When your contractor is stealing from you

thiefHere the worst has come to pass, such an ugly drama.

If you’re not a member and can’t access the details, one of our designers -we’ll call her Jane- received several angry emails from her sales reps saying that another designer -let’s call her Haley- was selling many of Jane’s styles and in Jane’s exact fabrications. Jane isn’t one to jump to conclusions but she did some legwork and found that Haley was even selling clothes that were made of Jane’s custom printed knits. More worrisome, Haley was describing the styles as having been cut from another manufacturer’s scraps.

Stop right there. If you’re having things made from another manufacturer’s leftovers, don’t assume it is okay with that manufacturer. They may find out and you’ll be painted with the same brush. In this case, since Jane’s contractor got caught, he is blaming Haley for all manner of indiscretions -ranging from design theft and theft of a cell phone. No one gives the contractor much credence at this point but it is wise to avoid any hint of impropriety. Speaking of (forgive the digression), you need to be very cautious if a contractor is providing your fabric because it may be stolen from another party. Once the contractor gets caught, he may go out of business but even if he doesn’t, your fabric source and artificially low production price is going to increase so if your customers are spoiled with low prices, you’ll find yourself in a peck of trouble both coming and going.

But anyway. Jane had suspected that the fabric quantities her contractor demanded were out of line for some time but between running the enterprise, having a family life,  and not knowing exactly how to hold her partner accountable, she didn’t pursue the matter until things came to a head. At this late date, the best Jane can do is audit her fabric purchases and compare them to cut orders and seek redress. So she asked her contractor for markers (it will be to your peril to not follow that link) which shows total fabric length per order. The contractor refused to provide them -but in his defense, any contractor would*. However, he should have provided an Excel export of the marker file for each cut at the time of order. This marker report is more useful as it contains all the information one needs to track material usage (see this sample file and for help on how to use it; also pages 114-120 of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing).

Since Jane’s request for data (to which she is rightfully entitled) was denied, she confronted the contractor about Haley’s production. Caught off guard, he admitted he was also making clothes for Haley and using some of Jane’s leftover fabric to do it. He then said Haley stole his cell phone and took photos of garments and really, a lot of silly things. If Haley is truly such a terrible person, why is he working with her? How was Haley able to compel him to steal Jane’s fabric to do it? How did Haley force the contractor to use Jane’s patterns for her line? Perish the thought -is it possible that the contractor is actually stealing from Jane and Haley to produce clothes for resale for himself? Crazy as it seems, I have reason to suspect that is possible. Like I said, the whole situation amounts to a lot of crazy and ugly drama.

In my opinion, Jane’s contractor needs to financially compensate Jane for her losses, inform Haley of what he’s done, apologize profusely to everyone and vow to never do it again. Only if he does all of this is he likely to survive. This is a very small business. Word gets around.

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*No contractor will print out all of your markers for what amounts to file copies because it takes a great deal of time. Sure the contractor can charge you for the time and paper involved but nobody makes money on the mark up of plotter paper -about .40-.60 cents a yard. If someone is printing out all your markers, they can’t print markers for customers who are paying for a production run and at $11,000 apiece, nobody can afford to buy another plotter just so customers can have file copies. Get the mini-marker instead, it’s what you need. If you’re really hung on this, get a copy of the marker file. With that, anyone with a plotter can print it for you.

All this said, I have to admit it is somewhat of a hassle to compile and send all of these files to a customer (so expect other providers to be similarly reluctant) but it comes with the territory; technology isn’t as great as we’d like to believe it is. One of these days I will work out an automated solution. Maybe in my next life.

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