About a year ago, the management of National Work Clothing Ltd. went out into the workforce to get a better sense of what tradesmen wanted in their workwear. What surprised them mostwas the large number of tradeswomen they found, and the fact that there was no custom workwear aimed at women.
“The manufacturing plants out there have never targeted the women’s true-fit sizing,” explained president Bryan Morawiecki. “It’s always been men’s sizing, and they just downsize it.”
To counter that, Morawiecki and his wife, Lisa, have spent the last eight months or so experimenting with designs and colours for their “Women at Work” line. The clothing is finally ready for launch and comes in two styles: the heavier work wear clothes for women in the trades, and a lighter fabric that Morawiecki says is perfect for the at-home do-it-yourselfer.
“We’ve had a lot of success. We’ve gotten a lot of awesome feedback on it.”
NWC Ltd. moved to Elmira back in July. While the factory has been up and running for just the past three weeks, the company’s history goes back almost three decades.
The business was started back in 1981 by Morawiecki’s father, Lolek, in Cape Breton. At the time they only made rain gear, but in 1989 they bought a work clothing company in New Brunswick and expanded their product line.
They were forced to drop the rain gear line about eight years ago, though, after cheaper products started flooding in from China.
“Our rainwear started taking a real beating because was coming from off-shore and was really cheap,” explained Morawiecki. “So, basically, my dad dropped it.”
Morawiecki took over the business from his father only a few months ago, and one of the first steps he took was to modernize the operation.
“He got stuck in this rut that he didn’t want to change anything. He didn’t even have an email address. I’m making it more technical. I’m basically bringing it up where it should be.”
Following the loss of their raingear market to cheaper overseas products, the company realized it needed to adapt to remain competitive.
NWC decided to focus heavily on specialized, custom orders for work and rain clothes. One of their biggest customers is Canada Steamship Lines, the company that operates many of the boats shipping goods on the Great Lakes. They do all of the CSL’s custom embroidery and design work.
Morawiecki said the unique design of his shop allows for quick adjustments on the fly, which is crucial for filling orders for custom workwear quickly and cost-effectively.
“We have a really versatile production floor; we can do quick changeovers, where most plants by the time you do that you’ve lost too much money.”
That versatility is apparent in the company’s newest line, “Women at Work,” which Morawiecki said is, “designed for women, by women.” The work clothes are available in powdered blue, pale yellow, and pink – which he hopes to market heavily throughout October, breast cancer awareness month.
“We were going to really build it up for breast cancer, but we were late getting in here and getting started, so we’re just starting.”
Morawiecki has even set up a small retail store at the factory, located in the old Park Avenue Clothing plant at 15 Park Ave. E.
One member of his staff is dedicated solely to producing custom orders for people who walk in off the street.
“We can customize anything. If someone was to come in today in the morning, a lot of times we can have it by the end of the day because of the way we’ve got the production floor.”
The custom orders are a little more expensive than mass-produced clothing, but he maintains they remain cheaper than other custom-order companies.
“It’s cheaper, but it’s not of less quality.”
He has also targeted a major demographic in the Elmira area that he believes goes largely unserved, the local Mennonites. He is working on designing a line of work clothes for them.
“It’s hard to get black work clothing,” he explained, referring to the strict clothing guidelines many Mennonites must adhere to. “I’ve talked to a couple out on the street and they were asking if we had black workwear. So we’re developing [that] now.”
Morawiecki said he’s proud of the products and service that his father worked for nearly 30 years to establish.
“My father and mother (Jeannette) started it, and my wife and I have taken it over. We’re keeping it in the family.”
Today, he is always on the look-out for the newest technology and design in work clothing.
“We stand behind our product. We’ve been open for a lot of years, and we like to think we’re staying cutting-edge. If the zipper goes, we repair it free of charge. Anything defective that comes along, we repair it free of charge.”