Taking a garment to a point where it can be factory-produced requires the completion of several critical tasks. This pre-production process, if done correctly, will result in a garment that fits properly and is made well. There really are no shortcuts to manufacturing quality apparel.
The first thing you need is either a sketch of your garment, or an actual garment that can be used as a starting point to generate a spec sheet. The spec sheet can be just a few basic measurements such as shoulder width, bust, waist, hip and length, with a flat sketch of the garment. This spec sheet will enable a patternmaker to have some idea as to what the garment will look like and fit like.
Next up is the paper pattern. Unless you’re a trained patternmaker, you need a professional for this. The paper pattern could be considered the most critical part of the pre-production process, as everything stems from it. You need to decide what size you want your pattern made in. I generally make all of my patterns in size 6 or size small for the simple reason that my favorite fit model is that size and I like to fit everything on her.
With the pattern complete, a sample of the garment can be made in the fabric and trim that you’ve sourced, and then fit on a model. A good fit model will be able to tell you everything you need to know about how that garment should fit your potential customer. She should be able to tell you if the rise is too short, the armhole is too tight, or if it grabs where it’s not supposed to grab. In other words-you’re going through this particular garment from top to bottom and correcting everything. No shortcuts.
If you’re lucky there may be just one fitting, but usually there are at least two, and the patternmaker should be in attendance during each fitting. Every time the fit is adjusted, the pattern and sample must also be adjusted to reflect the changes. If the changes are extensive, a new sample will need to be made. You should repeat this process until the fit is perfect. Example: Kevin Plank, (Founder of Under Armor), produced more than 400 samples before he launched his first tee shirt. I’m not suggesting you go that far, but at least 2 or 3 may be necessary.
Once a proper fit is achieved, and the pattern perfected, the pattern can be digitized and a marker generated. The digitized pattern contains your entire size range and is printed out on paper that the factory cutter places on top of your fabric in order to cut your production order.
There is one last step, that although not everyone takes the trouble to do, I think it’s important and should be done. This is putting together a comprehensive tech pack. The tech pack is usually one sheet of paper with your flat sketch on one side and all of the information about that style on the other. It will have the:
- • bulk fabric supplier
- • trim supplier
- • length of the zipper
- • type of snap, elastic, fusible, stay tape,
- • cut and sew price,
- • the language used for the care and content labels
- • placement of any labeling or hang tags
This is kind of your bible to be used during production, and you will be making notes on it as you go through the process.
With the above completed, your garment, or apparel line is ready to be taken to a factory to be mass produced.
There’s some advice I’d like to offer regarding the importance of selecting the right factory for the type of garments you’re producing. Generally speaking, the best factories don’t do anything but cut and sew. They almost always stick to what they do best. They don’t source for you and they don’t design for you, and some factories will not cut, they will only sew. In this case you will have your garments cut in a cutting room and transferred to the factory for sewing. Depending on the type of machinery the factory has, you will need to take the cut-work out for things like keyhole buttonholes, snaps, bias binding and fusing.
You must visit the factory, but more importantly, know what you’re looking at when you do. For example: what kind of machines do they have, how many sewers, what type of product do they sew (knits, wovens, or both), what’s their lead time for X number of pieces, and a price for cutting and sewing (or just sewing, in which case you will need the cut price from the cutting room).
Once your factory is selected, have them make a “sew-by” sample from your approved pattern that they can use during production. The factory will keep this “sew-by” while they are completing your production order.
As you can see, manufacturing apparel has lots of moving parts. You can maneuver through these on your own, or you can use a sourcing person, or company that can hold your hand through the process and make sure the ball isn’t dropped anywhere along the way. Dropped balls cost money virtually 100% of the time, and it may be worth your while to spend the money for the peace of mind that working with a seasoned and experienced professional would give.