Dragon Crowd Evolves from Traditional Manufacturer to Vertically Integrated Supplier

In many Asian cultures, dragons — those mythical serpentine fire-breathing creatures — often are renowned for their wisdom and longevity, and it's just those two qualities that have informed Dragon Crowd's rapid evolution from its traditional apparel manufacturing roots into a vertically integrated, WRAP-certified producer of young men's and women's apparel that now boasts a thriving research and development operation. It takes a healthy dose of wisdom to think outside the box, choose the road less traveled and make differentiation from the competition a top priority — all important ingredients for a lengthy and productive showing in a notoriously cutthroat and corner-cutting industry.

"We asked our current customers, what could we do above and beyond the scope of what we currently deliver as a company?" says Jeff Marshall, marketing director for Dragon Crowd, which operates four factories producing 1.8 million units monthly and owns three fabric mills, two for knits and one for wovens. "Across the board they asked for more fabrics, more design, more innovation through manufacturing."

Founded in 1998 by Edward Zhou in Ningbo, China, the company now has offices in Hong Kong, New York City and Costa Mesa, Calif., and employs more than 3,000 staff, including more than a dozen full-time associates in southern California who are developing innovative apparel silhouettes, new wearable fabrics and post processes. "As a partner and stakeholder in the success
of our clients' business, we have made it our mission to forecast and identify trends, anticipate client needs and customer desires, and deliver goods to satisfy those needs and desires," Marshall explains. Those clients include household names such as Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Vans and Oakley, and with California's status as a hotbed of creative innovation, access to these R&D associates has proven to be fruitful for Dragon Crowd.

"The research and development strategy provides 100 to 200 new fabrics monthly, quarterly trend-right men's and women's styles guides, and a constant flow of new garment styles and silhouettes," Marshall says of the new team, which travels across the globe searching for innovative fabrics, creative fabric post-processing approaches, unique washes, interesting trims, and novel ideas in garment construction techniques.

Dragon Crowd produces a swatch booklet for clients to review the latest fabric innovations, and the manufacturer has also created an accompanying "vibe booklet" that aims to provide inspiration for key apparel pieces relevant to trends in the marketplace, an approach that Marshall refers to as "innovation for inspiration."

While company president J. Spencer is fond of quoting the classic film Dirty Harry — "A man's got to know his limitations," says Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan — Dragon Crowd seemingly has found a winning formula doing what it does best, a strategy that resonates with clients to the tune of more than $125 million in annual sales.

And happy employees are a big part of the company's "good business" plan; workers get a fair wage and factories shut down promptly at 5 p.m. The oldest facility, Rock Maui, was constructed in 2008; the newest, Rock Guangming and Rock Bay, opened just last year. 

Editor's Note: Discover more about our Top Innovators here.
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