Being sued by a client

Many of our worst fears realized. This will be very educational for people who aren’t familiar with our industry. From my mail:

I am a pattern maker with 30 years experience. My primary work is computer grading and markers for any factory in this area. Recently (and for the first time) I am being sued by a first-time customer who brought her patterns to me for grading and markers. She had been a designer in Italy and had never worked the production end of things. I sat her down and ran her through the routine of after having her first pattern made, she had to have a sample made for fit and design confirmation. After testing the pattern with a sample, then a production pattern is made before handing the patterns over to me for grading.

When she brought me her patterns she assured me they were fine. I found out later from the factory that she never had a sample made from them and so these were untested first patterns. Taking her word for it, I graded the patterns for sizes and made the marker. I am 100% sure my grading and marking were perfect. The problem is, because she never tested the patterns she gave me, the patterns were very unsatisfactory.

She doesn’t understand the problem (why else would she be suing me). I am still dumbfounded that she doesn’t get this!!! I even discounted my normal rates since her projects were so simple!

So my question is; does your book state the normal and common sense sequence of events that must take place before a pattern is graded and marked? I need something in writing along with a lot of other proof to show the courts. You can bet I am fighting this all the way.

Beleive me, I’ve made my share of mistakes in life and I’ve learned from them and moved forward. This young woman is demanding that I pay for her mistakes. I believe she has financial backers that want compensation for lost orders. Please let me know if your book talks about the pre-production routine amd any other articles you can help with this fraudulent mess.

Yes my book explains to do things exactly as you did them (she has since bought the book). Now that that is out of the way, there’s some other issues going on to avoid problems like this, speaking as one pattern maker to another.

I’m guessing you haven’t worked with many designer entrepreneurs. They can be talented, intelligent, articulate and charming and because of it, I’ve given them price breaks too. Also like you, I’ve had misplaced confidence in a client based on their self reporting of experience, work history and education. In this case that would be that she said she was a designer. If that is true, you would have every expectation that she’d know the proper protocol. I’ve learned that depending on someone’s background, we don’t share the same definitions. It could be she sold sketches of design ideas but obviously wasn’t involved in the rag tail end of getting a line together. That’s why I trust but verify; I’ve gotten into trouble when I’ve believed a client who said something was ready to go.

Having learned the hard way with more horror stories than I can remember, I do things a lot differently now. No matter someone’s background, I don’t grade a pattern unless I check it first. By checking I mean walking all the pieces to make sure it goes together. I don’t do this for free, I charge my usual hourly rate but as you know, that doesn’t take long at all. Some clients actually prefer having the work checked at this step and look for pattern makers who will do this. I have other colleagues who have their own rules. Some won’t grade a pattern unless they’re the one who made it which means they’d know it went together and know the client tested it in sampling. In working with entrepreneurs, these are things we must do to reign in a client’s excitement to prevent them from skipping steps and moving ahead too quickly.

If I check the pattern but I still have doubts, I’ll want to see a sewn sample and compare it to the pattern so I know it’s been vetted. This is where I run into a lot of problems. For some reason, the sample I get never matches the pattern. There have been changes made to the pattern but a new sample wasn’t made after that. It is difficult to explain that this is necessary. If the client can’t understand why or wants to move ahead anyway, I usually turn down the job because it’s usually an indication of other problems to come. I’ve worked with so many entrepreneurs I have a sixth sense about these things and it boils down to if in doubt, don’t.

There’s other ways to know whether there may be a problem with a client’s pattern. Very often it is the medium of the pattern itself that gives it away. If the pattern isn’t on pattern paper or a tracing of a hard pattern with traditional notching practices used in industry, or the markings and information presentation aren’t typical (also in my book), this raises a big red flag. If something is done unprofessionally, it’s usually evident across the board. Another thing to look at is the information they provide to you. None of things are insurmountable and cause to decline the client but you’ll know at the outset that they’ll need more hand holding and may want to revise your estimate accordingly.

I know many people here have had similar experiences we’ve talked about before. What are your tips to preventing a situation like this from occurring?

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5 comments

  1. Rocio says:

    Hi,

    In the event that you actually had to prepare to go to court, my only word of advise (besides bringing a copy of the book) would be to present things in a way so that anyone (specially the judge) understands what your specific area of responsibility was…

    I would prepare an illustration of a nested pattern piece, so that you can show how how grading is “basically” tracing around the ORIGINAL pattern piece shape.. and with the marker, you can show an illustration of a marker…
    The main thing is to KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE.

    Good luck!

  2. Liron says:

    Just in case the customer doesn’t want to pay extra to check the pattern, and if they insist it had been checked, perhaps a written form would help.
    One that states that the pattern has been checked via a sewn sample , and it is now ready for the grading step. The customer needs to acknowledge that the grading (which is done according to sizing specifications) will only change the size of the garment and not affect the fit. Any problem concerning the pattern is linked to the original pattern and is not in the responsibility of the grader.

    This should be set inside an “order form “, and would make a customer think again before going through with grading if they haven’t checked the pattern.

  3. My company works with a lot of DE’s. Often times, these DE’s have been working with independent pattern makers, or buying patterns from Jo Ann and are used to getting their small runs done by home sewers. When these DE’s approach us for our full service package, they are usually at a juncture in their career where are starting to scale and need commercial production services. Their claims are the patterns are true and tested, so all we should do is grade and go into production. Big Mistake!

    Recently, I worked with a DE who has been in business for over 10 years. We were given 10 designs for production with sew guides. The patterns, however, were not up to commercial standards and the sew guides did not match the patterns (the sew guides had been revised multiple times but the patterns weren’t updated). We insisted on redoing the patterns, which the DE agreed to for 7 designs and insisted that 3 of them were flawless. We had it in writing that any issues outside the realm of cutting and sewing would be attributed to the patterns (in this case 3 that weren’t tested). We had a lot of problems in production due to the untested patterns which caused a lot of headache. The DE was made aware of the pitfalls and they chose to walk the line, anyway. However, for the next round of production, the DE is well aware of the risks and has solicitously agreed to following the protocol – creation of pattern, creation of fit sample for review, any changes have to be applied to the pattern first, creation of another fit sample for review, grading/marking, TOP sample, then production.

    There should be a document signed with the DE’s that outlines the process, responsibility/accountability on delivery of specifics so the situation does not come down to legal matters. I am sorry you have to go through this with your client. Wish you all the best!

  4. Natasha says:

    This is ridiculous — more and more people want to sue and get money back for their own mistakes. I am so sorry this is happening too you, but I’m pretty sure that after the ordeal is over, you will be alright. Too bad you have to waste your time and energy on this!
    A couple reasons why she should not win in court, besides the fact that she is clueless:
    1 – her patterns are not your responsibility. you were paid to grade and mark, not make production patterns in this case
    2 – you have an idea that she didn’t do her job (i.e. test the pattern by making sample), and she lied about this as well

    Try to get as much to prove this as possible — any kind of written correspondence, witnesses, etc. Collect info about your experience/background, and maybe even try to get info on her background and lack of experience….

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    Roccio’s suggestion is good – keep it short and simple in court, and illustrate as much as possible.

    Now please don’t take this as an attack in the ‘unprofessional’ vein that seems to be raging so much right now, but let me gently point out that just as much as that DE sorely needs to learn proper pattern/sewing productions techniques, the patternmaker needs to learn proper legal steps to running their business… Otherwise as in this case you’ll end up instead having to educate the judge about standard sewing production methods.

    No matter what the field, if you don’t want to be sued you need to do something like what Liron suggests – the actual service you’re selling and its limitations need to be written in as a routine part of the order form (a detailed version printed on the back?). Even if just a box that says ‘description of services provided’ inviting customisation. Since a sewn sample is the make-it-or-break-it condition here, I’d consider adding to the grading order form a small section like ‘sewn sample of this exact pattern was produced by — on date —“. And a big checkbox saying ‘sewn sample cannot be provided along with the pattern. DE acknowledges that any fit problems in the final product will be the responsability of the original pattern, not of this patternmaker.’ with space to initial each.

    Moreover, if you should find yourself talked into something you feel a twinge somewhere could be a mistake, you need to add to that order form, even by hand in a corner, a paragraph that summarizes the discussion you’ve just had with the DE about the pitfalls you sense, and they should sign it. “DE states that this pattern does match the sample provided.” or something. Just so they know that your request isn’t one to take lightly, but that skipping the steps they claim to have made is actually a legally binding affair. If nothing else, this will make them think twice about suing you, but more to the point will make any lawyer think twice about taking their case..

    Whether or not you can afford a lawyer to discuss basic business topics, whether or not you can afford the time to take a business law class, you can afford to get a book or two from Nolo Press. They’re written in simple English, they’re extremely clear and logical, they tell you when things get too complex and you need a lawyer. They clearly separate different legal levels, from federal down to municipal. When you do get a lawyer, you’ll understand better what is going on, both spend less money and and be able to help your lawyer by having information available for them to use. Their website alone is worth its weight in gold http://www.nolopress.com and once you use them your standards in lawyer quality will rise too. I can’t recommend them enough.. (I’m not affiliated, they’ve just saved my ass countless times.)

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