A Man of Ambition


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture. I'm Emily Lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:12 

I'm Bret Schnitker. 

Emily Lane 00:13 

We speak with experts where we explore the global dynamics that shape trends in the fashion industry. 

Bret Schnitker 00:20 

Brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global production and design house with over 30 years of industry experience. 

Emily Lane 00:36 

Welcome to our inaugural episode of clothing culture. I'm Emily Lane, the Director of Marketing and big ideas at Stars Design Group. 

Bret Schnitker 00:45 

I'm Bret Schnitker, I'm CEO and partner at Stars Design Group. 

Emily Lane 00:49 

So this is a pretty exciting venture that we're embarking on today. We are, you know, going down a path that I've been kind of pressing for, for the last couple of years, I know I'm new to the company I joined earlier this year, I've been friends of Stars Design Group for two years now. And very early on in our relationship, I was so impressed with the breadth of knowledge that was here at Stars Design Group. And it just became really apparent to me that not only would it be awesome to share some of this knowledge, but I think it would be helpful to engage in conversation to really talk about dynamics that are happening in this changing industry, and you know, providing a resource for others that are out there. 

Bret Schnitker 01:46 

That's exciting. I mean, I know that you have been pushing it for a few years, I'm glad we finally gotten to this point. You know, after being in the industry for 30 years, I can tell you, we're at a time where, you know, I think all businesses evolve over time. But I'm seeing such an acceleration of evolution because of a number of factors in the world. So I think it's, it's an appropriate time to begin to discuss and explore, you know, all these different things that you're excited to talk about. 

Emily Lane 02:16 

Right. So I want to give some context for those who are joining us today. Can you give a little background you've been in this industry, as you mentioned, 30 years? Where did you start? And how did Star's Design Group come into being? 

Bret Schnitker 02:31 

Yeah, I mean, like, like, most individuals, I think you don't really have a, you know, firm path in life, it's kind of a journey, new sort things out, I started, you know, going starting in fine arts and commercial art and design and had kind of an interest in some marketing and advertising and was going to school. And as I was going to school, I you know, like most students, you find a job, you know, to buy ramen, and maybe a roof over your head. And I started working in retail, and it just seemed like an easy opportunity, you know, to make a few bucks. And, you know, as, as I worked in retail, and even in going to school, I got promoted to assistant manager and manager in stores. And, you know, you started in addition, right, even back then. And I think, you know, you start to understand the very beginning stages of this industry. And it held interest for me, I wasn't really clear on the path, as it took, you know, me to where I am today. But, you know, I started in there and, and as I was, like I mentioned as I was going to school, we had the president of this one particular division I was working with, you know, watch my kind of very early career path and suggest that I, I explore the opportunity isn't related to the garment side of this apparel division. 

Emily Lane 04:01 

You actually started out in the design side, right? 

Bret Schnitker 04:04 

Well, I started out looking into marketing and advertising and he said, Look, there's just really not a big future on in that area in this particular division, and gave me the, you know, come see the world speech. And you know, that tripped a lot of triggers. For me, I really have been a passionate student the world all my life. And so, you know, I started in the office working in merchandising and planning, really running on a lot of numbers. That was not something that was very natural to me. 

Emily Lane 04:31 

Essential of business, but that fun for a creative guy. 

Bret Schnitker 04:34 

Today, I've learned a hell of a lot. I really I appreciate and respect what numbers you know, hold for me back to that it was it was definitely a curveball. But it gave me a good foundation about understanding how business ran and during that time that I was kind of doing these type of, you know, responsibilities, that I had the good fortune of having a mentor who's one of my partners today. And he mentioned Hey, I can I can really come up with some good ideas and understand buying plants. But I'm not really creative. Why don't you give your why don't you give a hand at creating some designs? And so I did, you know really- 

Emily Lane 05:11 

You revolutionized the Rugby World, didn't you? 

Bret Schnitker 05:14 

Yeah, that dates me in a big way. 

Emily Lane 05:18 

We've already talked about the fact that you've been in the industry for 30 years. 

Bret Schnitker 05:20 

Yeah that's true. Yeah, at the time, you know, rugby shirts were really pretty popular. I think it was probably late 80s, early 90s. And, and I started drawing rugby shirts, crazy as it was with vertical stripes, as opposed to horizontal. Yes. Right. And, yeah, and long story short, it the categories blew up, I moved into buying, I continued draw designs for four straight years, we had, you know, very, very large increases in volume and high profitability. And, and the company kind of let me do whatever I wanted to do. And I realized that I had this basis in, in kind of design and aesthetic, but I really didn't understand things technically. So I told the company, I'm going to go explore the world and learn it from those that work in it every day in America, there's not a very good education for the technical aspects, because we've abdicated a lot of apparel manufacturing. 

Emily Lane 05:58 

Amazing A long time ago, right? I mean, how long has 

Bret Schnitker 06:23 

I think the last I mean, there is still manufacturing in this country, but it's just, you know, on a, on a percentage scale in revenue, it's it's quite small, but the majority of it really, I think, last remnants were in the 80s. 

Emily Lane 06:37 


Bret Schnitker 06:39 

There is some conversation, which we'll get into in future episodes about the ability to nearshore with technology. And that's an exciting premise. But, you know, still to this day, there's this lack of education, technically, 

Emily Lane 06:51 


Bret Schnitker 06:52 

you know, in our schools and education, because we really don't support a manufacturing sector in the US. So I got on planes traveled Europe, Asia, both near and far east, and really learned from weavers, dyers, knitters, you know, all the technical aspects over about four to six years. And it was 

Emily Lane 07:13 

When you got a chance to see these people that were experts, you know, these weavers and dyers were they are these people who have been in in doing what they do their entire lives is at a legacy and, and what was that experience, like seeing these people firsthand and seeing different cultures and, you know, getting out of the United States and totally different environment? 

Bret Schnitker 07:41 

I would tell you, that's the exciting part. In my, in my perspective, you know, I think I'm more comfortable overseas than I am here. I'm fascinated with culture. You know, I've been blessed to have friends all over the world, and, you know, meeting these people in these different sectors and learning from them. It wasn't that it was only their entire career. But it was these family legacies, like you'd get into Salem, India. And I mean, you were a weaver class. I mean, your father did it. Your grandfather did it. You were all weaver's. And so it wasn't just a lifetime of experiences. 

Emily Lane 08:17 

It's in their DNA almost. 

Bret Schnitker 08:18 

It really was. 

Emily Lane 08:19 


Bret Schnitker 08:20 

And in, you know, when I started, there was so much of this industry that was a lot less technical than it is today. And I think the shock of seeing these machines, these power looms, that auto looms that existed in Salem at the time, and how they laid out warp and weft threads on bamboo and, and different things to dry in the sun. And you're just like, amazed, how did it start there and end up at garments? 

Emily Lane 08:46 

It's an incredible invention really. 

Bret Schnitker 08:48 

Yeah. Yeah. And to bring it to a level that, you know, really fulfills mass need is an amazing feat. And, you know, when you understand all these different layers of people and, and processes that are required to execute garments today, it's, it's a really interesting conversation. 

Emily Lane 09:08 

So you worked for this multibillion dollar retailer, got to travel the world, learn firsthand from those who were doing every aspect of manufacturing apparel. And then you came back after this great education. What led you to transition from this, you know, this successful retail position to starting your own company? 

Bret Schnitker 09:35 

I think, you know, everyone reaches a point in life where you've got different paths to go and different decisions. And I had worked my way up to director set position and design of vice presidency and, you know, companies have these kind of cycles, and this company had gone through a pretty successful cycle and was on a cycle where I think it was it was certainly troubled, and I had learned what I could learn. I done what I had, you know, what I'd done in the organization, and I had the opportunity to take a step out and, and, you know, start with a good community of people, both in the States and worldwide and begin, what is Star's Design today. 

Emily Lane 10:17 

You know, one of the things that impressed me so much when I first met you was learning about, you know, this, you talk about being a citizen of the world, and being more comfortable in other places, and exploring all of these cultures. And I think that that part of your education has, you know, started obviously, 30 years ago, but it's, it's forever continued. And in that philosophy has been very much a part of this organization, and, you know, being able to work with makers and manufacturers and artists all around the world is still a part of the thread here. And, 

Bret Schnitker 11:02 

And continues to evolve, I think, you know, with, with your arrival on the scene at Stars, you know, and now over, I guess it's almost a year 

Emily Lane 11:10 

It's crazy right? 

Bret Schnitker 11:12 

You know, I think, you know, with, with your history, in business development and your skill set at really seeing bigger ideas and understanding, you know, we at the company, were just doing what we were doing, under, you know, loving most days, I suppose. And I had this sense internally that, you know, through mentorship and other things, I could start relaying my information to the next generation, but the ability that you had to capitalize, you know, that information and come up with some good plans to get the word out, I think it's terrific. 

Emily Lane 11:50 

Well, this is a global community, the apparel, fashion industry, Stars, I know, there's relationships here with, you know, gosh, 67, different factories and clients that are all around the world. And so we're, we're talking with people with vastly different viewpoints and needs, all of the time, I find that part of the industry really exciting. And but it's also, you know, there's some uniform, no matter where you are, there's dynamics at play that everybody is feeling right now with, with COVID coming into play and, and shifts happening with technology and things like that. And so that was part of, I suppose the impetus were, like creating these conversations right now. What are some of these core dynamics that people can expect for us to explore in upcoming conversations? 

Bret Schnitker 12:51 

Well, we're at a massively changing landscape. And being in this business so long, you're never bored, there is always something going on. And I think we're seeing a lot of things collide in the industry where, you know, apparel, the prices of apparel at retail, and therefore their costs have really not changed in a number of years, it's one of the few categories of consumer goods that have kind of remained constant, they say, some reports, since the 80s. 

Emily Lane 13:19 

That's staggering. 

Bret Schnitker 13:20 

It's staggering. And so the challenge of finding experienced capable, quality driven facilities to maintain also this price point of cost is an is a has always been a big challenge on the industry, we deal a lot with developing countries. You know, it's I think that apparel in many countries is the first stage of industrialization, 

Emily Lane 13:45 


Bret Schnitker 13:45 

You know, they learn, you know, timing and production elements and line processes and different employment. And then I think, as many countries that you've, you know, that we all know, have experienced growth like Taiwan, even China, you know, they've moved into higher level technologies, it's really built a robust economy. And so one of those challenges with us, you know, starting with these kind of, you know, newly industrialized countries, third world countries, some people use comments, I think that that's a struggle for me, because I think I look at countries and I look at people in there, there's brilliance in each one of these countries, they just haven't maybe developed the industrial levels to the, you know, the level of maybe the last year in general, but so you're always dealing with that dynamic. And then you've got all of these changes, you mentioned COVID. But before that, we, you know, we experienced tariffs, we've got 

Emily Lane 14:39 

Right ever changing, constantly changing, navigating that is, 


And I think that even even garments themselves have radically changed. It's not enough that a garment feels good or fits well anymore. People want it to do stuff. 

Emily Lane 14:53 


Bret Schnitker 14:53 

And so you know, even within apparel technology plays a very, very important role. 

Emily Lane 14:58 

Consumer behavior is rapidly changing also. You know, this conversation of sustainability is becoming more and more important, yet, the apparel world really isn't totally set up for sustainability, 

Bret Schnitker 15:12 

That's a big conversation because you know, the you can you can manage sustainability and pockets, it's a very healthy view that, you know, we've got to look down to future generations and know what our impacts impacts are. And I think that we've got a few blogs that we're working on about that. And, you know, then you've also got the way that we're commercializing garments today, you know, this multi channel approach, how aggressive online sales have grown based upon COVID, you know, had already started down that path, but then, you know, with the pandemic, bam accelerated that need. And so with that need, you've got a whole new group of people that have to support that sector, as brick and mortar is trying to figure out its way through where they were, and where they're going to be. 

Emily Lane 15:57 

Right, shifting your strength from a brick and mortar stance to having that strong digital infrastructure and making making sure you're reaching your audience in a fresh new way. 

Bret Schnitker 16:09 

And I think the balances above you know, I think that brick and mortar will still have its place, there'll be an evolution, we as human beings love to be tactile, we still love to feel things. And, and, you know, I think that the exploration of what brick and mortar means in the future is going to be an important one. 

Emily Lane 16:27 

Well, I know that's definitely a conversation we have mapped out for the future. I know in upcoming episodes, we're going to be talking about the Influence of Technology and Fashion Design, we're gonna be talking about how to make pivots. As you know, as things happen, for fashion designers, we're going to talk about the implications of rapid decision making in a time of transition in the sourcing world and how that how that unfolds in the various layers of the of the industry. So we look forward to joining you in upcoming episodes. If you have topics and ideas that you'd like for us to explore. We are absolutely open for that. And we look forward to hearing from you and thank you for joining us today. 

Bret Schnitker 17:14 

Thank you. 

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A Man of Ambition