yarn, it’s layered upon each other whereas silk is a filament fibre. So it’s extruded. It’s one, continuous fibre. So it binds really well to cashmere. So it acts as a very strong tensile strength together and it will have really good drape. It will last you a long time.

Richie: [00:15:15] So, when you were growing up, did you always have exposure to this stuff or has this knowledge base that you’ve built up, personally, happened over the last few years?

Carolyn: [00:15:23] It happened over the last few years. When I joined I then just noticed that the quality seemed different. Because there was one sweater that my dad had from 20 years ago that was very, very soft and I said, “We’re still using really excellent yarns and I’ve seen the other sweaters from other stores [that are] the best. And we talk among ourselves, among other suppliers… It’s still not the same.” So, you just wonder, “What are we doing differently? Why is it different? Is it the process?” It’s not a product that people know a lot about because people give you different reasons and answers. In the end, people are still buying it and, because of cashmere’s margin, they get to have a very hefty, fat margin anyway. It doesn’t make a tremendous difference. But, on my end, you want to make something that you’re really proud of. And, for me, to see that what we’re making now—if it’s lesser than what it was before, then why make it? It’s very, in a way, quite naive to think that. But, if I cannot make a better product than before, why even bother? Especially because, as a lineage of a family business, perhaps it’s the anxiety of influence of what came before you, you just want to try and do even better and improve.

Richie: [00:16:34] What was the first moment that you realized, okay, we need to start a brand?

Carolyn: [00:16:38] So, right after college, I worked at Saks in the merchandising and buying department. And I remember, distinctly, one day after work, I was marking down inventory from past orders and taking in shipments from current orders and then, after work, I was walking down Fifth Avenue, seeing everybody on markdown. And I had a very distinct, visceral reaction when I walked into H&M. I felt very sick to my stomach, saying, “There’s so much stuff here and none of this is necessary and this is all created just to fulfill this psychological hunger that is, sort of, creating in people that they need new stuff all the time when we don’t.” And, of course, with my family background in production, we’ve seen a lot of stuff being rejected or pushed back—just stuff overload. So I wanted to change how we buy things. I’m aware of the hypocrisy, too, by creating more things, but people are not going to suddenly stop buying things—there’s still that desire. But, to offer a better alternative as, at least I feel like I’ve vetted, that I know is well made, that is not creating more waste.

Carolyn: [00:17:44] So, with that in mind, I make sure all of our products and Ply-Knits’ brand all come from deadstock yarn that we have leftover. So we either choose materials in small cones that have been left over and you can’t use any more because there’s so little left—other brands won’t take it. And then, also, we can actually unwind sweaters back into yarn and then we’d put that into sweaters. And, lastly, there is now also recycled cashmere yarn. So they break down the fiber into wool top again and then they just spin it back into yarn. So all the Ply-Knits product is from deadstock material. But I don’t lead with this when I talk about the brand because I still want aesthetics and the feeling of the product to stand first. And then everything is fully fashioned so that it’s a lot less waste than cut and sew. So our first product was pants, let’s say a pair of denim, and [a] fully-fashioned pant has 30% less waste in production period. And then my mother has changed how we process water in the plant and everything now is very, very environmentally friendly.

Carolyn: [00:18:54] With all this, I feel comfortable saying that this is a sweater that you can buy, feeling good about it. But you don’t have to buy it. I don’t want you to buy my sweater because it’s on sale or you feel this need because other people are buying it. Because I think that comes from a psychology that is not sustainable for the human being.

Richie: [00:19:13] Yeah. So that makes sense for the brand. You can control your expectations around that. Two part question: One, have you tried to apply that mentality to the actual manufacturing business? Because it is, again, as you said, counterintuitive, which is—at a very high level, if you’re encouraging people to buy less, that means they should, therefore, make less and then you would see revenue in some sense, or at least raw output, go down. Is that happening or of interest? How does that square with the manufacturing side as well?

Carolyn: [00:19:39] So, on two ways. So, the first way is, we now also offer our supply of deadstock materials to brands so they can choose to use that if they wish. And, often, that actually has been very receptive to brands and they’re really excited by that because that’s something they find that their customer also wants. And, secondly, we’ve been purposefully phasing out of working with brands who have that very heavy markdown mentality, that sense of voracious consumption, but working with brands who really try to understand [whom] their customer is. We’ve seen so many brands come and go and the ones that are the most long lasting are the ones [that] really try to understand their customer or have a very strong sense of who they are, treat them really well, with respect. We have worked with brands who—you can sense that they’re coming to cut costs. They come in bargaining, negotiating. But if you see that’s their mentality, you see that in how they treat their customers too, that they are not really thinking about a product that the customer wants but just making things that they would copy [from] other brands, copy other designers. And, right now, I believe that we’re going through a position where a lot of copycats are being called out, excess inventory is being called out and we’re seeing one of the biggest retailers, H&M, reveal that they have a lot of unsold inventory.

Richie: [00:21:02] Right. It was $4.3 billion dollars, I think. Yeah.

Carolyn: [00:21:05] It’s not a small sum.

Richie: [00:21:06] So it sounds like you’re interested in getting more choosy about [whom] the clients are on that side. Because, as you said in the beginning, it sounds like you almost felt the reverberations of all the wholesale problems being at, not the end of the chain, but a few steps removed from the actual buying.

Carolyn: [00:21:23] Yeah.

Richie: [00:21:23] And, given a lot of these very opaque mechanisms of returns and rejections and so forth—that hurts.

Carolyn: [00:21:30] Yes.

Richie: [00:21:30] At your level.

Carolyn: [00:21:31] There are brands who just operate based on, once again, markdown, or a lot of brands that, unfortunately, supply, predominately, mom and pop stores and, because those stores have decreased, the brands who supply to them also decrease. So being choosy with who we manufacture for is important. But, at the same time, you have to be, then, above just providing commodity. You have to provide a service. And the service, to me, that includes, a) excellent communication—I think that’s always, not just speaking a lot, but to actually understand what they’re trying to make. Number two, you have to offer something unusual that other suppliers do not have. So being creative, innovative.

Carolyn: [00:22:12] So, for instance, very early on, I actually wanted to make a water resistant pant for myself because this was—I believe it was one of the hurricanes in New York. So, as a reason just for me, I wanted to wear something warm and I had a pair of merino wool leggings that we had made for someone else but that one always pilled and it was warped very quickly. So I started to question, “How do you make this better?” And it came from thinking about what waterproofing fabric was before. Back in military, the ventile fabric, for instance, is 100% cotton. It was invented by the British RAF and they had that very, very dense cloth that, by virtue of being so dense, would repel water. And it’s 96% Merino wool. The reason why it’s 100% is—so, from speaking to a lot of women, they do want that stretch and they do want that compression and hugging and, as of now, the best other yarn to supplement that is Lycra. And I know that Lycra is still an oil-based synthetic yarn and, to me, it’s still not the best solution because it’s not biodegradable. So I’m still on the hunt for a material that can have that functionality but, yet, at the same time, be biodegradable. And then, two: care and wear. You don’t actually ever need to dry clean these. Either hand wash or machine wash or—actually, you actually don’t have to wash them that much, just like with raw denim, because merino wool does not trap water inside so, as a result, bacteria does not get trapped either. So it’s really great. And, at the end of this lifecycle, if you do decide that you no longer want them, you can compost them. Any Merino, silk, cotton will just, over one year of time, be, I think, like 90% gone. If you were to put in a pair of synthetic leggings, they’ll still be there.

Richie: [00:24:00] So talk a bit about the aesthetic of it. Because, looking at the website, it’s one of the more striking aesthetics I’ve seen in and it’s really nice. How did it come about? How did you figure out where you wanted that to land? Because, again, a lot of highly technical innovations or whatever, it would look like a technical innovation. It wouldn’t look like an actual brand. And so, how do you figure out how that would get built and how it would mesh with the quality and the way you’re pushing the product forward?

Richie: [00:24:26] For myself, I’m really drawn to fine art photography and really great photographers and I’ve always loved how there’s a very instinctual feeling, within a millisecond, of how that image makes you feel—and, not only an image, but the product of that very visceral feeling. Of feeling something in your hands that feels really good but you’re not sure what’s going on. And, in discussion with the behavioral psychology of why we purchase, the first step is always an emotional want. It’s something that’s very, very small, a very quick flicker. So I’ve always wanted to have an emotional impact first with the garments. And second step is to post-rationalize. You say, “Oh, it is a good price. Other people like it.” So this is the full spectrum of what happens when you purchase. But, at the same time, that’s not the only reason. I think, perhaps it’s my background in English literature, and I really loved a lot of modern poetry. I think that there’s something that just takes you away from your everyday moments and just be a bit special. And to deliberately use imagery that is beautiful… In a way, that’s just images that I’m really drawn to.

Richie: [00:25:34] You would think, now, that, because you have to build your own connection with the customer, this should matter more than ever, not ‘it should be a copycat of a copy.’ Your whole point is to stand out because you have to, from a competitive perspective—it’s not that you want to blend in with everyone else. And so it’s perplexing that everyone else is so unoriginal.

Carolyn: [00:25:54] Yes. The images I love a lot is Esquire in the ’50s—the Esquire covers. The creative director had—his images were often very contained within the image itself and very thought provoking and really pushes the envelope and questions a lot of things. He had the very famous one with Muhammed Ali and also the Nixon one with—they’re blotting makeup remover off of him. Being very powerful with the imagery and making you question and stop for a second. Because what are we trying to say if we are not trying to say anything different? And what am I trying to say if other people in the same space are saying [the same thing]? So I also always want to give a sense that everything is alright. I don’t know if that’s a bit odd. But, for instance, in my newsletters to my customers, I never do anything sales-y or market-y. It’s always something that I’ve found pleasant during the week. So it’s much more just about being and living, not really about “here, buy this quickly, three of them at once, three-in-one, mark one off.”

Richie: [00:26:56] And come back next week and then again and again and again.

Carolyn: [00:26:58] Yeah. Because that thinks about the consumer and silos that… They are not human beings, but a demographic, a number, a 25-year-old who lives in East Village who likes SoulCycle and, therefore, does this. But that person has other interests and thoughts. And I think a lot of overemphasis on data and analytics has brought us here because we are way too [fixated] on these very rational aspects when decision making and consumer behavior and just… Human behavior is not 100% rational. In fact [it is] very, very irrational at all times.

Richie: [00:27:34] Right. So what do you want to do with the brand? What’s the goal, both for the brand and then how it fits into the larger business?

Carolyn: [00:27:43] So, the larger business—I wanted to get better at finding good customers, creating really good clothing and just being a very good, reliable source for having that. And I think, with Chinese manufacturing, that has been hard so far because one of the biggest struggles—for instance, with Ply-Knits—is when I describe it as “manufactured” in China. You often very quickly see the expression change of a person you’re talking to because they have a preconceived notion of what that means. But I have visited many other factories in different places and the one my mother and my father runs and then my grandmother runs—we’re pretty good. And even our fine-gauge knitting—we put our heart and our soul into that. And my father, every day, he’s sitting at dinner and he’s just sitting there and he’d be like, “Oh, I think, actually, this can change.” So we really think about how to improve on the product.

Carolyn: [00:28:33] And, when you look at what’s happening on the world stage with clothing and the consumers and suppliers, it really only helps to learn from each other, to see who makes what best. For instance, I still think Scotland makes the best chunky knitwear. But for Chinese knitters, why I would say it’s really good in our factory and, perhaps, in the region is because there’s this—I mentioned linking, which is the seams, the hand-linking. That skill is running out and it will not be ever replaced in the world because it’s so minute. If you imagine a gauge is the number of needles in an inch—so 21 gauge is the linking for our fine-knit sweaters—and 21 gauge, there’s 21 needles within that one inch that you have to match hand to hand. And this skill came from a lot of the embroiderers who are part of Chinese clothing makers. That’s really what Chinese clothing was about—it was about embroidery. And this embroidery talent, these ladies of, probably, 50 or 60 now, are retiring soon. Nobody wants to take that job.

Carolyn: [00:29:35] I’ve visited another factory in Scotland and I find that it’s still not the same. It kind of bunches. And I’m not saying that this is the case with all factories, but you just then have to learn from each other. If the Scottish factory says, “Oh, how did you do this so well? How do you match each yarn so well in the Chinese factories? How do you do your alkaline levels so well?” so everybody learns from each other to produce better goods. I think it’s just all a chain, down from the bottom all the way to the top, that you have to be thoughtful about what you make and respect what you’re making.

Richie: [00:30:10] So where does technology and automation play into both the evolution of it, but also that growing skills gap that you just alluded to?

Carolyn: [00:30:18] For the particular machine that is fully fashion-knitting and with linking, the most comparable machine to that is developed by a Japanese company SHIMA SEIKI. They have developed a whole garment-knitting seamless machine. It does remove the need for linking but it’s not at the same fineness as fully fashion still is. Perhaps, one day, they will make it where it’s as fine. But it’s still a work in progress. The whole garment machine has been around for 20 years now but it’s still being picked up very, very slowly. The first time I’ve seen it in mass production is actually at UNIQLO with the Christophe Lemaire collection. He did that in a lot of the dresses, the whole garment dress. But I think they’re still limited on what thicknesses you can use and what patterns and stitches. So, not until the product is the same level, I still think there’s a way to go.

Carolyn: [00:31:10] And there’s also that talk about the—I think SoftWear’s the company that makes cut and sew with robotics. I haven’t seen that in person and I don’t know enough about it to speak deeply of it, but I think that could work for, perhaps, very simple shirts. But, at the same time, you can never replace a true tailor. I’m getting a coat fitted and made and that process has been over a year and I’ve been willing to wait for it because this man—he’s been doing this for his whole life. He’s just absolutely zeroed in and focused on this very specific type of garment from the ’50s and he just knows everything about it. It’s not down to just the numbers. It’s down to an art and an experience and skill that humans have. And I hope that we will continue to cherish this because, otherwise, it leads us to the question of what are we as human beings—if we are just a set of yeses, no’s and purely logical and rational, then we have no reason to exist. We are better replaced by computers.

Richie: [00:32:11] What has been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned, […] building the brand?

Carolyn: [00:32:18] I’ll start with the cheapest lesson which is, actually, to source a material that I always thought was too expensive. But, in fact, if you think about it all the way and if you can cut that margin saving, it’s so much worth it. Because I always felt like, “Oh, it’s so out of reach.” But one kilo of cashmere can make about five sweaters. Down to the math, it actually goes a much longer way. So, at the same time it’s expensive yet cheap.

Carolyn: [00:32:43] Cheapest lesson—I had very little time for my lookbook for last month. Fall 2018 and I just decided to share everything with my Pixel and, actually, the images came out really, really good. And that was really fast and it just was very focused and I could get it done in a very short period of time. So it’s always that sense of how do you not follow the standard way? How do you be crafty? How do you just get it done if you have very limited resources? Because I’m still finding this myself. I didn’t start off with a big pool and just trying to think of small, unusual ways that you can cut corners but still have a very high impact.

Richie: [00:33:21] And then, in four or five years time, what role do you want the brand to play and how big do you want it to get? In terms of what does success mean for you with it?

Carolyn: [00:33:32] A friend was telling me—he’s a restaurateur and he went to Japan and he found a pizza store and the pizza restaurant had eight people and he said, “Your pizza is amazing. It’s the best I’ve ever had. I can bring it to Hong Kong and open up chains for you and make you very, very wealthy.” And he said, “No, that’s not what I want. What I want is, instead of an eight-person restaurant, I want a six-person restaurant—to actually be smaller and even better at what I’m doing, have consistent flow of customers who just love what I do.” It’s not aiming for huge, tremendous, exponential growth, but should just be steady and always good and always be reliable on the people who do rely on you and who do want your product.

Richie: [00:34:16] Awesome. Thank you so much for talking.

Carolyn: [00:34:18] Thank you so much, Richie.

Richie: [00:34:26] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave a review on iTunes. We always appreciate it. And thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests including Rachel Blumenthal of Rockets of Awesome, Tony King of King & Partners and Fran Dunaway of TomboyX. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.