From Popular Topics

5 reasons you can’t find a sewing contractor

Between the phone, email and the forum, I've had six requests for finding a clothing manufacturer sewing contractor before 2:00 PM. I guess interest is a good sign. A bad sign was that none of them were prepared for this step. A crazy as it seems, one can tell inside of 30 seconds. In the interests of resolving this problem, I'll reiterate specific advice on the most critical strategy you can use to find a clothing manufacturer sewing contractor. Sprinkled through out this entry are links to critical entries you must also read.

Cold calling or emailing somebody to get the name of manufacturer contractor is rarely going to work so it's better to try another approach. The best way to find a clothing manufacturer sewing contractor is by doing things the way one is expected to go about doing things in the industry. It is only when you try to do things your own way or to take short cuts that you run into trouble.

Bar none, the best way to find a clothing manufacturer sewing contractor is through a pattern maker. You have to have patterns before you hire a manufacturer contractor so don't put the cart before the horse. I know a lot of people right now are thinking they don't need a patternmaker because they're using a retail pattern or they made their own and think this is well enough. It is possible you don't need one but probably not. For what it's worth, I've run into 2 designers in 33 years who didn't need a patternmaker. You could be the third, who knows? Rather than belabor the point, continue reading to find out why your case may not be the exception.

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How to find help in the apparel industry for nearly nothing

"How do I find a sewing contractor?" "How do I find wholesale fabric?" "How do I find a sales rep?" "How do I find stores to buy my clothes?" These are questions I get every single day. The garment industry is no different from any other, you get this information from your friends. So the question really should be, who are your friends? The TP Entrepreneur says you are equal to your five closest friends. Are your five friends successful designers in the business? Or are they just like you, stuck at the starting gate? It's fantasy to believe you'll get lucky meeting the right people while stuck in an elevator. In real life, you can easily find and make friends with people who are most like what you want to be or who are at the point where you want to be.

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#1 mistake of new designers

I was hanging out of Crafters.org yesterday and came across a posting from the newest of DEs; she was asking why her clothing wasn’t selling. In analyzing her line, I realized her missteps were pretty typical. Normally I wouldn’t post on it but I was reviewing another line this morning from Allison Kelly (contestant on Project Runway) and saw some of the same problems. Specifically, the number one problem made by new designers is continuity.

Many young lines are not congruent, the pieces don’t belong together, mixing and matching. Ideally pieces should cross merchandise. Miracle and I have written three entries on who do you hang with (pt2, pt3). If your line won’t hang next to somebody else’s on a rack, looking like it belongs there, it can’t stand alone either. It’s typical for new designers to have some orphans but some product lines are all or nearly all, orphans. In the beginning, develop your signature pieces according to what resonates with you. Over time, your signatures will become what sells best for you. If you’re all over the map style-wise with a bunch of orphans, a pattern won’t emerge between related pieces and you’ll never know which are the winners. Your fabrics, styles, silhouettes and pieces should be congruent. If your pieces when hung together, merchandise like rack of goods at a thrift store, your line is all orphans.

Regarding Allison Kelly’s line specifically, she’s got five pieces on this page. Based on this presentation, I’d say the last three are orphans because they don’t belong to any other piece. The first two go with each other if only based on color. Notice Kelly has not repeated fabrications between these two (or any other) style. She’s got to do a lot of sourcing to cover that; how can she meet minimums without investing in unnecessary inventory? I suppose she can if she’s buying fabric at retail but one’s prices will be higher (in her case, thinner margins) and one isn’t guaranteed fabrics on reorder. Orphan number three (the polka dot) should be yanked, asap. It might be interesting in another colorway though.

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Designer’s advice on starting a clothing line

This is the 1,000th entry published on this site and as such, it seems fitting that it should be written by you. This is a guest entry written by two different people. The first is from a visitor who has become exasperated. She says she really loves the site but has become annoyed with DEs who’ve jumped into this without learning anything about it. She enjoys helping answer good questions but she’s demoralized by people who won’t listen or negate her advice. The second part is written by a pattern maker who’s told me to lose her number. She can’t take it anymore.
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Here is my rant, if it is too harsh please feel free to edit. I don’t want you to use my name because frankly I know it is going to cause a lot of heat and I don’t want people emailing me or calling me at work. I will respond to each comment on the blog- it is better that way ’cause then everyone gets to see the information. And if you decide not to publish that is fine too. Got a lot off my chest just by writing it, so I am cool either way. Thanks!

Dear Kathleen,
I get it that it is the point of your book and website to teach designer-manufacturers how to manufacture properly but I am flabbergasted by how many people just assume they can become fashion designers and start a clothing line with little to no research into simple things like: target market, price points, where they will sell, who they hang with, and how much time and money it will take to create a viable company.

Just because someone wears clothing doesn’t mean they can start designing and manufacturing them. I mean, just because I drive a car doesn’t mean I am going to start a car manufacturing company. And if I did want to start a car manufacturing company I would first learn how a car is made, what makes it run, how a factory is set up, the different methods of producing a car, etc. I would also try to surround myself with a team of people who knew how to make a car- mechanics, engineers, marketing people, etc. It would never even occur to me to shell out thousands of dollars to buy some used car parts and new metal and try to make a car all by myself. So could someone please explain to me why someone would put a second mortgage on their home to start a company that they have no experience in?

I have heard story after story about how cutthroat the rag trade is, but in my experience, if a product fills a hole in the market, is well designed and marketed appropriately then the path to success is smooth. (Ever heard of Juicy, Tory Burch, or Tom Ford?) Ok, well, maybe not smooth, but at least much easier then trying to design and produce a product nobody likes or wants. So if you can’t get a sales rep or you are having problems getting your product into boutiques, it is probably one of three things: it’s cheesy, your price point is too high or your product is too similar to products out there. And if you are lucky enough for one of those sales reps or boutique owners to tell you what the problem with your product is, then please- listen to them and try to fix whatever they deem is the problem. They are probably much more experienced than you and if they are offering their time to give you advice, it might behoove you to listen and not argue with them about why they are wrong or how they ‘just don’t get it’.

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How to find sewing contractors

Perhaps it would surprise you that I don’t have a magic list of sewing contractors. While I have a leg up in many respects, it’s still a challenge. I’m curious as to how people go about searching for contractors in the first place. The reason is that I get questions like this everyday but I don’t have the same problems finding names. If the question is from a member of the forum (a supporting member of this site), first I send them there to search for referrals other members have mentioned (or who are contractors themselves). If not a member, I can’t help them in part because I can’t make a living giving away free information but mostly because I don’t know if the person is sufficiently prepared to enter into a relationship with a manufacturer using my name as a lever. Sometimes because I’m curious though and I’ll search to find a range of contractors in their area and wonder why they couldn’t find them themselves. Once, I found a contractor who was literally, five blocks from the DE‘s house (she is now very happily using this contractor). By the way, this DE (love her to death) swore up and down for two years there wasn’t a contractor she could use within 200 miles.

These are the strategies I use to find manufacturers of apparel and sewn products. Within an hour, I’ll have more names than I can sort through.

The rest of this article is gated, limited to members of Fashion-Incubator’s forum. If you are interested in joining, read this before registering.

Why you don’t need to borrow money to start a clothing line

Just a quick refresher on borrowing money to start a clothing -or sewn products- line. This is inspired after a phone discussion yesterday and from reading Why I don’t want financing this morning. First an excerpt from the computing industry:

…if you’re just building a regular old dynamic web site with no wild engineering issues, then you can, and in my opinion should, go it alone. You can rent a sweet production quality box for a few hundred bucks a month. That’s all you need. Eat into your savings. Borrow from friends and family. Eat Ramen. Scrape by. But don’t raise a ton of money, get office space and hire 30 employees. All you’re going to do with all that money is buy yourself all of the disadvantages that come with working for a larger organization. Politics, lack of accountability, and a new-found sluggishness to name a few.

However, if you keep keep it small and pop out a comparable site with just a few talented, hungry engineers then you have a much greater chance at long term success. The reason is that you are much more flexible. You don’t have as many stakeholders. You have time to let it evolve and grow. Push, watch, tweak, change, push, repeat. Then when you’ve molded it into the thing that’s just right and it catches on, you can raise a little bit of cash to buy some more smoking servers. But at that point you can raise the money on your own terms. They’ll be throwing it at you.

I concur with this view. I think chasing financing (or an investor) is largely a waste of time. Assuming you’re unlucky enough to score, they own you. According to this article, US Government statistics show that two-thirds of firms are self financing. I realize it’s not simple but you should have the means to get some samples together. You shouldn’t borrow money for that -assuming you could. You largely can’t you know, and you really don’t need to.

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How to buy wholesale fabric

From my mail:

I am gearing up to design my fall 2007 line to be shown at various trade shows in January. I love the scheduling sheet that you included in the book. My question has to do with fabric and production. Now I know what a jobber is, but say I make my samples with 50 yards or so of fabric, take it to the trade show and pick up orders for 300 of that shirt. That’s going to be at least 1000 yds of that fabric I need (plus we have a retail shop so lets say another 300 yds). Will the fabric company have 1300 yds in February for me to purchase, and if they don’t what do I tell my retailer, and what is the line going to look like with hole in it?

If it were my line, I would not be willing to risk not being able to get those goods in February. A jobber won’t be able to guarantee it so I wouldn’t source from them unless it’s a stock item, exact color matching is not required and it’s a reputable jobber who has a reputation for following through. As far as what you tell the retailer…I don’t know. If you don’t get the goods, they don’t care what the particular reason is that you won’t be filling the order, they won’t be happy. If you don’t fill the order, you risk losing them as a customer forever. Bummer, huh?

Caveat: Sometimes you can cancel a buyer’s order and it is “okay”. Buyers aren’t happy but they accept it. You can cancel an order if you drop the style. In other words, if you don’t get enough orders to justify cutting it, you can drop it. Buyers won’t like it but canceling an order based on drops is accepted standard practice. All of this is in the book .

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How to find investors for a clothing line pt.1

One of the most frequent questions I get is how to find an investor to produce a clothing line. Unfortunately, it is much easier to define who won’t get money rather than who will. In this series, I’ll be exploring the reasons people don’t get funding, followed by people who are more likely to get it. To start, here’s an example of someone who won’t get money and why:

I have a clothing line ready to launch, without going in to it too much. I have everything EIN, RN, wholesale interest and other clientele. I have samples in production as we speak. What I need is a resource for capital. Believe me when I say this will be HUGE!! Some items are patent pending as they are new to the market. I have innovative designs with a unique twist. Everything is copyrighted, trademarked and pending registered trademarks. For our full Executive summary and business plan please contact asap. We are looking to launch the tshirts first and move to the active wear.

Here are some reasons why this line won’t be funded -at least not by people who are in the business.

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Why no one will help you

Yesterday, I got yet another email from someone who was complaining that very few people in the industry are willing to give advice on how to start your own clothing line. Since Miracle and I donate incalculable amounts of free time to help people succeed, we talked about the reasons why we don’t help certain people. We help everybody we can -time permitting- unless they are stupid, annoying and cheap. All kidding aside, everybody has to start somewhere and whether you intend to or not, you can be unintentionally stupid, or annoying or cheap. I know I have been outside my range of expertise. I think one can only be one of those three things. In other words, one can be stupid -this isn’t brain surgery- but one can’t be annoying and cheap at the same time. Or, one can be annoying but not stupid and cheap. Or one can be cheap, but one can’t be annoying and stupid too. Make sense?

Based on practical experience I’d say people won’t help you because they can’t. You’re usually asking the wrong question or you’re asking the wrong person. It is only rarely that you do ask the right person, the right question and they won’t help you. If you’re not asking the right people the right questions, few will volunteer the longer course because they think that you’ll poison the well. Everybody thinks nobody will help them due to fears of competition but you’re on the outside looking in. They’re doing it, you’re not. You are not a threat. Trust me.

The reason most people won’t help you is because they think you’re not ready. If you’re asking for a contractor referral and no one will tell you, it’s because -in their estimation- you’re not ready to enter in that kind of a relationship using their name as a lever. You need a referral to get a good contractor, or good suppliers. Not always, but mostly. Most businesses are leery of people calling from directories because callers aren’t screened and they won’t know if the person is really ready to get into this or not until they’ve invested in the relationship that they might end up not wanting -which is why you need a referral. In the beginning, it is very unlikely you will be charged the full cost of handling your job. We subsidize you (yes, we do). Like any investor, we want the best bets, those who are as prepared as they can reasonably be.

If someone gives you a referral, they are vouching for you, implying you are ready to take this step. We are cautious about referrals because your actions determine our reputations too. If you do something untoward, that contractor will lose respect for the person who referred you (for picking somebody like you) and take their other referrals less seriously. Your actions in part, determine our reputations -and believe me, we love to score points with our contacts by sending them good business because they will make us an even greater priority and give us other referrals we may need. So, just as we have much to lose with our contacts by making bad referrals, we also have much to gain by making good ones. There is nothing that raises my reputation in the industry more than giving a good referral. But again, this is why any other designer will refuse to tell you about their sources for the same reasons. They don’t want someone poisoning their retail-well, their rep-well or their contractor-well. It is always embarrassing if one has made a bad referral with much loss of face and apologies all around.

If you’re not ready, it’s more likely -be honest- that you haven’t been listening to advice you’ve already been given. If you’ve been frustrated in your quest for advice, be honest and think about it. Have you gotten advice you didn’t follow up on and you should have? It may not have been the answer you asked for or wanted but if you’re asking the right person, someone who is an authority or trustworthy (why else would you be asking them), they will answer the question you need to have answered, rather than the one you wanted. Take inventory. Has someone given you advice you haven’t taken but should have? Doing so will prepare you, from which you can get referrals. For example, I don’t give referrals to anybody who hasn’t read my book. I have no way of knowing if they’ve prepared sufficiently otherwise. At least that way, I’ve got a baseline of standards and expectations and it must be working okay because contractors call me sometimes and compliment me on the quality of customers I send them.

In summary, people usually won’t help you because you could poison the well. Throughout history, the answer is the same. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. If your teacher hasn’t appeared, it’s because you’re not ready. Follow the advice you’ve already been given and then your teacher will come. In the meantime and until you are ready, people will keep you from fouling the well.

How to start a clothing line

This topic comes from a combination of my email and the forum. I wanted to share it with you because I think it’s a good example of simple, modest plans and good instincts. There are some features of her plan that I think are pivotal -and this is a basic outline of how I explained to start a clothing line in The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing (it’s rated #1 on Amazon for a reason). For some of you it may seem too simple but I really believe that some DEs (designer entrepreneurs) go overboard with complexity rather than having a good core focus. It’s the foundations of a plan that matter most at the outset. You shouldn’t use marketing to compensate for a weakness in your foundation and that’s what a lot of (mostly big) companies do. Here’s Tonya’s message:

I grew up sketching and later on taught myself to sew. I’ve wanted to launch my own plus-size clothing line for about 20 years now but the problem has always been lack of money. I work as an Analyst in IT. I’ve decided to take $10K out of my 401k and invest it in myself by starting a clothing line.

As a plus-size consumer who can never find the type of clothes that I like, I’m sure that there is a need for more diversity in the product offerings. I’ve also been researching the plus-size market for the last 10 years. For more info, I’ve been working at Lane Bryant part-time since October which has given me good insight into what women are buying.

Before I take out the money I want to have a clear business plan. My problem right now is deciding how best to market and produce the line. The 3 options I’m considering are:

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