Many entrepreneurs are excited about a new-ish technology called MTM (Made to Measure) that they think will revolutionize retail. The premise is this: A customer is scanned, their measurements uploaded into an MTM CAD program that will spit out a pattern that fits the customer and his or her style preferences. The customer selects the fabric and features they like and after payment, can expect their order to be delivered within a matter of days. To be sure, the MTM system is costly (software + body scanner+ retail space+people to cut and sew onesies and twosies) but the thinking is that customization will be the demand driver, there will be less dead stock and of course, no pattern maker is needed. Sounds awesome, huh? Unfortunately, MTM software isn't what most people think it is. If it were, me and most of the pattern makers I know would have bought it before now.
The MTM software is better described as a database, not a drafting to measure or pattern making program. In fact, implementing MTM requires a lot of patternmaking in advance. The MTM [database] will definitely spit out pattern pieces specific to given measurements provided those pieces -an enormous data set to include every conceivable size, to be loaded into the system.
Returning to the poll of preferred topics, this one deals with #4, the fastest way to pattern and prototype. As I mentioned in that previous post, I think the topic is a bit self serving and accordingly, was a bit dismayed that it won the poll. This post won't work for everyone so use what you can and leave the rest.
Being able to pattern and prototype quickly requires the right mix of people, skills, tools and most all, time. Lack any of those and you can't speed up much. If you're the one doing it all, your cycle time will be related to your own efficiencies and time. If you have a nicely equipped workroom (CAD, machines, cutting table etc) then there isn't much I can tell you that you don't already know unless you wanted to compare notes about being more efficient which isn't what this is about. However, if you're someone who is jobbing out the pattern and prototyping work, you may have some options to reducing the cycle time of getting approved samples.
It is possible to get one day turnaround on patterns but your provider (like me) may not realize they can do it to the extent that it would occur to them to offer the service. So, I'll explain how it is that I do one day service so you can approach your preferred provider to see if it is an option.
The universe speaks! Follows is a redux of conversations I've had with colleagues over the past two days. Designers launching a line, it would be useful to follow along as it could reduce a lot of confusion and complexity you have experienced when sourcing services.
Context: my colleagues are old school pattern makers (mostly a good thing) who, while not opposed to CAD and may have even used it, don't have a CAD system themselves. My position is that if a patternmaker is planning to stay in the game for at least the next 10 years, they need to get a CAD system.
Old school context: The range of pattern services to include pattern making, grading and marking, have always been separate functions and often, done by 3 different people. The patternmaker made patterns, a pattern grader graded the patterns for sizes and the marker maker made markers from the patterns for production to cut the fabric. Usually or often, patterns were made by hand with the grading and marking done by computer. Now, while each party may have used the same software and hardware for these different functions, they did not do each others jobs or only rarely and under duress. As in, somebody died.
One of our long time forum members and occasional guest author here is Esther Melander. A long time pattern maker and grader, she also has her own blog. She has recently published a simple (but not simplistic) book of forms called The Organized Fashion Designer. A brief synopsis is:
The forms included in this manual can be used to create a simplified tech pack. I f you create a complicated product, you may need a more detailed tech pack that is professionally prepared by a technical designer. A simple tech pack can also help those just starting out in the sewn product industry or even advanced home hobbyists. Detailed explanations follow so that you will know how to fill out each form. Some forms are meant for your own use and some are intended for use by contractors.
There are 3 types of forms (with plenty of crossover). The first are in house forms used to collect and organize information. This would include forms for measurements, grade rules, style number management and quality specifications.
Via the WSJ comes word that children's wear manufacturer Lolly Wolly Doodle, got a round of funding to the tune of $20,000,000 -that's right, 20 million dollars. For a moderately priced children's wear company that started in 2009 out of someone's garage, that's not too shabby. So what are they doing and how did they do it?
From what I can tell, they followed a playbook similar to what I've outlined on this site for years. If you want the quick start guide applicable to a grassroots start up, you can see these entries that explain how to turn cloth into cash:
How to start a homebased handmade sewing business
How to start a homebased handmade sewing business pt.2
How to start a homebased handmade sewing business pt.3
Which is not to suggest that their journey has not been without its problems. In fact, the company has an F rating at the Better Business Bureau. Still, they must be doing something right to have picked up 20 million in funding so what might those things be? Here are a few obvious conclusions:
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.
With increasing costs offshore, many companies have determined it is becoming more cost effective to bring production back to the U.S.. Unfortunately, many find this is easier said than done and for several reasons.
The first problem for some operations is that manufacturing for themselves is something they've never done so they never had the needed skills in house. Others may have once manufactured domestically but once they went off shore, key people were let go and the firm lost its institutional knowledge base. Thus, while many firms are quite successful, they find themselves at odds. Where does one go? How does one start? How does one learn what they need to know? Since I've done a lot of this work and increasingly more lately, I have some ideas for the ground work of a successful initiative.
Once the decision to migrate back has been made, many companies pursuing this option are stymied by not being able to find what they want. Like many start ups, they're surprised to discover that skilled workers and competent service providers are in short supply and the domestic supply of talent is too small to meet increasing demand. Human capital being the crux of the matter, here are 3 steps to developing competencies without going off the rails, keeping existing projects in gear and without alienating existing partners.
Wanting to center the focus of scaling your business growth pragmatically in hiring your first full time pattern maker, I decided to add a part two rather than leaving a comment on part one.
Rocio was first to comment and brought up what I was hoping someone would. She said adding a pattern maker is a good step once average weekly invoices of pattern services would equal the cost of a pattern maker's salary. Her point of weekly invoices is good in that it eliminates companies who do short term product development although I would imagine that most companies fitting that profile wouldn't have the financial wherewithal to consider the option.
Doing this sort of cost calculation of outside services versus what it would cost internally has been a traditional barometer but I wonder if it is a good one for two reasons:
I don't have the answer to the question of knowing when it is time to hire a full time pattern maker but maybe you can help me sort it out. There are two scenarios in which to frame the question.
First scenario: A company I know (they attended my manufacturing boot camp class in 1998) is over a barrel. Succinctly stated, they've been using a freelance pattern service over the past eight years and recently the relationship has soured. The pattern service refuses to hand over digital files for the 800+ patterns owned by the customer. While that is being sorted out, the company has hired a new pattern service. The thing is, I've only heard negative reports on the new pattern service. Considering their problems and choices, I suggested that they should bring pattern making in house. The owner says they can't afford to hire a pattern maker but then said maybe they could hire an intern (which made me shiver all over and not in a good way). I said they could buy everything they needed (CAD software, plotter, digitizer) for 20-25K new, less for used. He said they don't have the money to acquire the CAD system or plotter either.
They have 25 employees, 15 of whom are stitchers. With respect to head count, there are 10 non-sewing employees which as a ratio (40%) is quite high. However, they also dye all their products in house so the company isn't as inefficient as one could suppose.
Someone I will call Jody writes:
Do you have any articles or information about how to sell or license a design? Although I have streamlined and have one full time helper, the business has grown too big for me to handle on my own and I am interested in finding out if there are any companies out there that would be interested in buying my designs and brand. I have a small business making xxx from post-consumer apparel.
I've published several posts on selling your business which I'll link to as is appropriate to sort out these issues.
- What is she selling? The business? A license? The brand? The designs?
- How marketable are those elements as they would interest a buyer?
Background: Jody included a link to her website. Personally, I think her products are awesome (and you know how I resist making such pronouncements) and priced well (commensurate to their value) but there are two core problems that can affect the sale of businesses like hers.
First the downsides: With respect to licensing -this isn't going to happen, or it shouldn't. Only someone who is really green would buy a license and these people tend to not have much money so its a zero sum game. If you are toying with the idea of selling a license, keep in mind the option is limited to celebrities or very well established brands. A license is only good for an add-on product, it's not a take-over of your primary one. In other words, Ralph Lauren can sell a license to a sunglasses manufacturer but the license is worth nothing if RL stopped producing -which is what Jody wants to do. So unless you're Beyonce, Martha Stewart or Hello Kitty, cross licensing off your list of options.