It’s rare to find a company that does things the “old-fashioned” way — hand-manufacturing its products and sending the founder out to make personal appearances to promote business. But David Lee did just that when he started his company 30 years ago, and today he is proud to say that his product line is still made right here in the USA.
Lee’s company, KD dance (corporate name: KD dids, Inc.), manufactures a full line of comfortable, light dance apparel made from its signature knit fabrics — each made to order. When Lee started in 1980, he and his then-partner Tricia Kaye were dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area making custom legwarmers and tights for their fellow dancers on hand-operated sewing machines.
“It just grew from there,” said Lee.
Coloring their world
At the time that Lee launched his company, the only dancewear available was from big-name companies like Capezio, and those brands only produced one basic type of bodysuit, legwarmers, tights and sweater wraps, Lee said. Lee was looking to do something different and offer more options for dancers.
“It was brand new. Nobody was doing what we were doing at the time,” Lee told BusinessNewsDaily. “Nobody had a full collection in a full range of colors. We were the first ones to do that, and that’s how we got started.”
It is always difficult for a new small business to build up a good reputation and customer base, but Lee met this challenge head on.
“We kept our focus and point of view. That eventually became our brand signature,” he said. “It took and is still taking time.”
Once KD dance had an established presence in the Bay Area, it was time to go national. Lee traveled coast to coast, visiting all the major dance companies, studios, and theaters across the country with free samples and tiny one-to-two page catalogs of his products. By selling directly to dancers, he helped KD dance gain recognition as a viable brand worthy of competing with bigger companies. In 1995, KD dance chose a more permanent spot to do business and opened a retail store in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood.
While the company does take advantage of modern marketing strategies like e-commerce, Web distribution, and social media, its advertising methods haven’t changed much over the years.
“The biggest marketing advantage is word-of-mouth and repeat customers,” Lee said.
Made in America
Lee’s company is unique in that it manufactures its products in America . It is much more expensive to produce things domestically, so companies that choose this path are often forced to charge more for their products. While pricing does present a distinct disadvantage for KD dance, Lee, who serves as the company’s CEO, has found several advantages that make it worthwhile.
By not outsourcing the manufacturing process, the company is able to offer quicker turnaround time, closer proximity to its consumer base, and a much greater creative range for their line. Most importantly, KD dance is able to take full responsibility for product quality, in which the company takes a lot of pride.
At the KD dance factory in the Bronx, which the company has owned and operated since 1983, you won’t find any of the small sewing machines Lee used when he first started. Computerized knitting machines manufacture the company’s products quickly and on a large scale for their expanding base of customers. Each garment is made to order leaving the company with little on-hand inventory, the cost of which can sink a company.
“It requires staying on top of technology and managing people , and always looking to be as efficient and streamlined as possible,” said Lee. “You have to be proactive and vigilant about incorporating technology and using whatever is current.”
Lee’s decision to manufacture his own products was partially a practical decision based on KD dance’s level of business, but it’s also just part of who Lee is.
“We always came down on the side of making things,” he said. “That’s what we liked doing, and as long as we could do it profitably and work it out logistically, that’s what made the most sense to us.”
And thanks to efficient management, multitasking, and having different pricing levels and distribution channels, KD dance has certainly been able to do it profitably.
“Cut when you have to, expand when you can. Be present, be mindful, [and] avoid waste,” Lee suggested.
While the company mainly markets to dancers, its products are not just for dance class. Garvey Rich, VP of Product Development and Marketing at KD dance, noted that the dual usage of certain products attracts many non-dancer consumers.