Evolution of a Maker (skucon 2017)

3 min read

The maker movement as a cultural phenomenon has exploded in recent years, but there have always been makers among us. People who quietly craft, build, and pour their heart and soul into their work.

I don’t know what the world may need, but I’m sure as hell that it starts with me. – Cracker

City Cut & Sew are “makers at scale’. They represent the best of what our industry offers: gifts crafted with a passionate attention to detail and beautiful design that transforms “product” into art. At skucon in Las Vegas, Jim Martin, President of Numo and City Cut & Sew, shared with us the history of an evolving maker and how their large-scale maker business has made not only their bottom line profitable, but the lives and purpose of their people as well.

(Note: Jim’s a huge music fan. True to his eccentric nature, each topic in his presentation kicked off with the title of a song. In honor of Jim, we created the “Jim Martin, Maker” playlist, located at the bottom of this post).

“The Industry”

Buying patterns no longer fall along standard industry channels: more end-users are buying direct, distributors are direct-importing more than ever before, and suppliers are merging lines, broadening categories, and adapting to an ever-changing market.

Jim collides with this new world frequently and shares a few of these first-hand encounters from his experience while at the Canton Gift Fair:

 Make Cool Shit

How do you swim against the current of “me too” product? How do you carve a niche that is true to who you are and yet still make a profound impact on the market?

Jim quotes The Cure, “swimming the same deep water as you is hard” and makes a strong point for design as the distinguishing factor that fights against a “me too” industry. Design by differentiation gets to the heart of real market share. He provides a glimpse into how most of the industry handles design and suggests a bolder, more difficult (but ultimately more rewarding) path. It takes incredible attention to detail to make epic cool shit, and Jim shares the contrasts:

Stand … Where You Are

Reinventing. Reshaping. Renewing. Jim charts the evolution of Numo and discusses a key component to their success: leveraging the tremendous talent and skill they have (“makers at scale”) and directing it toward products that customers would cherish. It was part of the long, winding road that Numo had to take. In hindsight, “what looks like a zig-zag is actually a straight line,” writes an artist.

The Nobility of Work

Jim flies in the face of career snobbery that demeans manual work. He discusses the confluence of makers and creative people in their company, a unique blend of skills and passions that comprise their story. Their people “are as important as the products and the patterns we’re making … sewing, and what we do is noble, this is about people.” From the employee who has worked for them for forty years to the printers, sewers, designers, and marketers, Jim celebrates their makers by honoring their craft and their passion for design.

Knowing who you are begins with knowing who you are not. Differentiation is in the details; beautiful work is not easily duplicated. “Everything we do has to be designed from the ground up so that it cannot be taken and sent to China to be done easily.”

By choosing a difficult path, by leading with design, by respecting their craft, City Cut & Sew moves away from “the ones who love us least” to the “ones who love us best.”

It’s about valuing who we are. The minute we acquiesce … and try to become like everyone else … instantly, it’s over … whatever we tried to build, is lost. – Jim Martin

Jim’s playlist:

Jim’s Powerpoint: