Five Step Guide to Apparel Production
If you are reading this, chances are you’re looking forward to your first production project, or you’re looking to scale up the production of your brand. Congratulations!
Here we’ll discuss the steps involved in the manufacturing process and what you can expect at each step. One point to get out of the way before we dive right in; if this is your first time jumping into the production arena, the uninitiated often have the idea that clothing manufacturing is a quick process. Truth be told, the production process takes months, not weeks or days.
Schedules can often be a sticking point between the designer and their production partner. Be clear about your expectations and give yourself more time than you think you need when planning your production. A word to the wise here, you simply have to assume that there might be time added to the production project that you hadn’t anticipated. The best way to keep this from being a stressful moment for you is to pad your schedule a bit.
There are many moving parts, and they all need to be aligned and in sync. Patience, planning, and flexibility are your watch words here. The good news is, with the help of an experienced manufacturing partner, plus good communication and organizational skills, you’ll find yourself shipping out your beautiful new collection before you know it!
Step One: Identify your Production Partner
In our previous post, How to Vet Your Production Partner, we offer some recommendations on choosing the right manufacturer for your brand. After all, the right production partner can make or break your success. Whether you’re an emerging designer just starting out in the clothing industry, or finding a new manufacturer for your existing brand, it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the lifecycle of your new collection.
The words “let’s start” means different things to each manufacturer. For some manufacturers it means you must already have your finished production-ready patterns and sew-by samples in hand. For others, they will have the capabilities needed to take you all the way from ideation to finished bulk production.
There are as many combinations of these services as there are potential partners. In other words, not every manufacturer has the same capabilities. That said, you need to know exactly what services you need before you can figure out the right partner for you.
Here are some of the services to consider when looking for a manufacturer:
- Development of patterns and final samples
- Grading and Marking services
- Fabric sourcing
- Bulk Production
- Packaging & Shipping
Determine which services you need (maybe you need all of them!) and vet your candidates thoroughly. As an emerging designer you’re best served by finding a clothing manufacturer that will happily take on small minimum orders (starting at 50 units per style), so you don’t find yourself ordering more units than you can realistically sell. This type of manufacturer is a bit of a “unicorn”, but definitely worth the search.
As a side note, be sure you thoroughly vet your production facility to ensure they’re in full compliance with local labor laws, and have quality control and standards in place. Again, that isn’t something you want to find out after the fact!
Once you’ve decided on the right partner, set up a meeting with your production facility to share your production project with them.
Step Two: Production-Ready Patterns and Finished Samples
Most likely, your project will fall into one of two different scenarios:
- You already have production-ready patterns and finished samples in hand. In this scenario, you’ll share your patterns, samples and tech packs with your manufacturing partner. They should conduct a “pattern review” to make sure your patterns are sound and correctly correspond to the sample you provide, before putting the styles into production. They should also sew a new sample themselves, just to make sure they understand the pattern well. If they don’t suggest this step, suggest it for them! It could help head off some costly issues that might come up in production.
- You do not have production-ready patterns and finished samples (aka collection “development”). Production-ready patterns and finished samples are the holy grail of producing a collection. Without those two things, bulk production cannot begin. Therefore, if you don’t have them in hand, your production partner will have to develop them for you. The development process will add time to your production schedule, but as we mentioned, there’s no way around it!
Step Three: Preparing For Bulk Production
Once your production-ready patterns and samples are with your manufacturer, this is when all the remaining ducks need to get in a row.
You’ll work with your clothing manufacturer to make sure all trims and fabrics have been ordered and are on their way to the factory. Don’t forget labels (brand labels and care labels), hang tags, and packaging materials such as poly bags and stickers. Make yourself a detailed checklist at the onset, and refer to it often. You don’t want to miss an important component that might delay your production. Pretty much all materials should arrive before sewing even begins.
Any fabric treatments (such as washing, over-dye, enzyme wash, printing, pleating, or embroidery) will be done at this time. Your Fabric Treatment Manager (or your Production Manager) will oversee this part of the process.
This is also the time for the grading and marker creation of your collection. You’ll work with your clothing manufacturer to determine proper sizing for each garment going into production. Grading and marking professionals will create cutting markers to assure fit accuracy and minimize fabric waste.
You also need to determine the total production units for each style. This decision comes down to inventory needs, units per style and color, and of course, how much storage space you have (don’t forget, you need to put these beauties somewhere!)
Step Four: Bulk Production Begins
By now, most of your heavy lifting has been done, so you have a little time to take a break and breathe!
While you are relaxing however, your production partner is kicking into high gear. The graded markers created during pre-production will be given to the cutter. Under the direction of your Production Manager, they will cut the predetermined number of production units in all colorways. The cut will be bundled by size and color to be given to the production sewers. And sewing begins!
The time frame for your production will vary based on many things; the complexity of your designs, the number of units in your order, and how busy your clothing manufacturer is at the time and if there are other projects ahead of you in the queue. Patience is called for here!
Also, if you’re trying to meet a deadline of some nature, such as launching your site, speak up. Your clothing manufacturer needs to know this!
Your manufacturer and Production Manager should be performing quality control as well. This includes providing you with a TOP (Top Of Production) sample and randomly inspecting garments as they move through assembly.
Step Five: The Finished Product
Once the shipment is received, it’s crucial you inspect each production garment yourself in a timely manner and let your manufacturer know if you find any problems. In other words, if you see something, say something!
Finally your collection is complete. Relax and take a moment to congratulate yourself! You achieved something many people dream of, but never see through.
One more thing, it’s common for a designer to plan the development of their next collection while their current collection is in production. This is part of the “collection cycle” and it’s the best way to keep your brand running on a set schedule. It also lets your development and production partner know what to expect from you in advance (they love that!).
In closing, we’d like to remind you that having a communicative and experienced development and production partner is the single most important factor in the success of your brand. Choose one that understands your needs and appreciates your vision. As your brand grows, you might outgrow your original industry partner, but the lessons you learned here will carry you through regardless of how big your brand gets.
If this article left you with even more questions, that’s not a surprise. If you’d like to discuss the development or production of your collection in specifics, we’re here to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to reach out to us at https://tegintl.com/get-in-touch/ or call us at 800-916-0910. We’ll talk.
For all inquiries and questions, please call or fill out the below form, and we will respond within 1-2 business days. Thank you!
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