The Future of Fashion in Whole Garment Knitting with Jon Lewis Evolution STL


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Jon Lewis


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 00:34 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today I am joined by Bret Schnitker, my partner in crime on this podcast. Welcome, Bret. 

Bret Schnitker 00:43 

Thanks, Emily. Welcome. 

Emily Lane 00:45 

And I know we have a very special guest planned today who are we talking to? 

Bret Schnitker 00:49 

We're talking about Jon Lewis. He's one of the founders of the world's most technologically advanced knitting factories, and happens to be located right here in St. Louis. So it should be a really interesting conversation. 

Jon Lewis 01:02 

Thanks for having me. 

Emily Lane 01:03 

Absolutely. So Jon, I, I know you kind of have a long history in the apparel industry. Can you just give us a little brief background about where you came from? Because you're I noticed not St. Louis? 

Jon Lewis 01:15 

Oh, sure. Yeah, I'm very old. So that might take a while? No, actually, I went to the University of Michigan never thinking I'd ever be in retail. 

Bret Schnitker 01:23 

Who does? 

Jon Lewis 01:24 

Yeah, who does? Right? We all start out with this weird place, 

Bret Schnitker 01:27 


Jon Lewis 01:27 

And I actually moved to St. Louis, right out of college to work for famous bar, 

Emily Lane 01:31 

Oh, my gosh, this is almost a coming home for you. 

Jon Lewis 01:35 

Yeah, that's really strange. I mean, 37 years later, I move a block away from my old apartment. But took a long journey. And in between there, though, I was a department manager and a buyer and then kind of went on the wholesale side, you know, selling to buyers. And that took me all over the United States, first to Chicago, then LA and San Francisco, and eventually in New York, as I got ever, you know, increasing roles, responsibility, and, you know, eventually got to C-Level and, you know, Senior VP, President and CEO and 

Emily Lane 02:06 

really climbed your way to the top. 

Jon Lewis 02:08 

Yeah, it was it took a while to do it. But in, you know, I had some interesting times, I mean, I always bounced between this whole idea of being an entrepreneur or starting my own company, which I did three different times, and then went back to the corporate world, you know, say no, and go back to the corporate world and said, No, I can't 

Emily Lane 02:24 

seeking a little security, once again, after being an entrepreneur, 

Jon Lewis 02:28 

and then you got to 

Bret Schnitker 02:29 

be brutal, you know, some nurturing time and ventures, right, 


and then you jump off the cliff again, and go do it. But, you know, through all that work, it's taken me all over the world, and for factories, and sourcing and design and work with great brands and multiple categories. So it's been a great experience, it kind of gave me a unique perspective and training and seasoning for what I'm doing now, because we're really venturing into uncharted territory, right. And I think you need to be able to pull from multiple disciplines, and multiple mindsets and, you know, emotional skills to start a startup manufacturing, you know, project. And my business partner, John Elmuccio, who has had, you know, similar background a little bit more in the supply chain, supply side, you know, chain supply area. So, you know, where I've been more on the commercial stuff, we know enough about each other's functionalities to be dangerous, right? It's a good ying and yang team. But, you know, it's it's, uh, you know, it takes a unique skill set, and a good amount of seasoning to kind of do what we're doing. So it's not, it's not an easy thing. 

Emily Lane 03:34 

So, US abdicated manufacturing of quite a while ago, back in the 80s, we've talked about Sure, right. And you know, you you talked about traveling the world to get first hand experience to see manufacturing, what made you decide, let's bring manufacturing back to the US? 

Jon Lewis 03:53 

Yeah, it's a great question. And something we get asked a lot. And I think it's something that it kind of evolved over time, right. So, again, I'm old enough have been in this business long enough to been working with us manufacturers, when there was so here in a major way and saw this shift. And, you know, I think a couple things, you know, obviously was the labor costs, you know, that was one of the driving factors, but it was also the unwillingness of us manufacturing, regardless of the category to reinvest, and capital and reinvest reinvest capital and technology and new ways of doing things. Right. And I think that was as much as a bellwether, of why manufacturing moved off offshore, as opposed to just the pure labor costs, and plus the ease of doing business. So to give an example, you know, I think when new factory started to pop up in China, you know, there was nothing there. So what do they do, they just bought everything new. There's no legacy systems of anything, they bought the latest technology of whatever, and made this you know, you're in the middle of rural China, they're out of the ground is this Phoenix, this, you know, high tech fabulous manufacturing facility and so they're able to compete on You know, many levels summon fairly with, you know, the suppression of the currency and government involvement. Well, 

Bret Schnitker 05:05 

it's not happening. 

Jon Lewis 05:08 

But, um, you know, a lot of things they they did right just because they leapfrogged, you know, the technology piece of it. And then I think also they made it because it was so difficult to, you know, for U.S, you know, manufacturer, brands, and, and people in the US do business overseas, they made it very easy for you, right, so your boss says, Please just give me a tech pack. And we'll work on it for you, you know, where I think manufacturing and, and my day back in the days was, we had to go buy the fabric from a converter and go find the buttons, and then go find the zippers and send it all to 

another place to sew it and put it all together? Well, that was a lot, that was a lot of work, you know, those ladies are just to go to two or three different factories that you figured out, give you the best price and deliver products on 

Bret Schnitker 05:50 

I think with the loss of manufacturing the US we lost technical skills to go with them 

Jon Lewis 05:53 

Absolutely, absolutely. So a lot of that technology, you know, whatever technology we had, and that learning and that season, it just kind of went away. And I think some industries like the car industry kind of learned their lesson, they shut a lot of jobs, but they automated and kind of brought back you know, a lot of robotics, and were able to kind of, you know, kind of reestablish or re, you know, create what, you know, their version of manufacturing, 

Bret Schnitker 06:15 

Cars also cost a hell of a lot more than they used to tabs, apparel hasn't had that luxury too much. 

Jon Lewis 06:20 

Now, that's, that's very true, you're talking like, like, these are some big ticket items, as far as you know, manufacturing. So I think for us, it really became an idea of if really, though, it was really all as everything is always driven by the consumer, right, because I think once the consumer is started buying differently, he or she they're looking, they're buying online and direct from brands. And that really changed, you know, how you, you know, how you thought about the supply chain, and where manufacturing should be. You know, I think it was interesting went to Kent State is in an Ohio is as a as a great fashion program. And they actually train people in our category, right? So I went to do it, you know, a couple lectures and talks, and I got off in front of the retail one on one class I and you know, full auditorium. And I said, first thing is asked was, who's been to a Macy's in the last two years, you know, no hands, no hands practice no matter what. So the whole idea of how people are buying has changed. And so you know, what that is allowed are new brands who emerge with a relatively low cost of entry to start, they can really craft their message, they can really be authentic, they can drive an emotional connection to their consumer, they don't have to worry about in store promotions at Bloomingdale's, or Nordstrom, or Macy's or whatever, and have to, you know, they can circumvent those, you know, gateways getting product to the consumer. But what it didn't give them was a supply chain that, that that met their needs, if you're going to have that kind of reaction to demand and want to connect with your consumer you need, you don't need an 18 month, you know, product cycle, you know, during production overseas, 

Bret Schnitker 07:56 

how do you go through that conversation with a client, you know, again, we talk about being ancients in this business, you know, it's a weird time is flown, right, you're supposed to supposed to fly when you're having fun. I know, all of it being fun. But when we when we sit here, and we talk about that, you know, the traditional method is, you know, for a retailer or brand like I have a really high markup because I'm expecting certain amount to be sold at regular price or not to be discounted. As buyers, we were both buyers in the industry, we either overbought or under bought, we never bought the right amount. So they assume a certain percentage of the marked down and liquidated a loss. So that whole calculations ends up with kind of their net profit projected versus kind of this gross retail profits projection. In your model, you are creating this kind of dynamic new shift where you're saying, look, the old days of overbuying or underbuying you really can buy to demand with your with your business and we'll get into that a little bit. And so therefore, you don't have all of these you can buy less quantity, you can smi-, you know, buy more focused, and then when business takes off, if things are organized correctly from a fiber standpoint in your factory, you can react to demand therefore every piece in theory you could be selling at regular price directly to the consumer the right size that's needed right now, so you kind of your your your your your maintain profit margin for the company, the net profit can really be you know, all you have this great ability to sit there and dialogue where you know, nearshoring is still going to be a little more expensive in the US than it is overseas. But the value opportunity of reacting to demand. If a style takes off you can chase that style. If you buy it it doesn't really work you're not deep in inventories losses. Absolutely. 

Jon Lewis 09:47 

So I think you know, we definitely go there I think we we usually start though with with having them understand how we're structured and how we're set up because most brands and and teams and buying teams right now. Do not have the infrastructure themselves to do domestic sourcing and things like that. So they're built for overseas, you know, kind of source 

Bret Schnitker 09:47 

you would think would be easier. 

Jon Lewis 10:09 

You think of easier, but they have in their mind that I gotta go find fabric. How do I do this? So basically, we start by saying, working with Evolution St. Louis is just like going over to overseas and work with a factory in China, or Bangladesh or anyplace else, except that we're in St. Louis. Right. And, and as far as cost go, when you compare land duty price to land a duty price, we're within 5% of all overseas manufacturing, Asian manufacturing, and definitely more competitive than European manufacturing. Now, and we always qualify that by saying our focus is really in the contemporary, advanced, contemporary, you know, better designer, luxury categories and fashion. You know, so we're not focusing on the Kohl's business or right big mass, big box retailers. But that's okay. A lot of the brands we work with don't want to work with factories who focus there anyways. 

Emily Lane 10:58 


Jon Lewis 10:59 

because they know that's where all their bread and butter is. And for a lot of those brands on the coast, Midwest is kind of like China. Yeah, right? Where the hell away? Yes, like, Manhattan, it's not in my boroughs, like the whole world overpass the East River. So I, you know, I think, though, when you when we talk about that, it's just like, you know, work with the overseas factory stuff, it's here, we're competitive on pricing, then we start to talk about all those value added things. Guess what, here's what's different, though, if you wanted to have, you know, sweaters deliver for, you know, 9-25, you know, 2021, you don't have to do your concept development in July, or, you know, May June, July, of 2020. 

Emily Lane 11:38 

So, it's a quicker development cycle for you 

Jon Lewis 11:40 

Yeah, so basically, you can actually 

Bret Schnitker 11:41 

basically 912 1029 Right, yeah. Maybe not that fast. Yeah. 

Jon Lewis 11:47 

But you know, I think that, and then the conversation, they have to book production, usually in August or September of 2020, for that same time delivery group booking production a year out, if they're looking, you know, trying to get the best in trying to make sure as, you know, Chinese New Year and all that other fun stuff. So, you know, I think one of the things that happens is that we say that you can actually get through the season, and then finalize your concept development for the next season for production, and still, you know, and therefore you are closer to man, so, 

Bret Schnitker 12:15 

and in season, you can react to demand, which was never right. 

Jon Lewis 12:18 

And when you put it in practical terms like that, they're like, Wait a second, why, why, you know, it's almost like this, they can't even believe it. And then you talk about all the things you mentioned about Listen, designing clothes to the market being closer to consumer, take a position on yarn, it all starts with yarn in our world. Yeah, 

Bret Schnitker 12:33 

that's probably the biggest thing that someone's got to really grapple with is, is the amount of kgs they're going to buy in yarn, right, in a particular style 

Jon Lewis 12:42 

Picking out the yard and understanding their lead times, because that's something we don't have control over. Right. So 

Bret Schnitker 12:46 

yeah, how is freight impacted all of that lately? 

Jon Lewis 12:49 

out of China, it's been pretty difficult. But you know, 

Bret Schnitker 12:52 

There's still bring it a lot from Europe and Italy, 

Jon Lewis 12:54 

there's a lot of pushback for, you know, at least on the better category from, you know, yarns coming out of China, they still use it, of course, there's certain Mills that we're using there that are very responsible and have great, you know, organic product as well, too. But a lot of work here domestically in Turkey and Italy. 

Emily Lane 13:10 

So you were talking about, you know, kind of helping younger brands, you know, who are, you have more intimate relationship with your consumer, I'm thinking about a lot of the younger brands that we talk with here at Stars. And so often, it can be a challenge to help a younger brand, understand the minimums that they need to really obtain to make, you know, going to a more of a full blown production actually viable, that you've talked Bret about what it takes for a factory to set up their lines and get you in the queue. And so there have to has to be some sort of minimum to make it. 

Bret Schnitker 13:52 

There's a lot of dynamics at play. You know, we talked about, you know, people want socially compliant factories and sustainability. And these new brands certainly are really focused on a lot of those the Gen Z brands. And when you kind of go overseas, you've been there really, really small factories have a tough time getting being compliant. 

Emily Lane 14:07 

Yeah. I'm curious, is it in, you know, with the technology that you've embraced, is viable to do smaller production? Or is it? Does it operate in a very similar cycle that it would work? 

Jon Lewis 14:20 

No, no. It's, it's an interesting proposition, because our factory was built to do 300 units, 3000 units, or 30,000. 

Emily Lane 14:28 

Oh, wow, 

Jon Lewis 14:28 

purposefully. So even when we talk about big brands, you know, the big brands you think of, not everything they do is they 50,000 units or 15,000 units, they want to try new innovation things too. They want to do 500 units of something, or 1000 units of something or 300 units or something. And that's where they've really fallen down on the past because they haven't been able to innovate, 

Bret Schnitker 14:47 

can't test and react and they're afraid they're either unit 

Jon Lewis 14:50 

Exactly. So they just don't, right. So then their brands get stale, and they get worried about us that they're hungry. They we get as much outreach from major brands as we do from small emerging brands. Smaller merchant brands, they've had difficult getting into the knit category. Because it's hard to find a factory, he'll do 300 units of anything right, overseas or whatever. So and you can't really, there's no place United States to do small batch, anything like you can do in cut and sew right. And with yarn, you kind of have to take a position on yarn, or at least know what you're talking about yarn, you can't just go buy a bunch of fabric and integrate in your basement and cut some patterns and talk to your friend when you went to fashion school with and sew it together and put it out there in the internet. You just can't do it, right, 

Bret Schnitker 15:29 

being a net guy, you know, probably people would argue with me, but I would, I would say that knits are more technical than wovens. So when you're putting together a design for your particular factory, that can also be a little daunting, because it is more technologically advanced. And you've got some support functions in your factory designers and developers to really support that. 

Jon Lewis 15:49 

No, no, it's true. I mean, you know, if you think about the knitting process, it's like 3d printing, you know, you program it, and then you print something on on we're going to computer any printed on a 3d printer. This is like 3d knitting, same process, we take the tech packs and the concepts and everything we get from, from our brands and our customers, we have a tactical design team that interprets that and puts that into, you know, computer forum, we do the algorithms, and then that's the programming that drives the machines and the machines, you know, it's like Willy Wonka yarn goes in one end, and a sweater or a garment comes out the other. 

Emily Lane 16:20 

So this is truly whole garment. 

Jon Lewis 16:22 

Yeah, it can be I mean, we do knit, we still have the ability to knit and panels and link things together, you know, which is 

Bret Schnitker 16:28 

probably not as efficient as the full whole, 

Jon Lewis 16:30 

it's definitely not. And I think that's where, you know, we've kind of we work with our brand part and say, Listen, you may have done a sweater overseas, using the big brands, it really is, at the end of the day, I've cut and sew sweater, because it's a bunch of dead panels sewn together, linked together. So we say let us try it. Let's take shot at reengineering using our technology, what our machines can do, and see if we can either make a whole garment where it knits in one piece, or we can limit some of the panels that we're doing, maybe it's just we're just linking out a collar instead of the whole, you know, five different pieces together. So you know, I think we always work with our brands, and our customers say, you know, give us a chance to re engineer this and take advantage of our technology and see what we can do to make the production more efficient. And so when we look at, you know, our minimums are relatively low, the 300 units per style, not sound color, or size or anything. So we usually see the limitations on on minimums from the yarn suppliers, but we work with a lot of yarn suppliers has stock programs, 

Emily Lane 17:26 


Jon Lewis 17:27 

surcharges on you know, smaller, you know, dialogues and things like that. So we can usually good work around that allows emerging brands to kind of get into the category to start with, like, oh, man, we can do it now. And major brands to say, Wow, we can actually like expand it 

Emily Lane 17:43 


Jon Lewis 17:43 

unless they really knew they had a winner. But they weren't going to really do the development, the time the energy to kind of go and develop that overseas, 

Emily Lane 17:50 

thinking about how people are used to seeing knits in you know, you're talking about linking everything together, you're used to seeing seams here and so forth, are you finding that kind of the tradition of the past, it can be a difficult leap for people to get their head around aesthetically what it would look like to knit something from, you know, this sleeve to that sleeve without the seams like are you 

Jon Lewis 18:15 

actually we you know, we can use the technology to replicate all those things, we can we make garments that look like they were hand knit, they're done in one piece, and we could have the seaming and the collars and everything that looks like a traditional sweater, it's just done in one piece is not linked together. So actually, we can replicate all those features that you see. And that that looked like they were made by hand or by piece or by old school, you know, knitting, we could just replicate that all automatically, right and, and automate that whole process. So it really gives a lot of freedom of design. In fact, with shaping and different things you could do it actually, you know, even even season knit designers don't know what these machines can do. So there's a lot of collaboration, a lot of education, and talking about there's just every time we work with a brand, they come up they're like were so A: Can't believe you've built it, why you did it. And that it's here and that it's on scale. And that, you know we're expanding and the fact that they can't even believe them what the technology can really do. Now, they never really had that exposure to it. So it's it's really an opportunity. And that's why we focus on the better brands. Because those brands can really take advantage of the technology. I mean, make it a basic 1999 sweater for Walmart, whatever you can make that anyplace you don't need to make out here or use these machines. So yeah, 

Emily Lane 19:31 

So you selected STOLL as your technology partner. Can you tell us a little bit about you know why you selected them as a partner and you know, what else is out there in this space? Sure. 

Jon Lewis 19:44 

Well, there's two major suppliers stalled based out of Germany and then Shima Seiki based out of Japan, and both have their features and benefits. You know, I mean, the Shima Seiki that a lot of high end apparel, they kind of start on the glove business, you know, and they have just just great wonderful machines, 

Bret Schnitker 20:01 

the recent version makes sushi. Right, exactly or automatically whole garment sushi. 

Jon Lewis 20:08 

I wish I would have bought it, let's get we would have bought one. But I think that you know, a lot of their machine their their software's proprietary, right and closed, right. So you really have to be an expert to use their software, there's not a lot of training for things like that too. And you have to buy different machines for different things where STOLL is has has a much more universal and flexible, you know, we can work on I mean, you can. And we found that a lot of our businesses is now and going forward to be in technical textiles. And we're talking automotive applications, medical applications, you know, military, all different kinds of shoes, shoe uppers, they're all doing Nike fly knit was eventually initially developed on a STOLL machine. So, you know, if you look at all the different categories, the machines are much more versatile, we can make a sweater in the morning and the shoe in the afternoon type thing well, and that's true, but kind of get out had that kind of flexibility and and so and also you know the there's a lot of programs out there educational wise that teach STOLL programming, the one plus programming and there's just a great company to work with not that Shima Seiki, has not, they've been they've 

Bret Schnitker 21:19 

done really aggressive, they've been very aggressive committed to building the 

Jon Lewis 21:23 

five years ago, we said to them, that we did a joint, you know, kind of joint venture and a press announcement that over the next five years, we're going to buy 300 machines and be their face in the united in the US market, because they were looking for a way to break in the US market in meaningful way. And we talked about our plan and the vision we have for what we're doing there, like you guys are the first one to kind of get it, you know, and and maybe have a shot at making this happen. So they give us a lot of support, to the point training, development, entire library of, you know, product, bringing people over from once COVIDs over, bringing people from Germany to work in the factory. 

Emily Lane 21:58 


Jon Lewis 21:59 

do all our training. So just very aggressive. And, you know, we are their face in America. And guess what we're on track to meet that 300 machine purchase, we bought 32 machines out of the box. I mean, no one does that. No one's to start up manufacturing by 32, you know, machines that cost 100 to 180 thousand dollars each and then, you know, we can fit another 20 or so in our current facility. And we've had so much outreach and so much customer demand. We've already leased another 130,000 square foot facility in St. Louis, it'll hold another roughly 240 machines. 

Bret Schnitker 22:31 

And so the over 40 machines, fastest production, about how many sweaters is that going to knit a year? 

Jon Lewis 22:39 

Your capacity is about 25,000 sweaters a month so 

Bret Schnitker 22:43 

okay, yeah, there we go. That's quite capacity. And when you when you scale up, yes, big planets 

Jon Lewis 22:50 

Exactly. Really a lot of it on the capacity. It's hard because a lot of it depends. You're making a mask. That's one 

Bret Schnitker 22:54 

complexity of the sweater. How long does it take to knit the most basic sweater on one of those? 

Jon Lewis 23:03 

It could be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, you know, so. 

Bret Schnitker 23:05 

Pretty Incredible. 

Jon Lewis 23:06 

Yeah, it's pretty incredible. 

Bret Schnitker 23:07 

And my understanding is that kind of one operator can manage and how many machines while 

Jon Lewis 23:14 

12 machines right 

Bret Schnitker 23:15 

one operator 12 machines? Yeah, so that sounds pretty robotic. 

Jon Lewis 23:17 

Yeah, exactly. 

Bret Schnitker 23:18 

This is like, is this replacing humankind and labor, 

Jon Lewis 23:22 

I mean, you know, on one hand, it's like, in the old days, you have to have you're doing hand knit machines, you have a lot of like, you know, labor making. But you know, when the jobs that we have at our factory, they're good jobs, you can make, you know, you don't have to have a four year degree to run these machines. It's very tactical job, do you need training, associate's degree, but you can go to like, get a Ranken Tech, some of the other technical schools out there. And, you know, it pays well, it pays well, I mean, and you can in St. Louis, you can raise a family off these. We pay for all our employees benefits, and we just have this really kind of holistic approach to the employees we have, you know, we just really want to take care of them. Because there is a lot of training and development that goes into working well, they want to make sure that they're happy, healthy and working hard for us. Right. And, you know, you could say that, oh, it's not a lot. It's 50 jobs. You know, in a current facility, it will be about 150 180 in our new facility, but they're high paying jobs, paying sustainable wages, great work environment, and, you know, their net new jobs. They didn't exist here. 

Emily Lane 23:54 


Bret Schnitker 24:26 

But I think that's the point that people get lost on technology. And they get worried that Oh, robots and computers are taking our jobs. you've developed an opportunity to build a business in the United States that didn't exist before. It wouldn't exist without this technology. And you can actually and have a plan in place to scale it where more and more jobs are created. And I believe that as that scales because we've had other conversations about this, the ecosystem around that is going to grow creating more jobs, right? 

Jon Lewis 24:54 

No, we are we've already talked about that in the category we listened St. Louis and when time used to be the largest manufacturer of shoes in apparel, All right. So we've talked about, we're doing a lot of shoe development, not totally altruistic. But can we attract a shoe assembly company or shoe company that actually manufacturs in the U.S to build manufacturing in St. Louis, using the same technologies and advancements and, you know, incentives that we got to build that here, all of a sudden that you start to create that ecosystem can we get? We're already talking working with the infrastructure on on U.S spinning, you know, yarn suppliers, could eventually locate that from these small old, you know, kind of Mills that are basic in North Carolina, can we do a high tech modern one in St. Louis, and all of a sudden, to your point, you build this whole infrastructure ecosystem here, and creating all these great jobs and and they're all net new. Right, right. It's not just, you know, really low scale, $8 dollars an hour, you know, whatever it is, 

Bret Schnitker 25:49 

You mentioned St. Louis, being kind of the second largest producer at one point outside of New York. And I get the same question, why the hell are you in St. Louis, you know, why aren't you on the coast. I'm from California, you're from New York, and we're up here, you know, for you, why St. Louis, 

Jon Lewis 26:07 

as well, we started our whole project in New York, of course, and look there and $55 a square foot on the bad side of town, we're not gonna manufacture anything there. Yeah. And I think even in New York, that idea that it's like this manufacturing center, that there's a good garment center is kind of in myth now. It's for sure, it's definitely post COVID. It's not but and so, you know, we looked at where else to relocate. And we looked at North Carolina and Arkansas and those types of places. And, you know, that was kind of like old school, a converter, you know, can shuttle all that other fun stuff that just doesn't relevant anymore, we kind of really looked at were more of the industrial belt, the rust belt is really more, you know, attracted where we are. And, you know, being from Michigan, we, we looked at Michigan, and we had a lot of contacts there. And we were pretty far down the road about ready to sign a lease. And that's when we met Susan Sherman and the people from the St. Louis Fashion Fund. And, and Brian, 

Bret Schnitker 26:58 

they did kidnap your family and hold them hostage 

Jon Lewis 27:02 

they held us ransom for now. 

Bret Schnitker 27:04 

Just kidding. 

Jon Lewis 27:06 

You know, and I knew, and I knew the ecosystem here, because I used to live here, right, and we'd come back here for market and inform a company and different things. So we kind of knew St. Louis has this kind of historical fashion town. So it wasn't a big stretch for us to take a hard look at it. But it was definitely the ability to walk in and kind of see what was already here. Star's Design was already here. And we walked in this place, like, Oh, my God, this is here, you know, and you know, Caleres is here. And there's a lot of, you know, shoe company, and a lot of really great California manufacturing is based here. So there's a lot of things, companies SUMMERSALT, which is the new emerging swim brand is based here. So there's a lot of stuff going on here. And I think having a manufacturing anchor was one of those pieces of the puzzle that would help put St. Louis on the map. So we had this wonderful outreach, just welcoming into St. Louis, where it was like, of course, we're staying. Right. 

Emily Lane 27:58 

Yeah. And you know, technology, technology is absolutely growing here. So you've got that fit between the fashion community and the growing technology sector. That's, that's thriving. And of course, there's you talked about it a moment ago of really the quality of life that your employees can have. 

Jon Lewis 28:15 

Oh, sure, absolutely. One, I think personally, for me, I always joke that St. Louis is like New York at 70 off, you know, we have all the great restaurants and and 

Bret Schnitker 28:25 

Who doesn't want a deal? 

Jon Lewis 28:26 

Exactly right? I mean, I'll go to dinner sometimes, like, this is the bill did you charge me now. But you know, it just it's simple things like quality enough, like Forest Park is bigger, the Central Park and the but the biggest difference is there's only like 400,000 people use it, and not 10 million to get Manhattan. So, you know, it's just I think there's a real push on on both coasts comes like, I want a simpler way of life, but they don't want to give up the culture and the sophistication and the, and the arts and sports and all that other fun stuff that they have there. And you don't have to here. And you basically have it all this is like this hidden gem. 

Bret Schnitker 28:59 

And I think it's really growing. I think we have support from a lot of factors, I think, you know, the Cortex, which is that central corridor that's got all that Tech Center, you know, and the growth there, we've got large companies moving back from the coast there, because the cost of living so much more affordable. You know, the reality is apparel, depending on the sector, you're in really has an increased in retail cost and number of years. So we're always somewhat pressured on cost. And so you know, providing the value that the Midwest has here, right, in an interconnected world. Why not? 

Jon Lewis 29:32 

Well, you know, if you and it's a great point, and when we looked at the business model, you know, just on papers, how do we make this work? And obviously, human capital is going to be important, right, when you're well trained workers, we're not going to have fewer of them, but they're 90 jobs a better, you know, we need a trainable workforce, you know, and that's something the US can offer and what we could pay, which is a good rate and good pay. You could live well in St. Louis. I think the other thing we looked at is that because of the Technology and what we can do, you know, the biggest the thing that we need the most was capital and electricity. And that's really where the US has the cheapest thing, from a commodity standpoint, cheapest offer the cheapest capital in the world. And, you know, electricity base as well, too. So if we can 

Bret Schnitker 30:16 

here we take that for granted. Everywhere else in the world that is a line item that everyone watches, 

Jon Lewis 30:20 

right, I can't build the factories, I can't turn the power on, right, 

Bret Schnitker 30:23 

people are so expensive. Yeah. 

Jon Lewis 30:25 

You know, so for so for us. It was it was, you know, kind of a no brainer. And I think, because the community here and the business community and the social community and the retail community, and every part of it understood the fashion business, you know, they could really help us. 

Emily Lane 30:42 


Jon Lewis 30:42 

You know, I mean, my favorite line is it really to do this, it really all working together to do true economic development. And that's what we found here, I think, St. Louis, to give, you know, kind of compliment to the entire city, and every facet of it is probably one of the only cities we found on the entire country that does that well, right, it brings all those pieces together, you know, and that, and that's an unusual mix. And we didn't find that in a lot of those cities, we're looking for no slam against them. It just wasn't there. They they just haven't gotten it yet. Right here in our category, what we're doing. They did, they did, and they did great. 

Emily Lane 31:19 

You know, before we wrap this conversation, 

Jon Lewis 31:22 

We have to stop? You know, so, everyone come to St. Louis, come take a tour. That's okay. You know, so, um, 

Emily Lane 31:31 

You know, a conversation that we are involved in almost daily is the sustainable conversation. And I believe that the technology that that you have embraced has a really wonderful sustainable story. Can you help shed a little light on? 

Jon Lewis 31:48 

Absolutely. Well, I think one thing that consumer demand the consumers demanding sustainability now and I think rightly so. At the same time, that same consumer saying I don't want to wear this hemp sack and charged $400 for it. Right, right. So there has to be that kind of blending of giving the product I want to buy, but it's got to be sustainable, too. So that's a pretty tall order for overseas manufacturing. And a lot of you know brands coming out so tall order for anyone. Yeah, bigger, bigger, small, you know, emerging brands who support emerging brands, larger brands, no, they have to be relevant, this is how they have to do and this whole idea of fast fashion has kind of gone away people are seeing 

Bret Schnitker 32:22 

slow fashion, intentional fashion. 

Jon Lewis 32:23 

Yeah, I want I want to, I want to have a sweater for 10 years. My two of them. Yeah, but only 40 of them that are gonna last a year. Right. So I think that there's a lot of conversations like that. But you know, good business and sustainability have to merge, right? It can't be a mutually exclusive conversation, I think that's what we've achieved what we do, we have a very green foot carbon footprint, you know, for their factory, we produce a less than 3% waste, we took an existing building, you know, so we didn't like to demolish it and build something new. We took somebody just but you know, took it out to the bricks, put all new lighting wiring, everything submitted a green building, we could put our factory next to a hospital, a school, a playground, it doesn't matter. Right. So and still, you know, be viable, and be part of the community. So there's no smokestacks or small thing, right that how we produce like I said, it is sustainable. It's also about transparency in the supply chain, you want to see your products for you may come look, you know, take a two hour flight not 18 hours a 27 hours ago, some rural province in China do it? Are you paying a sustainable wage, we provide a good work environment are the people that you know, are they happy, healthy, happy, healthy, and going home from a good day's of work, and they can take care of their families provide for their families, and then help build a community? Those? that's sustainable, too. Right? And that's important 

Bret Schnitker 33:16 

It's one of the three pillars. 

Jon Lewis 33:44 

Yeah. Right. So and I think, you know, how you treat your people and just having that whole piece of it is, is, you know, important factor. So, when we message that with the brands and talk about that they totally buy in, because it's not Yeah, of course, we're gonna work with domestic suppliers and help, you know, the infrastructure building, you know, organic, you know, you know, climate beneficial wall and things like that great, you know, and find organic raw materials. It's not just that though, I think that the, the consumers, and the brands are demanding more, and that's what we can deliver on. And we, to that point, have a very robust communication and PR strategy to kind of get the word out. A lot of brands are talking about, yes, you know, take a video of how your product, you know, products being made, you know, put us in your marketing materials, welcome, you know. 

Emily Lane 34:30 

It's a good story. So you know, you're doing your you are using a technology and the infrastructure that you've built to host that technology being more green. And that is absolutely what consumers are wanting and brands are wanting so that reach your really wonderful partner. 

Jon Lewis 34:50 

And I think one thing that I guess from a personal standpoint to the John and I are very proud of is that, you know, we're kind of changing the idea of what made in the USA means right? And you know, we all want made in the USA, it makes us feel good, right? And I grew up in Michigan, my dad worked for the car industry for 37 years like I still drive an American made car, right? It's just because it's in my DNA. So but that just can't be what it's all about. We want to reinvent, reignite, reinvigorate what U.S manufacturing looks like, regardless of the category. There's a lot of companies out there doing that. But in apparel, no one's doing it. Right. So we're really kind of want to be the one of those thought leaders and saying, how do we reinvent what manufacturing looks like in U.S manufacturing and feel really feel good about being made in the USA? You know, it's not just this Americana nostalgic, it gets about future made in the USA. 

Emily Lane 35:42 

Well, thank you, Jon, what a tremendous perspective you have shared and I'm really excited to see the growth of your manufacturing and I love seeing all of these layers come together. What is it you And so true. 

Jon Lewis 36:05 

Listen it out. Thank you for having me. I always like to talk about this. Like I said, I could talk about this for hours. You know, we're here, you know, we're getting to the point of post COVID here, hopefully pretty soon come visit us world, we're happy to. We'd like to do tours and talk about what we're doing and we like to make stuff so 

Emily Lane 36:21 

and I can definitely attest to the fact that it is absolutely worth the tours. So if you are interested on hopping on a plane, I absolutely recommend that you visit the Jon's at Evolution St. Louis. 

Bret Schnitker 36:35 

What's your website, Jon? 

Jon Lewis 36:37 

Bret Schnitker 36:39 


Jon Lewis 36:40 

This was an 

Emily Lane 36:42 

This conversation is a good segue for another conversation we have coming up soon. We're going to be talking further about sustainability and the viability of sustainability in fashion. So make sure to subscribe so you can stay apprised of more episodes of Clothing Coulture. 

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The Future of Fashion in Whole Garment Knitting with Jon Lewis Evolution STL