New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in his bestseller “The World Is Flat” captured the state of the global economy and described the ten “flatteners” that have leveled the playing field for international competition. His extensive travels in India and China convinced him that we were entering a new era of global commerce. Today’s business owner is not just competing with the store around the corner; he or she is potentially competing with a store in Bangalore, India or Kiev, Ukraine. For example, I recently visited with Wen Nance, owner of Trinity Apparel Group, and he provided a glimpse of the future of the flat world. Nance founded Trinity in 2002, and it is the clothing industry leader in the global production of “made-to-measure” custom apparel. Nance’s company is based in Mississippi, utilizes a software firm based in Toronto that develops software in Costa Rica, has a technology partner in London, and manufactures custom garments in China for sale around the globe. It seems that the world really is flat!
Nance is a native of Oklahoma and transferred from the University of Oklahoma to Mississippi State for the professional golf management program. During college, he worked during the summers for Southwestern Publishing Company selling books. This is no easy job as you typically are assigned a territory in a distant location and have to literally cold call door to door. Interestingly, every person I have ever known that worked for Southwestern Publishing Company in college has gone on to be a business success. It takes guts to walk up to someone’s house and have to sell something to earn a wage. Nance’s experiences with Southwestern and interest in clothing led him to having a career in the clothing industry. He started off with Tom James Company, a custom clothing company which was founded by Spencer Hays, the owner of Southwestern Publishing Company. Nance later started his own retail custom clothing business, and in 2002 he saw the opportunity to create Trinity Apparel Group and to leverage his experience and the changing global marketplace.
Nance spends almost 100 days per year in China and has built a world-class supply chain for his business. The path of the entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. Nance acknowledged, “there were two major points where I had to make the choice to press on and potentially lose everything or try to exit the business.” He chose to press on and fortunately things have worked out. We discussed how important it is for an entrepreneur to firmly believe in his or her idea. For Nance, he believed that his business concept was sound and could work. This gave him the conviction to persevere in difficult times. We discussed that the key is that the ideas have to work before you run out of money!
Today, Nance is continuing to innovate. He is about to launch a revolutionary approach to “made-to order” and “made-to-measure” custom clothes utilizing imaging and digital measurements. My sense is that it will be a huge shift in the industry. His vision keeps him on the cutting edge of change. He has also partnered with internationally known tailor Leonard Logsdail to create a joint venture for a new brand in China. In addition to the headquarters in Ridgeland, Trinity has staff in Canada, United Kingdom, and China. While there are many lessons to learn from Nance’s success, I think one of the most important is to see how to leverage this new “flat world” to create significant opportunity. We have to expand our horizons and see the creative ways to grow our businesses.
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.