Navigating Apparel Development

As a new designer with a sewn good idea you’ve done some research on how to launch your collection, and it’s getting complicated quickly.  You don’t have a ton of money and aren’t ready to make thousands of anything, but you are finding tons of information so it must be possible.  You’re probably discovering you need a tech pack, sketches, maybe even a Non-Disclosure Agreement and the question of whether or not you need a patent may even come up.  Where do you start?

Your desire to gain a better understanding of all these details is important.  Knowing this process will allow you to speak more intelligently about your design, hire the right people at the right time and clarify next steps to a successful design launch.  The rest of this article should help provide that clarity and understanding and boost your confidence that you have gotten all the information you need and in the right order.

 

Confidentiality

The first thing to understand about getting to the manufacturing stage is confidentiality. Rest assured that a good entrepreneur isn’t going to compromise their reputation by risking confidentiality of any of their clients with or without an Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).  If you still have any concerns about sharing your design ideas as you talk with people and gather information you can find a basic NDA online that is perfectly viable.  You will, however, want to be aware if it includes other clauses such as non-compete or non-circumvent and understand what those mean and decide if they are necessary.  As always, consult an attorney to be sure.

Sketches

Another area to clarify on is sketches and drawings.  You don’t need your sketches to be drawn in illustrator or other software at this point, or even pay for it.  Hand sketches, some inspirational images from the internet, handwritten notes to call out details, color ideas and even roughly sewn samples are just fine.  The important part is to collect them all in one spot.  Create a mood board, keep a scrapbook and use an online tool to collect your inspiration and information.  Your only goal in this task is to be able to explain it to someone else.  

Sourcing

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Materials sourcing seems to be a major concern for a lot of new designers. Sometimes you can leave the sourcing up to your manufacturer.  They have contacts with textile producers that no individual will be able to secure unless you are ordering thousands of yards regularly.  At this early stage in your launch, just knowing what type of material you want and finding something as close as possible to sew your samples in is sufficient.  If you want to source material though, you definitely can. There are a number of online retailers to choose from but be sure to ask if the material is regularly stocked or just a limited release and then order swatches to be sure before you purchase. 

Patterns, Samples and a Fit Model

Once you have your mood board and an idea of the fabric type for your garment, you’ll need a pattern and sample for each style. There are plenty of resources out there for finding a patternmaker, but all of them will need measurements to create the pattern and a model to fit sewn samples to.  Therefore, the measurements and the model are inseparable.  Your fit model should also represent the middle size of your size range.  A fit model and their shape and proportions should represent your target market and not fluctuate during the duration of your development timeline.  It can even be you, or a dress form, but there are advantages and disadvantages to using a dress form so talk with your patternmaker about all the options.  

When hiring a patternmaker it’ll be helpful if they also do sewing and can develop your design into a final sewn sample.  You’re basically looking for a custom clothing expert, not just a patternmaker or just a seamstress.

Manufacturer

How to find a manufacturer comes up quite a bit as well.  You can choose between overseas or domestic (within the US) and there are advantages and disadvantages to both.You must also understand that each manufacturer has their own specialties.  Some work only with knits, others won’t do swimwear and so on.  You’ll want to start vetting manufacturers concurrent with patterning and sewing so you are ready to go when the tech pack is finalized.  When you find a few options, you can send them sketches, a description of your material and let them know you are doing a preliminary inquiry before providing a full tech pack.  Tell them how many you want to make and by when, and if they can help they will respond.

Quantity

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Manufacturing also raises another common issue regarding minimum order quantities (MOQ).  If you’ve reached out to factories you may be discovering they require an MOQ way above your price range or just unnecessary for your needs.  Rest assured, there are manufacturers that will do just a few, but keep in mind the less you make the more each piece will cost.  Development and set up takes the same amount of time whether you make one or one thousand.  

Grading and Marker Layouts

You should have a size range and grade measurement chart for manufacturers, but you can ask if they can grade your patterns for you if you can’t afford to pay for a graded set right away.  Marker layouts can be done by the manufacturer and they probably prefer it this way.  The good news is that a marker layout is a direct function of the width of your material so if your material selection changes by the time you go to production your marker layout will need to be redone anyway.  Basically, do a grade but you can probably let the factory do the marker layout. 

Tech pack

A tech pack is short for Specification Packet or Technical Packet.  It is a written manual containing your bill of materials, technical sketches, pattern parts list, sequence of construction and other written information on how to build your design.  It’s best described as the manual for your garment and formally turns your mood board into a technical document.  

There is an important point regarding tech packs. A manufacturer will also need a pattern and it’s really helpful to provide a sewn sample. So the tech pack is actually only one part of the whole. What you really want is a Pre-Production or Production Package which contains all three: tech pack, pattern and “golden”, or sew-by, sample.  

Some places will provide a tech pack template for a very low cost and you can fill it out yourself, but without an education in the apparel industry you will likely have loopholes or missing information, or even too much information.  Additionally, you still need a pattern and sample.  

Speaking of samples, you can find places that will make a pattern for you, but unless that same person has sewn from that pattern to confirm it sews together correctly, you could run into issues with construction that you won’t be able to understand and resolve without expert help.  If you need to break up your resources, hire someone to create the pattern and samples and then hire someone else to build the tech pack separately.

 

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One final point to clarify.  You can find manufacturers that can produce your product without a tech pack, sample or pattern, but it does limit your options and restricts your decision making.  It can also be highly susceptible to miscommunication, endless iterations and back and forth to perfect your design and in the end if there is an error you have no documentation or samples on record to back you up. Getting a pre production package will protect you before you commit at a larger level.

Hopefully this article has cleared some confusion, grown your understanding and built your confidence with next steps.  Many companies offer free consultations so don’t be afraid to take advantage of them.  Have your mood board ready to share along with any patterns or other information up to this point and enjoy the experience!