Georgia on my Mind

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
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Elizabeth Pape on Manufacturin... Jennifer Pahlka on Code for Am...

georgia T.jpg Like many of you, I love when EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes real-world entrepreneurs to the show, as he did this week with Elizabeth Suzann founder Elizabeth Pape. Their discussion included the start-up story of the company, a fascinating exegesis of the price of an Elizabeth Suzann garment, and the practice of shopping ethically.

I hope you were as taken with this episode as I was. (And yes, I ordered a Georgia Tee, and I'll report back! And I want to know how many other new customers were created by the "EconTalk spike!"). Share your thoughts with us using the prompts below, or create your own...No matter how you choose to continue the conversation, we love to hear from you!

1. To what extent can/ought Elizabeth Suzann be a model for the entire apparel industry?

2. Despite my "confession" in the introduction, Pape asserts that Elizabeth Suzann is not trying to capture new customers. Isn't that counter-productive? Why does she argue that this strategy makes sense for her company, and how applicable do you think it might be to others?

3. Russ calls Elizabeth Suzann "such a 2017/21st century story." What does he mean by that, and how does this relate to the history of the women's apparel business over the last few decades?

4. What is Pape's biggest trade-off for efficiency in her production process, and why does she say that she's essentially running two businesses?

5. What does Pape mean by shopping ethically, and how widespread do you think this trend is? To what extent do you shop ethically? To what extent did this episode change the way you think about apparel shopping?

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Mark Crankshaw writes:
To what extent do you shop ethically? To what extent did this episode change the way you think about apparel shopping?

I do not make any attempt to "shop ethically" and I am not about to start anytime soon. This is, to me, an alien and artificial ethical standard that seems to be quite unnecessary and not worth the bother. Reinhold Niebuhr is attributed with saying: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference". The vague concept of "ethical shopping" certainly isn't going to change the world, and I personally feel no obligation to change the world even if it could.

None of this is my responsibility--and I am not in the business of virtue signalling. Then again, I am not a "fashion conscious" person either, since I am not trying to signal that I follow fashion trends either. Long ago I realized that "what people think" isn't worth anything and it is certainly not worth wasting any money chasing the esteem of the mindless and uncaring horde. I only care about what the few people that I care about think of me; the rest of the world can just go hang...

Greg G writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Jacob Bansmer writes:

Regarding the question of shopping ethically:

I am careful to not confuse shopping ethically with shopping morally. Most of what Pape was advocating was shopping based on a set of self-imposed rules regarding what is acceptable in terms of how products are produced, i.e. morals. Products that are purchased morally rely only on what the consumer thinks, not any sort of regulated, defined terminology. The difference may seem semantic, but "ethics" denote a concept that is imposed by some entity higher than one's own opinion - a feeling that has been pushed back against by one commenter already.

The difference between shopping ethically versus morally, to me, is stark. One need not buy anything close to "fashion conscious" to purchase a product that fits one's sense of purpose for the products that surround us.

Ken Bertagnolli writes:

In regard to Pape’s biggest trade-off for efficiency in her production process, I would argue that her process is actually more efficient than bulk production and specialization. Pape refers to her process as a "lean, full-garment construction method." The principles of "lean" manufacturing are perhaps best summarized by Womack and Jones in their book Lean Thinking.

Pape has organized her garment sewing process so that the value-creating actions (sewing the cut pieces together) occur without interruption whenever a customer places an order. Flowing the garments in this way can eliminate many of the wasted steps that don’t create value, such as waiting, overproduction, conveyance and inventory.

However, the main advantage of Pape’s method is that it enables continuous improvement – a way to make the process more and more efficient over time. A factory worker cannot simply follow instructions and achieve high levels of productivity. Instead they must generate new knowledge and know-how in order to solve problems related to doing the work. They do this by seeing problems and solving problems, at the worksite, at high frequency. The workers are not the same over time; they do literally get smarter by making things. Likewise the knowledge and know-how of these workers accumulates in the networks that populate the business (and the community), making the network smarter over time as well.

I have experienced first-hand the transformation from a traditional, bulk manufacturing system to a lean manufacturing system. By far the biggest impact on our employees, customers, communities and shareholders is our ability to solve problems and continuously improve. I applaud Pape for her choice to make things in this way, even though conventional wisdom regards it as less efficient.

[broken html fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Edith Zimmerman writes:

I enjoyed this episode.

I was surprised when she said the items are only meant to last for 3 to 7 years -- that seems brief, and I'd be curious to hear more about why this is.

The earlier comment about the difference between ethically and morally in this context is helping me sort out my own opinions, which I appreciate.

Also -- how do you like the Georgia tee? The episode did make me want to immediately buy a bunch of her clothes, but the prices give me pause. Mostly, though, I now want to try to make my own tshirts and dresses...

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