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Monday, May 20, 2024

Taylor Shupe: Making the First Stitch

Taylor Shupe, founder of knitting manufacturer FutureStitch, said he finds joy in being able to provide something unexpected in business.

“I’ve always found some passion identifying areas of opportunity that people underappreciate,” Shupe told the Business Journal.

His first venture, San Clemente-based Stance, was created to expand an overlooked part of the apparel segment, socks. The company is now reported to do well over $100 million in sales.

Shupe left the brand in 2018 to enter the larger industry of textile manufacturing, a space where he believed he could make a more meaningful impact.

“I had been immersed in factories for the better part of a decade that were built to follow a low-cost, high-output investment model,” Shupe said of the shift to FutureStitch.

The executive recalled two different factory tours that were part of his motivation to create a new manufacturing business model designed to prioritize environmentally safe methods and high employee retention, while also making a profit.

“The vision is to own the entire product lifecycle—meaning we own the raw material production and finishing, we’re able to market then sell the product to the end consumer, and then recapture that product and turn it into something new,” Shupe said.

The first tour was at the cusp of starting Stance alongside co-founders Jeff Kearl, John Wilson, Ryan Kingman, and Aaron Hennings. Shupe visited a potential supplier’s factory that “was so dilapidated” with black mold and a falling ceiling.

During the second year at Stance, Shupe was able to see a Crocs manufacturing facility in China— “I had never seen a factory that was so clean,” he said.

FutureStitch’s 280,000 square-foot Shanghai facility opened in 2018 and is now said to be the most energy efficient knitting facility in the world by LEED standards. The company’s Oceanside facilities, which opened in 2022, span approximately 20,000 square feet with FutureStitch currently searching for a larger footprint.

The San Clemente-based company works with Stance, Lulu Lemon, Toms and most recently added New Balance.

Shupe was one of five honorees at the Business Journal’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards, held March 20 at the Irvine Marriott.

Second Chances

Shupe was determined to challenge whatever perceptions existed at the forefront of the industry he was entering.

At FutureStitch, this went beyond the operations of manufacturing. Shupe wanted to put people before profit.

Shupe founded a program called Second Stitch where the manufacturer employs formerly incarcerated people.

“The problems of the prison system are the duration, the lack of skill building, and what happens after,” Shupe said.

There are currently 14 employees from Second Stitch at the Oceanside factory and Shupe aims to have 40 by the end of the year. He eventually wants to promote the employees beyond production roles and move them into other parts of the business.

“Giving someone a second chance is as important to me as the products I produce,” he said. “I saw an entrepreneur, not a criminal.”

Second Stitch has seen a 0% recidivism rate since its founding, meaning none of the employees have returned to the prison system.

“Everything I do has a correlated commercial benefit,” Shupe said. “I want business owners to understand that there is a method to enhancing your environment and culture that will increase productivity and profits as a result.”

Double Time

FutureStitch has a new area factory in the works.

The new facility would join the company’s existing Oceanside location, a factory in China and a joint venture operation in Turkey. The company secured a lease for a second building next door to the Oceanside factory last year.

Shupe said he was currently looking at properties and was close to securing a new location. The company is looking for a 12-acre site that would house not only the factory but a farm, housing, a school and more.

It would also provide more opportunities for the Second Stitch program and its participants.

Hyper localization is a future goal, Shupe said, with plans to have a factory within a few hundred miles of each market. He said he could even design factory models that could be franchise owned.

Another factory would also help in FutureStitch’s goal to double its business by 2026. The company made $50 million in sales last year.

Product Wise

Manufacturing new consumer offerings beyond socks, compression sleeves and knit shoe uppers are on the table as well, according to Shupe. His focus on circular knitting provides an opportunity to do so.

“If I could do one thing in my life on the product side, it would be to completely undermine, if not, destroy the sock market,” Shupe said of what the business could achieve in the future.

Using circular knit, he could “create footwear that is so comfortable, never requires socks and is seamless,” Shupe said. “That’s my whole thing—to create a new offering that’s convenient, ecologically friendly, helps lower costs overall and allows me to create jobs.”

He said that FutureStitch was partnering with MIT to operate two of its machines to set up a knit lab at the university to work on this innovation.

Shupe knew from the beginning that to build a business like FutureStitch, it was going to require trial and error. He said he was lucky enough in his last venture to fund the new company with a majority of his own capital, which went to the Oceanside building.

“I don’t ever want to give the impression that what I’ve done is super easy,” he said. “I want this to be a durable business that withstands time.”

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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