Hiring a full package sewing contractor pt.1

There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people who would like to hire a full package sewing contractor to provide a broader gamut of services than is traditional. There are good reasons for wanting full package but it will be helpful to know why it may not be for everyone. If it is to your benefit, guidelines can help you define your needs and search more effectively. If not, you’ll spend less time questing for the Holy Grail, figuring out other ways to get it done. Before I get into what the guidelines may be (pt.2), we should mention definitions which can conflict with expectations.

The definition of what full package service means has evolved. Depending on where you operate your business, full package can mean different things. In NY, the traditional definition of full package referred to a contractor who could cut, sew and trim from the same space. Owing to the cost of real estate, this sort of operation wasn’t very common. It was common to make patterns and samples in one place, cut in another and sew in still another. One needed to schlep stuff from one contractor to another but it generally worked out okay since these businesses were relatively close to each other, the occasional exception being cutting due to the increased need of square footage.

Industry culture also played a role in how contractors were set up as enterprises moved from the first tier city (there used to be just one -NY) to the hinterlands of Dallas, Atlanta or Los Angeles. In spite of having lower real estate costs with the possibility of including cutting, some businesses didn’t do that because they didn’t know how, weren’t interested or they didn’t need to because they were dealing with other NY refugees who were accustomed to doing business the old way. The innovation in the south and west arose slowly from those who realized they could put everything together under one roof. As this model became more common, it evolved to become a pervasive expectation what we now call CM&T. However, we are faced with continuing evolution of the definition of full package. Among today’s designers, the definition of a full package contractor is fluid. Full package is ambiguous and usually self-defined based on one’s particular needs. At close, it will be helpful if you can define what full package means to you.

The conflicts today are based on several things, changes in the way we work and the expectations of how work is done. Some are reasonable while some are not. Technology has forever altered our expectations. We expect to be able to go on the web to buy whatever we want, whenever we want. It shouldn’t take long to buy either. It doesn’t work that way in manufacturing so I suppose the problem could also be defined as a culture clash of consumers turned producers. Consumers bring consumer market expectations into manufacturing where those concepts do not apply in such a limited context. Previously, no one got into manufacturing without realizing it would be a 12 to 16 hour a day job.

The problem today is exacerbated by social memes that tell us we can have it all in a four hour week. How the four hour work week meme is broadly interpreted makes for a palpable fallacy in real life. If your contractor only worked a four hour week your stuff would never get done. Meaning it’s somewhat elitist, good for me but not for thee, the other party is surely wasting time or money or, one should endlessly outsource the work until everyone down to the last sewer is only working four hours a week. Okay, that’s silly but many people have developed the expectation that they should be able to have this whole other life or business in only a few hours of their day with other parties picking up the slack. The problem is, you need money. Unless you have lots of money and can afford to buy other people’s time, becoming a manufacturer is still going to be an 8 to 12 to 16 hour a day job. And it’s not that this is a crappy business that requires it; I don’t know when restaurant owners ever sleep. Most businesses do take this much time.

Another problem is cost expectations. The costing baseline people use most often is the price of offshore production. Sure they know it’s not going to cost the same here but the lower offshore price has become their baseline with anything over that mentally designated as a premium they are paying for keeping people employed here. Some feel this is a gift they’re giving the contractor for which they should be appreciated. And they should be. However, there’s two things going on here, money and time. You have to pay a premium for buying someone’s time to save your own. One way or another, be it here or offshore. The conflict arises when designers want to be able to buy more of a contractor’s time in the form of services than the contractor is able to sell -and at a price the designer has decided they’re willing to pay when they’re already paying what they consider to be a premium.

We’re in another evolution cycle now. People have the expectation that technology will make production go so much faster and it can but not enough to meet expectations (you can’t hire nine women and get a baby in a month). People expect additional services to be offered and performed in that technology time savings gap but it largely can’t because the time savings reduced head count to a new equilibrium, fewer people are doing the same amount of work. Just as technology permitted your employer to downsize the workforce, it did for contractors too.

The sum of all this meandering is a greater quantity of services are demanded of a workforce that is poorly equipped and capitalized to do it in skills, infrastructure and head count. Some contractors have become closer to what designers today might describe as full package but they are not inexpensive with much higher minimums. You pay a premium for the time you buy from someone else to do work you don’t have time to do.

In this new evolutionary cycle, it will take time for contractors to recalibrate to meet market expectations. Some won’t evolve because they don’t need to. Their customers are used to schlepping stuff from place to place because they’re working their businesses full time. This means change will be slower in coming than if it were something the entire industry needed to do overnight. The rub is when you find a dream CM&T contractor who can’t fill every item on your wish list but who is worth your having to make the difficult decisions and sacrifices to find a way to fill your own gaps by doing those things yourself. Otherwise, the alternative of paying a higher price to someone else whose time you can buy remains. What is certain is that it is not reasonable for full package to be inexpensive (a premium above the baseline offshore price) with low minimums so that someone can become a manufacturer in what free time they have after dinner. This is true of nearly every business, ours isn’t defective in this respect.

In the next entry I hope to cover deciding what needs to be done, calculating what you can afford and finding a full package contractor whose operating costs are not inflated by the costs of options you don’t need.

Speaking of, how would you define a full package contractor? This would be helpful. Thanks!

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12 comments

  1. Rocio says:

    What is certain is that it is not reasonable for full package to be inexpensive (a premium above the baseline offshore price) with low minimums so that someone can become a manufacturer in what free time they have after dinner. This is true of nearly every business, ours isn’t defective in this respect

    Kathleen,

    We’ve notice a large range of expectations many of the prospects approaching us have of a “Full Package” factory…
    Some companies see drop shipping and financing stock as part of the full package! (for tiny orders of 50 pieces?)
    I’m glad to see that we’re not the only ones dealing with this issue and look forward to part 2

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  2. Kathleen says:

    Rocio, I am currently reading a book that I now realize is the likely source of a lot of silliness we’ve seen of late -written by someone who’s never produced a line, worked in sales or even production. Which is not to say she’s not connected with lots of name dropping to lend her credibility. Page after page, I’m coming across fallacies come to life in the expectations of recent entrants. I shiver all over!

    Some companies see drop shipping and financing stock as part of the full package!

    Seriously? I thought it was just me because I have this blog and get a lot of inquiries. This is why I wrote about stone soup entrepreneurs.

  3. Theresa says:

    In the import world, full package means that the factory:

    Purchases the fabric, trims, labels, and packaging (usually through their own source but some larger companies will dictate the source to the factory)
    Develops the production patterns (sometimes from a development pattern provided)
    Provides the fit samples
    Cuts the fabric
    Makes the garments
    Packs the garments

  4. Jennifer says:

    Where I’m from (Bali, Indonesia), full package means like what Theresa said, sometimes a bit less sometimes a bit more. And yes, people don’t want to pay for the extra efforts needed for the package. Who has to run around to the dye house, who inspects the fabrics before dyeing/printing, who inspects after dyeing/printing…? I don’t want to get into all the other stages, I’m sure everyone knows… sigh..
    I personally as a service provider (pattern, samples, small production) don’t like the full package options (as in the above version, CMT is OK).. I always try to make my clients sort out their fabrics, packaging, QC, etc.. because I think it will give them better understanding of the process and how much work and money is needed to do them (also because I don’t want to do the extra work for no/little money:)).. We’re “cheapER” than US/Europe/Australia but our time is not free…
    Sorry about the rant..

  5. Tom Lo says:

    Well, I guess our company does act like a full package sometimes then–we let them choose how much they want from us. Here’s what we offer, and why don’t you tell me if I’m defining myself correctly or not. When I tell my customers I do full package, I offer:

    1. Pattern
    2. Samples, fittings, sample dups if needed
    3. Grading
    4. Marking
    5. Cutting
    6. Sewing
    7. Trim, finish, and packaging if needed
    8. Shipment to them or their customer if needed

    We don’t normally source fabric, but Kathleen is right–a lot of people are wanting to have it all taken care of, presto change-o. So, we do offer basic fabrics if their needs meets our existing vendor stock.

    But, Rocio’s right–we can’t finance stock. Uh, unless maybe we profit-share, how about that? In terms of shipping, we set the policy up front so they know we never pay for that.

  6. Vesta says:

    What Theresa said. The reason I say that is from working with overseas contractors, who are the only ones who have offered something to me called “full package”. I moved overseas after being used to schlepping domestically. So I assumed I’d be doing basically the same thing, just overseas (e.g. sourcing fabric and arranging for it to be sent to the contractor, etc, etc). In my experience, the overseas contractors really pushed the full package. They didn’t want patterns, they didn’t want to wait around for various inputs, they wanted a perfect sample and an agreed-upon set of specs/tolerances, then they’d counter-sample using their own inputs. I got the impression that it was just easier for them to use their own supply chains. And they really strove to send me product that was “ready to ship to customers”. So they were eager to QC, fold, package, label, everything.

    I have to say, it sure was nice. I also have to say that after a couple of years, I felt less like a manufacturer and more like a marketer. I felt so disconnected from my products. I didn’t touch them much (as they are boxed). We just cracked open pallets, opened boxes, reboxed based on POs, and shipped them back out. I hated it.

    But that’s full package, in my head now.

  7. Renee says:

    In my own world, Full Package would be CMT but also include having the contractor order the material inputs for each new production run of the product, with my input as to any changes in production volume, sizing and color breakdown and the like. They will have more precise data on their exact usage, spread length and other details than I, and can tell when they are running short on elastic or thread and reorder accordingly. I don’t anticipate having the same contractor put different hangtags on or assemble product into different package formats as that is something that most fulfillment houses are able to accommodate as part of their process. Some firms do both, but I honestly think it is better to have companies specialize in one portion of the process. In my case I will likely have the factory shipping to more than one fulfillment house once we get scaled up.

  8. carissa says:

    I think of the full package contractor only in terms of the import world.

    Otherwise, stateside someone may run your production, but they are usually overseeing the separate vendors for grading, cutting, sewing, etc.

    All that just means increased cost and less knowledge on my part.

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