Investing in Los Angeles’ Next-Gen Knitting Industry
Dorothy Crouch, Associate Editor | Thursday, February 8, 2018
As many design houses rely on outsourced production that has been sent overseas, domestic suppliers are investing in their own businesses, building strong reputations for quality products and incomparable service.
One of those is Evita Chu, owner of PDR Knitting, who explains how she unintentionally transitioned her quiet hobby into a trusted source for luxury knitwear that is made in a 7,000-square-foot space in Los Angeles’s South-Central neighborhood.
“I had back-to-back car accidents. The second one prompted me to quit my job. While I was rehabbing at home, a friend of mine called me and asked me if I could knit him some sweaters. He told his friend, and his friend told another friend, and it landed with Mike Gonzalez of Mike & Chris, who called me. That was my big break,” she explained.
Evita Chu, owner of PDR Knitting, in her studio, surrounded by her projects
Since that opportunity in 2006, Chu has grown her business into a 14-employee operation that includes nine automated, all-gauge machines that use extremely thick or thin yarns. Employees join sweater pieces through a linking machine and perform hand finishing while adhering to Chu’s standards, which rely on Italian and French traditions of quality.
Despite her belief that the future of the industry is in automation, she retains two hand-loom knitters, reflecting her love of traditional production methods, value of loyalty and desire to see others succeed in domestic production.
“They have been with me from day one. They have been really loyal to me, and I will be loyal to them. Actually, one hand-loom knitter, I promoted her to assistant programmer,” she said.
While Chu is dedicated to promoting local manufacturing through a passion for creating products that spread the made-in-America message, the overhead for managing a business locally is expensive. She cites rising business costs—such as rent, increased minimum wage, public-health license waivers and workers’ compensation insurance—as large expenses that are shifting her strategy.
“We were, at one time, 24 employees and right now we are down to 14,” Chu said. “Mainly because we cannot afford any more with the rising of the minimum wage, so we have become more automatic right now. Basically, the domestic price as it was, even 11 years ago, has been high compared to overseas production. Even right now, products made in Italy are cheaper.”
A knitter works on a hand-loom machine.
A PDR Knitting employee uses a linking machine to connect the pieces of a project.
Despite the burden of the growing costs to manufacture in Los Angeles, Chu remains optimistic about her knitting niche, which caters to the luxury market.
“I think because mainly we are dealing with the high-end market, there is always a consumer in the high-end industry, and they are less price sensitive to anything that is going on. The market that got hit the most was contemporary, which is in the middle,” she said.
With luxury-market clients—such as Baja East, Helfrich Los Angeles, John Elliott and lifestyle brand Giannetti Home—price points that hover from around $400 to approximately $2,000 afford greater financial security in a challenging marketplace. Though consumer spending in the luxury sector means customers spend more money on individual pieces, the bottom line is that these buyers expect quality, which is not lost on Chu.
View of the PDR Knitting workspace, which includes this Shima Seiki SSR 112 machine
The PDR Knitting resource room, where clients choose yarns from the company’s collection
“The most expensive ones [brands] still survive and, also, we try to keep our quality on par with Italian products since we cater mainly to the luxury market. Most of my clients, because they’re in luxury, don’t follow a certain trend. They are the trend leaders,” she said.
These leaders are focused on the high caliber and accessibility of Chu’s services. As a client who has worked with PDR Knitting for six years, Canadian designer Raif Adelberg of Herman Market prioritizes quality of his finished designs and feels a kinship through working with a North American company.
“She is really good at what she does, plain and simple,” he said. “With her attention to detail, timing, quality and delivery, there was no reason to go overseas. When you are producing sweaters retailing for $1,600, you’re not selling thousands of them. I felt everyone was going overseas to save a dollar and, on that level, I don’t know how much you’re saving.”
This sentiment is echoed by Brandon Sun, who has worked with Chu on his eponymous brand since her company started 12 years ago. “Nothing beats seeing the entire process and having the opportunity to instantly make adjustments rather than dealing with international shipping time and cost,” he noted. “PDR can crank out five prototype iterations in the time it takes to do one anywhere else in the world. Additionally, PDR has relationships with so many global yarn providers and their color cards, creating a one-stop shop for brands looking to advance their knitwear program easily.”
Providing quality yet effortless production is important to Chu, who is able to bring the resources of Pitti Filati to her clientele in Los Angeles. For Chu, this means leading clients through the process of choosing appropriate yarns for each project and dispelling any confusion that could result from the overwhelming issue of having too many options.
“When they come here, with anything that they already have envisioned, I can say, ‘Okay, you have to order this, or that, yarn.’ It’s easier for them to get the yarn. We have about 70 percent of what Pitti Filati has over there. All the major Italian yarn companies are here,” she explained.
At PDR Knitting, the business promotes the quality of local manufacturing yet affords access to global resources. This comprehensive business attitude has allowed Chu to grow from a woman with a few knitting passion projects to a key player in Los Angeles’ local apparel scene.