A Designer’s First Season: Apparel Manufacturing & Production Hacks

Designing a cohesive, affordable, on-trend line of clothing is a huge challenge. But after the first challenge is accomplished, you must then embark on the difficult journey of finding a manufacturer and getting your clothing out there to the public if you want to make a profit.

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My line, Brazen Era Clothing, focuses on feminine silhouettes, strong constructions, and fun, quality materials based and produced in NYC. After finalizing my sketches, I spent a couple months finding domestic fabric suppliers and creating patterns to make up a line of 15 items. My love for the Made in USA movement lead me to Maker’s Row, where I quickly made a profile and began my hunt for a quality manufacturing partner.

I started my search by messaging about 10 factories that I felt fit the credentials I was looking for. My main factory requirements were as follows: well made, fast, and fairly priced. I had to sacrifice the convenience of a manufacturer based in Midtown – but in the end, this was a price worth paying. You need to figure out what your non-negotiables are before deciding on a factory, because there is no perfect manufacturer. Narrowing the search down to manufacturers that fit your top 3 credentials will help you decide who to meet and work with.

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I met with three factory reps before deciding on a manufacturing partner (this is a small number of meetings, most designers recommend you visit at least 10 before deciding). In these meetings, the factory reps and I went over pattern and muslin services, deadlines, past work, and the total cost of producing a line. After meeting with Eric Beroff from Spoiled Rotten in the Bronx, I decided to put the fate of my first line in his team’s skilled hands.

Tip: Saving money – Make your own patterns or hire someone who will for a low hourly rate.

I provided patterns for all samples except for a romper I had developed through Spoiled Rotten’s pattern making team. Providing patterns saved me a lot of money and ensured that samples were made exactly how I wanted. Sometimes providing a sketch or flat is not enough information for the manufacturer to make the sample exactly how you want and you may in fact end up getting stuck with a ton of sample revisions.

I requested to have all samples completed by September 14th as I wanted to schedule a look book shoot and launch my e-commerce site in time for Spring 2016 buying season. This request left Eric and his team a little over a month to produce an entire line! I definitely recommend giving yourself a bit more space than one month depending on your sample order – asking for an incredibly tight deadline can oftentimes compromise sample quality and cost more.

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Tip: If you have the finances, ask your manufacturing partner to make your samples in muslin first.

Making a muslin sample before attempting to produce a perfect salesman sample is highly recommended as you are constructing the sample in low quality, inexpensive fabric and are able to make as many revisions as needed without ruining the final sample fabric.

When I finished my line, I was so excited to embark on the salesman part of my business plan! However, this has been the hardest challenge for me. I created an online storefront with GoDaddy and sent my professionally printed lookbook to boutiques and buying reps. In future, I’ll be buying a booth at a trade show to gain more exposure and meet potential retailers that are seeking my products and services out, rather than vice versa.

To learn the ropes of manufacturing yourself, sign up for our free Production 101 e-course. Then, to find your ideal factory, search our database of 8,000+ domestic manufacturers here

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  • Preeti Hari Nandanar

    Hi Rebecca – thank you for posting this article. I found it incredibly useful. I was wondering if you could help me with some tips on how to go about finding fabric suppliers in NYC. Please let me know if you would like me to email you separately. Thanks in advance for your help. And good luck with your line. Love the name!

    Cheers,
    Preeti.