How to issue style numbers pt.130

Sorry, yes, it’s yet another entry about style numbers. I apologize if this bores the old-timers.

Today we’ll review two concepts related to style numbers. Thanks to Lisa who brought need of it to my attention.

  1. Please do not add letters to your style numbers. The exceptions are rare.

  2. Do not code for fabric type. Again, exceptions are rare.

There’s four other previous entries in this series. If you only have time to read one, it should be this one.

Adding letters to style numbers
I’m aware there’s a new consultant on the block who’s charging a lot of money for her seminars and telling people to add letters like “F” for fall or “S” for spring etc. I’ll tell you not to -for free. There’s at least three good reasons why you shouldn’t and I don’t see one good reason you should (but I’m all ears). This is the first reason. The second reason is unnecessary complexity. KISS (keep it simple stupid).

The third reason is less obvious. If you’re re-running the style for subsequent seasons, the only thing that’s changed is the fabric you’re using but it’s still the same pattern. This means you’ll have to change the style number for the exact same product when you really didn’t need to do anything. That it is being re-run for another season is obvious from costing sheets, line sheets etc. If you need to assign designation by season, that’s what skus are for. Skus are not style numbers. Now sure, if you have a professional firm like PatternWorks who is managing your pattern and sample production, then that’s just fine. Their internal processes insure this won’t be messed up. But most people aren’t using them or are not sufficiently managed internally and need a system that won’t confuse outside service providers like pattern makers, contractors or sales reps. It’s just unnecessary complexity. Manage seasons (and costing) with skus, not style numbers.

You shouldn’t change style numbers according to season because these provide guidance to buyers. Buyers notice style numbers. Numbers SAY something. Let’s say a buyer sees style numbers 21134, 22345, 13468, and also stuck in there is 21001, 31001 etc. In other words, all low numbers. What do you think that says? To buyers (and service providers) it says that these are strong sellers, probably your signature pieces, pieces that consistently sell well for you and have from day one. If a buyer is considering picking up your line, they will view those pieces with low numbers as less risky buys. That you’re obviously re-running those because they’ve sold well in the past and buyers should probably buy those too being solid performers. In summary, if you reassign numbers according to season, the buyer has no way of knowing that those styles have a good track record and have performed consistently season in and season out. Don’t you think that Levi’s 501 (a style number) got some of it’s cachet by being a classic? The low number conveys it, decades after the style was first created.

Exceptions to adding letters to style numbers:
You can add letters only if it is standard in your niche. The only exceptions I know of are people using tees. People who produce tees add LS for Long Sleeve and SS for Short Sleeve. What ever will you do if you’re adding letters SS for Short Sleeve and it’s for spring? SSS? What about for summer? SSSS? Or how about LSF? This is getting way too complicated. This confuses buyers. Interrupt their paradigm and force them have to think about what your style numbers signify to your peril. This should be seamless. Step cautiously and keep this advice below that bears iteration if you’re thinking of doing it anyway:

Other than the fact that people will instinctively attempt to make words from groupings of letters, your style numbers must be visually friendly to people who are learning disabled, illiterate and non-English speaking. Roman numerals are internationally universal and you only need to know 10 graphic representations. Never assume factory workers speak English! With letters, you have unnecessarily raised the bar, not all stitchers speak English or use a language with our character set. If someone is illiterate, an “S” and a “Z” can look the same. Similarly, learning disabilities are common among factory workers and “S” and a “Z” can look the same to someone with a visual processing disorder. Never forget that the very people who are spatially and kinetically talented have these kinds of learning problems and it has nothing to do with intelligence. If you think they’re stupid because of it then be sure to add me to the list too. Then, let’s not forget the handwriting differences between people; there’s a lot more ambiguity with letters than there are with numbers, especially if something is printed in block letters vs cursive. It’s much easier to discern a number scrawl than letter scrawl. With the former, the process of elimination is 9. With letters, it’s 26!

Do not code for fabric type
In the Entrepreneur’s Guide, I mentioned coding for fabric type but I think the nuance was lost on nearly everyone. I specifically mentioned leather. Based on how people have interpreted my advice, they seem to think the coding was related to the cost of goods. It was not. It was related to the cost of process! Most people were confused because they think of leather as being very expensive and to be sure it costs more than cotton but it is the process that makes it costly, specifically the DIES. I don’t know what dies cost lately but over ten years ago, they were $5,000 for a short leather jacket. In other words, coding for cost of process is an infrastructure cost for custom made tools you’ll need. Dies must be produced according to your pattern. As such, they require their own time line and production schedule to have them made in time. The other thing is, leather patterns look entirely different. The pieces would be smaller and at a fast glance, a leather pattern could look like a child’s pattern due to the small size of the pieces. Someone searching through the racks will visually search for little pieces first and second, check it wasn’t a child’s pattern -assuming you have both laying around- before third, checking the style number. Few people have rings on their pattern racks with patterns correctly organized by number.

So, if you assign one code for velvet, another for cotton, another for linen for the otherwise same exact style, this is too complicated. These should be hanging near each other on a rack. Again, assuming you can run the same pattern as is across different fabric classes, you only need an additional number in the sequence, not a separate category. For example, a cotton blouse would be 1001, in linen it’s 1002, velvet is 1003. Simple. Assigning numbers according to fabric category would mean 1101, 1201 and 1301 for the same styles. I used to say it was okay to assign category numbers if the cost of goods was extreme but people have gone overboard. Just use the next number in the sequence, not a whole other category number. You’ll be fine because you track costs per style number anyway.

Now, I could see assigning a different category number if process costs were inordinate. Let’s say you had goods that were custom embroidered (extensively, not a pocket logo). Because arranging to have this sent out to be embroidered in time for cutting and sewing product, I could see this being justified. The same would hold for custom painted goods. But tieing category numbers based on fabrication gets too complicated. What if you’re doing four kinds of cottons, would you then assign each a number? What if you also used denim or silks? You’d run out of numbers quickly.

Another possible exception is if you were producing identical styles in only two kinds of fabrics, in other words, minimal differences one of two choices. Say you only produced goods in velvet or cotton or linen and cotton, then I could see it. In general, just avoid it. It’s too much complexity in relation to the size of your lines and the number of years you’ve been in business. It’s overkill. The best advice is, if in doubt, don’t. That holds true for just about everything in life.

If you’ve hired someone to help you, they will remember the meanings of your style numbers -within reason. They’ll remember the first number stands for women (men or kids, whatever), the second number stands for pants, tops or jackets or whatever. Forcing them to remember than the third digit represents the gamut of possible fabrications you’re using is just too much to ask.

Style Numbers revisited
How to issue style numbers pt.127
How to issue style numbers pt.128
How to issue style numbers pt.129

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