When we made the decision that our first product should be to reinvent the button down shirt we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Eighteen months, two factories, a dozen prototypes, and many fittings, fabric and trim options later we’re ready to share with our process for how we created our button down shirt including the costs. When started this journey we had two ambitious goals in mind. The first was to craft a shirt that was better than any that currently existed and the second was to make it domestically and affordably. Perfection is in the details, and this is how we do it.
Step 1: Your components
Before you start production, you need to source all your materials. Our standards are high, so we approached sourcing our fabric, buttons, woven labels, care labels, and hang tags very carefully and with rigor. The material, in particular, was essential for us, so we spent a considerable amount of time ordering swatches of Oxford cloth in a variety of shades, and weight and texture. We ultimately settled on a soft 12-ounce Oxford cloth fabric. We also knew we wanted genuine mother-of-pearl buttons because they are more durable than plastic or resin options and they have a beautiful deeper color. We’re fortunate that we’ve sourced all of our materials with small businesses located in the U.S. Fabric costs: $9.00 a yard. Buttons: ¢.3 cents per button/ 18L and 14L (bulk price). Woven label: ¢.25 quantity minimum 500 units. Custom Collar tape: $400 per 100 yards.
Step 2: The Technical Pack
The tech pack is the blueprint for your product and is a crucial document for you and your manufacturer. Every detail of your product is included in the tech pack: measurements, descriptions, fabric selection, colors, trim and grading rules. Our tech pack is over nine pages long, and three pages are dedicated just to measurements. An excellent technical pack should take about a week to create and should cost between $150 and $300.
Step 3: The Pattern
Once your tech pack is complete, the next step is to have a pattern made. You can accomplish this task in a couple of ways. You can hire an independent pattern maker to create one or your manufacturer may offer pattern making as a service for an additional cost. We work with a manufacturer that specializes in shirt production based in Brooklyn, New York. By using their pattern-making services, it keeps our costs down and minimizes errors, as there are fewer hands involved in the process. Making a pattern should take 3-5 days and is nowadays done digitally using pattern-making software. The costs for a pattern is $200.00
Step 4: The Sample
The primary purpose of a sample shirt is to test the fit on a person and review the quality of the craftsmanship. Our samples are made with the same fabric and buttons that we’ll use in the final production. The only detail we remove is the label. We do this so that we can also conduct a blind quality test and get feedback from customers and friends. During this step, you’ll also want to check all of your sizes, so it’s a good idea to make one in every size that you offer. We offer six sizes, so we make six samples: XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL.
Once the samples arrive we go through an extensive fit process, which starts with checking all the measurements and overall craftsmanship. Then we fit each sample on real people with different body types. During the fitting, we pay close attention to high-stress areas like the collar, armpit, shoulder, waist, and sleeves. A sample should take 2-3 days per shirt to make and cost approximately $200 per shirt.
Step 5: Wear Test
A wear test is exactly what you think it is. For a couple of weeks, we wear the hell out of our shirts and do things to it that hopefully most people don’t do to their shirts. We wear them for multiple days in a row without washing, spill food and drinks on the fabric. We’ll also go for a jog and break a sweat and stink them up. This process is done to test the overall durability. We also home wash and dry-clean our shirts testing shrinkage. The wear test is a critical step for us because we want our customers to love their shirt whether they are putting it on for the first time or the sixtieth. Your only cost for wear testing is the dry cleaning bill: $8.50
Step 6: Pre-Production
Once you’ve thoroughly reviewed your sample and completed the fitting if there aren’t any changes, then the next step is grading. Grading is a process that resizes the measurements of the pattern so that you can create your range of sizes. Some brands have “grade rules” referring to the amount of change each measurement should be. Because we place such a strong emphasis on fit, we use specific measurements for each size guaranteeing a more custom fit than what you will find with other shirt companies. The cost for grading is $150 per size.
Step 7: Production
The final step is production is where your product is made in bulk. At this time your fabric and all other materials are purchased and have been delivered to the factory. The first step in the production process is the cutting of the fabric. The fabric is steamed, laid out flat and each component is cut by size: collar, sleeves, chest pocket, placket, sleeve placket, cuffs, yoke, back and then two front panels. Sewn in are the collar tape and buttons, and the care and size labels are added along with the brand label and hangtag. Throughout the process, the shirts are inspected for quality control and then folded and placed in polybags for shipping. Because we manufacture in the U.S., we pay higher labor cost than our competitors who manufacture abroad. However, the benefit is that we can offer better craftsmanship and the speed and flexibility of offering new designs every 4-6 weeks. Also, it’s important to us to know that our manufacturing partners are making a living wage. Our production costs are $31.00 per shirt.
A typical shirt of our caliber is regularly priced at retail for $195 – $250 we offer our version for $110, and a portion of the each sale is donated to DonorsChoose.org
Get Your First Sample Produced
We sat down with industry experts and top apparel manufacturers to create this course that walks you through the sample-making process from the first product sketch to your final production sample and all the details in between.