The textile industry has largely gone overseas to foreign vendors, but that trend with all its downsides created an upside for Creative Specialty Apparel.
The Sparks-based company, which grew out of creating uniforms for casinos in the region, now sells custom designs nationwide.
The company handles all design and pattern making at its Sparks facility and even does assembly for smaller lots or emergency orders. Large orders are sewn in Los Angeles. And this at a time when the majority of the garment industry has gone overseas.
The overseas flight of garment makers, however, creates a challenge for the apparel designers that remain. When an entire industry relocates, it takes down the domestic supply chain.
"Resources are diminishing," says Judy Anderson, president of Creative Specialty Apparel. "Our labor force is disappearing."
But, as she had in the past, Anderson found a way to profit from problems.
"I see a huge opportunity for us in this market because of that off-shoring and consolidation," she says. "Clients are hungry for options."
Overseas orders can take months to turn around. For a client in a pinch, her firm can fill orders in weeks.
The majority of Creative Specialty Apparel's work is so specialized, she says, that her company does not compete with the apparel makers who use Third World labor.
For example, a dress for cocktail waitresses at the Las Vegas Excalibur, with slashed Camelot sleeves, has 85 pieces to the pattern.
Then there are custom sizes. On the large end, a size 7X uniform was made for staff at a Mississippi casino. And a size-74 chef coat made for a customer in San Diego. On the small side, orders for cocktail waitresses wear go down to a size triple zero.
Creative Specialty Apparel can turn around an order as small as one special jacket for a concierge, or as large as 4,000 pieces. Billings range from $30 to $250,000.
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles in 1979, Anderson moved to Reno. But in the high desert cow town, she found nowhere to work in the upscale fashion industry she'd trained for.
So she took a job in wardrobe at Harrah's and was soon designing uniforms for five Harrah's and Trump properties.
"That's how I got my start in uniforms," says Anderson.
Back in design school, what did she think she'd be doing?
"Not this," she says.
Still, she adds, "It's been a great town for me, because I invented myself. There's opportunity wherever you are. You just have to have the gumption to chase it down."
Creative Specialty Apparel more than doubled its space this year when it took nearly 10,000 square feet on Greg Street. This year's New Years Eve flood destroyed fabric and drove it from its former digs on Hardy Street.
It employs 10 three designers, three sewers and three administrative. Plus one sales rep in Las Vegas. The sales staff is about to grow, as Anderson adds an in-house group to deal with orders from the launch of a new catalog.
She hopes the catalog will smooth the peaks and troughs of workflow. Major orders from big properties like the Bellagio in Las Vegas create a huge influx of work, but the surge often is followed by a slow period.
"We'll use the catalog to drive smaller sales orders to even out the workload," says Anderson.
The designer built the firm from the barest beginnings. Back when she made uniforms for Harrah's, publicly-traded Angelica Uniform bought the Harrah's division. For 10 years, Anderson worked for Angelica.
Then she was recruited by Sportif to design sports wear. But a few years later, Angelica again came knocking, offering freelance design work.
And yet a third job showed up, in the guise of a call from a local casino asking help in making a uniform smock.
"That," she says, "was the birth of this company."
Anderson started the company in her house, outgrew that; rented a house, outgrew that; bought a house, outgrew that. The post Sept. 11 economic downturn posed a setback. But she regrouped with a new business plan in place.
And now, she's ready to step aside, hire a pattern maker and focus on growth.
As casinos continue to proliferate nationwide, she says, "The gaming market is now competing with itself. New uniforms are a way to keep their image fresh. And, it's great for employee morale.
"We have a lot of effect on people's lives. People have to wear this every day. If they feel good, it has an effect on how they treat customers."