Retirement didn't go as expected for GV entrepreneur
When retirement plans unavoidably shifted, Green Valley business owner Nancy Lambert took a leap that's paid off, although she's eager for the November election to be over and the economy to stabilize.
Seven years ago, Lambert was happily employed as a technical clothing designer in Tucson, a job from which she planned to retire in 2012. When the company was unexpectedly sold in 2009, she was out of a job. She found work freelancing, even though it meant traveling to Phoenix three days a week from Green Valley.
But it provided enough income to buy the equipment she needed to start a business making and selling fabric coasters. Soon she diversified into neck-coolers, kitchen aprons and hot/cold packs, sales from which provided more machines.
Eventually she was sewing for others out of her garage, and launched Arizona Apparel Manufacturing in 2010.
Lambert soon signed on her first customer, clothing designer Ruby Sanders, formerly of Tubac and now of Green Valley. Sanders' Ruby Jane line, a higher-end clothing collection, is now assembled at Arizona Apparel, which moved to commercial space in a quiet corner of Green Valley's Ward Lane after Lambert realized she needed more room.
Since then, Lambert, 66, has developed contracts to manufacture other women's clothing, commercial embroidery, and her largest client, Dirty Girl Gaiters ankle protectors for recreationalists.
Her five employees and two contract staff who work from home produce 1,500 pairs a month. The gaiters were founded by fashion-conscious marathoner Xy Weiss of California in 2004.
Building a business is tough enough, but Lambert has also had to worry about the economy this year. Blame it on the election, she says, which has been “horrendously bad” for business.
“Everybody's hanging on to everything because they don't know what's coming.”
She said it's not unusual to feel a slack in business, but that's often not until December or January.
“But this year it was in mid-September.”
She expects to see an upsurge soon in embroidery orders, as is typical before the holidays.
With the gaiters, Dirty Girl determines what patterns and colors of four-way stretch Spandex will be produced; Lambert's staff cut, assemble and ship the gaiters to customers worldwide.
The product is a hit with joggers, cyclists, hikers and others, shielding them from dirt, brush, rocks and the like. Reflective versions also make good safety wear, increasing user visibility at night.
Every six months, another 36 rolls of fabric arrive in Green Valley with new patterns. Popular themes include skulls, swirls and food items, with the widest-sought color, black. Metallics and neons are also hot.
With her own business, “The biggest challenge has been finding competent help,” she said. “Sewing is not something many people do anymore.”
Despite the recent economic downturn, she sees signs the apparel industry is “definitely” returning to the U.S. after years of being farmed out to foreign countries, where labor costs are rising and quality can be inconsistent. She's getting more calls all the time from people wanting American-made products and is gratified to be part of that movement. Old Glory hangs in the shop, and it's motto is “Keeping it Made in America.”
Starting her own business was fun but scary. The move to Green Valley helped by sparing some commuter expenses, Tucson taxes, and she likes it here.
“No matter how much you prepare, there are still a lot of unknowns,” Lambert said. “It's been extremely exciting with the roller coaster market.”