[Update 3/12/2007: 3Free finally has a website!]

I’ve been wanting to write about a DE line called 3Free that I found on my trip to Taos but my hands have been tied. By the designer no less and I’m getting a little testy about it. This post should have been a lot different. I was going to tell you why this is a great line for myriad of reasons but no, I’m ticked that the DE isn’t at such a level as to know that the labeling of the product is everything. The labeling is inadequate to the extent that they can’t be located. In this day and age, no one should launch a line without a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be a basic business card with all your contact information. Anybody who sees your products anywhere should be able to find you in less than 3 minutes of computer time. Period.

There were 3 major problems with the label:
Fonts are cool but labels should not be an IQ test in pattern recognition; your name should be legible and the name on this label wasn’t. I thought it said 3Pree, not 3Free and it’s not as though “free” would be obvious from the context. I also wasn’t certain that the 3 wasn’t a stylized “S” and that the label said “Spree”. Please, do design your labeling with the presumption that we are stupid or at the very least, learning disabled. Reading a label should never be a skills assessment or an IQ test.

The labels did not include an RN number. Just how is another potential wholesale client going to find you (while they’re shopping the competition) without a web page or an RN number? It’s not as though store owners are happy to give their customers (or store visitors) your contact information. In this case, I’ve been waiting to hear back from the store owner for the past five days, hoping she’ll give me the information. What if she won’t? What if she thinks I’m her competitor?

The country of origin wasn’t on the label either. I strongly suspect they were made here simply because these garments wouldn’t have been allowed to clear customs without it.

Okay, so those are the mistakes you shouldn’t make unless you enjoy deliberately limiting your opportunities for free press and future sales. Here are the formidable strengths of the line:

The line is basic dresses with a slight vintage feel. Supposedly the fabrics are vintage (which I don’t necessarily consider a selling point since fabrics degrade) if that matters to you. The dresses have shaped seams. These days, nothing is shaped. Things may be pieced into sections but when analyzed, they’re just straight cuts. The patterns of these dresses are very well made. For example, many times if a bodice is gathered, they run the gathers all the way across. This dress (below) has gathers spaced correctly under the bust just where it’s needed on either side. It seems that these days, the gathers run all the way across the run of the seam. That’s pattern laziness or maybe from using a home pattern.

The dresses are incredibly well made. These are simple dresses without a lot of pretentiousness but they’re better made than most -and I do mean most- of the “couture” dresses that I see in artsy boutiques. The zipper was constructed perfectly. If you’ve seen my tutorials, you’ll see these facings (below) are finished perfectly. Not only that, the raw edges were overlocked. One on one, if I could talk to this designer, I’d want to know about how they’ve set up production. Is this all done in house or has she/he hired a contractor? If done in house, I’d be curious as to where/how they got people and how they were trained them etc. Then I’d ask about who made the patterns. These are production quality patterns which is so incredibly rare to see in a DE line. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this DE had been a production pattern maker at some point.

Another thing that belies integrity is closure placement and back details. Again, most of the clothes coming out today are what I call “coffin clothes” because they only look good from the front. The back of a garment is usually a basic template with a zipper going down the back. Snore. These dresses aren’t like that. This zipper was stuck in the side seam -which is a lot more pattern work than sticking it in the back. The reason is because of that facing. If you’ve done the tutorial, you know the zipper side of the facing (from left to right sides) is different from the closed side meaning you can’t cut your facings 2 per. In a back neck, it’s no big deal; it’s a difference in one little piece. With a side closure though, the side facing is considerably longer so it’s more work.

The pricing was right. This particular dress was $120. I’m not suggesting that the price meets tight budgets but these dresses are a good value. The patterns were well made, the dresses are shaped and the construction is spot on. I couldn’t find a single constructive criticism on the construction and that is very rare.

According to what the salesperson told me, I really like the company’s manufacturing strategy; it’s Zara like. [Amendment: the salesperson also said the designer was a woman but I found out yesterday that it’s a guy so it could be the rest of this paragraph is just as suspect but we’ll see). They cut very small lots, telling the stores to take or leave it and that there won’t be anymore. In other words, cutting to the size of supply lots. The designer is not shopping goods in quantity and then getting nailed by having to carry -and fund- a lot of yardage that ends up not selling. Because they don’t take reorders, they’ve developed built in scarcity. Chicas, when you have established demand for items of scarcity, you’ve made it and you can write your ticket if you continue to act as responsibly as you have thus far. This line is a winner and doing a lot of things right. According to the store clerk, they order everything they can and it all sells. They sell all of it. This was a very tiny store with several other lines but the clerk said they’d sell at least 6 units of just one style every day. If you have that kind of sell through, your products are this well made and priced with value and integrity, there is no stopping you.

I’ve given up on trying to get this designer’s information from the store (Chan Chan, Taos NM 505-751-3450) so I imagine I’ll never know who made these dresses. Whoever you are, I think you’ve got a great product line and I’d look forward to watching you grow if I could only find you in the first place. Also, while I realize I’m publishing photos of your design without permission, I hope you have enough confidence in your pattern skills (or in the value of your pattern maker) that you know that nobody is going to knock you off from my cruddy photos. I wish you all the best and hope your goals attain fruition.

Post amended:
Thanks to a tip from BellaDonna, I was able to contact Sodafine who carries 3Free. Erin Weckerle says the designer is named Cornelius and I expect to speak with him later today and update this post as needed.

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