From Rants

Old school patternmakers: Should you get a CAD system? Or update the one you have?

old_school_toolsA conversation with another old school pattern maker brings this topic to the forefront -if you're a highly skilled pattern maker accustomed to manual work, is it worth getting a CAD system for pattern making? For that matter, if you already have a CAD system but it is aging, should you upgrade to a newer version or get another software program altogether? The latter has been a real sore spot lately so I'll try to tease these two out. This is a real crisis and I hope this gets through.

First, keep in mind that I'm old school too and I haven't been using CAD very long myself. I know all of the reasons against it so let's deal with that first. Oh wait, should I start with why you seriously need to consider it? Gosh, it'll be hard to read but this is my personal opinion -not saying I'm right, it's what I believe to be true.

Let's be honest -how old are you? When do you plan to retire? If you plan to work another 10 to 15 years, the time to seriously consider it is past; it's time to set a deadline for a decision

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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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Shame on Wired Magazine

I don't know how you feel about it but I'm annoyed that Wired rag, pulp fiction tabloid, fish wrap, magazine finds it to be oh so very tongue in cheek and cutesy-like to refer to sewing factories generically as sweat shops. Just see the title of this article: Clothes Will Sew Themselves in Darpa’s Sweat-Free Sweatshops*. Really. I emailed the hack "journalist" who wrote it (Katie Drummond, email1 email2) and asked how she'd like it if journalists were routinely called "hacks". So yeah, our labor crisis grows in part due to irresponsible writing and editing like this. Who wants to get into the business when much hipper than thou hacks journalists so blithely insult one's occupation? I told her:

People who work or have worked in factories may resent your sweat-shop comments because they wouldn’t work at a place like that anymore than you would and if you intimate that they have, that’s an underhanded way of saying you’re better than they are. Some of us deeply admire our former factory employers...

Talk about insult to injury. I hope you'll comment, write the hack journalist and or editorial staff to make your discomfort known. Before you run off tho, Katie closes with this witty gem:

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Fashion mentors: free & good advice to start a clothing line

Circumstances dictate revisiting what mentoring means, and how to get good and free advice in starting your clothing line. As an aside, I thought "free" was implied in a mentoring relationship but that seems to be evolving. A lot of people market themselves as mentors but then expect you to pay for it. Call me crazy but that sounds like consulting to me. For our purposes, we will assume mentoring is free -and this is critical.

Mentoring is oversold in some respects; judging from what you read on the internet, mentoring is so great for mentors they wouldn't want to do anything else. It can be true that a mentor is helping you for warm squishies but they have to be selective because there's a much larger pool of protégés (colloq. "mentees") than mentors. You know, supply and demand. More yous, less mes. So let's talk about that -you can't be picked unless you know what you're up against.

If a mentor is any good, they're quickly drained and tapped out unless they set boundaries because everyone wants a piece so a mentor becomes selective or dies. Literally. Only a paid mentor has time to be everyone else’s dream machine; all other mentors must carve out time to eat, sleep, earn a living to care for their families, and even time to relax and regenerate. So let's say a mentor has one hour a week to devote to grooming the industry's next star -you. Why should that mentor pick you? It is very very easy to know who is worth the investment of our limited time -we pick people who are resourceful. Meaning, skip the pitch -we pick you by your questions. It's not what you tell us, it's what you ask us. Resourceful means asking good questions and following through because to the right person, a single word can be sufficient. At the same time, asking too many questions is a red flag and so I'll explain how to attain tasteful balance so your mentor doesn't think you're trying to take advantage.

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Voiding a pattern warranty makes others crazy

tampering_voids_warrantyOne reason experienced pattern makers are reluctant to take on a new entrant is because the designer doesn't have a clear understanding of what they should or should not do. Specifically, new designers think nothing of taking a professionally made pattern and changing a thing or two without realizing how those changes can impact the rest of the pattern's design. The common result is that disaster strikes once it hits the contractor. The contractor will be angry or annoyed and want to know who made it. The designer will naturally say X pattern maker did the work -without mentioning their own modification- so guess who gets blamed? Unless the contractor and pattern maker have a close relationship (they prefer it to prevent this sort of thing) design modifications made by a designer can be ruinous for a freelancing pattern maker. This is a clear case of responsibility without authority and it can make anyone crazy.

Making modifications like this is akin to tampering with an item which voids its warranty. A pattern maker warrants a pattern they've made will suit the purposes for which it is intended. If it does not, then the pattern maker needs to repair it. But if you tamper with it, all bets are off. The warranty extended by the pattern maker is void. Unfortunately, there is no sticker on a pattern that lets others know the warranty has been voided so blame is misappropriated and reputations suffer. Or worse, the pattern maker is unaware their pattern was modified and begins to doubt their own sanity and competence in the process of repair. Obviously, CAD patterns can be a blessing to prove version history but only if the customer or employer has no access to the files to modify the originals.

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Like a puppy chasing a bus: Sourcing like big brands

puppy_unfortunately_not_chasing_a_busApologies for the title that a lot of people won't like either. Titles aren't my strong suit. But no mind, someone I'll call Art writes:

I am trying to start up a small to medium sized clothing line and have been looking into manufacturers and sewing factories for men's shirts. I am looking for the factory/supplier list for XXX, YYY and ZZZ. I was able to find the worldwide factory list for Levi's but have been unsuccessful with other brands. Is there a way to find the supply chain or factory list for commercial brands and high end designer labels?

I told him that attempting to source from factories used by the biggest brands is like a puppy chasing a bus. Assuming you could catch one, what ever would you do with it? I also said that if one were prepared to enter into a relationship with prominent contractors, it would not be so difficult to locate them (when the student is ready, the teacher appears). The matter of being able to get their attention based on the small quantities a new brand is likely to want is another (situation-untenable) story altogether. Then Art responded, his comments evolve the conversation in ways that are useful to us. He said:

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You need to start manufacturing yourself. Period.

A recent news story from Marketplace Money titled Double-digit unemployment? These firms can't find workers bolsters my all too frequent lament that we are critically short on domestic production resources and with no improvement in sight. Here's an excerpt:

When local fashion firm Pinup Girl Clothing tried to ramp up production of its vintage-inspired apparel recently it hit a snag: It couldn’t find anyone to do the work. The company spent a year trying to add 12 people to its 32-person manufacturing team in downtown Los Angeles. As the search dragged on, Pinup Girl fell two months back in its production schedule.

Do read the entry, call it confirmation bias but this is nothing new. I've been talking about critical labor shortages in US sewing factories for years. Years. I feel vindicated that someone in the media has finally heard but not enough have. For example, anyone who complains that sewing contractors don't make it easy to find them, hasn't been listening. It's not a buyer's market and hasn't been for a very long time (they mostly don't need for you to find them). Anyway, the media is hip to the worker shortage problem in the apparel industry so let's hope new entrants to the business figure it out quickly too. As I've said more times than I can count, those who will succeed over the next ten years are those who will develop their own in house sewing operation. And I know well that statement will alienate a lot of people but it's the truth. You don't have to open a big honking facility; it's amazing what one or two stitchers can put out.

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Assume stupidity not malice. And, a PR job opening

Any time a situation doesn't work out in whatever way, our natural default response is to presume malice when incompetence is more likely. Try to keep that in mind.

In the vein of How can we make it easier to do business with us? (and pt.2) many took the position that sewing contractors are bad, evil, arrogant or whatever because they didn't have web pages so potential customers could find them easier. I said it was more than that.

Hard as you may find this to believe, the problem is that the businesses you want to find don't know how to do what it takes for you to be able to find them -but they're willing to hire it out. Sounds like a slam dunk, right? Think again.

There is a critical lack of PR firms with sufficient grounding in the trade to understand the value of manufacturing products and services, much less know where to find or how to target a client's potential customer base. Lest that sound overly critical of PR firms, it's a near impossible job because this business is highly fragmented. There's no single publication or site where PR firms can place editorial to promote their client's interests. We used to have a variety of niche and regional publishers (Needle Trader, Kogos etc) but most of them are long gone. Others are too limited in distribution (Mannuscript, California Apparel News). Too few people read WWD anymore and besides, it's for retailers not manufacturers. Apparel is an option but it's intended for C-level execs rather than companies like you and even fewer read that now. Maybe a few of you read it but it's too darn few to be cost effective.

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The difference between crap and quality

I've been working on the difference between crap and quality for weeks; this particular follow up to the the previous post, for the last five days. My draft is 11 pages long in 10 pt. font with skinny margins. I think it has defeated me. All in an attempt to get to my closing argument. Defeated, I think I will start with that and hope for the best.

It is annoying to hear trash talk about "cheap" clothes and from every quarter. I include people who sew for pleasure, to custom clothiers to manufacturers of all sizes. Even in that community, there's an identifiable pattern. The smaller or newer the operation, the more they talk trash. Here are my reasons why you should stop -other than that it identifies you as a wannabe- because is is unbecoming, unkind and gratuitously insults other people. Some of whom you hope will do business with you.

  1. On one hand we pat ourselves on the back that we can make stuff ourselves so we aren't stuck with having to buy cheap crappy stuff. Yay for us, we score one point.
  2. People who don't buy our stuff but buy stuff we think is cheap and crappy should subtract one point.
  3. We also pat ourselves on the back that we can sew stuff so we aren't stuck with having to pay higher prices for the good stuff because we can just copy it. More yay and another point for us.
  4. People who aren't as good as we are because they can't or don't sew, score another minus point.

Now, heard are constant complaints that consumers don't want to pay the price of our stuff, some of it custom made (that some of us make, score another point if you do) yet at the same time, producers get upset when consumers buy other stuff that costs the same or more than our stuff. So which is it? People are too cheap if they don't buy your stuff so if they have the money to buy someone else's more expensive stuff, they're stupid? Stupid or cheap are the only options? It seems more likely that the customer doesn't agree the product represents the same value (so you should do something about that) but saying consumers are stupid or cheap isn't going to win them over. Chances are excellent that the customer in question isn't even your market so why would you worry about it?

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