How to hire a pattern maker pt. 48

From my mail:

I have started a small fashion business of winter coats. I live in [redacted large city] that has a very small fashion industry. I had hired a patternmaker that came highly recommended by [redacted] but she made patterns that were not usable for my contractor, since she, as most [redacted] pattern makers, does mostly custom and couture work and is not familiar with the manufacturing process. I did not discover she was a poor choice until my contractor had their pattern maker digitize the patterns and realized what a mess it was. Now, I’m considering hiring the pattern maker my contractor uses to do the whole thing over again. She seems to understand the process very well, is very up front with me on design issues, needs, etc. I like her a lot as a person and trust her work, but– there are a few things I’m wondering about.

1. Her pricing– She’s quoted me $1,100 per coat, which includes pattern, sample, fittings (I supply the models), digitizing, size chart, and grading. For a six coat line, that’s $6,600 total. Is this accurate?

[For those who don’t know, I specialize in coat pattern making.] Did she say this is a ball park estimate? It could be that much all told. Generally, and practices vary, I wouldn’t give a complete job estimate, there’s too many unknowns. On one hand she may make errors that you shouldn’t pay for and likewise, you may introduce changes or complexities that complicate the project. In the end, she may cut the amount of time she’s willing to make iterations (for either reason) because she’s committed to a lump sum payment. Likewise, I imagine she’ll want the money upfront and if you end up dropping a style before it’s graded, she may not refund you (based on other info below).

As far as personality goes, never ever hire someone just because you like them. Yes it can make for a smoother ride but many technical personalities can be taciturn or cut and dried. Social skills are not their forte. I’m sure there’s exceptions but I’d be extremely reluctant to hire a social butterfly who always had her nails and hair immaculately coiffed. Also see How to hire a pattern maker, a free excerpt from my book on the web. The point is, have you ever met a rude or mean used car salesman? I doubt you ever will.

2. Originally I hired her only to digitize the patterns done by the original pattern maker, and she quoted me $850 for digitizing and grading of 2 coats.

This price quote is high but I haven’t seen a technical sketch either. If you were making a style with 50 different pieces and making it in six different sizes, that would be about right (you live in a high rent city) but most DEs don’t make things that complex just starting out. I have seen some ludicrous charges before, the worst from a service charging $960 to grade a six piece pattern in five sizes.

3. After looking at the coats, she convinced me to start from scratch, but had already looked at them for the afternoon, and kept $180 of my $425 deposit (and deposited the entire check, without further work agreed upon.) Is this right? She advised to start from scratch, and I’m likely spending thousands more with her– I find it strange that she’s keeping money from the original project that she convinced me not to do.

First of all, if something doesn’t seem right it usually isn’t. I know you don’t know at this point just learning as you are but keep that in mind. Am I to glean she charged you $180 for a consult on the job? Or that she actually did the digitizing work and in the process found they were unworkable? We usually do consults free but not everyone does unless they are providing a previously agreed upon consultation. Now if she’d already done some work digitizing, she should be compensated because it’s not her fault the first patterns weren’t workable. I can’t speak for her but I won’t digitize something without checking the patterns first. I do charge for checking patterns but that I offer this service is why people come to me because they like the added layer of protection. Either way, digitizing or pattern checking (which she should have done first) if she did work for you, she should be paid. If she didn’t and it amounted to a consult, she should have been upfront and said she charged for consultations. By the way, digitizing sometimes costs less than pattern checking. Pattern checking is the usual hourly rate for pattern making but if they have an assistant or intern to do digitizing, it may be less. If not, it should be equivalent to the hourly pattern making charge. I’ve also heard of people charging ludicrous amounts for digitizing so get feedback on any price quotes you get.

4. She really likes my ideas, and asked me for my web designers, fashion illustrators, and if I would do marketing for her to start her own line. This, I have no problem with, but then, she seems to really like my very specific fabric too (research I’ve been doing for months), and asked for my direct sales contact there. I have no problem with helping her start her line, but when she’s using exactly the same unique fabric as me, that seems a bit strange. Is fabric considered proprietary information or am I expected to share this openly? I know you frown upon written agreements, but I’m concerned that she, having my patterns, manufacturer, and soon- fabric– will create something similar to my line… am I being paranoid?

My my. Just because you’re paranoid (and you are) doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. This is definitely over the line if she’s interested in producing her own line -which is not to say her product line would even compete with yours. Sure, we may ask about your fabric or input sources but it could be because we know someone better or less expensive for the same caliber of goods. Or maybe it’ll be useful for a client down the road or we’re just curious and interested in keeping up with fabric suppliers that affect our specialties. Since I make coats, I’d probably ask with no malice intended. Answering questions can be a matter of good relations because it is likely that the pattern maker will be giving you information that a previous client supplied (they should never mention the label or designer). In this particular case, she’s asking for too much. It’s too soon. We’re not dopes. In many cases if we’re doing technical packages, we may need to know in the context of timing as it relates to the organization of pre-production tasks like grading and markers combined with the logistics of fabric deliveries at the contractor as well as keeping all the information that relates to a style together. I suspect she’s not doing tech packs because you don’t mention it (I use StyleFile software, it’s marvelous!) so I imagine she’s asking for too much too soon.

The industry here is very very small, and I’m wondering if I cannot find a suitable pattern maker in [large Midwestern city], would it be worthwhile to look elsewhere? I have contacts in the industry in NY, but I feel like I should have a local pattern maker that I can see and work with in person.

Closer is always better. Can your contractor make another referral? How about other local suppliers of fabrics or industrial sewing equipment dealers? At this point since you’ve bought the book, I recommend joining the forum to see what others there suggest. Maybe they know someone local.

Related entries:
How to hire a pattern maker pt.46
How to hire a pattern maker pt.47
On becoming a pattern maker
Interviewing tips for pattern makers
Bizarre pattern maker
Problem pattern maker

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One comment

  1. Kiran Bindra says:

    My company works with a lot of private labels and DE’s in providing full production lifecycle services. In our experience, when we are approached by DE’s who’ve had their patterns done and are looking for manufacturing services, we have to redo the patterns for at least 90% of the DE projects. Here are some of the issues that we face with existing patterns –

    1. The patterns are not fit for commercial production – missing direction cards and sewing instructions.
    2. The patterns are not updated in line with the latest samples.
    3. The grading/marking is not done professionally – without taking the fabric widths into account, without taking the fabrication categories into account and lacking in high yield on the fabric for production.

    My recommendation would be to either work with a company that provides pattern-making and production services or at least have a manufacturer evaluate the pattern for production before you designate the pattern complete.

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