Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Man Behind The Curtain

Work in the fashion industry is often portrayed in an incredibly glamorous light. One might assume that working in fashion consists of stylists, bloggers, editors attending Paris fashion week, or most will conjure up images of Carine Roitfeld dressing an immaculate Kate Moss in Givenchy’s fresh-off-the-runway designs. But the reality is jobs like this are few and far between. What about the people that don’t have their picture taken, and who don’t work for Vogue? What about the people behind the scenes who essentially produce these clothing lines?

Enter a new perspective of fascinating and important jobs in the fashion industry. For those who are not aware, apparel manufacturers are an exceedingly valuable link in the fashion cycle. The individuals that run these facilities are responsible for producing the clothing in photo shoots, as well as the clothing you wear on your back.

Ron Leibovitch is president of the Montreal based Empire Clothing Manufacturing Company.  He has been a part of the ever-growing company for 30 years, and shows no signs of slowing down.  To run an apparel manufacturing company is by no means a breeze. Empire Clothing Mfg. Co. has been a largely successful endeavor since its launch in the early 1900’s.  Empire has become a hugely successful men’s apparel firm, running all stages of manufacturing, from design to distribution. The company that began with its own private label has gone on to produce for established brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and Peter Millar. 
Here, Mr. Leibovitch discusses his beginnings in the industry, what he loves most and least about his job, and shares his advice to those considering a career in this industry we call fashion.

How did you get interested in manufacturing and eventually get hired? 
“My Grandfather, Joseph Leibovitch started this business in the early 1900’s. He would go door-to-door selling men’s suits all around Montreal, and other areas in Quebec, all on his horse and buggy. My father, Edgar Leibovitch was raised to work in this business and went into it right after high school. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I spent every Saturday morning helping out at my Dad’s office.  After finishing my last year of school, my father was anxious for me to join the business. I have been working in the business of manufacturing men’s suits and apparel ever since.”
What is a typical day like for you? 
“Everything depends on what type of year it is, for example how the economy is. If production is slow, I am more involved in merchandising and sales.  During a typical day, I oversee every aspect of my business.  I always keep an eye on production quality and dealing with people from customers, to my staff.  I oversee accounting, customer service, human resources, the merchandisers, and the entire production room on a daily basis. I make sure that the managers of the cutting room, sewing room, pressing room and of quality control, are all doing their jobs up to par. “
 What excites or interests you the most about your job?
“The relationships with the people I have in the industry, from the salesmen, customers, and suppliers, to the people within my company.  I believe that having good relationships creates happy people and this leads to a positive outcome and work experience for all. I especially enjoy building relationships and getting to know people better. Not only does this create a close and comfortable work environment, but building strong relationships result in better sales.”
 And the least?
“The number one disadvantage is stress.  I have to work very hard to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. The amount of stress is very relative to different situations.  I also don’t enjoy the traveling aspect of my job, because I don’t like living out of a hotel and would rather be at home with my family.  I travel to visit customers, to buy fabric from different mills, and to see the latest trends for men’s clothing in Europe and Asia.  Traveling may seem glamorous, but its not, its very hard work.  I often become sleep deprived and it gets old.”
 What education, work experience and skills do you need in order to be successful in your field?
“I went to the University of Western Ontario and received my Business Degree.  After, I moved to New York, attended Fashion Institute of Technology and received a degree in Management Production. I then went to work for a Consulting Firm in New York called Emmanuel Wientraub, where my position was titled Production Engineering. After I completed my first year at Emmanuel Winetraub, my Father was anxious to have me join the family business and to start working with him. I had a wonderful relationship working with my father and learned a great deal from him.  In 1995, my father passed away and I took over the business.
I think it’s important to have strong social skills. I learned from my father that the relationships you build over the years are extremely important.  You need a great deal of energy to run this kind of business and you also need to work extremely hard and be very disciplined. It is essential to have an extensive product knowledge, but that comes over time.”
What advice would you give someone that is interested in the fashion industry?
“Find a job in the industry that you enjoy, take on the challenge, work hard and move up.  If you want to move up in this industry, you must be a capable, dynamic, innovative and creative individual. I look for people who show a lot of interest and have a very positive personality, with whatever they do. It is also very important to have developed social skills.  But, I believe that even if you are shy, with practice, you are able to learn people skills and develop your own contacts over time. As long as you are warm, positive, eager and show talent you will succeed!”

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