Hiring a full package sewing contractor pt.2

In the first entry I made points that could be summarized as:

  • Technology doesn’t speed the production cycle as much as we have the expectation that it will (you can’t hire 9 women and get a baby in a month).
  • Long work days are required of this and nearly any other business.
  • If you don’t have the time, you have to buy someone else’s.
  • If you don’t have much money, you can only buy a limited amount of someone’s skills or time.

This leaves people in the position of :

  • Determining priorities, that which they must have. Being new, they often want what they don’t need and don’t want to pay for what they do need.
  • Calculating what they can afford.
  • Find a full package provider who can provide the options one can afford.
  • Figuring out a way to do the things one can’t afford to pay for.
  • Reducing complexity, hand holding becomes more attractive.

If you’re looking for full package, you need a full package provider whose operating costs are not inflated by the costs of options you don’t need. Toward this end, I breathed a sigh of relief to read that others expectations and definitions of what full service is, have not evolved as I had feared they had. On my end (the regulars can skip this), I’m seeing a disturbing uptick in the number of people who are looking for a “vertical manufacturer”. Akin to this previous entry, if you’re someone looking for a vertical manufacturer, it means you’re trying to do business with GAP, Victoria’s Secret et al. The only way to do that is to buy products as a consumer or to sell them store fixtures, labels, services, real estate or whatever.

In other words, you cannot become a vertical manufacturer by trying to hire one. A lot of people read this previous entry and maybe they thought it sounded neat or only read “In a perfect world, vertical integration is considered ideal because it reduces your operating costs” but missed the literal reams of material on what not to do. Or rather, how people envision it panning out isn’t what is likely to happen. You can only be a vertical manufacturer by doing it yourself. Which explains why part two was actually about starting your own sewing factory. You do not become a vertical manufacturer by hiring a full service or full package sewing contractor. Just because their services are vertical does not mean you are. Quite the opposite -especially at this level.

What people mean to search for is full package services but even then, they are likely in for a lot of frustration. Some -only a few- will source fabric, it’s usually a narrow range of goods they carry in stock. The fabrics and colors they have will be limited as will the range of product types they can make. Sure, they’ll do hand holding but it might not be a value if you are having to pay overhead based on the range of services they offer that you don’t need. Usually though, these kinds of contractors don’t invoice for hand holding but it is rolled into minimums that you probably should not be cutting unless you have the orders for it. These kinds of contractors are a good choice for commodity type items, not unique or fashion products. Build that into your expectations of what you think you should be able to find in the marketplace.

And then there’s costs. Many read “should cost less” and think that means it should cost less because full package services are more efficient. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t doubt they’re more efficient within a narrow specific range, you know, like Burger King is efficient at broiling burgers but it doesn’t hold they’d have the capacity, resources or infrastructure to serve up filet mignon.

I’m uncomfortable with many of the full package arrangements that seem to be more prevalent. Many entrepreneurs never get their patterns. They’re charged for them but they never get copies meaning they have to pay the cost of having patterns made all over again if they have to go with someone else later on. They don’t give you patterns because they’ve merely altered existing patterns they own to make your stuff and they’re not going to give those away so readily. This you’re not going to like:  they’ll use your patterns for someone who comes along after you. Your paid fees actually add value to their pattern inventory. Hand holding isn’t cheap. You might not be billed for it but you will pay for it one way or another otherwise the service provider couldn’t afford to offer the services.

I think the better goal is to centralize services as is feasible and more in the front end of the process than the back. In other words, it’s best to hire a pattern service that can do patterns, prototypes and sew-bys -along with grading and marking when you get to that. It’s icing on the cake if the service can also help with sizing specs, technical illustrations and sewing instructions but it shouldn’t be a deal killer if everything else works out. I only know one pattern service that does all this and that’s Patternworks. The rest of us do what we can of these and refer for the stuff we don’t. Speaking of, you want to hire people who have close working relationships with others and who will refer you. I still do not agree you should have a pattern service make your samples (so please stop looking) because this is your production test run and should be done by a contractor. Again, more on this process is in my book.

Centralizing services in the back end amounts to a contractor who can cut, sew, trim and hopefully package. It would be wonderful if they had a plotter to print out the markers from the pattern service so these could be delivered electronically but many contractors don’t. The farther you get from the front end, the more rare technology use becomes. Sad but true.

Maybe I’m wrong (feel free to cite examples!) but I get the sense that contractors who gravitate into providing the pattern end aren’t entirely comfortable with it. By that I mean I’ve talked to a lot of their pattern makers. They say they aren’t really pattern makers, that they didn’t take it in school but they got drafted into the job. Many seem to do okay with it but their lack of confidence is sobering.

Above all, however you work it and regardless of the nature of the business you hire, you always need to own your patterns and have copies of them. Always. Time and time again, people have asked me how to get copies of their patterns -usually when they’re over a barrel and want to go elsewhere. That’s the wrong time. You should never pay an invoice if you will not be getting those copies as soon as your payment is processed. That should be a litmus test. If a provider -full package or otherwise- will not provide this, you need to look around until you can find a better fit for the long haul.

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8 comments

  1. Rocio says:

    Maybe I’m wrong (feel free to cite examples!) but I get the sense that contractors who gravitate into providing the pattern end aren’t entirely comfortable with it…

    Well, I guess we would be one of the examples of an exception to this scenario….
    We originally started as a development service and have taken the steps to organically grow into CMT and sourcing in order to better meet the needs of our target market.
    Our clients get to pick and mix any development service combination that suits their needs.
    If we also provide samples, we will CREDIT the cost of some of these samples towards their production order invoice for that specific style…
    Some clients that are now in their 2nd or 3rd season with us are reaping the benefits of producing with us because after all the credits are applied, many orders have sampling costs applied towards them, therefore resulting in FREE SAMPLES.

  2. Jennifer says:

    “I’m uncomfortable with many of the full package arrangements that seem to be more prevalent. Many entrepreneurs never get their patterns. They’re charged for them but they never get copies meaning they have to pay the cost of having patterns made all over again if they have to go with someone else later on. They don’t give you patterns because they’ve merely altered existing patterns they own to make your stuff and they’re not going to give those away so readily. This you’re not going to like: they’ll use your patterns for someone who comes along after you. Your paid fees actually add value to their pattern inventory. Hand holding isn’t cheap. You might not be billed for it but you will pay for it one way or another otherwise the service provider couldn’t afford to offer the services.”

    Wow, so true… I didn’t know they do this in the US too, I thought only here in Asia.. Another reason for that also that I know of, is because the service providers are scared that if they give the customers their patterns after samples they’re going to go and produce somewhere else.. which should be OK if you pay full sample fees, but the thing is because competition is fierce, samples costs are usually the same as production or plus 50%/100%. But you don’t pay for anything else.. No pattern fees, fixing/amending charged by the hour, etc.. I’m always amazed when I read entries here that people can charge by the hour(or fixed charges) for everything/all the steps needed!! I wish I could implement that… There’s no way I could stay in business by doing that (charging for pattern/sample amendments) because everyone else is practicing as mentioned above. That’s why service providers hold on to their patterns because they’re not making money until they get production. Not me though, I charge for patterns (boy, do people complain!!) and I always give them their patterns back. But that’s as far as I can go in terms of charging…

  3. Ellen says:

    I think the most important thing that Kathleen is saying is that you need to own your patterns. I have a cut and sew factory in the US and I tell all my customers that they need to own their patterns. I work very closely with a pattern maker and when a new customer comes to me and they only have a garment that they like to make or a rough pattern I get them in touch with my pattern maker and have her give them a price on getting the pattern made, graded and the marker costs and she bills you. The reason I do this is because what if a) the contractor does unsuitable work for you or b) you grow so big that you need another contractor and you need to switch or add manufacturing facilities then YOU own the pattern not the contractor and therefore you can take it with you and do not have a delay in your production.

  4. Tom Lo says:

    I agree with Kathleen and Ellen completely. When we make patterns for our customers, we tell them that it’s THEIRS. They can take it (we prefer that) at any time, or keep it with us for reference until the project’s done. It’s amazing how often I see designers and they don’t know where their pattern is, or when I see their pattern, it’s not production ready–no seam allowance, notches, pattern card, etc. ugh.

  5. Teresa says:

    I like what your company does for their customers Tom. I will contact you because I need your services. I had a contractor in Santa Ana who promised he could produce 1000 units and only produced 47. I paid half up front and now my attorney is taking action.

    How can a start up company get a reputable sewing contractor?

  6. Kathy says:

    Hi, we are in need of a sewing contractor for a 6 piece women’s collection with very few embellishments, very simple lines. We do have a prototype of the collection and measurements and fabric samples. Would like to keep production in the states! Would like to start out with a few samples of each size for modeling and marketing and then get into full orders!

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