From Contractors

What do samples cost?

sewing_moneyKeeping in mind that there are many types of samples -at least 13- today we'll revisit the cost of samples you contract to have made that represent your vision. Speaking of, there are at least 3 good reasons why you should pay for samples (a good post judging from how many times it's been plagiarized) instead of getting them "free" -because they really aren't. And sure, it's an expense but it would be disastrous to contract for sewing without the contractor making a sample first. Heck, ideally you'd arrange to have samples made by two or more contractors since that is the only way you can compare quality and pricing. The only exception I can think of is private label and then we wouldn't be having this conversation since private labelers will often send free samples because they're not executing your unique designs anyway.

Culling from the 13 kinds of samples post, you could expect to pay for all the sample types if working domestically, except for maybe the muslin. The latter depends. This means that you'll pay for protos, pre-pros and production samples. You shouldn't feel that you're being targeted because you're new or not a famous name because pretty much everybody pays -at least domestically. Besides, garmentos who've been around, know that many celeb types don't pay their bills- which is a good reason to not waste your time trying to impress people because you may be convincing -to your detriment.

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Why nobody reads your instructions

This applies to any service provider -the key problem is communication. This is not an intended slam of designers because they typically do a lot of talking and or a lot of writing in an attempt to get their point across. In spite of these near heroic efforts, you can be very frustrated because judging from results, your words fall on deaf ears -or blind eyes as it were. It is good to remember that not everyone communicates in the same way and even if two parties do, there remains ambiguity because one cannot be certain that the other shares the same definitions for terminology.


The communication conflict between design and production has a very long history. Designers communicate with language, gestures, and facial expressions. Production people tend to express themselves spatially by doing something. The difference in communication style can amount to different languages (worse if each literally speak different tongues). This is roughly how it works:

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Useful 3D printing -sewing machine jigs & fixtures

jig_or_fixture_smYes I have heard of the 3D printing technology but like many of you (c'mon, admit it) you rolled your eyes because in spite of repeated protests to the contrary, it wasn't a short term or cogent solution for the apparel industry. However, I did stumble upon a cool use for it -that of making sewing machine jigs. I know you're likely jumping up and down, clapping your hands with glee to hear the rest of this but quell your beating heart and listen up:

Oh wait, you're not sure what a jig is? A jig is -courtesy of Wikipedia:

...a type of custom-made tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool. A jig's primary purpose is to provide repeatability, accuracy, and interchangeability in the manufacturing of products. A jig is often confused with a fixture; a fixture holds the work in a fixed location. A device that does both functions (holding the work and guiding a tool) is called a jig.

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How to prevent theft by bad contractors

Following the theme of yesterday's entry, I'll post some suggestions on getting your stuff back from a sewing contractor. The first step is to know what you have (inventory management) and a lot of people don't. I will also provide some suggestions to avoid getting in a bind like this. By way of introduction is this quote:

I just told my sewing contractor yesterday that I will no longer be needing their services. They have my patterns and fabrics that I want shipped back to go to my new contractor and I want them back ASAP. I don't really trust that they will ship all my patterns and fabric back in a timely manner. I owe them $100 for samples although my property is worth 20 times this amount. They want me to pay this before they ship and I want them to ship before I pay. It's a Mexican stand off (minus the third party). I feel if I pay them first then there is no real incentive for them to ship my stuff out quickly.

I omitted a lot of information from the quote but the designer in question is justified in worrying about getting her goods back. It must be said that it is traditional to pay before shipping but she has legitimate reasons to worry her goods won't be shipped when she needs them so it is the proverbial Mexican stand off.

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When your contractor is stealing from you

thiefHere the worst has come to pass, such an ugly drama.

If you're not a member and can't access the details, one of our designers -we'll call her Jane- received several angry emails from her sales reps saying that another designer -let's call her Haley- was selling many of Jane's styles and in Jane's exact fabrications. Jane isn't one to jump to conclusions but she did some legwork and found that Haley was even selling clothes that were made of Jane's custom printed knits. More worrisome, Haley was describing the styles as having been cut from another manufacturer's scraps.

Stop right there. If you're having things made from another manufacturer's leftovers, don't assume it is okay with that manufacturer. They may find out and you'll be painted with the same brush. In this case, since Jane's contractor got caught, he is blaming Haley for all manner of indiscretions -ranging from design theft and theft of a cell phone. No one gives the contractor much credence at this point but it is wise to avoid any hint of impropriety. Speaking of (forgive the digression), you need to be very cautious if a contractor is providing your fabric because it may be stolen from another party. Once the contractor gets caught, he may go out of business but even if he doesn't, your fabric source and artificially low production price is going to increase so if your customers are spoiled with low prices, you'll find yourself in a peck of trouble both coming and going.

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100 years of magical thinking

Yet another overseas factory burns, killing workers. Have we learned nothing in the last hundred years? Considering the Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911), all we've done is push tragedy farther from us -where we can conveniently forget about it, competing as it does with a new week's news.

I don't know what incenses me more, here's a partial list:

I think I'll run with the last one because it hits closer to home.

I know how this plays out. Many of you rest easy because your offshore factory is small [you don't have the scale to hire a larger factory so you feel you've dodged a bullet]. Tragedy of this scale is unlikely to affect you because your factory has a lot fewer workers and worst case, they can jump out of the single story (ground floor) windows. What this really means is that the innumerable small factory fires that occur each year, killing however many workers annually far in excess of this most recent one, don't get the same air time. Five here, seven there, who is counting?

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5 questions every designer must answer revisited

In the midst of writing another post, it occurs to me that I may not have written clear guidelines on how to describe your project to a service provider in order to attract their interest. This entry is probably what I should have written instead of the 5 Questions every designer must answer -the latter being more of a rant- so I find myself amending at this late date.

Recapping from the earlier entry are these five points:

  1. A brief description of your product.
  2. Your customer profile
  3. Your anticipated price points
  4. The types of stores you would like to sell to
  5. Who you aspire to hang with.

Before I describe the points separately, first a brief word on what you shouldn't tell a provider. And that would be all things marketing. By that I mean, don't try to sell us your product, we're not a buyer nor the end consumer. To us, the branding message is just so much talk talk talk and most of us don't care about that end of your business. It also bears reminding that you need to be able to provide these five bits of information before requiring a signed confidentiality agreement -if at all. I think it would be helpful to write all of this out before you start calling around otherwise no one will return your calls and you'll wonder why you're getting the run around.

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International Pleating

Lisa B1 -we have three Lisa B's so they're numbered- mentions a new-to-me site that may interest you (HT), that belonging to International Pleating. Fully embracing today's demands for connectivity and transparency, they also have a blog and a FaceBook page.

In business since the 1930's, International Pleating provides contract pleating services delivered to your specifications. They offer two types of pleating, hand (pattern pleating) and mechanical. Machine pleating ranges from knife, box, distressed and Fortuny pleating. Hand pleating types are sunburst (accordion), large box pleats and herringbone. You can see samples of each type here.

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3 reasons you should pay for samples

Inspired by a LinkedIn discussion on this subject, I thought it would be good to talk about it here. The question was (paraphrased and edited slightly):

If a contractor approaches you with a production proposal, is it okay that the contractor charges for the initial sample? How about if they say that if you place an order, they will refund the cost? Shouldn't this be a cost of doing business? What are your thoughts?

With over 100 comments (although some are spam, typical of LI), this has been controversial to say the least. I think the better question is: if you approach a contractor with the idea of doing business with them, should you pay for the initial sample? The reason I think my question is better is because it is basically the same thing. The issue of who made the approach is immaterial once you sift through the pros and cons.

Even though there are tiny operations out there that only exist to generate revenue making crappy samples, I think you should pay. Not that you should pay the former, that's what due diligence -and escrow- is about. You should pay for these reasons:

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What to do if a contractor shorts an order

A designer I'll call Liz writes:

I have a problem with my sewing contractor. They were willing to work with me on my first order and agreed to make 250 so I appreciate that. However, when I got the shipment, I was shorted by 9 dresses that they charged me for anyway. They said something about "losing those in cutting" but I am not clear what that means. If they made cutting mistakes, I think it is fair they pay me back but I shouldn't have to pay for something they did not sew. I realize they did me a favor with a lower minimum but I don't think this is fair. I feel like I should say something but I don't know what. Other than this I really like my contractor and want to make this work but I don't think this is acceptable.

In the olden days, I would have been brimming with outrage but I know better these days. Many designers don't realize that determining the size of an order is much more than filling in a blank on a form. The key questions here are how did it happen and whose fault is it (who should bear the cost of the shortage?)

There are two ways to indicate the lot size of an order. One is with the purchase order (sewing contract) and the second is with the marker plan (supplied by manufacturer vis a vis a marker maker). Of the two figures, the marker plan takes precedence. That's because a contractor can only cut from a marker they've been given.

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