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Meet Evita Chu of PDR Knitting in South Downtown Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Evita Chu.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
PDR Knitting was started because of accidents: I had 2 car accidents back to back in a month that prompted me to quit my job, and while I was rehabbing at home, accidentally a friend of mine asked if I could knit him some sweaters. That friend told his other friend, his other friend told another friend, and my big break was when Mike Gonzales, the founder of Mike & Chris, called me if I could knit some sweaters for his collection. I said yes right away.

Little that I knew, Mike and Chris was a big brand of the moment. After I delivered my first batch of prototypes, he asked if I could duplicated them into 72 pieces. I was knitting everything at home by myself with no help.
I said yes, and thought,”I will figure out a way later.” So, I started calling around to see if there was any knitter available for work. I finally found one, but he was very reluctant. The first question he asked was,”Do you have an office?” I said,”No.” He said,”I have been out of job for 2 years. I need a job, not just one time job. I don’t see you are serious if you don’t have an office.”

That day of the phone call was December 24, 2006. I called my mom to accompany me to look for a studio in downtown LA. We found a tiny space, only about 700 sqft for a good price, I signed the lease that day. I called the knitter,”Hi, I have leased an office. Please start working on January 2nd, 2017.” He said,”Are you serious? Am I going to be in a payroll?” I said,”Yes….” –> again, I didn’t know what the future would be, as always I just said yes first and figured out later.

January 2nd, 2017, we all went to work. The office was so empty, only my knitter, my mom, and I were there. We worked so hard to fulfill 72 pieces of duplicates, with the help of my mom doing some finishing touches to the sweaters. However, miraculously, new clients kept on coming, and I was able to keep my first employee on the payroll.

Initially, I thought I would be just a little creative knitwear studio that makes prototypes and samples for designers. Mike Gonzales asked me,”What are the production prices for these garments?” I told him that I had no intention to be a manufacturer, I was not set up to produce in bulk, so I could not come up with a production price. He was a little bit upset and said, he had paid so much for samples and duplicates, and now I was telling him the news that those pieces could not be produced? I was taken aback, and I had a 5-minute quite moment to figure out what to do… and I finally said,”YES, I will do it.” How, that remained to be answered until I figured it out later.

Within 6 months, I had to add more people to my team to 6 people. We were doing production for Mike & Chris, and new clients kept on pouring in. California Apparel News heard about PDR Knitting, as the “New BOUTIQUE factory in Los Angeles”, having positioned ourselves in the luxury market. Did I position myself in the luxury market? Honestly, I did not even know, because when I had to do the costing for Mike and Chris, the timing to make those sweaters was so long, so they were priced high. Since the pricing was high, we had attracted luxury brands to develop with us. Soon, PDR Knitting name was spread in New York, and I went to New York for the first time for business, meeting many luxury clients.

Fast forward to now, we are now at a 7000 sqft facility, with 16 employees and all kinds of knitting machineries on site. We develop and produce everything in house, using the best technique possible, matching the European made knitwear quality.

At one point, we had 24 employees. But due to the raising minimum wage, we had to lay off some of our employees and went automatic on many processes of the knitting production.

Has it been a smooth road?
No, it has not been a smooth road at all. There have been many struggles along the way:

1. Employees were sacked by one my first clients, a big famous brand: Because in the beginning, we had a really humble, open space. Clients knew and was able to interact with my employees freely. One client took the phone number of that employee, offered him a bigger pay, and the employee lied to me when he quit. Turned out he moved to my client. The employee called some other employees, and total 6 were sacked. It hurt my heart, but I did not let my heart be troubled. I already had planned for the business future. I’m not bitter anymore now because the incident just moved my plan a lot sooner than what I anticipated. I am in the better place now because of the incident. I see the glass always half full.

2. Financial: Because I had to move my plans a lot sooner, I had to make a lot more financial investments in automated machineries. With an amazing business partner who is the best in handling financial & management matters, we were able to plan out the financial investment accordingly.

3. Account Receivable/Non-payment clients: I have a lot of them! This is always a problem. I went from being a sweet, nice person to a very stern person who demand payments now or else. It’s still a struggle until now, but it has gotten better.

4. Rising cost of manufacturing: This is inevitable. There is nothing we can do, we cannot really fight the lawmakers, but this is also current struggle that is not ever going to get better. I am for liveable wage, but I do think that the $15/hour should not be a blanket rice. Each job should dictate what the job is worth. A job as a Certified Nurse Assistant should not be priced the same as a guy who trims threads. I feel that this needs to be addressed, and I wish I could be part of the voice, because I do want to bring fashion manufacturing back to USA.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the PDR KNITTING story. Tell us more about the business.
PDR is an abbreviation of Production Development and Resource, catering mainly to small-medium, high-end labels, although we welcome anybody who needs knitting services.

We mainly cater to 3 different types of clients:
(1) High-end, designer level clients who can afford domestic production price: they develop with us and then do production.
(2) Bridge/contemporary clients who will have us as a back-up factory if they cannot meet overseas minimum: they develop with us, but may produce overseas if the quantity can meet overseas factory minimum. If not, they use us as the back up.
(3) Low-end to budget price clients: they will only develop with us because of logistics, creativity, and quick turnaround reasons. But the production is volume (thousands to hundreds of thousands units) and done overseas.
Usually, the last two types of clients will do everything with us from development through salesman/duplicates samples only.

We are known as the “Luxury Boutique Manufacturer”, that caters to the luxury market. The way I work with clients is very hands on. In a way, I am the “dream interpreter” who makes their dream sweaters come true.
A lot of my clients are not from knitwear background. The way knitwear works is completely different than fabrics cut and sew. So I do a lot of handholding, consultation, from choosing yarns, choosing stitches, the best construction to achieve the design, and also costing.

PDR is different than the other knitting factories because: (1) we are luxury, (2) I understand knitwear because I am a knitter myself and also a certified knitting programmer who knows how to run and operate these machineries, (3) I understand yarns because my training in the yarn making business was very intensive in my previous job, (4) I was a knitwear designer before I owned this business, and I am able to utilize my creativity when “interpreting” the designer’s knitwear dream.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
As far as fashion trend, I’m not following the fashion trend specifically because most of my clients are in the luxury market. They don’t follow trend. They are THE trendsetter.

In terms of fashion business trend in general, I see that a lot of my clients have gone “direct-to-consumer”. The traditional manufacturer -> wholesale -> retail is dying. With a lot of more e-commerce hosts are more affordable and competitive to businesses, the rise of the pop-up shops, the trend in the social media marketing, a lot more cool brands are more accessible to general public with lower prices.

With that said, the rise of the minimum wage forced the consumer to become more creative and strategic in how they do business. Hence, the direct-to-consumer is, I think, the trend and will only be trending more and more in the future.

In terms of the manufacturing trend, we also need to survive because of the following immediate factors:
(1)The rise of minimum wage, when the base cost of manufacturing is already high, as a manufacturer, we have no other option but to go automatic. This will cause a lot more laying off, especially for people with low education that could not work in offices, non-English speakers, among other factors. PDR started with 100% handloom machines (manually operated). Since 6 employees were sacked, we have invested in fully automatic machines that require less to no manual labor. PDR Knitting is already going toward this route.

(2) Workers Compensation Insurance: this is one big cost for manufacturing. Even though many garment factories are low risk in injury risk, because of the word “machinery”, it drives the WCI up. One of the biggest cost of doing business as manufacturer is Workers Compensation Insurance.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Evita (personal), Raif Adelberg (Herman Market), Scott Studenberg (Baja East), Carly Helfrich (Helfrich LA), Adam Lippes

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