Who pays for a sewing contractor’s mistakes? SOW

It seems there’s no end to the potential for discussion in resolving problems with sewing contractors and I’m approaching my wit’s end. I can’t imagine how it must make the rest of you feel. Here’s an email from a manufacturer on her second go round with a contractor:

The M/L samples I made up were clearly indicated to be X dimensions. I purposely attached instruction tags stressing the finished sizes so that there wouldn’t or couldn’t be a sizing issue like last year. However, the new M/L are only 1/2″ larger than the smalls (should be 2″). The smalls are exactly correct as per my measurements so why aren’t the M/L’s correct too?

The other thing is that every label, on every garment, (which were neatly sewn) is completely off center in the same exact way on all sizes! Every label is 2″ off to the left of the center back. Somebody somewhere measured wrong and it is so obvious when you look at it! Where is the quality control?

Tragically, this is not a complex item. It’s one pattern piece, a rectangle with one seam. It’s a tube! It’s getting to the point that I’m beginning to think the trade should be using Statements of Work (SOW) even for simple and small projects. The latter is actually the subject of this post.

Statement of Work
A Statement of Work -hereafter abbreviated SOW- is a sort of contract one uses to define the parameters, conditions, delivery dates, standards and pay of a job. Here is a more complete explanation and definition. For our purposes, it would define who, where, when and how the work is to be done. It details who agrees to provide what. It’s normally written in bid format to present to a variety of potential sources who would then bid on the job. In real life though, you’re not going to have a bevy of contractors lobbying for the work so it should be done differently. I think that if you use one, it should be written specifically to a given contract you place, with a mutually agreed upon party.

In the normal course of working with a contractor, you rarely have a separate contract beyond the work order and the specifications you provide in a tech pack define how the item is to be made. The problem with a SOW is that it’s a rarity in sewn products, especially among the smaller contractors you’re likely to hire so the use (or misuse) of one could be resented as too corporate or much ado about nothing. I don’t think these should be too complex but they should definitely include issues over which we are constantly conflicting. Specifically, if you are concerned about redress over product failure (as in the example I opened with), it should be spelled out in advance how the situation is to be remedied. You should define the criteria of acceptable work as best as you are able. You should spell out the appropriate remedies (repair, replacement etc). In the event the work is a total loss meaning you’re out the cost of fabrics and inputs, the SOW should list who pays for the loss of goods. Which reminds me, the SOW should specifically list the contractor is responsible for any of your goods in their inventory because inventory shrinkage (a euphemism for theft) is a constant problem. Or maybe it’s not even theft but poor management. You need to be covered in the event of loss.

The SOW should be flexible, it’s not concrete but points of negotiation. I also don’t think a SOW should be required before you’ve placed your first (domestic) contract but perhaps only after there’s been a problem. You don’t want to start throwing a lot of paper at someone right away because the best contractors will avoid you. If the contractor wants further work from you, they’ll be more amenable to guaranteeing future work will be done to your specifications or they will compensate you. Obviously a SOW wouldn’t be necessary if there were a problem for which the contractor was acting in good faith and made you whole.

Sample SOWs
There’s a sample in the forum you can copy and paste that was used in reference to this squabble between a contractor and a subcontractor (educational in itself to see conflicts and complaints between the two). A word of caution in that some of the terminology is odd because the subcontractor who wrote the SOW in question was a self-taught bespoke tailor with no experience in the apparel industry until he joined our forum. Actually, it was untoward that the subcontractor, technically an employee, should write a SOW for the contractor who hired him. More details (again, very educational) are here and here. This will be of particular interest if you make lined garments like suit coats, coats or sportcoats because it outlines the work process of constructing them. I have yet to edit the list so get with me before interpreting it with the gravity of the sermon on the mount.

You can also write your own SOW using generic sources. One is a Word template (free w/Word 2003+). This one is $9.95. Another guide in pdf is here.

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13 comments

  1. Eric H says:

    This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Unfortunately, I’m sure this is how it is.

    If you want to be sure the contractor understands what they are supposed to do, get THEM to write the statement of work. Unfortunately, I think Rush Limbaugh will put on a tutu and dirty dance with Boy George while endorsing public health care in a sung limerick before you will get contractors to do that.

  2. dosfashionistas says:

    Oh Eirc, I do so want to see Rush doing that!!!PLease, please, please. The image is so wonderful, it quite made my day. Sarah@dosfashionistas

  3. Eric H says:

    I hope everyone understands that my previous comment was an expression of frustration with the dysfunctional world of sewing contracting, not a suggestion that anyone should try to buck the industry standard or that Kathleen’s synopsis was incorrect. Sorry about the visual, too.

  4. dean says:

    oh man, I so agree with this post, due to my own experience in mistakes that are made by my interns and there designers them selves.
    Of course I’ve noticed that regardless of where the mistakes comes from the designer most always blames the contractor and expect the work to be done over and completed at the contractor expense.
    I get so many designer coming to me to correct other contractors work where I feel so compeled to give them a discount since usually it’s just simple things like grain lines or No master temlate.

  5. kathleen says:

    I actually do a rough SOW before doing work for a client to make sure our expectations for results match. It’s not fancy, a basic list sent by email that I draft after a joint discussion.

  6. bente says:

    I am still in doubt how things work with US contractors, but with my Portuguese contractors I will always receive (upon request)a production sample of each size ready labeled and to be approved before they start the production.
    I talked to a consultant in NY the other day and I got somehow alarmed about how contractors in the garment district work (I have no personal experience yet!) She could find one for me, but I would have to hire a controller!?
    I am used to receive production from the factory that the factory “stands for”, meaning they have done their best to deliver what I requested. I give all the details and check if the samples are correct before going to production. If the production alternates from the approved samples, sizes and colors, well: back it goes and no more business!
    I will always include this in the PO and they have to sign a confirmation on the PO. I have never had to work with a SOW.

  7. Barb Taylorr says:

    I agree with Bente. I have worked for 3 American companies and all have required various stages of approval samples before production is made. If we fail to note a problem when a sample is approved then we know we will have to be the one to pay if corrections are found to be needed later. Likewise, if production does not match the approved sample then the factory/sewing contracter will be liable to make any needed corrections (or will offer discounted prices). It seems a much more effective, straight forward method of control than any complicated written statements of work. It also eliminates problems related to terminology and language barriers.

  8. Dawn B says:

    I would like to know about the opening example…what should the DE do in that situation? Is there any sort of industry way to best handle the situation when things go wrong?

  9. dosfashionistas says:

    Asking contractors to submit approval samples is a good way to be sure things are done correctly. Many of them (in Dallas, anyway) are prone to short circuit this by submitting the first three garments to come off the line. By the time they are showing them to you, the cut is half sewn and woe be to you if you think you are getting changes. The obvious remedy is to give them only three…if you have the time.

  10. kathleen says:

    Bente, Sarah & Barb. OF COURSE you must have approved samples first. I didn’t imagine that any one of us (who have the book etc) would do this any other way or if they did, would know better than to complain about a crappy result if they skipped sampling.

    I am talking about working with contractors and having problems AFTER getting approved samples back or maybe even a completed order or two previously with no problems. It happens. Every day.

  11. bente says:

    Yes, unfortunately it happens over and over again. Hopefully with each one only once.
    I wish the industry was more serious/more knowledgeable; then I mean the manufactorer and the producers. At least we are in here for that: becoming more serious and knowledgeable.
    That’s why this forum is good to have too: post your complains guys! Let’s make a “black list” of the once NOT to work with.
    Anyway; everybody makes mistakes. If you make too many or too serious you are out; that counts for both sides.

  12. Barb Taylorr says:

    I found it very beneficial to require an approval sample with every order placed (including re-orders that have been delivered problem-free in the past). Any vendor that has not been agreeable to correcting mistakes when production arrives (or offering discounts for goods when there is no time/fabric to remake them) has usually lost future orders. There are plenty of great contracters out there that want bussiness, so why waste time with ones that will not work with you as a partner & do all they can to deliver a quality finiished product? The important thing is to remember it is a two way street. If you want to build a good relationship with your contracter you must also recognize (and pay for corrections) when the problems are caused by miscomunicatuin from the designer, or purchaser’s end. You also need to be understanding when the problems are very small or unavoidble. Pick your battles wisely and show appreceaiton for work well done. When someone has worked hard to deliver a rush order I will sometimes send a gift of some kind. Showing respect for each other is the backbone of good bussiness relationships, not to mention world peace!

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