My Crash Course in Apparel Manufacturing

I left the world of early stage tech to launch Heath Paine, a brand that takes fabric innovations from activewear to classic styles (starting with socks). Think funky dress socks that resist smelling bad. Prior to launching, I hadn’t spent a day in the apparel industry and had never interacted with apparel manufacturers on a firsthand basis. My career had been focused on technological development and interfacing with developers to build apps.

Needless to say, the experience of building Heath Paine quickly became a crash course in the world of manufacturing and garment development. It was a great opportunity to make just about every mistake in the book and learn from it. Here are a few things I wish I would have known then.

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1. Do your research!

Know as many specifics about what and how you want to manufacture before engaging manufacturers. ‘Learning as you go’ during this stage will only complicate your desired end-result and exponentially lengthen the process.

Manufacturers often greet new clients (especially brand new companies) with a healthy bit of skepticism. They want to feel out your knowledge. Experience vs. inexperience can be the deciding factor on whether or not they choose to work with you. Similarly, once they choose to take you on, your knowledge and perceived experience will prove vital to negotiating price.

Build credibility by conducting research beforehand, not only on the product that you want to develop, but also on the people who will be producing your garment.

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Understanding materials and machines

Grab samples of garments similar to what you’re making, and analyze the content of materials and structure. Identifying and breaking down pieces that you like will enable you to more easily convey your desired result to the manufacturer. Most manufacturers are great at being able to replicate or advise you on the direction based on comparable samples.

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Knowing your Manufacturer

Identifying the quality, reliability, and credibility of a manufacturer can be one of the most difficult activities you will embark upon. An effective, yet challenging way to do this, is by discovering which brands the manufacturer has worked with in the past. Typically, the names of brands won’t be offered up immediately, but when rapport has been built and the manufacturer begins to sell you, this information will usually seep out.

Maker’s Row offers you helpful insights into approved and well-reviewed manufacturers. Remember though, just because they lack reviews doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not the right manufacturer for you. Use it as a good foundation but make a decision that is right for your needs.

Tip7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Contacting a Factory

2. Set milestones (and try to stick to them)

Let’s face it, you’re probably dealing with smaller minimums than the average client of your manufacturer. It’s most efficient to recognize and own that reality, and do your best to manage it by establishing and agreeing upon tangible milestones and objectives with their team. This will provide a structure of expectation for both sides to work against.

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Additionally, you want to make sure that you’ve sorted out the full cost of production from start to finish. For American manufacturing, prototyping tends to cost money and not a cheap sum of it. Make sure that you’ve worked through the cost of not only materials and production (against smaller minimums), but also the cost of prototyping.

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3. Don’t assume anything

This just might be the most important rule. Explain every single detail of what you want to be completed, leaving zero room for ambiguity. And then explain it several more times during the process. Your wording, sketches, and details should be so simple and succinct that even a 5-year-old would understand the concept.

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4. Get production samples

Even when you have everything perfectly set up, things are bound to go wrong. With production samples in-hand before producing an entire line, you can ensure that everything is set up the way it should be. There is absolutely no excuse to skip this step and it’s worth avoiding the temptation of expediency. Trust me.

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5. Stay 5 steps ahead

Once you have your first manufacturing round down, you need to immediately start thinking about the many more to come. Timelines are everything when it comes to manufacturing. Know what your lead times are and make sure you’re ahead of the game.

As you start to get a feel for your manufacturers and the timelines they work with, make sure to plot out what you want to do next and when you need to do it. It’s always longer than you expected and deadlines are sure to sneak up on you.

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  • Holly Sanders

    awesome!!