10 signs of a problem designer

As a designer-entrepreneur, you need to know the little things that people can read into your line. You’d be surprised what people can tell about a company just by looking at photographs or examining samples. This is not to hurt anybody’s feelings, this is in the interests of quality process; the keystone of a lean manufacturer. Agreed? If you find you’re committing any of the sins on this list, hopefully you’ll make corrections a priority. Anyway, this is a tip sheet for retailers, sales reps and consumers to use to determine whether there may be looming problems with a new designer’s line.

1. No blocks, limited style continuity.
2. No style numbers or poor style numbers.
3. Shows styles in all sizes (patterns are graded before market).
4. Shows more than 3 color ways.
5. Can make immediate delivery.
6. Items are not pre-washed/treated (are textiles tested?).
7. Too many styles. No more than 10-15 bodies for the first foray.
8. Label compliance (FTC regs aren’t followed). No RN number if required.
9. No sizing specs, line sheets or swatch cards.
10. Company or label name.

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  1. Georgina says:

    It would be great if you could clarify some of your points, such as “sells the line themselves”, and “no blocks”. What are blocks?

  2. Josh says:

    A block is a basic pattern used by companies to create styles from. It’s the foundation of all your apparel.

    Selling your line yourself would mean you don’t have a sales rep. Kathleen’s book gives you the low down on Sales Rep, hiring etc, starts on page 88.

  3. kathleen says:

    Welcome to fashion-incubator Georgina!
    This blog is a companion to the book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. This site is intended to compliment the book but it does not replace it. It’s designed to build upon and expand topics of discussion but the blog does not reprint the book in snippets. All of the points I listed are explained in painful, excrutiating detail in the book. Most of this site’s visitors have the book which explains why they know so much about manufacturing. Perhaps you’ll consider getting it; the book has 23 5-star reviews on Amazon. I am the author, selling the book is how I make a living. The blog is an additional support service I provide to book owners.

    You can order it by clicking “buy now” in the left side bar or by emailing me directly.

  4. Carol says:

    Moreover, we who regularly check this blog and often comment are not a list of syncophants enlisted by Kathleen, but independents who find her information on many topics to the point and worth exploring with her and with each other.
    If you have any interest in this business (you are asking questions), then Kathleen’s book is cheap and thorough access. I used to teach startup companies self-discovered information, then I found her Entrepreneur’s Guide which provides the same stuff with better examples, more thoroughly. Get it to help yourself. That you’ll also help her is incidental.

  5. claudia says:

    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?

  6. Emilie says:

    So selling the product themselves is a sign of a problem designer?? You say you teach retailers that they will have problems with a manufacturer’s product line if they sell it themselves??
    And might you explain exactly how should a new brand be sold to retailers since sales reps won’t pick up new lines until they have gotten at least a few accounts on their own? How else should and can a new line be sold to retailers without a sales rep AND without the DEs doing it themselves? Are all DEs doomed?

  7. AV says:

    I think what Kathleen means by ‘selling it yourself is’…..selling retail in the same market (or online) as your stores buying wholesale. Therefore, you are competing with your client (the retailer).

    I am a DE and the first thing new stores who want to buy from me ask is whether I sell online and will my price be less than their price. I was selling online myself, at a higher price than my stores, and found I did not have time to keep both the wholesale and retail venues going. So I took my clothing off line and left my website as information only. Within a month, 2 online e-tailers picked up my line and I have made more money going this route than doing it myself.

    My thought is you either need to choose whether you will sell direct to the end user or do wholesale only. I walked a very fine line of both, in the beginning. I started out doing show selling to retail buyers and slowly picked up wholesale accounts through the shows (and friend’s stores). Once I had a store established in a town, I would not do shows that competed with them. And I always market the stores selling my line, even if the shows were a couple hours away from the retail store.

    I market myself to stores and it is very, very tough to convince store owners to give up their precious shelf/rack space for a new unproven line. Luckily, I had some friends of friends that had stores and they were willing to give my line a try. One way in the door is to see if a retailer would do a trunk show at their store. The store owner does not need to outlay any product costs, except some advertising and you get to see the feedback from the public.

    After four years (starting part-time) and all profits going back into the business to grow (I have not been paid for hours and hours of work), the best advise I can give is learn your market so you know how to market yourself. If you are not good at selling yourself and the features of your product, it will be a tough road ahead. Plus most of Kathleen’s advise is ‘right on the money’.

  8. AV says:

    By the way, at some point it gets too costly and takes up too much time to market yourself to both retail and wholesale customers. On some level you still market yourself to the end user but not in a ‘sales’ manner.

  9. Michael says:

    Thanks AV for the insight. I was deeply confused about that until I read your post.

    BTW, I just found this site today. It’s great and gives me hope that I might actually be able to do something with my degree in Apparel Design and Production. Now, I guess I’ll just have to get the book ;-)

  10. AV says:

    Here is a good article for insight into the retailers buying thought process. I think a lot of manufacturers-to-be do not realize how expensive it is to run a retail establishment. If you understand the trials and tribulations of the retailer, you can better market yourself to them.
    Retail FAQ

  11. christy fisher says:

    I have been doing trade shows for years (the ENK shows in NY), various Merchandise Marts (Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Denver), etc. and often I am the person manning the booth.
    My stores do not have a problem with me repping myself at shows- in fact they LOVE it when I am there instead of my road rep.
    I think repping yourself is crucial in the beginning in order to get proper fedback for a product.. and later on down the road, repping yourself is like doing a trunk show at a trade show and is downright FUN for all involved.
    If you go to a trade show like Designers and Agents,Pool, Brighte, Clear, Accessories, Coterie, Nouveau Collective, etc. you will find over half the booths are manned by the designers themselves.

  12. Georgia,

    I do think Kathleen meant repping your own line, but you have to remember that Kathleen’s focus is on helping very small, semi-professional businesses grow to a sustainable size that can hire people and thus keep this industry healthy. Those of us who are REALLY at the the beginning have to ignore a lot of her advice, knowing that we’ll get to a place where we can pay attention to it later. Think of Kathleen’s advice as a growth goal, not a start-up plan.

    Especially for those of us without a lot of capital (a minimum of $10K is necessary to do a line justice), we have to be creative about our bootstrapping, and choose carefully which rules we’ll obey and which we’ll ignore for probably several years. I personally find this very challenging because I WANT to do things the right way, but I just can’t.

    Anyway, keep in mind that when Kathleen gives advice to retailers, she has THEIR best interests in mind, not ours. A fashion company where one woman does everything (including repping her line) is probably not as stable & reliable as one that has contracted work out appropriately. This isn’t true for every one-woman-show, but the risk is still greater for the retailer.

  13. Harper says:

    I don’t see “Sells Line Themselves” in any way or implied up there on Kathleen’s 10, Georgina.
    I’m about to hit Bridal Market MYSELF with my line because I can’t find a Bridal Rep without taking the line to the show myself the first time. A, find someone who understands that niche market, B someone who gets My Line, C someone who is clearly accepted in that crowd.

    Kathleen’s book is GREAT, and made me realize I am totally on the right track! As well as this list.

  14. Nicole says:

    Coming into my fourth year at tradeshows, I have found a mix of sale reps and my own presence at shows to be important in building my line’s credibility. Sales reps have established relationships and experience in the field that are irreplaceable. Finding one that is a good fit for your line can be difficult, but they are essential to help your business grow. Attending shows and repping your own line is also an irreplaceable experience and way to get to know your customers. I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out there and meet your buyers face to face. Afterall, no one knows your product better than you!!!

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