About the Project
This was a major consulting project that took up a full year and much of our staff time. It was an experimental partnership to do a clothing business featuring native-inspired designs and manufactured on tribal land. We embarked on the inherently difficult task of merging the white world with the American Indian world. And ultimately the venture was not successful. But we tried. We worked very hard. And we learned a lot on the way.
Website:?nativeamericansewing.com (this site is no longer live, but you can still view some highlights on the Native American Sewing Facebook page)
Business: Clothing Brand Test Market
Location: Airway Heights, WA
Liorah worked onsite at a warehouse on Kalispel Tribal land next to their big casino. She created a business plan and presented it to Kalispel development and planning staff, who recommended she find funding for the project. So Liorah got a $50K grant from Washington State and it was given to the Kalispel Tribe to explore the feasibility of this venture. Then Blue Tiger Studio was hired to oversee the contract for a lean start-up of the new clothing business.
We built out a very lean clothing design studio in the Kalispel warehouse, and hired a seasoned clothing manufacturing seamstress to help with constructing designs and making them ready for in-house manufacturing. Several focus groups were brought in with representatives from the Tribe to get their design ideas for clothing. We did get some sketches of clothing and ended up making many of the designs for them.
The Kalispel Marketing department did some great work on logo and packaging design for the new company. And Blue Tiger Studio built a beautiful website to test market the clothing designs and concept. We also built Social Media accounts and did several Facebook and Instagram campaigns to gain interest and hopefully obtain enough pre-sales to justify the first production run.
Unfortunately the partnership with the Tribe was dicey from the beginning, and over time it began to unravel further and further. There were jealousies and miscommunications from people related to the Tribe, and preferences given to certain family members without accountability. Blue Tiger Studio brought in extra staff to help complete the Scope of Work, and succeeded in producing enough items to fill the website and participated in a fashion show. But problems and disagreements with tribal members got worse, and the business office was too busy with other projects to get involved. The embroidery department next door was supposed to work with us on some designs, but they refused to create any new embroidery files, and we had to outsource the embroidery file work, but still the Embroidery staff couldn’t do the job. Another difficult relationship that didn’t work out.
Even though we brought in the grant money to pay for everything, payments had to come via the Tribe, and they were constantly late or denied unexpectedly. Blue Tiger stuck with it to the end, despite all the setbacks, investing more of our own money to make it work. But just as the test marketing campaign began, the Tribe decided to stop promotions. So the campaign ended dead in its tracks. Thresholds did not even get close to their goals.
At this point we had completed our sewing-related tasks and moved out of the Kalispel warehouse used for the test facility. Blue Tiger created a 150-page grant report with all data collected during the study. We provided an alternative business recommendation: To have the Tribe start their own manufacturing business making uniforms for their casino staff, and their other businesses – golf clothing and other standard garments worn by their employees to be made in-house with “Native flair” as part of the design. We produced a training plan and gave them potential people to hire at start-up, and closed the account.