Problem pattern maker

Suzanne submits this lengthy problem for your consideration.

I hired a pattern maker here in Utah because I loved the idea of working with someone I could see in person on a regular basis. In the beginning the agreement was that I would pay her on a per-item basis, but she offered to make the patterns, find me contractors, help me source the materials, and do all that sort of legwork for a lump fee ($2,000). When I hired her I gave her two finished product samples, the pattern I’d made and a detailed email with all the information I could possibly think she would need to make the patterns I needed, complete with photos and the changes I would like, etc. She told me she would get on the pattern right away and then have a sample for me to see and try on.

The next thing I know she is talking to contractors, getting bids from them. She used my imperfect example to get the bid from them, with no pattern in hand. (Is this normal?) In the initial meeting she told me that I could do 500 and do a different serging/snap combo per 100, no problem. She also told me I could do that with prints. Later she told me she couldn’t source such small amounts of fabric to make only 100 out of one print and recommended I buy smaller pieces (three yard pieces) and she would have the contractor make them out of these 20 odd different prints. I was skeptical but happy because I would have a greater variety to offer my customers (who collect the prints), and would have a way to use up some of the fabric I had sitting in my basement for this first run. Win/win, right? She urged me to buy the rest of the prints I would need right away, which I stupidly did. (My business is slightly different in that I am not planning for market, but rather doing runs of these items my customers have been asking of me, and slowly building up with more and larger jobs. So, this isn’t as insane as if I was supposed to be planning for market. I say that to half-way defend myself because I have read your book six times.)

She also told me it was totally possible for me to do a very small order of my items, like 100. Then I find out that she has to have an in-home seamstress do the job because no contractor wants it. Now she is telling me that beyond those 100, I would have to pay her a manufacturing ROYALTY per item. I do understand that if she is running around and delivering supplies to the seamstress and then back to me, etc. that I should pay her for her time, however that is not a royalty, that is a commission, right? She also has just told me, as in, “I don’t remember if I told you this at the first meeting but I meant to…” that if we go to “her source” in LA and do runs of 1000+ at a time she would require a royalty on each item we had made.

Other issues: these are going to be made out of cotton/hemp velour and she swears that the fabric is prewashed and won’t shrink a bit. I checked the source myself and it says that it may shrink 8-10%. This kind of thing has kept me up nights. Also, based on some of the things she has said, I get the feeling that she thinks SHE owns MY designs.

AND, when I hired her I told her I absolutely wanted to meet the sewing contractors and see the facilities and build a relationship with them. She was in total agreement with that and said it was a great idea. Then after she had met with him and right before I was to go with her to meet him, she told me that he didn’t want to meet me and only wanted to work with her. I can’t help but think he will think I am even more of an amateur than I am with her carrying a used product to him to procure a bid? I thought she was supposed to have a pattern and a sample sewn from it (that had been approved by me) before we went and talked to contractors? Beyond that, is this guy running some kind of scary sweatshop? Or is she just trying to keep me in the dark about her “source”? Or both?

Also, she went to talk to a second contractor and asked ME to provide another sample to show him. I was totally stupid and did. (Where was my first example, and isn’t it her job to make the samples? I know I paid her to make them!) Oh, and you are going to love this. She insists it’s not the pattern that determines the quality, it is the sewing. She is from Chile and told me her mother has a clothing business there, so I don’t know if this is how they do things there? I feel like she is deliberately trying to keep me in the dark as to who these contractors are so I will be dependent on her forevermore.

Needless to say, I know this has RUN AWAY! all over it. These things have piled up and then I found and read your book again last night and I want to throw up. I have to get my pattern and samples back from her first before I do anything else, right? I also want the other little jobs finished first, like the two items we contracted for. When should I reasonably expect to get a copy of the patterns that she has made? If I am getting the sample tomorrow and have changes to make to it, it is not unreasonable for her to hold it until we get it perfect, right? So when do I demand my patterns? I have the feeling that someone else is going to have to fix everything she has done already, so maybe it doesn’t really matter. I told her at our next appointment I needed my original pattern and original samples back, and that I would ultimately need a contractor-ready pattern of the the products as per our agreement.

My father is my business partner and he has a lot of experience with working with sharks in the mining industry (but no experience in the apparel industry.) He told me to get my patterns back first, then sit her down and have a Come To Jesus talk with her and lay out what I hired her to do and where I feel I have not received what I paid for. He also asked if we had a signed contract and we did not. Stupid? I guess I was so determined to not be all NDA on her that I didn’t do a contract either. With the next patternmaker, they won’t be insulted if we lay out a contract will they? I told him the worst that can happen is that I am out the money I paid her to do this work, and the time we have wasted with her since we were planning on launching these products in February, and the money I spent on all those misc. knit prints. At the worst, I could always ebay those off. He said the worst that could happen is that she could claim that she owns the patterns and sue me. Yikes.

I am going to ask the stupid question here: should I just lay out what I expect of her and see if she complies and if she does, finish up the original runs of items, extract my patterns out of her and move on? (Incidentally, there was a 50 cent difference to make the misc. prints vs. the ones that would be cut off a huge roll of velour.) I really know that the more prints I have the faster they will sell because my customers collect prints. My gut instinct is to get the first items finished, get them back and pay for them, get my patterns and stuff from her and run. Input, please? We have not spent a LOT of money YET.

Suzanne and I chatted for quite awhile. There’s so much going on here but the core issues are that the pattern maker contracted to produce production patterns and samples and rather than doing those first things, has run headlong into sourcing the package. Usually, sourcing is charged on an hourly basis, often at about $100 an hour. Second, the sources are to be disclosed to you for that fee. Any other alternative is ludicrous. Third, you’re liable particularly when it comes to contracting. As the manufacturer, you are liable for ensuring that the contractor is following all labor laws. The thing that comes to mind is the difficulties Kathie Lee Gifford had. If you’re paying for sourcing, you’re entitled to names and details. My feeling is that this pattern maker (if she even is a pattern maker) is deliberately trying to control the means of your manufacturing. It would be another thing entirely if you’d contracted with her to manage your production lots but in that case I’d still have my reservations; this situation would still be untoward. Specifically, I’d want to verify that she was insured to cover your losses in the event of poorly made products, workplace liability (the contractor), work stoppage and the like and somehow, I have doubts she is insured in this respect.

Now, if you’ve hired someone to manage your production, it is typical to pay a fee -not a royalty or a commission- per unit. On large packages it can be as little as 3 or 4 cents apiece but smaller lots won’t fall in these guidelines. With smaller lots, you may end up paying a set fee for the lot. It entirely depends on what someone has agreed to do for you, managing the lot, running interference, having to go over to the production facility to ensure quality, timeliness and delivery -both incoming of inputs and outgoing of finished goods. Based on our conversation, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

I don’t think an NDA would have provided any protections to you in this case. You have precedence anyway, you’ve been making and selling these products well before she came along so I can’t imagine how any claim she’d present would be taken seriously. There’s no way she could claim she owned the pattern if you hired her to make it for you; that is silly. Barring an NDA, that is not to say that a contract wouldn’t have been of benefit. I mean, you have a verbal contract, those are of value. I usually caution DEs to follow up oral discussions with an email to reinforce the points of the discussion and if the terms detailed in the email aren’t disputed, it’s generally accepted that you are in agreement as to conditions and the like. Maybe a non-compete, an agreement that she would not be manufacturing your product independently would be of value. Pattern makers don’t have a problem signing those.

The other thing is, you don’t have an NCA, a non-circumvent agreement, more typically used in international brokering agreements. A non circumvent agreement means that you contractually agree that you will not be attempting to discover her sources. I mean, you specifically hired her -in part- to get sources for you. Implied in this agreement is disclosure of those sources. Otherwise, why would you hire her for discovery? To be of value -worthy of signing an NCA- she’d already have to have those sources and rather, would be charging you a fee for access to deliverables from her sources. She never specifically mentioned brokering, I don’t think she’s at that level, not if she is working with contractors so small they’re willing to handle three yards of piece goods.

Miscellaneous things about this job; I have a lot of reservations about the sourcing efficacy of this person if all she could get you was three yard quantities. To me, it sounds like she was ordering sample cuts. Still, the surcharge that the contractor was levying for the smaller yardage pieces (50 cents per unit) is unusual but acceptable. I say unusual because most contractors won’t touch that or bother with it so finding a small contractor that would at only 50 cents apiece is good because you won’t be sitting on those piece goods and can actually have them processed into finished products you can sell. [As it happens, although not ideal, these costs are readily absorbed with this product/market.]

My feeling on the whole thing is to sit down with her, reiterate the original conditions of your agreement, write that out, have her sign it and get time lines on when you can expect delivery of your patterns and samples. Also get any sourcing details from her in writing. You’ve paid for all of these things. Not mentioned in this post was the fact that she is asking you for more money. I wouldn’t give her any more money (paid $2,000 so far) until she delivers what she promised. My feeling is that you probably won’t get what you were promised so you may want to steel yourself for that eventuality, going into this whole thing with an exit strategy. Cut your losses but recoup what you can.

The rest of you feel free to jump in with your input. I left plenty of room for discussion, feedback and advice. Suzanne thanks you in advance.

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18 comments

  1. J C Sprowls says:

    Wow!

    Fortunately, Zoe shared with us about Evans group, who, apparently, does small lots. Though, for Suzanne, that is after-the-fact. In hindsight, it would have been better to solicit requests for participation from several contractors before making a decision. I would’ve gone one step beyond that, and invite my best choices and a couple references to lunch. Then, I’d watch the body language to determine if the working relationship I’m looking for exists.

    There is one salvation grace. Provided Suzanne can extract her property, exit the relationship, and minimize collateral damage. $2K plus the time/effort put in thus far isn’t too great a cost of ‘tuition’. I’m grateful that she is sharing her experience with us.

    Based on the limited information I see, here, I agree with Kathleen inasmuch as documenting the agreement. Stop work, come to Jesus, document the project scope, the function this patternmaker will serve, this person’s authority, the milestones (i.e. what you expect to see, and when), and the payment arrangements (i.e. $X upon delivery of abc). The first thing that needs to be accounted for is the $2K already invested.

    After that was done and I had all the appropriate wet signatures (blue ink, please!), I’d need to find out what went wrong. How was it that this contractor was empowered to proceed to step-c of the plan, when step-a hadn’t been accomplished? How did I (as a manager) contribute to this misunderstanding?

    Leave the meeting on a positive note. And, make no decisions while you’re there. Sleep on it, remember: you’ve stopped all work and the risk is back under your control. Make the business decision at least 24 hours after the meeting, preferably 72.

    Consider the following:
    Is this relationship worth pursuing?
    Is this the type of employee you would hire in your house?
    How will you manage this relationship?

  2. Mike C says:

    I’ve usually found that if a business relationship is going to work out, things are “easy” and disagreements are “minor.”

    Once trust is lost and second guessing begins, its very hard to get it back.

    I would be honest with her… things have gone a bit further and gotten a bit bigger than you originally intended and you’ve decided to rethink and go a different direction.

  3. Suzanne says:

    That is what we are thinking right now.

    My partner now feels like we need to get all our stuff back from her and demand some (or all) of our money back. I’m not sure how that is going to go!

    It is true that we don’t trust her anymore and don’t want to continue working with her.

  4. Thomas Cuningham says:

    If I were faced with a similar situation, I would tend to believe that the ‘patern-maker’ is not a legitimate partner to help you grow your business.

    Iisten to your father and don’t be ashamed to ask him for advice and seek his help. I’m sure he can really help you and he’ll probably find the mining business is a lot ‘cleaner’ than the apparel business.

    If he’s a tough guy and hardnosed businessman he can be a real asset to you dealing with some of the people you will encounter in this business.

    And no, that does not mean you shouldn’t go on in this industry. There are plenty of good people in this business, but you have to look to find them and there are certainly plenty of crooks who will take advantage of people who are ignorant and don’t look after themselves. Believe me, I leaned (am still learning) the hard way.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Trust me, I agree. My dad has some GREAT advice. I trust him completely in that regard. That is why I made him my partner. And the mining industry attracts some real sharks too. There’s something about gold/and the huge amounts of money required for mining operations that seems to bring out the worst in people.

    I am not about to let this person kill my dream. I am more determined than ever to make this work. I’m calling it tuition and being grateful that we found her out when we did.

    Now I have to do the fun dance of getting my stuff back and ending the relationship.

  6. Esther says:

    Wow! I don’t really have much more to add – I hope things work out for you. You have a lot of determination to keep going after such a horrible experience. Good for you!

  7. Natty Coleman says:

    That’s why you don’t hire anyone in Utah. We are based in Provo, but its worth it to fly/drive to LA to meet up with whoever we need to. We had issues with a “patternmaker” up in Salt Lake when we first started. I don’t trust anyone in Utah anymore. Everyone here is sooo freaking cheap and/or sketchy.

  8. Esther says:

    That’s seems to be an unfair jab at Utah just because of one bad experience. Utah had a large pool of talent in the fashion industry at one time. Unfortunately several of the major apparel manufacturers have closed, forcing the workers to move on. Some of that talent still exists in Utah, but they have chosen to do something else. I am sure LA has just as many unethical, cheap people as anywhere else.

  9. I met up with Mark Fogelman of Tama Mfg, also known as Tama Manufacturing while he was in Miami Beach, Florida, April 2006. He claimed Tama’s Allentown plant was a well-equipped full service cut and sew contractor that could generate clothing and apparel samples from a conceptual idea such as prototypes and duplicates. Its sample makers would work closely with its pattern makers to create the garment samples I required. He bragged that his personnel could easily sew professional samples from our rough home made prototype; that they were experienced with the use of ripstop nylon for making garments and Velcro® for closures, as later the use of heat transfer (tagless) labels.

    I paid Tama Mfg $600, and waited.

    In the ensuing 6 months, Tama Mfg repeatedly failed to pay attention to detail or to follow instructions. It was unable to copy the pattern of the medium-size professionally made cycling jacket modified along the lines of our homemade prototype. Aggravating such malfeasance was that what it did sew had seams that readily came undone and had improper placement of the hook part of the Velcro® causing stitching to catch on the Velcro®. There was no hope of presenting these samples even if they did not have a 22 inch collar instead of a 16 inch collar.
    We wasted $600 that we paid Tama Mfg, but did get back our own materials. In conclusion, big does not mean reliable.

  10. Sherry says:

    Now, now. Let’s not prejudge people and companies based on geographic location. The behavior is the tip-off, and that’s what you need to watch for no matter where the business is located.

    Suzanne, sorry this happened, but thanks for sharing it with us. Any loss, whether $20 or $2000, never feels good. But I think it’s better to make a $2000 mistake now — and learn from it — than to sail along only to make the same mistake later at $200,000.

  11. Colleen says:

    I suggest developing a relationship with a professional “team”: lawyer, accountant, banker and insurance sales person. The lawyer should review any contracts prior to you signing. Writing a contract and telling the potential sub contractor (the “patternmaker” in this case)that your lawyer will review might help weed out unsavory types. Luckily you started small with this person and haven’t lost too much $$.
    Just curious, did you ask this patternmaker to do any “work” as part of the interview process?

  12. Thomas Cuningham says:

    i always get into trouble when I try to save a buck — if someone offers to do a job for half the professional rate, I FINALLY figured out its probably not a good deal. Because if they are willing to work so cheap, they probably don’t know what they’re doing. when i try to cut corners like that i always end up spending MORE than I would have done if I’d gone the (seemingly) more expensive route. — it’s a really obvious fact, I know, but it took me a while to figure it out.

  13. Natty says:

    I suppose it is unfair. But let me qualify my remark. It wasn’t just one experience. This has happened to me with a bunch of people in different areas along the line. Not to mention the freelance graphic work I do. Utah clients frequently equal non-paying customers. In the fashion industry, this has happened to several of my colleagues in the same position as I. I am less likely to meet sketchy people/clients/accounts outside of Utah. That’s just the numbers and statistics speaking. I have to say though, that I do not like Utah or its “culture” either, so I am a bit biased. However, yes, there are crazies everywhere. I suppose one has to be discerning in order to tell, which isn’t always possible with people.

  14. April Olas says:

    Hi Natty, I also live in Utah and have run into the same exact problems that you have here. I’m currently looking for a sewing contractor and I wanted to ask you if you had any advice about which direction to look outside of UT. Please feel free to email me at April@IzzaB.net.
    Thanks!
    April

  15. Deb Kicklighter says:

    I am a Designer/Pattern maker in Los Angeles.
    A pattern maker is one that works out the designs you want to produce.
    I think that you did not do the reseach in to what you needed to do you production.
    You used her to do your running around and open the door to be charged for the service
    which was no longer in your control.
    You should always work with the contractors your self-check in to fabric and trim.
    In L.A. there are a lots of small contractors the will do for one sample to small lots of 5 to 100
    pcs.
    This pattern maker saw an openig to charge you and you to use her the only thing is she feed
    you information the most large Mfgs. pay for fabrics and services because they are bigger and need more goods.
    There are lots of fabric and trim Jobbs in L.A. that you can buy 1 to 100 yds. if they have it. It would be worth you coming here for supplies.
    Please do your part and reseach your market better then no one can run a game on you.

  16. Charlotte Bird says:

    I too am a pattern maker here in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are the technical side of design, as Deb Kicklighter says. You needed assistance in your production sourcing. There are companies that do that, or help you find patternmakers or line reps or whatever. Market research is imperitive. I hope you solved the problems you encountered. It read like a calamity.
    Good luck for the future.

  17. Holly says:

    I’m wondering if you can say who this was? I’m looking into using a pattern maker and she sounds like the same one. Did your problems get resolved? Thanks

  18. Kathleen says:

    Sadly, it seems that a lot of “pattern makers” today sound like this one, preying on an unknowing populace. They rely on people finding them on the Internet but that isn’t how connections are made in the industry for the most part.

    Suzanne’s problems were mostly resolved after I interceded on her behalf. She was able to move on after she got qualified referrals on our forum. We don’t permit people like this to join. Only providers who meet standards common in the trade. You might consider joining.

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