Style Numbers revisited

If you have my book, you already know I’m rather humorless when it comes to designers who name, rather than number their styles. In this post, I’ll reiterate the most important reasons and bring up some additional ones. Thanks to Claudia who brought the need to my attention.

Okay, first of all, if you’re a small company with limited styles, you don’t number them for your convenience but for ours. By “ours” I mean retailers, contractors, fabric reps, pattern makers and the like. While you do own the company and have the right to do as you wish, so do we and using names marks you -publicly- as being less than professional. I mean, there is just no better way to advertise your newness at a glance. Just because it doesn’t seem like it’s not a big deal to you, doesn’t mean that it’s not. It’s something that any of us notice -immediately- it’s the first thing I look for. As I said before, naming styles rather than numbering them is a way that you’ve drawn attention to the fact that you’re a newbie and consequently, either a target or someone who is too green to understand the value of our services and products. So why would we go through the hassle of working with you?

I reiterate what Miracle said in her line sheets post:

Names are cute, but style numbers are easier to remember. Try to have consistency with your style numbers as well. Some people mix style letters and numbers– WPE122, and some people use all numbers 8233 (which, in my opinion is easier to remember) and some people use all letters FPJSAX (which, is easy to remember only when it makes sense, this example is a real style number and FPJ stands for Flannel Pajama and SAX is for the saxophone print). I have seen companies use style codes like DNAYTOPDA and I think that just makes people feel dyslexic and they can’t remember how to write them down. Literate people instinctively try to make words out of collections of letters and when they don’t resemble anything meaningful, it becomes frustrating. Kathleen has a whole section in her book about why style numbers are easier for everyone to deal with, including your pattern maker, sample maker and contractor

Mixing letters and numbers

“I have your book, and although you’ve pointed out that we shouldn’t mix letters and numbers when creating style numbers, you haven’t explained why. Is it just for simplicity’s sake?”

I wouldn’t ever recommend mixing letters and numbers unless you’ve been in the business for a long time and know what you’re doing. The only people allowed to use letters are people who produce commodity items like tees etc. They can use shorthand like LS, SS (long sleeve, short sleeve) etc but those exceptions are rare.

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. Arabic 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 10. With letters, it’s 26!

Most DEs will use style numbers like this: sb203, ss212 etc, the “sb” representing “sleeveless blouse” and “ss” representing “short skirt”. If you must use a letter, it should always mean the same thing. The “s” in these examples means either sleeveless or short depending on the context (which is only known to you by the way). Basically, these examples are using shorthand descriptives for words. It’s better to use a number like 4 to represent blouses (4203) and another number, say 6 to represent skirts (6212). Believe me, the rest of us will learn very very quickly that “4” means we’re looking for a blouse pattern and “6” means we’re looking for a pants pattern. We’ll organize your patterns by category. If you’re using “s”, it’s takes longer to find your patterns because we’ll have to look at every single pattern! Using an “s” provides no rhyme or reason and we can’t sort things quickly at a glance. So maybe you think it’s not important because you only have a few styles but then, you’re not our only customer.

Some designers will add letters at the end of the number and this is problematic for the same reasons. 420S and 420C may make sense to you but it’s confusing to us and it only makes sense if you speak and write English. If you’re making the same blouse but in two different fabrics and need to distinguish cotton from silk, use another number. If it is exactly the same pattern, instead of using the previous examples, use the numbers 4201 and 4202. You’d write both style numbers on each pattern piece. As far as costing goes, you’re covered because different costs are assigned to each style, no? It’s much easier to account for the separate styles this way than your way. Similarly, do consider that you may have differing buttons and trims. If you’ve labeled them 420S/420C, people may not realize these are separate styles and may mix up the inputs. The latter numbering scheme leaves the impression that these styles are mix and match and they’re not. Remember, style numbers do not track what something looks like. Style numbers track what something is.

I think the worst numbering schemes were from DEs who used part of their company name as a part of their style numbers, ex 123DAQU456. Don’t do that. It lends the impression in other people’s minds that you’re not smart enough to remember your own name. This example also illustrates why letters shouldn’t be in the middle of the numbering sequence because from a visual standpoint, they get buried.

Again I reiterate, don’t start style numbers with a zero. I’m amazed at the number of people who’ve read my book (by the way, all of the examples in this post are from book readers) and they still do that. I realize that some spreadsheet software programs will assign numbers beginning with zeros but don’t rely on an accounting program to do that for you. A style numbering system is something you design to reflect the needs of your product mix. Use numbers to represent meanings you assign.

How to issue style numbers pt.127
How to issue style numbers pt.128
How to issue style numbers pt.129
How to issue style numbers pt.130

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17 Comments on "Style Numbers revisited"

8 months 12 days ago

[…] omission from pattern making books is the topic of pattern room management. What are style numbers? What are PN numbers? How do you use them properly? What is a direction card/pattern record […]

2 years 2 months ago

[…] by SKU (stock keeping unit), right down to size and color variations. Sure you may have a style number 10050 for an A-line skirt, but you need to have unique skus for every color and size […]

[…] company’s pattern reference number (i.e. style number). Style names alone are not sufficient and can lead to […]

4 years 8 months ago

“As I said before, naming styles rather than numbering them is a way that you’ve drawn attention to the fact that you’re a newbie and consequently, either a target or someone who is too green to understand the value of our services and products. So why would we go through the hassle of working with you?”

I was reacting to the above statement. So if someone is a newbie, and let’s assume makes a few innocent mistakes which is inevitable since a newbie may not know everything, then that bars them from getting access to manufacturing?

There are more neutral ways the manufacturer protects themselves from hassles… isn’t that what the minimum order requirement is for? Or putting the newbie on the last place in the manufacturers production schedule… Or having higher prices for lower orders?

There was nothing in my statement that implies a manufacturer is obligated to take a newbie on, but simply not being so hasty in their judgment ‘oh this person is a newbie, forget it’.

The Dip as a concept applies generally to all sectors.

4 years 8 months ago

I am well aware of who Seth Godin is (and as my visitors know, have linked to him many times) but I don’t think you understand my point (the day Seth knows as much about my business as I do, I’ll acquiesce). For many of us, a newbie is not our customer so it is pointless for us to market to them or do the heavy lifting for them. It’s my understanding that Halliburton is also in the concrete business but good luck trying to hire them if you need a concrete slab poured. I don’t know why it is that people assume that just because they can find us, that we are somehow obligated to take them on as a customer. This is why so many contractors hide, they never advertise or market themselves. That’s their choice. You can say it’s stupid or that it’s hurting their business but this is not the case in my experience. Rather the opposite is true. Start up contractors who will take anyone go out of business fast. To survive, they become more discriminatory in the clients they choose to accept.

Let’s look at it your way, you assume that contractors should be in the education business. Veritable colleges don’t take just anyone so I don’t understand why people think businesses should. It would be something else if contractors got tax money like public schools and so have to take anyone but even state colleges who get tax money don’t. Or how about, you go to a nursing college but you insist that they teach you fashion design? Good luck trying to get that college to change their entire curriculum and basis of operation with your point: “At first it’s more effort than it’s worth, but over time, you get over the dip and you build a business relationship which pays off over the long term. It may be good business policy.” Most of us are in the business of providing production services. We are not in the education business. That we may choose to help someone out, someone WE decide is worth the effort (see below) is not the same thing as being obligated to help everyone. We don’t owe it to anyone.

The viability of a client -how we decide someone is worth helping- is usually determined by the quality of the questions they ask. It might be more productive were you to spend some time to read and learn more. The more you know, the better your questions will be.