Assembly line to apparel lines
MCDC gets fit with jeans, custom wear
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Mark D'Andreta, president of TD Industrial Coverings Inc., says the company's subsidiary, MCDC, “put us on the map” by attracting requests to design and manufacture denim uniforms and other custom sewing projects.
Photo: KENNY CORBIN
Detroit-branded blue jeans and custom apparel are helping a once-struggling Sterling Heights company recover after its main line of work, which relied heavily on the auto industry, hit a snag.
MCDC clothing is designed, cut and stitched in a plant shared with its parent company, TD Industrial Coverings Inc. TDIC makes covers for machinery, curtains for factories and protective work wear.
Although the fashion and industrial lines use different sewing machines and techniques, the two sides of the business share many resources, including designers.
"It's been fun. It's allowed us all to get more creative," said Mark D'Andreta, president of TDIC and its denim-company subsidiary, which began two years ago with a line of blue jeans. Soon after, he started getting requests to create, design, prototype and manufacture uniforms and other custom sewing projects.
Apparel manufacturing also helped the company survive. During the economic downturn, orders for industrial coverings dwindled and the apparel work has helped the company diversify.
The investment in MCDC "put us on the map," D'Andreta said. "It really energized my staff and brought in contracts."
It also opened a new market for the 30-year-old business.
In addition to making sleeves for robotic arms and jeans for fashion-conscious Detroiters, the companies make outfits for cocktail waitresses and casino dealers and uniforms for hotel personnel.
That they do it alongside of industrial work on U.S. soil is key, D'Andreta said.
"We're on a mission here," he said. "We're trying to bring back American manufacturing."
A stitch in time
The venture into blue jeans began in 2010. As TDIC's apparel manufacturing was getting under way, Joe Faris, former "Project Runway" contestant and co-founder of Fashion in Detroit, approached D'Andreta with the idea of creating a denim brand.
Motor City Denim Co. was founded in September 2010, and the line debuted the next month at a Fashion in Detroit show under the name Motor City Denim Co. by Joe Faris. But in November 2011, Motor City Denim and Faris split ways; D'Andreta cited business and creative differences.
Faris debuted his new fashion line called Motor City Blues at the Fashion in Detroit show in March.
Meanwhile, TDIC's Motor City Denim now goes as MCDC. The company also learned some things through the changes. D'Andreta said the company has learned to be more creative and nimble as a result of the expanded product lines and mixture of functional and fashionable projects.
TDIC has 83 employees, up about 20 from when Motor City Denim began. Depending on workload, a dozen employees can be shifted from the industrial side of the business to the apparel side.
That includes four in-house designers who have backgrounds in fashion and are enjoying the opportunities to channel their creativity in new ways, D'Andreta said.
"Their creative juices are flowing," he said, and both sides of the business are benefiting. "When you become more creative ... the more solutions you can bring to a problem."
Apparel accounted for about $70,000 of TDIC's revenue last year, and D'Andreta said he wants to double that in the next year. TDIC, he said, is on pace to beat $8 million in revenue. But he doesn't see much future in industrial coverings.
"I'm not envisioning automobile increasing beyond what it is today," he said. "There aren't going to be more new assembly lines built."
Designs for clients
TDIC is working with Arrow Uniform of Taylor to design its wardrobe line for casino and hospitality workers and has done sewing for Kid Rock's Made in Detroit company. Arrow Uniform also works for TDIC as its denim-wash vendor.
Event planners and consultants Gail & Rice of Farmington Hills contract with TDIC to design specialty wardrobes for auto shows, such as the leather jumpsuits that Fiat Abarth product representatives wore at the North American International Auto Show and the custom racing suits that helped Dodge introduce its Dart Rallye in New York this spring. Account executive Terri Maloy said she anticipates similar projects for the upcoming auto show season.
But uniform work can be fickle, according to Anna's Uniforms of Ferndale, which sells medical scrubs, restaurant and other uniforms.
The company adds logos to catalog-ordered clothing and has four seamstresses who design, cut and sew custom uniforms primarily for churches, choirs, pastors and hospital volunteers, said owner John Stingu, whose mother founded the company in 1972. Anna's Uniforms designed the robes worn by choir members who appeared in the debut "Imported From Detroit" ad from Chrysler.
Despite these kind of one-off contracts, uniform business has been on a steady decline for a decade, Stingu said.
"Way back when, we used to make restaurant uniforms, but now they wear polo shirts and skirts," he said.
An increasingly diverse base of customers and investments in modern machinery have helped TDIC, said D'Andreta. TDIC invested in new sewing machines and equipment for apparel production but was able to leverage its existing resources, such as computer-aided design software.
Fatoula Lambros of Fatoula Lambros Design in Detroit hired TDIC to produce its knit and woven clothing that will be available this winter. Lambros said she had a bad experience with another production facility and wanted to use one that was close, where she could work on site with the staff.
"We were looking for someone who was closer to Detroit," she said. "If I hadn't found Mark, I would have considered moving," probably to California where those services are more readily available. "He believes in making a Detroit brand."
Detroit's jeans scene
MCDC plans to re-launch its own denim this fall, D'Andreta said. The company makes men's and women's jeans and T-shirts and plans to introduce jean jackets for its winter collection.
In its debut, Motor City Denim sold between 300 and 400 pairs of jeans, running about $180 a pair. The new line of jeans -- three styles each for men and women -- will cost about $125 a pair. They will be sold online at www.motorcitydenimco.com and at independent boutiques.
MCDC is not in competition with national brands, and customers buy them because the "made in Detroit" message resonates, D'Andreta said.
"Our customers love that we embody the resilience of Detroit," he said.
The new logo features the letters MCDC and the wings of a Phoenix.
MCDC isn't the only jeans maker in town, though. Detroit Denim Co. also sells pants with a Detroit label. Like MCDC, it uses denim from U.S. mills, but Detroit Denim's high-end, handmade men's jeans use selvage denim and premium leather and cost about $250 a pair.
Before he set up his own manufacturing operation this spring at Pony Ride in Corktown, which provides low-rent factory space to entrepreneurs, owner Eric Yelsma had a few pair of his own jeans made at Motor City Denim.
Although the company is based in the city that bears its name, Yelsma said it is more important to him that all the components are made in the U.S. than that they come from Detroit.
"Jeans are about as American as you can get," he said.
Meanwhile, D'Andreta said he's excited for TDIC's future.
"We're hitting the sweet spot," he said. "We're doing it slow and we're doing it steady, and it's actually happening. I'm making money at it."