If you’ve ever browsed the popular national women’s clothing store Anthropologie you may have stumbled upon LiaMolly, a knitwear company based in Uptown New Orleans. Having 20 years of experience working for large companies and start ups alike, Seema Sudan has been designing under the successful and profitable LiaMolly label for the past four years.
Designed in New Orleans, the sweaters were made in Asia up until recently, when the factory decided to up its minimum production quantity from 300 to 2,000 pieces. Unable to meet the minimum requirements, Sudan had to rethink her entire production if she wanted LiaMolly to continue. Instead of just giving up, she decided to bring the manufacturing process back home, thus contributing to the current trend of creating a fashion industry in New Orleans. With a little help from Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform that assists everyone from musicians to filmmakers, she was able to raise enough money for a down payment on a knitting machine, and she recently answered some of my questions about her work:
First off congratulations on a most successful Kickstarter campaign. What was the process like?
Kickstarter is great for creative companies like mine. I decided to turn to it after watching such talented people, projects and companies get a much needed boost that is next to impossible to get any other way.
I found myself having to put up my house and what little I’ve saved for my kid’s college to continue my business. Before having to put my family through such a risky and difficult decision I thought, am I crazy? Is what I’m doing worth it? Does it matter to anyone else? I figured let me just ask, and that is what my Kickstarter campaign was about. It gave me that extra boost of confidence to make the hard choices when it was funded 111% in 30 days. It would be far easier for me to just give up and work for a large company and leave New Orleans, and I am so grateful for all of those who supported the campaign or who bought a sweater from the 504 pieces I’ve set aside to help fund the balance of the knitting mill.
Now that you have the funding for the knitting machines, what are the biggest benefits for your business by manufacturing your line in New Orleans?
There are hardly any sweater designers in the USA and the people that work with me would gain this skill. The innovation of my company and the intellectual property of LiaMolly stays under the same roof, and the knowledge taught to my team is huge. I’ve only raised the funds for the down payment of 1 machine. I still have to find a solution of where to put it besides my garage, and also hiring. It’s all coming together but I still need a community to help make sure that all the pieces come together so that it isn’t all on the backs of my family.
Before making my sweaters locally, my Internet store customers would have a choice of 15 sweaters from August through February – choices that I had to book 9 months in advance. Now I can offer 15 styles a month and keep my collection special and one of a kind, just like the people who love my sweaters. I can also knit to order, meaning I won’t be in an overstock position and I will produce only what I sell, making me more sustainable with less waste. Having my tools to create, instead of relying on another company to decide how many styles I can make, how much they will cost, what the minimum order is, etc… puts LiaMolly in a stronger position to grow, stay innovative, and matter.
You mentioned that you are planning on teaching people how to operate the machines, thus creating jobs within your company. How do you think this will impact the New Orleans fashion industry as a whole?
We’ve spent a generation making things elsewhere, which means we have to re-learn the craft of making things. I’m excited to be a part of that process. It isn’t easy but it is worth it to keep us innovative and to keep creativity in America. More and more people realize that we can’t do it if we can’t make things locally, we need our manufacturing tools for us to create.
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.