Don't Sweat It: Ortiz Industry Mixes Performance and Aesthetic Appeal

Jessica Binns
Senior Editor
If you've ever worried about getting a bit damp in the underarms on your morning bicycle commute to the office or fretted over the considerable added burden (ahem) of shimmying into shapewear to smooth lumps and bumps beneath your curve-hugging pencil skirt, then Ortiz Industry's collections are for you.

Apparel veterans Claire Ortiz and Heather Park — who have a combined 45+ years of experience between them — tapped their vast knowledge gleaned on the job with the likes of Nike and Brand Jordan to develop a line of separates designed to be highly functional and as comfortable as athletic wear yet classic in style. Geared toward today's urban commuter and active professional, Ortiz Industry's office-friendly garments are made with proprietary materials packed with practical features such as moisture and odor control, 360-degree stretch and recovery, and UV protection, to name a few.

"The world of apparel is no longer just fashion and trends," says Ortiz, co-founder and CEO. "Constructing a garment around a constantly moving body is truly engineering, and that's the most difficult thing to do as a designer."

Indeed, designers approach their work differently when the materials at hand have functional components. "Our rule is: if it doesn't add function, take it off," Ortiz points out. "We're not going to do bows, we don't do show ponies, we don't do concept cars. We do real garments for real people."

Streamlined, intuitive, intrinsic and integrated are how Ortiz describes the brand's design mantra. The company favors patterns that offer three-dimensional functionality versus ones with myriad cut pieces and lining and seams — there's entirely too much going on. "We always challenge ourselves and our designers to create products where you're thinking more three dimensionally," explains Ortiz. "The body is a three-dimensional, round thing, not a flat pattern piece."

Going back to that pencil skirt for a moment: Ortiz Industry's Monday knit skirt comes with an integrated compression layer built right in, eliminating the need for Spanx or some such separate shapewear garment. Because … why not? After all, shapewear is "like a standard" today, observes Ortiz, so why not bring the best of the office-standard pencil skirt and the girl's-best-friend body-slimmer together in one convenient garment? (Also, this way you never have to worry about your shapewear showing.) The patent-pending design features many of the brand's standard tricks of the trade — laser cutting, sonic seam welding — that ensure the skirt holds up through dozens of wash cycles, retaining its shape and function.

Ortiz Industry's vendor partners in Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan are essential to ensuring not only a tightly controlled supply chain but also a strict six-month concept-to-consumer timeline. "Because of our materials partnerships, we're literally designing very close to season," Ortiz says of close relationships with vendors such as Men Chuen, a knitting facility headquartered in Taipei. Lean manufacturing, as well as lean development, saves time, money and energy and gets the product to consumer more quickly than traditional processes.

And as a start-up, Ortiz Industry embraces the lean concept in personnel, where each person on the seven-member staff wears four or five hats because of a company philosophy that everyone should be constantly learning and developing knowledge outside of their core skills, Ortiz adds.

Though the company manufactures in Asia, Ortiz says she looked at producing in the United States "from day one," describing stateside manufacturing as her "dream."

"We want to bring apparel manufacturing back to the U.S.," says Ortiz. "We boast Silicon Valley as leaders in global technology, why can't we be the same in every industry?"

The problem, of course, is that apparel manufacturing historically has been considered a blue-collar job. But given where technology is heading and what it's bringing to the garment manufacturing sector, the new era of apparel production is white collar, technical and advanced — in other words, it's a career, says Ortiz. "They're no longer sewing factories, today they're innovation labs," she adds. "It takes fairly knowledgeable people to run them. I think we're at the beginning of a changing of the guard."

Ortiz hopes the guard is changing, too, in the global population's fitness and activity level. The much-ballyhooed obesity problem in the United States is spreading to Europe and even cropping up in parts of Asia. "Everyone wants to be able to exercise in some way but who really has time?" Ortiz says. With purpose-built apparel, commuters can burn some calories by biking or skateboarding or scooting to work without worrying about having to freshen up with a shower or tend to wrinkled clothing before they park their backsides in their office chairs.

The time is right for a brand such as Ortiz Industry, which officially launched at the end of March and will roll out three collections annually in addition to its seasonless Daily line. Today's customer is savvier and more socially conscious than ever, staying informed through smartphones, social media and everything in between. "Because consumers understand and are well versed in technology because of all the other products they have, we no longer have to explain things to them," Ortiz notes. "Millennials don't know any other world except technology." And they expect cutting-edge tech in every aspect of their lives.

Ortiz Industry just might be the exact opposite of fast fashion ("we call ourselves old-school visionaries," Ortiz notes), and the brand is searching for permanence in a culture cluttered with fleeting fads. "Hopefully we're going to do something that is of value and not just be another little clothing brand looking to be cool," she says. "We're looking to improve some lives and be a part of the future."

Editor's Note: Be sure to read about all of the 2014 Top Innovators!
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