Here’s a guest entry from DK who’s spent 18 years in the industry. She didn’t mention anonymity so I’m erring on the side of caution while I wait for her response. Her entry details her recent and only experience working for a DE. And no sillies, there aren’t any parts preceding this one. Not named such anyway. You know my series numbering scheme is odd-ball. So what’s new?
I had an experience over the last couple months that your readers may find instructional. My account is a bit long but there was just so much that I experienced that was worth sharing. Probably closer to a list of what not to do more than anything but sometimes real world examples illustrate a point in a new way.
To give you some background, I’m in the planning stages of launching my own line. My background is an 18 year career in Technical Design where I ran departments for a number of major retailers. Although I’ve spent more hours than I can count compiling spec packs, evaluating fit, and touring Asian factories, I felt that there was an element missing in my background. I had never worked in a tiny company with local production. Since this is what I’ll be doing, I sought out a freelance position that would allow me to see the inside scoop on day-to-day operations when there’s no sourcing department or costing group to rely upon.
I took a freelance position with a designer of high end women’s wear. “Ladies Who Lunch” wear that retails for thousands of dollars and is sold in one major retailer and through store trunk shows. My tasks were to include light pattern making and production management. I think my employer made every mistake in the book and it was an unbelievable learning experience, though painful and frustrating.
- Line way too big. 40+ “looks”. Determined by what makes a good show, not profitability.
- Fabric rarely used more than once or twice.
- Groups only themes were color.
- Like a lot of creative people, design was the only important stage to him. Production was something to be avoided or left to others. This is a 2-3 person home based company working with his 2nd contractor in as many seasons yet getting press and into major retailers.
- Designer didn’t consistently document inputs or construction details of first sample.
- Costing haphazard at best due to above. Driven entirely by expensive imported piece goods.
- Costing was four lines of numbers on a piece of paper. Contractor was shown two samples, not sure what conversation occurred on quantity, a price was given for those two items. Never had any additional samples priced by this factory. Not sure where labor cost came from to arrive at a WSP (wholesale price) for the line. By the time designer revisited the possibility of working with this factory after initial costing, a great deal of time had passed and he had no choice but to pray this facility would take his work because he was out of time. And he had no idea what he was going to be charged.
- There was only one sample made. It served as photo sample, sales sample, sample for the factory and a press sample. Sample size was a 2.
- Sample was never fit on a live person. The only time he saw his product on human beings was on his trunk show models.
- I was brought in after the line had been developed. Samples were at the showroom. Orders had been taken and now he decided that patterns needed to be made from the “muslins” for production. His concept of pattern making involved simply transferring the drape to pattern paper. I was to do this without technical sketches, samples, or the ability to test my patterns. (I know your stomach is clenching at this, Kathleen. Mine did.) I won’t go into the repeated conversations over this one but the risks seemed beyond his comprehension. I should probably have ended my employment then but I hadn’t gotten everything I needed yet so decided to try to help him through the mess. Maybe I could teach him something. Silly me.
- Tracking of orders was individual purchase orders loose in files and a hand written list of styles by fabric that had been used to order piece goods. And by individual, I mean orders literally by person as the bulk of the business was from trunk shows. These trunk show orders were frequently custom pieces ie. make Mrs. Smith’s skirt 3” bigger in the hips, cut jacket x in a different fabric. Which means pattern work, special handling in production, systems for figuring out how to handle this, cost, etc. It was nearly impossible to roll up the numbers of orders for individual styles, various delivery dates, custom pieces, etc to figure out how many units to cut. Everything was a custom order.
- Spreadsheets were a foreign concept. I put the orders by style into Excel on my personal computer so that I could track process and timing. He never looked at the printouts I gave him.
- Although the designer had ordered piece goods, no inputs were ordered and he had no interest in figuring out what he had done. As documentation was sketchy at best and samples not available, you can imagine the difficulty I had in pulling together lists of what needed to be ordered.
- Once I determined what inputs were needed, he delayed ordering or would only order a few pieces. Ignored the economies that can be achieved in consolidating buttons, zippers, etc, preferring to shop retail (you can do that in NYC) because in his mind, it took less time and thought.
- Production was late for the second season. Stores were pressing for earlier deliveries but this still didn’t motivate him to purchase inputs, neither did my nagging. Production fabric sat in the studio for weeks because he couldn’t be bothered to deliver it to the factory. Working on spring was “going backwards” to what was in his mind, last season, because he was so engrossed in the design of the next season*.
- Failing to supply inputs on a timely basis incurred an untold financial hit as the contractor had a table charge for small orders.
- He ignored all regulations for labeling of garments beyond his logo label due to expense of printing so many different content labels.
- And lastly, it should be mentioned that this is the first season with a very high quality factory. A week before stores were wanting delivery, buttons hadn’t been purchased, linings hadn’t been purchased, yet this designer expected this contractor to push aside all of the other work from paying clients who were probably easier to work with.
I’m sure your regulars can figure out how this story is going to end. He’ll be closed in six months tops. A friend of mine suggested I loan him your book. My reply was, “This isn’t the kind of guy who would care to learn what you have to teach.” To me, much of what I saw is typical of designers who love the creative process but don’t respect production. Even something as simple as documenting the size of your buttons and color of your linings can have a major impact on your ability to produce. Small designers think it’s okay to keep this stuff in their heads and I guess it is, up until the point where other people are involved. Far too often, small designers don’t try to anticipate what others involved with their lines will need and don’t pay attention when told.
Thanks Kathleen. Love the blog. Love the book. Love the forum. Highly grateful for your incredible support of this segment of the fashion business.