Industry Watch

Happy to help: Mindy Martell, founder of Clothier Design Source, with friends

Fashion forward

How Clothier Design Source in St. Paul helps budding designers navigate the manufacturing process

By Rebecca Hoge

Years back, Mindy Martell, the founder and president of Clothier Design Source, began to notice an important element missing in the Twin Cities' rapidly emerging fashion industry: resources. How does one go from a design in their head to putting a finished product on a store floor? Turns out, many fashion design entrepreneurs didn't know, either. In 2006, Martell developed a four-step process to assist clients (whether independent designers or large corporations) to do just that. The process follows a product from conceptual design to development of a prototype to a technical design blueprint that will allow the product to be manufactured anywhere. By offering these services, Clothier Design Source can also help designers to keep things local, sometimes cutting out the need to use overseas resources. Based in St. Paul, the company has about 10 employees. We asked Martell about her firm's origins, the advantages of face-to-face time, and the state of the Twin Cities fashion industry.

On the inspiration behind the company:

My inspiration was just that the process is really complicated. If somebody's going out there thinking, "OK, I want to make this product," there aren't really any resources for them to figure out what to do. A lot of people think they can just skip straight to the manufacturer. And I've just met so many people that say, "I totally lost a year and a half and $10,000," because [the manufacturer] just couldn't get it right. I'm trying to simplify the whole process of design. We are going to walk you through the process and make sure you get a good product in the end.

On the advantages of keeping clothing production local in an industry that is primarily relying on services overseas:

A huge advantage is having that face-to-face time. When you're dealing with anything that isn't local, you're tying to do it over email and pictures ... What we can talk about and get done in one 30-minute meeting here takes about two weeks to get done in China when you have to go back and forth.

Small quantities [are] a huge part, too. People order what they need from us because we have quick turns and small minimums. There are so many people in the industry that order 1,000 when they only need 100, because that's the minimum, and then they are just sitting on it. It's just a lot of waste. And then you can't make any design changes, and then you have to discount it. That's definitely a big sustainable point for us.

On identifying some of the bigger Midwest companies CDS has assisted:

I sign a really strict confidentiality agreement. We pride ourselves on every single one of our clients feeling really confident in that. But if you see "made locally" on a product here, there's a good chance CDS has touched it. Especially if it's in the active-wear category.

On the future of the fashion industry in the Twin Cities:

Local ... designers [are] a really tight group. But one strange thing, I think the more I grow in the industry here, is there are a lot of us that don't know about each other. I'm just really hoping that we can all get more visibility to each other because a lot of times we have our own little struggles in our own little world. It's kind of like the fashion industry here has been percolating for the last 25 years and now ... everybody wants to become local with manufacturing and it's all just bubbling up now. I think ... maybe [in] five years it's going to be known that Minnesota is the place you can go to.