If you are like most people, you’re ready to get into something you can use today, if not yesterday. Since the goal is to start you off on the right foot, it’s important for you to understand the types of jobs that are common in factories in order to organize your company correctly.
This section serves as a guide to the needed job functions in a manufacturing company. I realize that many DEs rarely have this many people in house, but it’s very important to understand how each job function breaks down to work intelligently and efficiently. Even if you perform all of these duties, you should assume the role that each job requires to save money and trouble. These job descriptions may be different from what you learned in school. These are functions used in industry and reflect the values of a commercial environment.
THE DESIGN DEPARTMENT
In the garment industry, being a designer is very different from what you see in fashion magazines. In industry, designers are the managers of the product development department. Their task is to translate the vision and purpose of the company’s specialty into products that consumers wish to buy. This is difficult because designers rarely get to design products they like; designers must produce items that represent the needs of the company.
The challenge and creativity of a design career is balancing the limits of cost, price, fabric types, the kind of equipment and the sewing experience that a company has and still produce a profitable style. It’s difficult to design what the company wants, what consumers want, and keep the price and costs of both to a level that makes everyone happy. Designing in real life has very little to do with sketching cute designs.
A surprising number of designers don’t have a formal education in design, but most are college graduates. There is some debate as to the necessity of design education, and I’d caution design school graduates to ‘separate’ from the popular cultural image since many new entrants have a reputation for being ‘difficult’ to work with. These conflicts are easily avoided if designers understand their role in an industrial setting. The most successful designers are those who understand their role as facilitator in a production environment. They must have good listening skills and work well with technical personalities. They must communicate well with other managers, suppliers, and salespeople. It’s a very tough job and definitely not as glamorous as most people think.
Designers don’t earn as much money as people think either. Since their first job is management, their pay is roughly equivalent to other non-technical managers in the company. Most designers earn between $20,000 to $60,000 per year, depending on the size and location of the company. If designers want to be financially successful or famous, they need to start their own manufacturing companies. Otherwise, designers are employees like everyone else.
In many ways, these staffers are more like personal assistants to the designer. Their job duties are highly variable depending on the crisis of the day. It can be a very rewarding career if you like variety. Assistants have different duties depending on the demands of the company. In some companies, their job is to design and present new product ideas. Some companies use assistants as first pattern makers and in other companies, the assistant designer is more like a personal assistant to the designer.
A formal background and education is recommended because assistants are often ‘translators’ who’s task it is to explain technical issues to the designer and other management personnel. Background is helpful to get a job in this competitive environment and because they have so many different job duties.
Assistant designers probably don’t earn as much as they deserve (they do a lot of grunt work no one else wants to do) unless the designer advocates on their behalf. If their boss appreciates them, they can earn a respectable salary that ranges from $15,000 for new hires, up to $45,000 for adept professionals.
Pattern makers are the technical backbone of the production process. Their task is to translate ‘fuzzy’ (a sketch) into fact. Their work is to develop the engineering blueprints which production needs in order to produce a design cost effectively. Their job duties are very challenging because they must be perfectionist and detail oriented. They must have superior sewing ability and be able to communicate effectively with designers and their assistants, as well as sampling and production areas of the company.
Education and experience is strongly recommended, as their task is the most critical link in the entire production process. Pattern makers have more control over waste, sewing problems, and quality than any other single person in the company.
Since pattern making is not a glamorous job and goes on behind the scenes, people are usually surprised to learn that pattern makers are well paid compared to others in the process. Pattern makers can earn twice as much as designers, if not more. Salaries for beginner’s start at around $25,000, but earnings of $35,000 to $70,000 are more typical of professional, high quality people.
The sample cutter is responsible for laying out the pattern onto the fabric and cutting out all the needed pieces in order to complete the sample. It seems to be a simple job, but it’s not. Their job is to lay out the pieces most efficiently and make careful notes regarding the needed amounts of fabrics and other inputs (allocation). Their figures are a make-or-break decision of the product’s cost. They figure the amount of fabric the company will buy for the style, so the figures must be accurate. Often, they will dummy a marker to get a more precise idea.
Their other equally important duties are to spot check the pattern’s inventory to make certain all of the itemized pieces are present. They are usually the first to notice the over-all efficiency of fabric use. If too much fabric is wasted, their suggestions guide the pattern maker to cut a more efficient pattern to reduce waste. Lastly, after the pattern is cut, they are responsible for bundling all of the needed components and taking it to the sample maker for sewing.
Depending on company size, a company may not have a full-time sample cutter. Regardless of whether your company can afford one full-time, I’d recommend taking the job skills needed into serious consideration. Again, a formal background is rarely required, mostly because these skills are not taught in schools anymore. A good sample cutter will have a certain personality profile. They must be very detail oriented and have fine motor skills for precise cutting. Typically, they may enjoy jigsaw puzzles and other games since a high degree of spatial intelligence is needed to do the job well.
Like sample makers, sample cutters are poorly paid in relation to the importance of their work duties. They earn between minimum wage and $10 per hour depending on the size and location of the company.
Their job is to sew the design from the pattern and document any problems before the pattern is approved for production. In general, sample makers are the most poorly paid people in the plant when the value of their job duties is compared to their earnings. They are the most important waste and problem prevention tools a company has. A good sample maker can literally save a company millions of dollars in waste, employee turnover, mis-cuts, quality control problems and returns.
Most sample makers don’t have a formal education, but learn on the job having been recruited from the sewing line. The sample maker must be an expert at sewing many types of products. A good sample maker can sew two or three fully lined jackets or sportcoats a day. Sample makers of this caliber are worth what they ask in compensation.
Sample makers typically earn between minimum wage up to about $12 per hour. DE companies should hire the very best sample maker they can possibly afford and pay them well. A professional sample maker is critically important to getting a small company off on the right foot.
Even if you’re an excellent seamstress yourself, you need a quality sample maker to teach you about production sewing, quality patterns and the manufacturing process. Contrary to popular culture belief, it’s not designers who hold the sewing quality secrets. It’s the designer’s sample makers.
SALES & MARKETING
Professional sales people are finely attuned to the needs and demands of both employers and customers. It’s a difficult job as well; an outgoing personality and frequent travel is an absolute necessity. Like sales people in other industries, they must be organized, persistent and pleasant.
Working in the garment industry and representing the unique challenges of manufacturers means they must learn specialized industry processes and understand the concerns and terminology of buyers as well. Bridging the gap between manufacture and retail can be challenging and financially rewarding as well.
Large companies will usually hire sales reps that represent their products exclusively and they are paid by commission and sometimes a small stipend or base salary. Smaller companies frequently hire independent sales reps that show their products along with other lines in showrooms or on the road. A deeper discussion of the qualities of a good rep is discussed later in this book.
The job descriptions of production personnel are more challenging to explain simply because there are more job functions and job possibilities in this area than any other part of the company. More importantly, the kind of production jobs needed are based on the type of product the company manufacturers; so it’s impossible to do the job properly without taking into consideration the incredible range of products that are produced in this industry. As a brief orientation, I’ll cover the most basic functions used in most companies.
This job function is sometimes confusing for DEs because a pattern grader actually works in the pattern and design department, but their work is done in the production phase of manufacturing. In small companies, the pattern maker may also be the pattern grader.
The pattern grader is responsible for generating the sizes needed for an approved style before it can be cut in production. A pattern grader uses a set of mathematical formulas that are designed to “grow” each pattern piece by a specific amount to fit the target consumer. Graders typically advise how to establish a basic sizing policy. They also develop several kinds of grading styles so that the sizing is consistent with the fit and type of fabric used in the design.
Pattern grading isn’t difficult although it sounds complicated; it’s easier than pattern drafting. Grading is a technical position and the job duties vary depending on the size of the company. Since pattern grading is ideally suited to be done by computer, I recommend that companies of any size use these services, which are easily located in the phone book or in trade directories. In addition, pattern grading by computer is very inexpensive.
A marker maker takes the graded patterns and traces them onto paper, making a layout plan or roadmap to the cut of the style. The goal is to use the least amount of fabric possible, while keeping grainlines (set tolerances) and match stripes aligned properly. The marker maker needs to carefully plan the placement of pieces and keep in mind the needs of the cutting department. Poorly made markers frequently frustrate cutters. Poor markers make it difficult to maneuver a knife into the lay. If straight lines are not butted against each other, this can result in twice as much work and a lot of wasted fabrics.
Again, most DE companies don’t need a marker maker, especially if they’ve hired a pattern grading service because these two services are closely intertwined. Grading services can make markers easily and more efficiently than can be done by hand. Even if a DE does all of their sewing in-house, it’s worth jobbing out the markers.
I would recommend that all DEs and their pattern/design staffs learn and practice making markers anyway, because someone will need to make a marker in order to cut the salesmen’s samples for market. The other benefit of learning marker making is to decrease the fabric wasted by lower-level pattern makers. Lastly, DEs will need to learn marker making because this is the only way to get an accurate figure for fabric purchases. Again, more detailed information on this topic comes later in the book.
Cutters and spreaders are responsible for spreading the fabric in layers. Spreading fabrics in preparation for cutting is more difficult than it seems for several reasons. It must be the correct length; cutters will need to know the size, length and limitations of the marker (which is made first). Each fabric needs to be handled according to its weave and chemical composition to prevent static shrinkage and mismatched stripes (for example).
Cutting is rapidly becoming a dying art and there’s a critical shortage of good cutters (and pattern makers) in the industry. I think this is mostly due to the fact that there aren’t any good, basic, educational facilities that train professional grade cutters. The way people used to learn was through on the job training from masters or passed down through families. Fifty to eighty years ago, pattern making and cutting was the same job.
If you are fortunate enough to find a good cutter, you can expect to pay well depending on their experience and ability. I would strongly encourage the new generation of entrepreneurs to try to find a retired industry cutter (try placing a help-wanted ad) who is willing to teach you the applied science of spreading and cutting efficiently.
If a DE has done their job well and not skipped any steps in the process, production sewing is a breeze. In industry, sewing is the most expensive part of the entire labor-intensive process and some very bright people have made a career of reducing the needed skills of production sewing operators.
This does not mean the goal is to hire otherwise useless and unskilled people to sew. This simply means that people work faster and more accurately if they work by rote and muscle memory, rather than by having to actually think about it first.
The skills needed by production sewing people never fail to amaze DEs. For the record: production sewing people don’t need to know how to sew, speak English, have visual acuity (Industries for the Blind is in the business of hiring blind sewing operators), know how many inches are in a yard and they certainly don’t need to know how to divide fractions!
At the same time, don’t commit the same mistake that many managers make; don’t presume that sewing operators are stupid because they don’t communicate well or use perfect grammar.
Production people are smart in a different way; it’s spatial, mechanical and kinetic intelligence. Since this type of intelligence is little known or understood, it’s no wonder that no one sees, values, or nurtures this type of intelligence (and it’s no wonder that the majority of high school dropouts are kinetic, mechanical and spatial learners). The best production people are often high-school dropouts, who perform poorly in interviews.
Industrial sewing is the single most misunderstood area for DEs. As you’ll discover in this book, sewing quality has very little to do with sewing machine operators, because the system is designed to make production sewing error proof. The only possible way a company will have production sewing problems, is if they skipped a step in the process, or they didn’t listen to someone who was complaining about a problem. Sewing errors are entirely preventable.