On a crisp and cold but bright February morning, I make a trip to the northwest part of the city to meet the owner of a London based garment factory Plus Samples Ltd.
My fear of seeing a horrible, messy and dungeon-like factory is soon dispelled when I open the door to the basement address I was given and step inside a warm, spacious, bright and airy factory unit. Victor Rosenberg and Nailya Belkacemi, who run the factory, greet me. Nailya is the owner of the factory, while Victor is an industry veteran consultant brought on board to bring some balance to the business.
I am impatient to get started – I love hearing people’s stories of how they got to where they are, what they do and all the nitty gritty this industry has to offer.
Nailya, who was born, raised and trained in the former Soviet Union, started her business by chance in 2003. Trained as a tailoring pattern cutter, while on maternity leave she teamed up with a seamstress friend and took in some commission work. Word about the quality of her work spread and before long Plus Samples (website) was set up, more workers hired and a queue of clients followed.
Today, 13 years later and recently moved into the new premises in NW London, the factory specialises in high-end (ready to wear) womenswear soft separates garment pattern development, grading, sampling, and small run production. Counting some of the top London designers as clients, the factory’s highly skilled team members appear relaxed but busy getting on with the final touches to production deliveries and last minute tweaks to LFW samples.
Chatting with Nailya and Victor is interesting, as one gets to see the fashion industry through their eyes. We speak of the constant stream of new talent leaving colleges and wanting to set up their own brand, and the challenges they, the designers and factories, face in turn. While Nailya has carved a niche for herself working with small brands, start-ups and students, she is firm in her selection process. Every phone call and email she receives are answered but only those that show they know what they are talking about, have done their research and know what they want – get an appointment with Plus Samples and are seen to.
One of the biggest frustrations Plus Samples faces is the calls from new designers who have no knowledge of the design and manufacturing process, expect the factory to be able to read a rough sketch on a scrap piece of paper and do all the guesswork of translating and developing their idea, virtually for free.
Related reading: 5 Reasons Why a Fashion Factory Ignores Designers
So why doesn’t she stop accepting young designers and like most factories, focus on larger clients?
I ask her. “I love the energy young designers have, the new ideas and challenges they present in terms of developing the idea. That is what gives me energy and makes my work interesting. That is what keeps the skills of my girls sharp, what keeps them engaged in the work we do.” says Nailya.
She explains to me in detail how her work set up doesn’t allow for large volume production. The seamstresses that work for her are highly skilled in all aspects of garment making – not just individual parts as you will often find in larger factories where a “conveyor belt” type of set up exists. “I have seamstresses approaching me all the time for work. I always give them a test to see their skills and almost always they come from large factories where they are experts in a single process – like setting sleeves or collars but not the rest. As much as I would like to take them on I cannot. I need someone who can take a garment from the cutting table to the finishing touches perfectly. Finding good and experienced seamstresses like that is very hard.”
So what about the challenges? Do you have any?
“Of course,” she smiles. “Who doesn’t?” She tells me how she gets all the difficult jobs as her clients trust her and her team to do a good job and solve any problems (and there are always problems). She samples entire collections only to then get the most complicated pieces for production. Like the client who had a late delivery of an expensive fabric full of marks. The entire production of skirts had to be cut one by one carefully slotting the pattern pieces here and there to avoid the mistakes in the fabric. She wishes she would get easier production dockets. Hearing this I don’t blame her for not wanting to accept orders of over 50 pieces. But I can also see the happy sparkle in her eyes knowing that she saved a fashion crisis. A modern-day fashion superwoman.
What are your future plans?
She has it all in hand. She had the foresight to realise that she couldn’t do it all herself. She asked Victor for help. With decades of manufacturing experience under his belt, Victor now focuses on helping others grow their businesses. For part of the week, he helps Plus Samples with marketing, client communication, and tightening the business processes that are already in place, paving the way for the factory’s slow and steady future growth. Both Nailya and Victor’s years in the industry have taught them that nothing comes fast and easy and without much preparation and sound foundations.
Nailya’s advice for start-ups:
- Do your research before you contact a factory. Know the fabrics and type of finishing you want, the materials you want to use, and the associated costs.
- When you meet with the factory, bring clear drawings of your design, material swatches, and your research. Even if you are new to fashion, with all the resources available today, there is no excuse to turn up with zero knowledge and preparation and expect the factory to spoon feed you.
- Don’t ask for discounts and favours on the first, second or third meeting. These privileges are earned over time.
- Be professional at all times – be on time and call ahead if you cannot make the arranged meeting time. Respect and politeness go a long way.