The fashion and apparel business has a ton of moving parts. 1/8” error on a pattern can throw the fit of a garment off and ruin an entire production run if it is not caught. This is particularly daunting when you are a newcomer to the field and there are plenty of ways to mess yourself up even when you are working with “Experts”.
1. Always carry a measuring tape.
Apparel is all about fit and fit is all about measurements. Along the path to creating “The Best Fitted Shirt on the Planet” I have needed to measure samples, patterns, the width and length of collar stays, competitors’ shirts in retail stores, friends, strangers, etc. I never know when I’m going to need to know what the measurement, ratio, or proportion of something or someone is. If I don’t have my tape on me, then I miss the opportunity to learn something that might make my product better.
2. Having a little knowledge can be worse than having none at all.
My friend, designer Maxime Cossoguy, once said to me, “The problem with you is that you are smart and smart people think that they know things when they don’t because they have always been able to learn. This is dangerous.” In fashion when you think you know something but you don’t, it can cost you thousands of dollars and time, mess up an entire season’s fit or feel, and maybe even put you out of business. One of many examples from experience: I decided to pre-shrink our fabric before production so that it would shrink less around the zippers on our shirts (which don’t shrink). I thought I had solved what I considered to be a problem. But we didn’t shrink the (100% cotton) canvas interlining for the collars, cuffs, and button plackets. As a result, the interlining shrunk inside of the pre-shrunk fabric and caused the shirt to be irreconcilably wrinkled in some of the most important places that it should be crisp. Imagine if I had produced 1,000 shirts like this.
2. Trust your judgements
If you are not an expert then you will have to hire or work with experts in order to get anything done correctly. Doing things a certain way for long enough to be an expert can make a person increasingly reluctant to adopt innovative ideas. In developing the fit for our shirt we realized that standard grading rules (the way a garment grows larger in each part as the size increases) would not work for our line. Our shirts have an athletic shape to them-wider shoulders and chest and slimmer waist than most lines. What we realized about athletic guys is that their torsos don’t grow according to standard grading rules that dictate that the chest, waist, and hips should increase the same amount as one another between sizes. Athletically built guys actually increase a little more in the chest than they do in the waist and hips as they get larger. We built this finding into our line but when we got our graded patterns back from the expert and made samples from them, he had corrected our “mistake” and taken all of the shape out of our line. Had we relied solely on the expert’s discretion, our XL shirts would be too baggy in the midsection.
3. When working with experts, don’t play the middleman.
People who know their way around the business can figure things out a lot quicker without you getting in the middle. I wasted a lot of time trying to bring feedback from our factory to our patternmaker on how the pattern needed to be changed for production. I bought requests from the factory to the pattern maker who made adjustments and sent the pattern back to the factory, a sample would be made that didn’t turn out correctly and then I’d bring it back to the pattern maker. We’d try to figure out what went wrong and he’d adjust the pattern. I’d bring it back to the factory and they would see something wrong and I would bring it back to the pattern maker and on and on. This lasted a few weeks and all 3 parties almost lost our minds. I finally brought the pattern maker over to the factory and everything was solved in 10 minutes. Had I put these two in the same room from the start, what took 3 weeks would have only taken 10 minutes.
4. Nobody will be more invested than you are.
Another designer friend Elizabeth Fillmore gave me these words of wisdom: “Never assume. Double and triple check everything.” When you are working on something that you are passionate about, it is easy to lose track of the fact that not everyone is as invested in its success as you are. It doesn’t matter how much you pay someone or how much ownership you make someone feel. There are plenty of hard working professionals you can hire to do something for you, but at the end of the day you’ll be liable if they don’t deliver. This is particularly true at the outset, when you are a small fish. This means that you have to keep an eye on every aspect of the business to ensure that things will turn out the way you want them to. See tip #1 about carrying your measuring tape.
5. There is no true perfect.
Of course there is a fine line between having to have everything be perfect and getting things done. At some point you’ll have to determine if something is “good enough” and if trying to get it to be perfect will only alienate the people you are working with and cause you to miss deadlines.