With our 2020 inventory having been depleted, we’re slowly replenishing stock items now that we’re able to sew in-house again. We also are working closely with our production partners to ramp up all of Swift’s production capacity. What does this mean for availability of our product now and in the future? We tapped our very own Eric Wilkins, Swift’s Production Manager, for the answers!
Let’s start with who you are and what your role is at Swift. What does your day to day look like? I’m Eric, and I am the In-House Production Manager at Swift. My day is split between intaking orders and tasks from the Production team.
Can we get a brief overview on what the Product Pipeline looks like from inception to completion? Like, what are the different stages and who’s involved? The process starts with the cut and prep of materials. Mary is the master of the cutting of fabric, gathering small parts and hardware pieces, and organizing it all in preparation for sewing. Once this is ready, the sewer (either Jordan or myself) then gets cracking on systematically assembling the bag. After this is completed, it is onto finishing and quality control where I install the remaining parts and put the final touches on the bag, making sure they are clean and removing any loose threads. Finally it is packaged up, wrapped in a fond embrace, and moved onto the shipping department!
Can you talk a little about production capacity and the difference between what’s produced in-house vs. our production partners? Generally, our production capacity in house is a bit more limited, because our production team is small and made up of part-time employees, besides myself. The majority of our stock bags are typically produced out of house, and all custom bags and most contract orders (larger custom orders from shops and other companies) are made in house.
Where are our factories located? Both of our manufacturing partners (aka sew shops) are here in Washington. The one we have worked with the longest is just south of Seattle in White Center. The other is down in Vancouver, WA.
How is out-of-house product inbounded and assured to be up to snuff? When our sew shops finish up a run of bags, they are delivered to Swift HQ where we quality check them for proper construction, and then put finishing touches on them in preparation for packaging and delivery.
How and when did the COVID Pandemic impact production at Swift Industries? The COVID Pandemic put the brakes on Swift production completely towards the end of March. Normally, the majority of our stock bags would be produced out-of-house, but the pandemic also affected the small factories we work with. So we are just now adjusting to producing this first restock run of stock bags here in-house.
What did that look like for your own workday, and others on the team? Well, we no longer even had a work day, haha! For about a month-and-a-half, the production staff was temporarily laid-off. I was brought back on in the middle of May, but the full crew reconvened at the beginning of June to get back into the swing of things. There are now just the three production staff and one or two others in the Swift space at a time, maintaining distance, all masked up, and slathered in hand sanitizer!
What are some of the unexpected or unseen factors that are playing into getting production back up to speed? There are a number of unforeseen factors that are delaying the production of stock bags. One was a delay in delivery of parts and supplies from factories both in the States and overseas. The pandemic seemed to put shipments through a filter of molasses! Also, as I mentioned earlier, we had to move the production of stock bags in-house in order to get the numbers back up in a timely manner.
For lots of folks, the combination of shutdown and quarantine provided an unforeseen opportunity to sort of take stock of their lives with new clarity and make some big decisions around reprioritizing and reorganizing the way they do life. Did that sort of assessment also happen at the business, or production, planning level? Is there anything you guys are approaching differently? In some major ways! Before this pandemic, we had begun a reorganization of the production space to improve flow and efficiency of movement within the space. Time away gave us more inspiration to create a better, more productive workspace, and so upon returning, Martina and I worked to finish up some of the larger spatial organization.
A lot of time and energy was also put into organizing information flow within Swift and the production dept., as well as with Martina and Cielle, our Production Manager, spearheading this action. The work was done to make communication between and within departments clearer and more concise. We realized that a lot of time and energy was wasted trying to find information, or fixing problems that would have never occurred with simpler ways to pass on info.
We are also looking to better understand and improve efficiency with more effective time studies of the different production processes. Especially now that we have new and updated styles of our bags, we want to get an updated perspective on what it takes to make our bags.
Overall, we are doing some more work up front to continue to streamline the production process moving forward.
The production shutdown and layoffs obviously had implications for being able to keep anything in stock during the busiest sales time of the year. It sounds like 2020 inventory will be “trickling in” .. what exactly does that mean? Like, is priority being given to certain styles over others and/or is there a schedule of arrivals we should know about? While Mary is cutting larger lots of each bag style at a time, we are sewing them in small manageable batches — usually 5 at a time. This allows us to sew efficiently with a small team while getting inventory up a little at a time. Priority at the moment is Banditos and Zeitgeists first, followed by Sugarloafs and Sidekicks. Banditos are cut and being sewn today. We plan to have batches of them wrapped up by next week, with the Zeitgeists coming the week after. We are doing our best to get these finished and out to the masses, thanks for your patience, y’all!
We’ve been receiving lots of questions about when our stock 2020 inventory will be available to ship. What’s the latest? We are building up the stock as I type! Our restock run of Ozettes is wrapping up then, as mentioned, onto other bags in the line. We’re hoping to have them back in inventory by end of the month, making them available to sell as they are completed.
What about the custom color queue? Custom will be back in action once we start to get a better handle on our stock bags. We love the dedication to color coordination our customers have! But you’ll have to be a little patient on our custom product for now.
In terms of order fulfillment and shipping, I’m guessing the folks in the preorder queue for backordered 2020 product will get priority?
I believe that is the plan, yes, but the shipping department would know best haha! [Ed. note: that’s a “yes!”]
Thanks for all your hard work Eric, and for taking the time to answer our questions!