When it comes to foreign manufacturing, lower costs can prove to be more costly.
That principle convinced Adam Bledin, president and creative director of Rebus Productions Ltd., to move manufacturing of his popular sweatpants brand, Lazypants, to the Greater Toronto Area from Istanbul, Turkey.
While the move was expensive and time consuming – and it forced the company to shut down its e-commerce store for two months while increasing its cost per unit – Lazypants is now preparing to re-launch a more streamlined, higher-quality, Canadian-made brand.
The designer sweats were born in 2012, when Mr. Bledin found himself a couple of days ahead of schedule on his first line of designer jeans. With extra time before deadline, he decided to try his hand at a pair of sweatpants.
“We released the denim, which I wouldn’t say was a failure, but it wasn’t successful. But the Lazypants were definitely the stronger attraction,” Mr. Bledin said. “Like the potatoes to the steak sort of thing, but the potatoes were just so good.”
After dropping out of three separate business programs, including one at San Bernardino Valley College in California and two at George Brown College in Toronto, Mr. Bledin first tried his hand at designing a line of denim nearly a decade ago, but he had to stop a couple of years later when his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I didn't really want to work for a while, I just wanted to live my life,” Mr. Bledin said. “Then this came along, and now I don't stop working.”
The company was established in March, 2012, and it sold 600 pairs of Lazypants before year’s end. In 2013, 26,000 pairs of the brand’s sweats flew off store shelves across the continent.
Every product includes a tag with the letters NB, a tribute to Mr. Bledin’s mother, Niki Bledin. “I wouldn’t be here without her,” he said. “She is Lazypants’ biggest supporter.”
In less than two years, what started out as a ‘throw-in’ product turned into one of the most popular sweatpants brands in North America.
Regularly sported by trendsetters and celebrities — including Mila Kunis, Jeff Daniels, Demi Moore, Martin Short, Ivanka Trump, and Billy Baldwin — Lazypants is displayed prominently in stores such as Sporting Life, TNT, and Toronto clothing store Honey, as well as Lester’s Clothing in New York and Kitson in Los Angeles.
As Lazypants moved from relative obscurity to mainstream popularity, Mr. Bledin decided it was time to re-evaluate some of his business practices. “It was one of those things where you’re sitting there wondering ’how can I make this company better?'"
Istanbul was an ideal location to produce the startup brand, as lower volume orders could be filled at a competitive cost, but Mr. Bledin decided that there was enough demand to bring manufacturing to his native Toronto.
With the same soft fabric that made the company a hit still arriving from Istanbul duty free, it would only cost the company a few dollars more to manufacture each pair in Canada, and the shortfall will be made up in volume.
More concerning to Mr. Blendin were the delays that forced his online store to run out of inventory this past March. But the website will be back up and running in early May.
“We had a huge problem where everybody ran out of certain sizes and inventory,” he said, adding there was a silver lining to the setback. “It was the first time we pulled all of our products, which created a massive demand. We got lucky that our fans understood what was going on.”
It was an expensive and time-consuming transition, but Mr. Bledin feels strongly that it will be overshadowed by the long-term benefits, for both the company and the country.
“Jobs will be created, if this gets big enough it could help the economy. It’s easier to get to, the turnaround time is way faster because we’re shipping from (Toronto suburb) Scarborough instead of Istanbul, and the language barrier doesn’t exist, which is a huge part of it,” he said.
Consumers might not even notice the change. Prices will remain the same, as will the fabric. The only difference will be minor improvements to the final product. “We’re switching from quality to better quality,” Mr. Bledin said.
The transition also gave Mr. Bledin an opportunity to strip-down the manufacturing process and rebuild it from the ground up.
“It gave us a chance to redo everything. We re-evaluated the company, and anything we saw a hole in, we got to fill,” he said. “Now we’re a better run company, customer service is better, the web (store) is going to be run better, the CFO had a chance to track all the numbers, I’m able to design a lot better, and we’re coming out with more innovative products.”
Part of the company’s ‘reinvention’ includes a new line launching this season called Lazykids, as well as more masculine designs for the Lazyman line, launching this summer.
Mr. Bledin is also developing a sales agency to help early stage clothing designers establish a market in Canada. “It’s like an incubator for fashion,” he said. “The whole idea is to grow Rebus Productions Ltd. into an umbrella corporation.”
Mr. Bledin said that transition was successful in part because he kept customers, accounts and buyers up to date on the process, and recommends transparency to other entrepreneurs who are considering a similar move.
“Every country does it differently, so there’s no way to move and have a smooth transition,” he said. “They have to be ready to take a little bit of a financial hit because of the lost month or two of sales, they have to be ready go into Scarborough, or wherever they move manufacturing, every day and be out of the office for the first little while, and be ready to rebrand the whole company as a Made in Canada company. You just have to be prepared.”
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