Clothing Line Production: The Step by Step Process for Fashion Designers : Courses & Free Tutorials on Adobe Illustrator, Tech Packs & Freelancing for Fashion Designers
Fashion Design Production Checklist for Manufacturing: Successful Fashion Designer Podcast Interview with Abbie Ellis of Stitch Method by Sew Heidi

SFD013: Clothing Line Production: The Step by Step Process for Fashion Designers

July 31, 2017

Learn the step by step process to clothing line production and the critical parts to think about like: how long it takes to go from idea to finished product, how much to budget, and whether you should manufacture locally or offshore / overseas.

In this episode I’m chatting with Abbie Ellis, co-founder of Stitch Method – a Chicago fashion agency that helps you DEFINE your market, DEVELOP your product and DELIVER it to your customers. In the interview, she walks through a step by step overview of the production process, how to work backwards from costing and budgeting to design, and why a tech pack is essential for every product, no matter how simple or where you’re manufacturing.



You will learn:

  • How long it takes to go from idea to production (hint: it’s longer than you think!)
  • How much you should budget to get your design into production
  • How to know whether you should manufacture overseas or locally
  • A step by step walk through of the production process from start to finish
  • Why your factory is one of your most valuable resources
  • How to work backwards from costing and budgeting to design
  • The value of thinking bigger picture and creating long term goals

Guest Info & Resources:

Production Checklist

Fashion Design Production Checklist for Manufacturing: Successful Fashion Designer Podcast Interview with Abbie Ellis of Stitch Method by Sew Heidi

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SFD013: Full Podcast Transcription

Heidi: Hey everybody this is Sew Heidi and you’re listening to the Successful Fashion Designer Podcast we all know that the fashion industry is brutally competitive and it takes loads of hard work to get ahead the problem is that everyone’s secretive and tight-lipped about their ways. After working as a designer and educator for over a decade. I wanted to help break down those barriers and bring you valuable knowledge from industry experts and this show is exactly where you’ll find that whether you’re trying to break into the fashion world make yourself more marketable launch your own label or become a successful freelancer. We’ll, help you get ahead in this cutthroat fashion industry. This is episode 13 of the Successful Fashion Designer Podcasts and today I’m chatting with Abby Ellis co-founder of stitch method a Chicago fashion agency that helps you define your market develop your product and deliver it to your customers. Any interview Abby walks through a Step-By-Step Overview of the Production Process how to work backwards from costing and budgeting to design and why a tech pack is essential for every product. No matter how simple it is or where you’re getting it made.

Abby: The tech pack is such a crucial piece it acts almost as like a visual contract for what it is you’re asking the factory to create and at what price and with what materials and what color is etc.

Heidi: Before we jump into the interview I want to remind you can help the show out and make it easy for others to discover by leaving a rating on iTunes if you enjoy this episode I’d really appreciate it if you take 60 seconds to do that. Visit SFDnetwork.com/review to leave your rating and thanks for your support and help to access the show notes for today’s episode, visit SFDnetwork.com/13. Now onto the interview with Abby. well thank you so much for being on the successful fashion designer podcast. Abby, I’d love to start with you. Just introducing yourself and telling everybody a little bit about what you do with your business.

Abby: Yeah, absolutely well thank you for having me. My name is Abby Ellis and I am the co-founder of stitch method and stitch method is a Chicago-based product development and design company. We focus on the fashion entrepreneur. So, our clients come to us with an idea and we help them bring that idea to life through prototyping sourcing materials and partnering them with the right cotton cell factory our specialties are in women’s wear children’s wear and active wear and we’ve been in business now for about three years and we’ve helped launch dozens of brands and it’s really it’s an exciting thing that we do here.

Heidi: That’s so awesome and so I would love to kind of just have you walk us through. Like what does the journey look like so pretend like I’m an entrepreneurial startup designer and I’ve got this idea and maybe you know, maybe I just have some sketches on paper maybe have some tears from magazines and I come to you guys and like can you just kind of walk us through what some of those steps look like or I don’t know that’s what I just said is I have some sketches on paper like where is it that most people kind of come to you, like what’s your typical? What do you typically see and then how does that whole process work?

Abby: Yeah, absolutely so sometimes our clients do have sketches on paper, sometimes its sketches on napkins, sometimes it’s just an idea that might live on a Pinterest board or it may live you know just in their brain. So, really the first step that we do is help them get that idea out of their heads and into a format that’s understandable for their supply chain. So, really kind of creating that technical flat sketch and working back and forth with our clients to refine this idea because not a lot of our clients come to us from the fashion industry a lot of our clients are coming from other industries we worked with a brand who the owner also owned a dance studio locally here in Chicago and she launched a dance line naturally. So, she had the expertise in dance but not in this industry so we really helped first step really bringing that idea kind of out of our client’s heads and into a understandable sketch. But we also really start with the numbers. Because as an entrepreneur and going into this industry. It’s really important to understand the cost. So, every new client that comes in our door we focus on setting up a pre costing estimate for them, So, how much is this going to take to launch your business in terms of like a big picture budget, but also how much are you going to look at paying out for your cost of goods and what are your retail and wholesale price points going to land on. And we really start there so that our clients can understand if there is a viable target market for this if they can produce their clothing line in America which most of them do want to do and what their total launch it looks like so it’s kind of twofold. We help them, you know, bring that concept that’s in their head to an understandable format through sketching and also simultaneously work through this. It’s pre-costing and budgeting estimate.

Heidi: And so, I mean I feel like you know that’s something that’s a question I get all the time. It’s like how much money do I really need to do this. And so, if you’re comfortable I’d love to kind of hear about some of the ranges and I know it can really vary depending on what the product is how detailed it is what type of fabrics you’re using but like what are some rough numbers like if I really want to try to do this on a tight budget like what am I looking at and what are those ranges.

Abby: Yeah, it can be a huge range. That’s kind of a loaded question just in terms of like what product you’re launching something obviously as complexes like a wet a line of wedding gowns is going to be a lot more costly out of pocket than a line of t-shirts.

Heidi: Sure

Abby: Just based on you know the construction complexity there and the amount of material you need to purchase. But just as a rough estimate I would say you know if you want to launch a line go through a proof-of-concept if you have one style let’s say medium complexity…

Heidi: Okay

Abby: I you know depending on where you want to go through in a process and also the other thing that factors here is how many units you want to manufacture.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: Obviously looking to make ten thousand that’s going to cost a lot more than if you’re going to make a hundred pieces, for example.

Heidi: Sure

Abby: But I would say you know somewhere in like the ten to twenty thousand dollar range just has a really rough estimate.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: It started to go through the product development to purchase materials maybe do a small proof-of-concept run not a huge inventory purchase but just you know to have some pieces that you can’t get into the hands of your future customers and get some feedback on.

Heidi: Yeah, and so I’d love to hear your thoughts and it’s I mean I’ll definitely have my thoughts on this. But like where do you suggest people typically start with a first initial order because I know some designers like oh I’m ready to make 2,000 units of this and you know it’s a it’s a fine line between having too much and having enough and so where are some of the numbers in terms of production that you’ve seen people kind of find a comfortable spot?

Abby: Yeah, that’s actually a really great question, A lot of our clients tend to start small which we think is a smart strategy just in terms of like you said it’s a fine line of your purchase in your inventory because if you’re purchased too much and you’re sitting on your inventory you’re basically just sitting on your cash,

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: And that’s what we don’t want so you’re in the beginning when you’re first starting out you might not know how many units you can sell a month or how many units you’ll be able to sell you know a season or a year so starting smaller and even selling out is sometimes better than having too much inventory that you then don’t know what to do with.

Heidi: Right

Abby: So, I would say in terms of like numbers the good thing is being located here in Chicago we work with a lot of local cut and sew manufacturers that have very low minimum order requirements.

Heidi: Oh, great…

Abby: Which is excellent for just starting out and our minimum order requirements here they range from like ten pieces to you know a hundred pieces four styles some of the factories like you know 250 500 piece orders but you can really kind of do what’s right for your brand and what you think you can sell because we’re working with really it’s a hypothesis at this point like how many units do I think I can sell what am I comfortable buying into.

Heidi: It is a total hypothesis and so I’m curious to know like are any of your customers doing or seeing success with like pre sells or you know how are you really gauging like how much do I think can sell I don’t know am I just like pulling a number out of the air?

Abby: Sometimes trusting that,

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: Advice is a big part of this but other times our clients are you know looking to crowdfunding campaigns like Kickstarter Indie-Go-Go to kind of get that you know feelers out theater in terms of their target market and what they think they can do with pre-orders.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: We also worked with a client recently who took an interesting approach to pre-orders we did her technical flat sketches for her and helped her work with an illustrator to really you know bring those flat sketches to life and you know have beautiful watercolor drawings on croakiest and she put those on her website and started a voting process.

Heidi: Oh cool…

Abby: So, is it interesting take that we hadn’t worked with a client on before but she just said you know I’m gonna throw these sketches up on my website and push it out to my market and see which ones are the most popular and then I’m gonna move into product development with those so before she even started sampling or pattern-making with us she had this whole voting process so you know there’s really no like run one right way to do this?

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: But I thought that was a really unique you know unique approach but I would say most of the time our clients are more often than not moving forward to the development and the production and doing cutting a small run like 25 50 pieces per style,,,

Heidi: Okay…

Abby: And use that as their proof of concept if I can sell through this then I know that I have a good product.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: And then I produced more in different patterns colors styles etc.

Heidi: Okay. Cool. I like that voting thing that’s a really fun way to like really engage with your audience and get their feedback and kind of listen to what they want.

Abby: Yeah and it’s kind of a low cost of entry as well.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: Because you’re not purchasing samples or you know developing patterns yet it was really just like these beautiful illustrations of the garments and just kind of throwing it up and seeing what’s stuck with her market and what they like.

Heidi: Yeah, has she moved forward or is it the voting stage kind of still finishing up?

Abby: No she move forward went through voting and then she went through pattern and sampling and she took some pre-orders once she had actual photography.

Heidi: Yeah.

Abby: You had the Giles because that was our only kind of hiccup in terms of the process what said sometimes consumers don’t understand what a sketch will look like…

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: As a garment so she took pre-orders once she had actual photography of her samples and then just moved into production her production is still being complete it’s not finished yet but the whole process seemed to work out really well for her.

Heidi: Oh, that’s great. What a fun idea. Okay so I figured out my rough budget and looking at maybe doing like a small production run and we have a flat sketch that really kind of interprets the idea in a way that the industry professionals can understand what’s readable and so then what are the next steps where do we go to next?

Abby: Perfect, yes. So, once all of that has worked through then we start the actual product element process so this is when we’re getting into pattern making and prototyping and rounds of fittings and this is really Heidi like where the hard work comes in.

Heidi: Yes…

Abby: And there were our clients get a like a crash course education I don’t know if our clients ever expected to think about so many details of a garment until we get into this process

Heidi: Yes…

Abby: So, typically what we’ll do is we’ll take that flat sketch we’ll take any you know reference sample garments they have for construction or fit and we’ll start to work on the first prototype. We do fit most often on live fit models I would say that that’s really important in terms of making sure that you’re fitting your garment on a fit model that falls within your target audience so age, build… you know everything there can be really important so make sure that you’re just having capturing that right fit for the customer from the beginning I’d say with the exception of children’s wear because kids tend to grow super quick so fitting on a live model with children’s wear it can be very challenging so when we work on children’s wear clients we typically fit on a dress form.

Heidi: Interesting…

Abby: To make sure we keep that consistent standard.

Heidi: That is fitting a kid’s fit model from one month to the next their body size is gonna be different.

Abby: Exactly!

Heidi: How thats interesting…

Abby: Yeah, and then you know you made those pattern updates based on what they were like in June, and July then and now everything’s too short.

Heidi: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’ve not done kids wear so I’d never would have thought of that that’s such an interesting point I’m glad you brought that up.

Abby: Yeah, so I would say you know generally fitting on a dress form with children’s wear as a smart approach and then the live model that’s within your target market its age range build etc. for all the other alliance is really important as well.

Heidi: Okay

Abby: But that first fitting is I mean it’s not cute Heidi it is working garment the finishes aren’t always you know complete sometimes we leave a hem raw so that we can you know be working on where we want that to fall once we see it on the body and it’s really you know a long meeting it’s probably our longest fitting throughout the whole process where we go through all of the nitty-gritty details and it’s also that first time you’re seeing this is like a 3d garment

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: You know we’ve got flat sketching and the idea and the you know concepting but this is the first time that it really comes to life and you get to see how it looks on a body and how it feels and you can if you are putting on a live model get that feedback in terms of like you know when they sit down – is it still comfortable like how was it getting on and off etc. so you can make those adjustments per their recommendations as well.

Heidi: Okay, so you said that this is the longest meeting in terms of you know the might you might spend a day doing that or I don’t know how much time but kind of stepping back looking at like I want to kind of analyze the timeline overall to.. because I think that that’s something that is often underestimated not just with independent sort of designers but I find it with my larger clients who manufactured product overseas and it just never goes as fast as you think it’s gonna go so we’re winding a little bit like talk about the timeline maybe from and I know there’s variables because it can depend on how quickly the don’t dine designers ready to move but like rough timelines okay from rough concept to getting all the sketches together to getting the first round of proto’s and the first that samples dialed in like where what are we looking at here?

Abby: Yeah, that’s a great question and one thing to just note is that really nothing in product development is ever super speedy.

Heidi: Right…

Abby: Okay a little bit longer than you think it is.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: And with our clients specifically and with entrepreneurs launching a brand for the first time it’s really a good thing because you want to take the time to make sure that you’re going through these steps.

Heidi: Yes…

Abby: To perfect your fit to test your fabrics to make sure what you’re putting out there to the world will make a good brand first impression so I’m gonna walk through this timeline and it’s probably going to be longer than what some people may expect but I want to just you know note that’s a good thing.

Heidi: Well, I love you say that because I think so many people get so excited to launch the product that it’s really tempting to try to rush but I think it’s so important to emphasize that you know what it’s better to really slow ourselves down to make sure we do it right because the launch will be that much more successful if we do that.

Abby: Oh, absolutely…

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: One of the biggest things that we say here is if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t sell.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: So like rushing through that fit process and rushing into production with a garment that you’re not so sure of the specs or the fit on is it’s probably worst case scenario.

Heidi: Yes…

Abby: So in terms of the timeline of what we just outlined I would say going through the initial like ideation and concept and also I’m gonna lump in their sourcing your materials because we’re gonna be looking to wholesale fabric vendors that we can order sample yardage from to go through the prototyping process so then when you are ready to move into production you have your vendors lined up already you can just give them a call and order your production yardage. We prefer to work that way rather than working in retail fabric or muslin we want to go ahead and have these vendors lined up so that we can have some efficiencies when we are ready to pull the trigger and production so it’s like going through all of that you’re probably looking at roughly three months.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: You know fine-tune your concept get these technical flats approved go back and forth and revisions on those source the materials order your sample yardage and have this you know nice package ready to just move into pattern making and even drop-off with a local pattern maker if you’re working you know with an individual and in wherever you live.

Heidi: Is what final pattern making? Yeah…

Abby: It’s about three months for that first step.

Heidi: Okay, to get to a first proto?

Abby: Correct, yes…

Hiedi: Okay, and for any listeners out there that haven’t heard the term proto before it’s short for prototype and it’s your first sort of proof of concept of your garment okay so we have our proto and we have our material source and we’re ready to go into final pattern making which would include a full set of graded a whole graded pattern correct?

Abby: Correct, but before we agreed the pattern we actually plan with our clients to do two additional fittings,

Heidi: Oh

Abby: So we go through two more fit samples so we have our first proto will make revisions to the pattern so a second sample do another fitting on the live model generally at that point we’re pretty close.

Heidi: Okay

Abby: So it’s not so much of like this working meeting working through these details really you know seeing that our second fitting is more of like fine tuning so making sure that the pattern changes you wanted to make from the first proto are represented in the second fitting the things that you changed or wanted to change work and you’re kind of fine-tuning these details and then we do you know one more round of fitting or we plan for one more round of fitting where we can do you even more fine-tuning from that second fitting and so the third fitting when we see that third fit sample in a perfect world our fit model points it on and it’s approved.

Heidi: Okay…

Abby: But we do plan to do three fittings with the dancewear line that I mentioned sometimes fitting can be a little bit trickier so that was leotards and there’s girth involved and four-way stretch fabrics and generally the closer to the body the garment fits the trickier it is to fit.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: If that makes sense?

Heidi: Yeah, so you don’t always get it done in three?

Abby: Exactly, so that one we needed additional fittings but I would say in general just to plan for three fittings?

Heidi: Okay…

Abby: Especially first fitting you know for developing with it for a brand new company a brand new brand this is where I mentioned you really want to take that time to make sure that it fits because if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t sell so.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: We planned for three fittings and then once we have that approved fit sample and pattern that coordinates with it then yes you’re correct we move into grading.

Heidi: Okay…

Abby: So then you can scale up and down to all of the sizes you want to offer in your production run.

Heidi: Yeah and so I’m just kind of touching on something you said there was you know the first time you’re doing this you have to take everything really still you’re finding all your suppliers for the first time you’re developing your fit for the first time and then thinking down the road a lot of this stuff can be recycled on some level like some of your garments might start to have similar block forms that you can work from you don’t have to develop everything from scratch and so the first go-around is definitely going to be the longest and then each time after that’s gonna hopefully become a little bit easier and move a little bit more smoothly so just you know to not terrify everybody out there right it does get a little bit simpler and easier and quicker as you as you move forward.

Abby: Absolutely, and we plan to work with our clients from concept through having like a completed production run I would say a year just to give you a heads up on kind of where this timeline is going…

Heidi: Yep!

Abby: So walking in the door to the concept to having the production run ready to sell we’re looking at at least a year and that’s if everything goes according to you know these three fittings then we don’t need it snow let cetera.

Heidi: Yeah I’m glad you said that because I think kind of stepping back and looking at okay I’m starting today and it’s not gonna be done in 3 month I am not gonna try to sell in three months because I think that’s something that a lot of people they just think that it could happen that quickly and the reality of it is that it just doesn’t you’re so many moving pieces and parts and so many different vendors and he was kind of in the chefs in the kitchen per se that it’s just really tough to to pump anything out that fast and do it really, really, well.

Abby: Exactly, and we like to say it takes a village.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: Right how do you have your zipper supplier your fabric thinner you have your designer you have your pattern maker you have your patent so you know production facility and everyone has to kind of coordinate to be on the same timeline to get everything done.

Heidi: Yeah,,,

Abby: So it’s you as a as a brand that’s first starting out it’s if you can kind of be open with the timeline a little bit and just know that you’re planning for a year and really what we find helps Heidi is if our clients can get on seasonal calendars so that they know when to do things because your seasons are going to overlap in there somewhere if you’re working on fall and spring you’re probably going to be designing fall and sourcing those materials while you’re finishing maybe production for your spring line.

Heidi: Right

Abby: So it’s if you can get on this calendar and kind of plan out this year timeline it’s really becomes not that big of a deal and not that scary you know you have these steps that you take each season and this is how it works and your supply chains set up and you have some efficiencies with your patterns and it gives you kind of room to breathe.

Heidi: Yeah, now are you finding most people and maybe it just absolutely varies what are you finding most designers are doing seasonal collections or they’re doing more item driven and are they selling direct to consumer via e-commerce and pop-up shops or other avenues or doing wholesale or does it just really are you seeing kind of a mix of everything?

Abby: It is really a mix of everything but I’m glad that you brought that up because when you we were talking about kind of this proof-of-concept a few minutes ago in the beginning of the call if you are wanting to go wholesale only with your collection you can you know really let the buyers and who’s placing the orders kind of drive what you produce if that makes sense too so I I’m glad you brought that up because I kind of wanted to mention that in circle back so if you were showing 10 pieces but you only have orders for three of them we wouldn’t recommend you produce all 10 just produce the three that have been purchased.

Heidi: Yeah it makes sense to me but for listeners out there who are maybe a little bit more to the industry or what that concept look like looks like explain a little bit more about how you might do the sample line and then decide what to run?

Abby: Yeah absolutely but let me answer your question first about how the clients we see are selling.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: So we have seen a huge kind of shift in terms of everyone wanting to be e-commerce we originally when we had our opened our doors three years ago we got a mix of clients so we’re like I really want to be in these specific boutiques and sell online as well but as of late we’ve seen a big shift in terms of our clients really want to build successful e-commerce businesses which is great in terms of they can set their own profit margins they have a little bit more control of their you know release dates so they don’t necessarily have to do season seasonal spring and fall lines they could release an item every month or every week even if they wanted it to you know there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of launching your own e-commerce business. So we’ve seen we see it all over the board we also see clients that want to sell online but also have a presence in boutiques because they have you know a type of product where they really feel if someone can touch and feel it or try it on that would help with the sales process.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: So, it’s kind of you know dependent on the brand and dependent on the product in the client but we have seen a big shift in terms of e-commerce which is exciting but it opens up its own challenges for those designers as well into digital marketing.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: And driving skills to their website and then converting those people that land on their site into actual customers too so it comes with its own challenges it’s not everything’s easier but there are some benefits to it that we are you know have seen why people would want to ship that way.

Heidi: Yeah, absolutely. Okay so that and that’s not surprising to me at all I mean I think just with some of the tools and the technology and the resources we have at our fingertips and how easy it is to access you know putting up an e-commerce store three four five years ago is a whole different ballgame than it is today.

Abby: Yeah…

Heidi: So that’s great.

Abby: To answer your question about the wholesale and that process what we do with those clients is we generally work with them until we have what we call a Salesman sample complete and our salesman sample it’s not going to be your first proto it’s not going to be your third fit sample it would be done at the factory level so that you can be showing your buyers what you want to produce so it’s before you would even you know buy into any inventory or you know produce a small production run of any sort if you want to you know show buyer salesman samples you can do that with just a quality sample from the factory level but going calls helper has its own challenges of course, we are sharp.

Heidi: And I think so…

Abby: And that you know any way of selling your line or launching a business the sales and marketing can be kind of the most challenging piece for our clients because they come to us as this creep you know with these creative ideas but they’re not necessarily the best salespeople well some of them are sure it could be a challenging part of the process for sure.

Heidi: Sure, and I think some of it’s just like it’s a personality thing and sales is hard I mean unless.

Abby: in your bed…

Heidi: It’s hard and you have to learn and you have to get a really thick skin so it’s not something that you support brands with?

Abby: We have a network of referral partners in terms of you know really great people that can help you with your wholesale path if that’s how you want to sell your line or digital marketing for ecommerce sites specifically so we don’t have that in-house as a service because if we did sales and marketing that’s kind of all we would do.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: So our core is focusing on the product development and going through the pattern making and setting up that supply chain overseeing the production and then we like I said we have this really great network of referral partners that we work closely with partner our clients with the assistance that they might need.

Heidi: That’s great because they do think I mean from what I heard you say it sounds like that’s where a lot of people if not most people tend to get tripped up is okay yeah this product and I trying to get it out there and it’s hard.

Abby: it is hard and any you know starting with this like pre costing exercise that we talked about way in the beginning of the call is a really good place to start because it then at least you’re thinking about like what’s my price point who’s my target audience how am I going to you know get in front of them what are my sales channels can I go afford wholesale pricing do I need to do direct customer pricing only so just kind of starting the business from the beginning thinking that way can help now when you have your product in hand and you’re ready to sell.

Heidi: Right…

Abby: You have that plan already.

Heidi: Instead of just from the beginning thinking about this beautiful design that you’re gonna create let’s really look at the numbers too and look at like the long-term logistics of making this.

Abby: Exactly…

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: Yeah, because we are in a very cash heavy industry you have to purchase fabric you have to pay your manufacturer you have to pay for the patterns and the grading and everything before you even have anything to make sales.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: You know so it’s planning that from the get-go can help because we are also Heidi in a very competitive industry so the more you can you know get in front of some of these things and plan for the growth and the longevity of your brand the better competitive edge you’ll probably have as well.

Heidi: Yep, yeah, that’s really smart. So Abby tell me, what do we do next in in terms of the production process so we’ve maybe let’s say we’ve gone through our three-foot samples and we’re like okay that it looks good we’re ready to get our graded pattern done what are we thinking about sizing how do we figure out what size is to offer and then and then what do we do next?

Abby: Yep so in terms of sizing that’s gonna be something where we are going to ask our claims to reflect back again on their target customer so do they need to offer you know down to double extra small or up to double XL or are we looking at you know petite surplus or tall like what are we looking at in terms of their target market and then who’s doing well that’s an existing brand in that space right now so for just as an example for our children’s for our clients the gap baby size chart seems to be fairly spot-on in terms of how they break out the sizes the grade rules between each so we can look to some larger more established brands that have put you know the resources and the funds behind developing that size chart just as a starting off point

Heidi: Sure…

Abby: …for these brands as well so how we would generally ask our clients to look to their target market or what sizes they want to offer and then let’s look to some existing brands that are doing well in that space and see what their size chart looks like.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: …and does that make sense for you.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: And we tweaked it slightly or we can grade according to that you know those great rules that are already established but we do some checks and balances in there so once we have a graded pattern and we’re ready to work at the factory level we’ll have the factory so one quality or counter sample so using our pattern in the base size in the materials just to see what their you know construction looks like it also helps confirm the price per piece that they’ve possibly estimated beforehand and really kind of get a feel for working with that factory so once we have the quality sample in hand generally it’s not perfect because we’ve done three samples already so we’ve kind of gone through the learning curve for our clients product but this is the factory’s first time sewing this product so there’s a little bit of a learning curve there so we’ll get the quality sample back and it most likely is gonna need some tweaks if it’s perfect that’s great but you know let’s change the construction here or the factory might even have suggestions of like if you did this it would be more efficient do you really need a you know this stitch here can we do this one instead,

Heidi: Sure…

Abby: So kind of being open to the factory’s expertise can be very helpful for new designers as well but once we have that quality sample done and there’s gonna be these revisions we’ll submit that back to the factory say you know we want these three changes made and then we’ll have them so a size run so one of each size based on your graded pattern so this is where you can really see you know your grading for the first time you can try it on people that might wear the XXL or the X extra, extra small you know those sizes that fall outside of your sample size and really make sure that your grading is looking good before you pull the trigger on that mass production even if that’s only a fifty pieces.

Heidi: Right because that’s still that’s a huge investment of time and cash and that’s going to be your production so you have to do those samples to make sure it’s done right and a couple things that you said that I really love is one is yeah just doing those samples and I think it can be hard to commit to that because it’s like Oh extra money extra money each set of samples each prototype costs money but you’d rather spend a little extra money there to make sure that the production’s right they have to skimp on a couple samples and then have your production be wrong that’s I’ve seen designers get a whole production run in and skip some of the sampling and things went wrong and they had a whole production run that they couldn’t do anything with which is a very scary place to be so it’s a great reminder to everybody that just take it slow and get those samples and then the other thing that you touched on and I don’t know if you have much to expand on it but it’s something that I’ve done over the years that I found tremendously valuable and I always advise people to do this but that’s talk to your factory ask your factory what their suggestion is there are experts in this and if you have a question about you know what could we do this better different more efficiently talk to them they’ve done this so many times and they often have great insights in terms of just alternative ideas or ways to switch things up like you said to be more efficient and so I’m constantly even after many, many, years manufacturing overseas I’m still constantly asking my factory well what do you think about this one part here like I’m a little bit stuck you know what can we do?

Abby: Yeah, absolutely rely on them for their expertise it also helps Heidi adjust in the grand scheme of like relationship building because just starting out in this industry you know you really are building this supply chain that we’ve talked about a couple of times but you want these people to want to work with you. You know, so asking them for their recommendations kind of you know relying on their expertise trusting that you’ll build this long-term relationship with them can just kind of help overall you know through the process and make it a little bit more pleasant in terms of just building that factory relationship.

Heidi: Yeah that’s a great point. Okay, so we have our size Ryan and let’s say assuming everything looks good if we may need to make tweaks let’s say the extracts are small like just got a little bit wonky and we need to make some adjustments or what-have-you we make those adjustments but once the size runs done what’s next do we go straight into your producing those fifty pieces are we ready and we just pulled the trigger?

Abby: You are ready you’re pulling the trigger so we’re taking the yield from the size run marker and using that yield to calculate how much of each material you need to order so that’s something that can get a little bit tricky in terms of placing your production material orders and just making sure that you have enough of everything we always err on the side of it’s better to have too much than not enough.

Heidi: Sure

Abby: So we add generally I would say anywhere from ten to twenty percent on top of how much you think you need so if you’re making a hundred t-shirts and your yield for each t-shirt is one yard then you need a hundred yards but we would normally recommend you order maybe 115.

Heidi: Sure

Abby: Just to make sure that you have a little bit extra in case you never know what’s going to happen in production have a little bit more than a little less so you’re calculating your material orders and going ahead and submitting those purchase orders for your production materials with the vendors that you’ve established you know before we even started prototyping and then you’re just pulling the trigger submitting the purchase order to the factory along with I guess before you pull the trigger your production tech packs so really finalizing making sure that all of the nitty-gritty details are in your tech packs that everything is very clearly outlined for the factory the tech pack is such a crucial piece it it acts almost as like a visual contract for what it is you’re asking the factory to create and at what price and with what materials and what colors etc. So tech pack production material orders and your created patterns and you should be good to go.

Heidi: So okay a couple things I want to talk about a little bit further is so this is the first time you brought up tech packs which I’m a big spreadsheet nerd I am a big advocate for tech packs and I I’ve heard a lot of stories of people who don’t do tech packs because their garments really simple they don’t do a tech pack because they’re manufacturing locally they don’t do tech packs because they’ve been working with this factory forever and things seem to be going okay but I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about the importance of that and one thing you did say which I love is that it kind of acts as like a I think you said it this way a visual contract for what the product should be and what you’re expecting it to be and all the materials and the costing and all of that stuff but it’s one of those steps that’s not very glamorous to put together a tech pack and I think it’s something that people skip and then can be turn into a really, a really bad, bad, put you in a really bad position.

Abby: Yeah, it’s definitely something that we would not go into production without regardless of the factory relationship or location it’s just so important to make sure that all of the details of your garment are outlined somewhere and that you know everyone is kind of agreed that this is what’s going to be made so when we are working on tech text for clients and includes obviously that technical sketch that we’ve been working on since they walked in the door but then so many more details we’re doing construction call-outs of the you know different seams to use where the different types of stitching we’re looking for also points of measurement and specs of the sample size this is something so that you can pull you know one of your factory samples spec it and make sure that your you’re fit it’s still there.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: The quality is still going to be the same as what you’ve intended it also includes a bill of materials that outlines all of the materials that go into each style and which colors are cut together especially if you’re doing a you know style that has a sleeve in one color in a different color for the body this will be the place where you indicate to the factory which sleeve color goes with which body color goes with which thread so we go down to the thread and the bill of materials.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: And then it also includes label placement you know any kind of packaging details where to attach the hang tag anything and everything about this garment that we could put in the tech pack we do.

Heidi: Yes

Abby: And we when we work on tech packs for clients here at stitch method we prepare them so that they could go anywhere in the world so we may be working with a factory that’s three blocks over from our office here in Chicago that might open the tech pack once might glanced at the bill of materials but they don’t really use it utilize it and use it which is probably why you’ve heard some stories of you know designers say oh I don’t need a tech pack my factory doesn’t need it well they might not rely on it as much as another factory would but it is that visual contract so we’ve had a client who was producing a style and they had two different black fabrics one was like a cotton spandex blend the other one was a bamboo spandex blend so very similar but they had two different styles one was to be cut in the cotton the other was to be cut in the bamboo so in our tech packs we had two different tech packs one for each style and we had a swatch of the fabric that was supposed to be cut and the factory swamped it so they cut the cotton in the style that was supposed to be bamboo and the bamboo and the style that was supposed to be cotton you know could have been a big mess but because we had this tech pack and we could pull it up and show the factory like you made the mistake here the factory was able to correct it on their dime.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: Rather than the client to pay out of pocket for that mistake so it’s just those little circumstances even though that factory might be you know your next-door neighbor it’s still good to have this visual contract in place.

Heidi: Yeah… It’s always great I mean the other thing is you know not just using it as a contract so that when something does go wrong which it can happen you can look back and say okay well what did the tech pack say what did the set of instructions say that was delivered and use it as a reference but when you start to balance multiple styles it can be so hard to keep everything straight in your own head even as a designer when it’s your own brand in your own product and these garments are living breathing things and they change and it’s impossible to keep all the track of that and email or in your head and so it just it works as this sort of one-stop document that has all the details all the instructions everything you need to know about this product?

Abby: Yeah, absolutely because if you are you know cutting a style that turns into your bestseller then you have a record of each time you produce that what fabric it was in what the inseam was or whatever it may be so that you can know all of the details about that particular bestseller and keep updating it and we can forward and have this record of what was done in the past.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: So yeah absolutely just for organizational standpoint.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: And it when we complete a tech pack for a client it’s almost like a big checkmark on that to-do list it’s like this is done okay we’ve got like you know everything in place to move into production now.

Heidi: Yeah, that’s great. Okay so no more no more preaching about how amazing and wonderful and necessary effects are I love to talk a little bit have you share a little bit about the logistics of CMT makers versus full package production it sounds like you guys do more CMT obviously you’re the service provider to help coordinate all the logistics of taking something from an idea in your head all the way through to production but talking a little bit about like you yeah you have to source your fabric from the fabric supplier you may be sourcing your interfacing from somewhere else your buttons from somewhere else your labels from somewhere else versus I don’t know if you work with any factories that are a little bit more full package that can help with some of those tasks but could you talk a little bit about how those two different things work differently?

Abby: Yeah, absolutely most of the domestic factory partners we work with are CMT or just cotton so/

Heidi: Okay

Abby: So they are expecting our clients to provide everything some of the factories that we work with will provide you know some things like elastic or they might provide the poly bags or the plastic bullets to attach the hangtags but generally the bulk of the materials are supplied by the client.

Heidi: Okay

Abby: So in our experience working with domestic factories there aren’t that many full package options there are some absolutely that can do the sourcing for you and the cut and so but most more often than not you’re gonna have to provide those materials and if you are able to provide those I guess it just kind of opens up more options for more factories for you to potentially speak with.

Heidi: Sure…

Abby: And then the full package options that we have worked with for our clients have all been offshore or overseas.

Heidi: Okay…

Abby: So, go ahead.

Heidi: Well, no that’s great because my next question was gonna be you know do you guys do any work overseas and then can you talk a little bit about the pros and cons and some of the challenges or benefits to working overseas versus working locally and what that whole set up looks like?

Abby: Yeah, absolutely. So we definitely believe that this is a global industry and there is a skilled labor force all over the world so there’s no real right way for our clients some of our clients prefer to work overseas because they are doing a little bit larger minimum order and they are comfortable with the pricing and some of our clients prefer to work domestically just because they’re doing a smaller run they can be more hands-on so in our experience some of the pros to working and made in USA is quality control you can actually physically go to the factory a little bit easier than you could in terms of buying a flight and traveling internationally to check in on the product it’s also helps with that relationship building if you are able to go and visit the factory and introduce yourself in person and kind of build that rapport meet the sellers and there’s that transparency that’s important to a lot of our clients now to be able to show where their products are made to their customers to be able to you know write about the factory and the sellers and show imagery of that on their websites

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: We’ve also found that there is a little bit of a quicker lead time here so from submitting your purchase order having all the materials there you’re generally looking at I would say roughly four to six weeks to have your production in hand and when you’re working offshore that time line may be similar but you might be paying a lot to get that air shipped rather than on the boat.

Heidi: Yeah…I always say that there’s a meaning behind the slow boat from China something can sit on a boat for 30 to 45 days, so that adds a lot to your lead-time?

Abby: It certainly does and then dealing with customs and duties is a whole another part of this industry that you would need to either educate yourself on or hire someone to help you import as well.

Heidi: That’s a very nice base.

Abby: Yes it is so working domestically there’s that quality control generally there’s quicker lead times in terms of just cutting down on the shipping and then smaller minimum orders here.

Heidi: Yeah

Abby: So we like I mentioned earlier are able to cut 10 pieces 25 pieces here in Chicago where if you were putting that offshore there might be factories overseas that will do those minimums I’m sure they exist but is it worth that extra cost to do all of that shipping back and forth as well.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: Because in the end would that just kind of equal out to what the price for maybe USA would be.

Heidi: Sure…sure..

Abby: But, working offshore like I said skilled labor force all over the world we are very global industry so there’s definitely some advantages to offshore factories as well and being full package is one of those so when we work with clients who want to produce overseas we still go through that same beginning process so the concepting we’re sourcing materials but in a different way we’re sourcing materials that are as close to what they want to produce as possible and we’re still prototyping in those materials going through the fittings getting something as close to production ready as possible and then we’ll take that third bit sample and build out a tech pack and then that goes to the offshore Factory.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: So the development the pattern making with fittings all of that stays the same we’re just kind of preparing differently in terms of the material sourcing and the next steps for moving forward.

Heidi: Right. And so then you send that to the overseas supplier or factory whoever you’re working with and then they correct me if I’m wrong this is how I’ve worked in the past they source stuff that is comparable that they can get and they send it to you say okay I like this one I don’t like this one and you kind of pick and choose from that and then move forward.

Abby: Exactly. Yes so they become your cut and sew Factory as well as your sourcing.

Heidi: Yeah…Yeah, and you can buy custom development but that’s a whole another animal and requires a whole never another long big number of minimums especially for custom fabric development.

Abby: Exactly… we like to say to our clients that anything is possible.

Heidi: Yes…

Abby: In this industry it really is anything is possible anything you can dream up we can help you produce.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: It’s just dependent on your budget.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: And how many pieces you want to order.

Heidi: That’s great. What an awesome attitude that’s it’s there are so many possibilities and you think everything you guys are doing and you Abby and your business partner Jennifer with such method is phenomenal and such a great resource for all these amazing creative designers out there who have such phenomenal ideas so uh let us know where everybody can find you and anything else you’d like to share about what you guys are up to?

Abby: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, so easiest way to get in touch with us is just through our website which is stitchmethod.com and we have a work with us tab on there where that’s step one where you can tell us all the information about your project where you are in the process and then we offer 30 minute complimentary discovery sessions we can jump on skype with you kind of go through your product what you’re looking to make our stitch method services dive a little bit deeper make sure that we’re the right fit for you as a development partner and kind of develop a plan from there. So, that’s best place to find us is at stichmethod.com we also have a Hello@stitchmethod.com email address that you’re welcome to just shoot us a quick message if you’re interested but I think that’s that kind of covers it.

Heidi: Awesome! Because of that, weel… I will include all of that in the show notes and I’d like to end with a one question I asked everybody at the end and it does stop people a little bit so if you need a few seconds to think about it take your time.

Abby: Sure.

Heidi: What is a one thing you wish people would ask you about working in the fashion industry but they never do?

Abby: Huh! That is a tricky one.

Heidi: So, I’ll rephrase it or kind of give you a little bit of inspiration on how to maybe talk about it…

Abby: Okay…

Hiedi: Which is, what portion of the process do you like love and you find super fascinating that you may be led to nerd out and talk about and if you were to go out to cocktails or coffee with some friends who maybe don’t work in the industry you know they maybe I’ll always ask you about this about your job and you’re like everybody asked about this but nobody ever asked about this other part that’s actually really my favorite.

Abby: I think personally answering for myself not necessarily for stitch method or for Jennifer but I’m the bigger picture strategic thinker so I want our clients or I want people to ask us about like the longevity of their brand so rather than like right now right now this season I need it now it’s more like let’s plan two three four seasons out like you mentioned earlier in the call Heidi like how are you gonna take these blocks these base patterns and kind of do easy updates to them to transform them into new styles what fabrics could we use next season that you know would give new life to this existing style so like that kind of big strategic planning and brand building is what I would like to nerd out…

Heidi: I love that…

Abby: …on people to ask me more about.

Heidi: Yeah…I love that answer because it is so easy to just get really like tunnel vision on what’s happening right now but it’s important where as you’re building this brand you’re building this business to step back and look at the longer-term goals and what you really want to achieve.

Abby: Yeah, and then actually put some numbers to that as well so can you sustain your business for two maybe three seasons before you start to see an influx of sales.

Heidi: Yeah…

Abby: You know can you or three seasons out to the world you know and have that longevity and really build a brand but one thing I do want to mention Heidi because we kind of you know touched on it quickly in terms of like all of the things that you need to produce domestically because you’re going to be providing all of these materials to the Cotton Sew Factory we do have a production checklist that I would love to offer to your listeners I don’t know if that’s something that would be easy for you to up for them to download just kind of as a free bonus,

Heidi: Absolutely…

Abby: From Stich Method.

Heidi: Yes, we will coordinate that and I will add it in the outro show notes.

Abby: Okay.

Heidi: I also will figure out a link and definitely do that but thank you for that offer that’s very generous and having a checklist to kind of visually just like go through okay this is the next step this is the next step that can be priceless just to kind of have that on paper and something to look at and check off it’s also very gratifying to check each of those things off.

Abby: Absolutely so there’s like a little box that you can put a physical check.

Heidi: Yes back one is a really big check.

Abby: Exactly.

Heidi: Oh… that’s great well thank you for the generous offer and I’ll definitely add that to the out row so thank you so much Abby this has been so much fun to chat with you and I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing all your wonderful knowledge and I’ll put links to how people can reach you in the show notes and yeah you guys if you are thinking about going into production definitely have a chat with Abby and Jennifer at Stich Method what they’re doing is great and I’m sure they have some great ways to help you guys move forward.

Abby: Well thank you Heidi it’s so nice to chat with you.

Heidi: Yes, all right thanks Abby…

Abby: Okay bye-bye.

Heidi: Thank you for listening to episode 13 of the successful fashion designer podcast if you’d like to learn more about any of the resources mentioned in this episode including the production checklist Abby shared with us visit the show notes at SFDnetwork.com/13 and since you made it this far you must have liked the episode if you can take sixty seconds to leave a review on iTunes it really helps the show and make the podcast easier for people to discover it’s super easy to do and I’d really appreciate it visit SFDnetwork.com/review to leave your rating and thanks through your support and help

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