By way of introduction to the five questions every designer must answer, is a guy I’ll call Brandon (he has the book but I don’t think he’s read it). He’d been emailing me back and forth too many times (7) with one or two sentence emails, very terse and brief with respect to having some suit and perhaps some outerwear patterns made. I mean too many with respect to efficiency; nothing was being accomplished. I suggested several times (4) that he call me so we could discuss it expeditiously, it takes too long to type everything out, but he waffled. Finally he emailed asking when he could call me in the evening or on the weekend. That’s when I bailed, too much work, so I didn’t respond and wrote him off, not expecting to hear from him again.
About a week later, he called me during the day and right off the bat (no pleasantries or anything), wanted to know where I “draw the line”. I thought that was kind of strange and I wasn’t sure I understood. He wanted to know if there was anything I wouldn’t do. I paused. There’s lots and lots of things I won’t do so I asked him to be more specific. He said for the umpteenth time that he wanted suit and maybe outerwear patterns made -which didn’t answer my question. He refused to be more specific so, I tried to put him at ease and interview him a little by asking him the questions that any and every single pattern maker, sewing contractor, supplier or sales rep on the planet will ask him. Specifically, I asked who he expected to buy his products, anticipated price points and the sort of doors he was targeting. This is where it gets good. He said he wasn’t comfortable sharing any of the details of his business plan with me. Puzzled, I said I didn’t need his business plan, just an idea of his target market but he reiterated he wasn’t going to share the details and paused. I couldn’t believe my ears so I asked again and again he repeated it. So, I said, “okay, bye”, and hung up. I wasn’t miffed or annoyed, I was grateful I didn’t waste a thirty minute convo before getting to his bottom line. I think he paused expecting me to acquiesce or scramble for the job. That’s what it felt like.
People, do not, I repeat, do not ever call anyone, ever, if you can’t answer these five questions –without requiring a non-disclosure agreement:
- A brief description of your product.
- Your customer profile
- Your anticipated price points
- The types of stores you would like to sell to
- Who you aspire to hang with.
Now, I’m sure I could have turned the situation around with Brandon by explaining what I’m going to explain to you below -about why those questions matter- but why invest? If he couldn’t be forthcoming about easy things, I could only expect he’d selectively omit crucial information later on. With sketchy information, I doubt he’d end up with what he’d anticipated and one way or another, I’d end up being blamed. He had the wrong attitude; I must reiterate that this is not a buyer’s market; the consumer idea that businesses will chase you down for your money has no place here. You’re not a big profitable brand. Only retail chases the customer, industry won’t. It’s not that we don’t want your money but nobody wants a power play, it will doom you on a first approach. If you try to wield an upper hand when you don’t even know enough to know you don’t have the advantage -suppliers decide if you’re a potential customer, not you- they can only expect more gamesmanship in the future when your actions can really gum up the works for everyone.
So Brandon, this is why just 3 of the required 5 questions I asked mattered. And let’s make it simple, just one tiny detail, say- the buttons on the sleeves of your suit. I think the button finish on the sleeves of your suit coats is sufficiently narrow. Specifically, your price points, stores and target market will have the final say on how this is done so I have to cut the pattern accordingly. Believe me, these finishes are not interchangeable or changed on the fly sewing it up a little differently.
Button sleeve finish by price points:
- Low: Three buttons are sewn along the lower sleeve on the top sleeve side, aligned to the seam. There is no attempt at a vent, faux or otherwise.
- Mid: The buttons are sewn on top of a faux sleeve vent at the edge of the sleeve. Top sleeve side overlaps (and faced); lining is sewn to sleeve hem rather than the vent itself (that’s why it’s a faux vent).
- High: The vent is an actual working vent, top side is faced, inside corner is mitered, lined to finish and the buttons are sewn to the underside (the undersleeve side) of the sleeve vent. To get the buttons topside, you have to have actual working button holes.. Not that many would ever roll their sleeves up but working button holes on a suit sleeve vent is very prestigious and those customers expect it.
The specifications of the sleeve button finish is just one detail that varies on a sport coat or suit and selecting the correct one depends on price points, consumer profile and retail outlet. There’s a whole laundry list of increasingly complex features on suits that a maker must know in advance. Can you imagine having to explain fabrications, guts and construction? It’d take forever!
The issue is, if you don’t know your product category well nor the assigned quality levels and features applicable to each to the extent that you don’t know why a reputable professional would ask these questions, what else don’t you know? If a pattern maker didn’t ask you these questions about your market or price points, I wouldn’t recommend that you hire them. Now, it is very common that someone wouldn’t know everything which is why you have to answer questions so we can explain the expectations of that market but nobody is going to beg you for information. My begging days are long over. The last time I groveled was to a designer too paranoid to tell me the size of her buttons so I could draft the button stand to the appropriate width. It’s an aggravating waste of time and money. In summary, we’re not spying on you, we’re not judging you. We need to know what level of quality features and attributes to add to your product because few of our clients know all those things at the outset. It’s not a crime to not know the details of these attributes and nobody will think you are stupid either. This is one of those things that is part and parcel of our jobs; we’ll educate you as long as we have enough information to do it. Look, we’re just trying to do our jobs. Nobody is spying on you or judging you.
With respect to retail, things can get worse. Let’s say someone like Brandon wanted to sell to Penney’s. With their workmanship standards, one’s reticence will really be tested because one must tell Penney’s who makes their stuff. Penney’s visits their vendors to measure and inspect the patterns and work in progress on site. If anything, one is better off to hire a pattern maker and contractor who have worked on Penney’s products before (ideally, Penney’s certified). If one’s idea is so obvious that the plan would be completely exposed by answering those five questions, there’s no there, there. Either that or it’s too simplistic to be realistic. Either way, one would have to start over. And by the way, I know Penney’s doesn’t impress many consumers. In the trade tho, any store will buy your products if you’re Penney’s certified. Plenty of people sell to higher level department stores who can’t get into Penney’s.
With respect to the other details of suit making, there’s a lot of ground to cover. If you’re interested, here’s a start:
A comprehensive tailoring FAQ, listing the features, details and standards of men’s suits.
How professionals assess the quality of a suit.
Materials Used In Mens And Womens Suit Making
The Making Of A Bespoke Jacket
Tailoring craft terms and definitions
Assessing A Garment’s Fit And Structure
There’s much more of course but the above would take the most diligent a week to wade through. Yet another reason to hire a specialist -so you don’t have to. Tell anyone who asks, the answers to your five questions so they can present the range of options appropriate for your product type.