When Nancy Lambert lost her job, she used the setback as an opportunity to stitch together a new career.
A former technical designer in the fashion industry, Lambert, 62, decided to go against conventional wisdom in starting the clothing manufacturer Arizona Apparel Manufacturing LLC.
She established the business in her hometown of Green Valley, despite the dearth of industry in the area. She likes the location because it's close to her home and she avoids Tucson's taxes and red tape.
"Is it unusual to have a clothing manufacturer in Green Valley? It's more unusual to have a clothing manufacturer in the U.S.," Lambert said. "Most of it is in China, India or Mexico. It's very unusual to be making apparel in the States."
It's her company's unorthodox location that's allowing it to grow, she said. Clothing designers could have their work mass-produced abroad for less money, but the appeal of getting the job done in the U.S. brings some to Arizona Apparel.
The company motto is "Keeping It Made in America," but its clients span the globe. She also works with designers in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Australia.
Clothing that Arizona Apparel produces sells in boutiques around the country. Lambert said she doesn't currently work with chains.
"They're very happy," Lambert said of designers she works with. "Our quality is good and price is reasonable - but not anywhere near as cheap as what you're going to get in China."
One such client is Ruby Sanders, owner of Ruby Jane Jewels, a Green Valley operation. She said Arizona Apparel fits all her needs.
"What's great is I can't sketch, but I have it in my head and (Lambert) works really well putting ideas in my head into reality, into a garment," Sanders said.
Sanders said she relocated to Arizona from South Africa after outsourcing to Chinese manufacturers decimated the industry in her former home. After a stint in Phoenix, she's been in Green Valley for the past two years.
She said outsourcing manufacturing abroad would save her money, but she'd rather support a local business.
"I'm a brand-new business and my clothing quantities aren't big yet," Sanders said. "As I grow, Nancy and Arizona Apparel can grow together. How cool would that be?"
After starting her business in the garage of her Green Valley home in March 2011, Lambert moved the operation to an 1,800-square-foot facility at 881 W. Ward Lane.
There, she and her seven employees - four of whom are full-time - work in an assembly-line-style routine to create all manner of products by hand, ranging from shoe covers to dresses, tops and sweaters.
After Lambert was laid off from Arizona Mail Order Company in 2009 she did some freelance work for a while and started selling clothing at a local farmers market, until she saved up enough money to buy some sewing machines to get her business started.
These days, Lambert joyfully pours in hours at the office, often working from 5:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. She adores her employees - "I have probably the best employees that anybody could be blessed to have. They're an absolutely dedicated group," she said - and is sure at least one of them loves her back. Her husband, Paul, works for her, handling shipping and receiving.
Lambert also loves her facility and dreams of expanding by renting a nearby vacant building and hiring four more employees.
"I tell my landlord, 'I don't care how much you advertise, that's my space and you can't rent it,' " Lambert said.
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at email@example.com or 573-4130.