Starting a home sewing pattern company pt.2
[amended at close with printing information]
I was surprised at the interest in the first entry of this (now) series. I’ll try to answer some of the questions posed in comments. Let’s start with Anita who wrote:
Do you have any recommendations on the best way to approach people (or the best people to approach, for that matter) to test out patterns? I’m planning to try out a few patterns myself, but if I turn out to be no good at it, at least I know what kind of people to look for to do it right ;-)
Well obviously, you need to test your own products first. I’ve run into enough pattern makers even in the garment industry that fail to even walk their patterns. I think they’d get better if they had to. In a work situation, one usually isn’t sewing up a muslin, sample or dummy from their own pattern. As a service provider, one usually does. Once you’ve nailed it yourself, then you need a tester or two. Nancy suggests:
I have done pattern testing and the best way to find willing participants is to post either here on the boards, the Threads forum (Gatherings) or Pattern Review. One caveat, however. A lot of people will offer to sew them up for you to test, but then won’t give you the feedback that you want/need. The last pattern I tested the designer was a bit….um….annoyed with me when I came back with some suggestions on the pattern. How dare I suggest that something be *gasp* altered to fit a fuller figure! Or *gasp*, suggest in the directions an easier way to ease in the sleeves!
When I’ve used pattern testers, I’ve been dismayed at the minimal feedback I’ve gotten -and I paid mine! By the way, I think one should pay a tester and provide materials. Does it go without saying that the resulting garment should be returned to you for inspection? I would definitely want feedback on methods and processes but I don’t know that I’d want to solicit feedback on different sizing. I mean, it’d be okay if the tester was offering such because she thought the market appeal was broader than I thought it was; that’s useful information.
Marilyn mentions the book Publish Your Patterns which I’d meant to link to but couldn’t find at the time. I guess I wasn’t using the right keywords. It has a lot of good reviews but the caveat is it doesn’t cover garment patterns. I thought that was odd. It’s not pricey so it could be a value to anyone.
Marilyn also mentions that including pattern alterations (for waist dart etc) would be useful. I can see that but where would you draw the line at which alterations to include? I think the profile of consumer who buys independent patterns is more sophisticated than the big 4 pattern shopper. I think they’d be more accustomed to altering patterns to fit. Maybe I’m wrong?
She also says that marking your allowances (3/8″ or 1/2″) is good. /anne said to be sure you indicate seam allowance on all pieces. I don’t disagree with /anne but I wonder how that could be done if I were producing a pattern line. I wouldn’t produce beginner patterns so it may be a matter of your intended market. On mine, I’d indicate allowances within the instructions per seam because they’d vary according to seam.
Several people mentioned they don’t read instructions at all. Some said if they read them, it was a matter of comparing their usual way of doing things to the instruction provided. I do the same thing myself. That said, somebody darn well better read my instructions or they’d end up with an unhappy result.
/anne also mentioned
– List the fabric requirements on your website, not just on the pattern. Unlike manufacturers, home sewers often buy fabric first, then look for a pattern. I’m more likely to buy a pattern if I know that it will work with the fabric I have.
This is good advice because again, I think buyers of independent patterns tend to be more progressive in general and will shop on the web. She also mentions the issue of depictions which I don’t think anyone else did. I’m not going to bother to try to find it right now but I believe that on Pattern Review, visitors were asked which they preferred -if they could only pick one-, technical drawings or fashion illustrations (or photos). Well over 75% (at that time) said they preferred technical illustrations. /anne said user submitted photos of their results were a plus. Lastly, she said to watch your pattern envelope sizing so these can be shipped cost effectively abroad. With the dollar waning as it is, international purchasing will continue to increase.
Marguerite mentioned the IPCA (Independent Pattern Company Alliance). The IPCA is a membership organization of independents and have agreed to adhere to certain standards. Actually, I spoke to Janet Prey before I published the first entry and asked her about their standards. She said to join, there’s certain criteria such as:
- The pattern must be professionally drafted. Unfortunately, “professional” is undefined.
- Your patterns must be professionally graded. Evidently, some pattern companies only put them out in one size.
- You must have written instructions.
- The packaging must be professional. Again, that’s undefined.
- The pattern must be accurate (correct, walked).
- To join, you have to submit three (different) patterns. You have to submit a garment made from one of them. The garment must be made according to the instructions you’ve provided, nothing added or altered.
Janet said there was no fee involved beyond the costs of shipping for the jurying process. As a member however, you’ll have to kick in for co-op advertising. Seems fair to me. The group meets at least once a year to compare notes and share resources. This seems like a good thing all around.
Regarding sales venues, Nanette said
I have started making children’s patterns that are made into pdf documents that are ready to print on standard paper. I sell through Etsy and You Can Make This. The target customers seem to be those who are mainly beginners but also appeals to seasoned sewers. What’s great is there are actual pictures to go along with every step making it easier to understand. Using the pdf format prevents the printing costs and is emailed or downloaded upon payment preventing shipping costs also.
I thought You Can Make This was an interesting concept so I asked her for more information. She elaborated:
You submit an idea and once approved can submit the finished product following their guidelines. Once they get the pattern, they send it out to testers and give you feedback. You make the adjustments and send them the final pattern with some additional information like the price. They get 1/2 and you get 1/2 payable at the end of the month. I’ve gotten to meet (through email) people from all over the world. I’ve really enjoyed it.
I don’t know if this would work for everything, maybe small inexpensive patterns. Their 50% take seems a little steep. Maybe one could launch limited styles there to get the word out while building a presence otherwise. A prudent piece of advice would be having your seller’s name match an offsite url.
Claire Marie, who says “I’ve been a professional tech writer for more than 20 years and a home sewer for much longer than that.” offered a whole passle of advice on writing technical instructions. From the back end, I have access to her email address. If you think you might be interested in hiring her, I can see if she’s available. At this writing, I don’t have permission to publish her email address.
Alison is also a convert to the “no written instructions” approach, meaning all illustrations. I second that. I think that if the instructions were well executed, words would be unnecessary. This is also dandy if one’s users don’t speak the language the instructions would presumably be written in.
Carrie asked an interesting question:
How do you go about pricing patterns? Do you need to “go with the flow” and price in the range of your competetors or should it be based of level of difficulty for the user etc?
I’m guessing that as with RTW clothes, you’d have to price according to your competitors unless you’ve got some kind of a value proposition not available with competing products, otherwise you’re saturating the market. Personally, I think that if your instructions and pattern quality were extraordinarily good, you could charge more. For example, if I were to launch some, I’d select styles that would be considered typically difficult. However, through pattern quality and industrial sewing instruction, they’d sew faster resulting in a better result. Ideally, I’d want customers that would buy them as a learning tool, not necessarily for the end result.
Kaaren also had some useful advice. One thing she mentioned that I wasn’t aware of was that “Independent fabric shops [ ] have very strongly worded contracts from the BIG 4 limiting competition.”
Sandra B mentions she’s in the process of launching a pattern line and that she intends to include the “option of buying a kit so the finished garment is the same as the sample, (with labels and care tags, etc)”. Interesting. I wouldn’t have thought that would be a selling point. I know that Vogue patterns at one point, included a sew in label with purchase. Did anyone ever use those? Would that be a selling point? Inquiring minds want to know.
Lastly, I got email. Lisa says:
I’ve been selling sewing patterns that I have drafted myself over the internet for a while now and while I think I know my market and know how to market the site, pattern-making is not really my strong point. So, after reading your post and the bit about how you wouldn’t do all the cooking if you ran a restaurant I want to investigate more about how what it would cost to develop a set of blocks with you and then commission patterns. I would need to receive the patterns digitally in a CAD format.
Despite having done this for 3-4 years, I am fairly naive as to what you would need from me design-wise and it’s been a couple of years since I read your book…I’ll go grab it now and give myself a refresher. In the meantime if you could let me know how you think we could work together and give me some cost estimates I would greatly appreciate it.
Lisa’s email was obviously intended to be private but I think others have similar questions to these. First, if one is going to hire a professional, I do recommend buying my book. Otherwise, you can get scammed by someone who’s more adept at SEO and marketing than making patterns. Also, the process of creating the blueprints and proving the product is the same as for RTW apparel.
Second, read Sending patterns off for correction, a previous entry on this blog. To make this specific for pattern companies, I’d strongly recommend following all of these steps. Please use style numbers! It is beyond annoying to not have these (again, see the Entrepreneur’s Guide). I’ve taken to charging $25 to issue a style number for each style.
As far as having blocks made, if you’re already selling patterns (as Lisa is), your established styles (the best selling items) are blocks. You use these to develop new styles. If you’re not sure they’re good to go, you can have them checked and corrected if need be but you don’t need new blocks. If you do want new bodies or silhouettes, the pattern maker will want a range of styles from your existing line because your fit should be constant. In other words, your typical customer should be able to buy the same size in every pattern you offer per product category (meaning, they may not take the same size top as bottom but they should always be able to buy the same size top or bottom for every style).
As far as costs go, for service providers charging a flat rate per pattern, these prices are listed on pg. 70. Depending on location in the country, costs could be as much as 20% higher. Still, more and more pattern makers are charging hourly these days. That’s mostly because few clients today are as well prepared as they should be so the pattern maker is having to do a lot of education and consulting. Fees from legitimate providers range from $35 to $75 per hour. I charge $60 per hour for pattern work. People living in high rent districts charge more. It’s hard to know what a pattern will cost without a technical sketch.
There’s also the matter of minimums. Some things take very little time to make, say a basic pull on elastic waist pant. This shouldn’t take more than an hour. However, you can’t necessarily expect to pay that. If you’ve hired someone and the only work you’ve thrown them is this one pant, there’s work associated with setting you up as a client. When you go to the doctor for the first time, they charge more for your first visit. So, your basic pant may incur a minimum charge of $100. Now, if you’ve thrown them several styles, this is less likely to happen. The hours spent working on your products will be aggregated and as such, there isn’t a minimum charge.
Another matter of minimums…I have a friend who won’t take you unless you can put down a $500 deposit. That doesn’t mean your work will cost that much because she refunds the difference but a lot of people are known to waste our time. She says that if they’ll put down a deposit, she knows they’re serious. You don’t know how much work we’ve done that we’ve never been paid for. Of course we didn’t ship the work out but still, it’s wasted work. Another thing, if your item is really simple, you might have trouble getting someone to take the job. The reason is, in my case, I have a $100 minimum but if your job is something that would only take fifteen to thirty minutes and that’s the only work I have from you, I’m not going to take it. It’s not that I’m greedy and want well-paying projects, it’s that you’ll tell other people that I charged you $100 to make a pattern for a hankie (for example). $100 for a hankie is highway robbery. So, to avoid getting a bad reputation for a small job for which I have to get my minimum fee (to set you up as a client and chat), I’ll turn it down.
On pattern printing, I got some help from Connie Crawford. She says that when she started, she had them reproduced in LA on an ammonia copier (Econo copier) a machine that used to be used more frequently in the trade. Not so much anymore because of plotters but it’s the same paper. This way, she could print just one of each until she knew there was demand for it. She says she still uses this option sometimes but that it’s costly in terms of processing orders (patterns come on a roll, they have to be cut and folded). This option is good because it got her off the ground and she could discontinue a pattern immediately or redo it if there was a mistake. Once a pattern is tweaked, she runs it using McCall’s printing service.
McCall’s and Simplicity will print traditional tissue patterns for you. You’ll have to make a copy of it on velum paper and ship it to them. She says McCall’s has a larger printing plate than Simplicity and since they cost the same (about $1.25 each), McCall’s is the better value. Both can also print the envelope. The minimum is 1000 copies. I thought it was 500. oh well.
She says now that she’s established with her own label under Butterick, she has a different arrangement. They also sell her patterns but she can also buy them at a discount for her own sales. It costs more than $1.25 but they’ve added value. They do all the grading and marking too. She writes the instructions but they clean it up with artists on staff.
She says another option is to find a printing company that can print on 45″ wide paper but your patterns may not fit on these sheets (hers didn’t).
As I’d mentioned in the first entry, if your patterns are a CAD file, you can have them plotted on a wide format plotter. Econo copiers that Connie describes aren’t used much anymore. The cost is about $1 a linear yard. Most plotters range in width from 36″ to 72″. The average marking service uses a 72″ plotter so if your pattern fit in a one yard block, it’d be fairly low cost. Of course you’d have to cut them up and fold them. I can’t see a marking service doing that for you. Still, it’s a way to get a foot in the door to test a pattern to see if it has sufficient demand to warrant printing a thousand of them.
Starting a home sewing pattern company
Using CAD to produce home sewing patterns
Why pattern makers don’t want to grade patterns
Sending patterns off for correction
Sending patterns off for digitizing