Adventures in overseas manufacturing pt.1

As many of you may have read on the blog (that is, if you remember me at all), I am a retailer who has begun to manufacture. For various reasons. The main reasons being profit margin, promotional and branding opportunities, and consistency of merchandise (i.e. having more control over what I am able to sell). In exactly that order of importance. For the most part, I am producing products domestically, but sometimes you get to a point where you feel the need to look towards another country for production. Let me state that this is not to get the cheapest price, but rather to get access to skill or processes that are difficult to source in the USA.

I thought it would be fun (or crazy) to chronicle my experiences with this process. I think it will be interesting, I will learn a lot, and who knows, maybe it will work. Then again, maybe it won’t. But with that I will begin to rant endlessly about this process and how it begun.

I have a book of ideas. I often joke that I have more ideas than I have the money or time to pursue. So this is one of the reasons I agree with Kathleen when she says that not everyone wants to steal your ideas, because hey, we can think too. And the ideas I have in my book are actually very good ones, viable product lines that have been well thought through from concept to customer, distribution, marketing and all. The ideas are in the book because they all have some missing piece of the puzzle. Either there is an input that needs to be sourced, a process that needs to be worked out, much more money to fund it, whatever. But they sit in the book because one thing inevitably leads to another and the more I work in the industry the more puzzle pieces I collect.

A book like that is useful because it’s often difficult to see one particular idea through from concept to customer, in a linear fashion. Anyhow, I probably could tell this story without mentioning the book, but I think the book may be of importance later.

So, one day I had this obsession with kimono dresses. I had this bright idea that I wanted a kimono dress, something like this, but you know, not from Bebe because I really hate wearing clothes that are obviously from a particular store or brand. That’s the Bebe kimono dress, I know it when I see it. Granted, I could have sewn this dress, but I hate to sew. I hate to sew. Did I mention I hate to sew? Not to mention that I’m not the person who can work without a pattern and I can’t make patterns and store bought patterns usually are crap. Not to mention they didn’t have any stylish kimono dress patterns anyway.

So searching led me to this ebay seller and I spent quite a bit of time viewing her items and her celebrity inspired dresses. Note to Kathleen, please don’t critique the construction of anything yet, please let me go on with my endless rant about manufacturing :)

So I think, well maybe I can ask this person to have the kimono dress made, the only thing is I’m a bit of a snob and I really feel that polyester is just not my thing. I was thinking silk charmeuse or brushed charmeuse because I love that fabric. So I asked the seller if she could have the dress made if I supply the fabric. She responded that she had problems with that before so she doesn’t do it.

So I go on a relentless search for a factory like hers. I know it’s a little obsessive (okay a lot) to do all of this for a kimono dress, but at that point, I really wanted a silk charmeuse kimono dress custom made to my measurements. I was determined…

to be continued…

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  1. Diane says:

    Wow! For such an easy dress to make you wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get done. Over at DressADay this style is called the Duro and is the all time favorite of Erin, the blogger. Yeah, silk would be best but it also works up well in cotton or rayon. I’m with you on the polyester. Yuck!

  2. Kathleen says:

    Regarding that ebay seller…that person is just knocking off designer dresses and for dirt! great, just great. I didn’t realize knock offs were this pervasive and could be had custom made to the individual. This is not good. Now I realize why designers are saying we need design protection. If this vendor is the reality and the future, we need design protection. Pirating mass quantities of cheap copies is one thing. Competing this way is another.

  3. andrea says:

    I don’t think this vendor is the future…it was always like this, after all, vogue patterns, butterick, et al., they specifically reproduce top sellers for the DIYs (not exactly, tho’, or the fit would be better). The reason that there is no protection for designs (as intellectual property) is because of the reasons that people buy something. Designer lines are bought as much for the great design as for the image that the company portrays and the feeling of shopping that designer’s line. Knockoffs are simply not cool to own…if you buy a fake, you are a fake. So, my point is that knock off’s will always be a part of the marketplace as annoying as that is; but they will also never prevail over honest business people doing the real thing.

  4. big Irv says:

    Even people that wear knockoffs have this really weird way of trying to justify not buying the real thing. Even in parts of China where most of the world’s fakes emanate from, people scoff at those that wear this junk. Unfortunately some keep on buying this rubbish.

  5. karen v. says:

    If you just want the custom made dress in your choice of fabric, why don’t you just find some nice PACC member in your area and they can make it for you. That’s what they do. (PACC-Professional Association of Custom Clothiers)

  6. J C Sprowls says:

    From the custom clothier’s dimension…

    Clients come in with clippings and pics from mags all the time. Many clients take me shopping so they can try on clothes they like; but, have style changes they want to make – in addition to fabric choices and colors.

    However, this is not necessarily design infringment – though, it is skirting the edge. Technically, this is considered to be “knock off” because you’re not marketing the design to compete with the designer.

  7. J C Sprowls says:

    …sorry… I tapped the ‘post’ button, too early.

    I agree w/ Kathleen on the point that this eBayer is dangerously close to copyright infringement – on two fronts. First, the photos are branded w/ the manufacturer’s mark, implying they own the copyright to that image. And, second, they are stealing a style that is fresh on the market (i.e. in its first season).

    I wouldn’t be so harsh if:
    the eBayer posted their own lookbook and colorway options for MTM manufacture.
    or, the eBayer let the designer earn their due for the first season before ripping them off.
    or, the eBayer were paying the designer royalties to use his/her style in the maker’s lookbook.

  8. Judith says:

    Diane, I was going to say exactly what you said. I believe Erin is obessed with the duro. Polyester is yucky!!! Where I live in Crappyville everyone or darned near everyone owns a Louis Vuvu bag. Except me, I do not want a fake one or a real one for that matter. I worked in a bread thrift store and people on food stamps would come in with Louis Vuvu bags. You know they are not real. I don’t understand why people think it is so great to own a fake one. I just dont get it. I must say I agree with Andrea.

  9. jea says:


    I am a manufacturer in Canada. I have had endless problems finding a good manufacturer and thinking about bringing some of our designs to Asia because of the frustration and time that I have spent looking and dealing with our current manufacturer. Does anyone know of a city with good manufacturing in the states or china? (most of our business is in the states) I heard Brooklyn has a large manufacturing sector but don’t have a clue what the process and quality is like.
    I look forward to hearing about the abroad adventures.

  10. Miracle says:

    If you just want the custom made dress in your choice of fabric, why don’t you just find some nice PACC member in your area and they can make it for you. That’s what they do. (PACC-Professional Association of Custom Clothiers)

    Honestly, because I rarely pay retail for clothing and doing such would be like paying close to a retail price (or more). If I personally knew a showroom that had the dress that I wanted, I’d ask for a favor before I’d pay close to what I think is a retail price for that item.

    If I were going for an evening wear, special occasion type dress, I’d consider it. But for my weekend casual look, it’s doesn’t fit with my shopping philosophy.

    And don’t get me wrong, I love DEs and I love what you do. But years of selling off price merchandise have just trained me to wait for the job-out.

  11. Judith says:

    Years of bargin shoping and knowing what things cost. I do understand where you are comming from.
    I spent years being a single parent with 2 kids and low paying jobs. If the clothing did not have a sale price on it, then it did not have my name on it.

  12. Megan says:

    I’m also on the edge of my seat. And what interesting comments!

    I draw inspiration from some name brand creations but I have no desire to recreate any piece I see in a magazine – there’d be no point. It wouldn’t really be mine or my creation. I like to create new things not just rehash someone else’s design. I don’t understand when people see something in a mag and bring it to me to replicate at a cheaper price. Grrr!

    And on the fake bag thing – not only is it tacky to carry a fake LV (or Coach, whatever) it’s also illegal to sell them! They are protected and the copyright infringers fund all kinds of horrible things (child labor, drugs, etc.) I’m assuming clothing design copyright laws are different (though the ebay seller using designer photos is just wrong) since the piece ‘copied’ wouldn’t have fake tags or the designer name attached to it (right?).

    Very interesting conversations! :)

  13. J C Sprowls says:

    Megan said: I don’t understand when people see something in a mag and bring it to me to replicate at a cheaper price.

    It does happen that people ask us to do work well below our typical pay grade. There are sundry methods of dealing with this situation and weeding out clients as a custom clothier. Though, those are beyond this forum. However, I will say that it’s interesting to speak to folks from either side of the ‘divide’, namely: production sewists and custom clothiers.

    Several of the production sewists I know tell me that they get calls from people asking for one-offs or alterations. They tell me they have a difficult time reading commercial patterns and frequently do not have the skill to alter a pattern (or, garment). They simply want to sew piecework – with all the engineering passed off to the patternmaker and sewing room supervisor.

    Conversely, custom clothiers (at least those I know) are entirely too expensive (i.e. at least twice the retail price) to copy a garment. In that regard the proposition is upside down. However, collaborating with a client to design a garment, technically, and providing style guidance is an entirely different matter.

  14. Todd Hudson says:

    After reading the comments I thought of that cheapo perfume you see in the drugstore. Right on the bottle it will refer to the perfume it’s attempting to rip off. The Ebay seller essentially doing the same thing but not giving copyright credit. Related to that, aren’t perfume sales how some of these big designers make most of their money?

    What really shocked me about the Ebay seller from Asia was how cheap those MTM dresses are. If it ruins anyone’s business, it would be domestic custom clothiers’ businesses.

    I’m a custom clothier and I could care less if a client asks me to reproduce a garment in a fashion magazine for their own closet. To me it’s the same as ripping off something from a costume history book or from the vintage store. My garment will always be from my own original pattern that will fit better than RTW. I charge the client what it costs me to make it, regardless of price of the original. Even when they ask me to reproduce a garment they own, I’ll look at it but I’m still going to make my own pattern. I don’t bother doing a rub-off pattern. By the way, I do mostly menswear so the designs and silhouettes are not as varied as they are in womenswear. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind imitating what’s out there for menswear. It’s like playing rock n roll. Same chords and riffs over and over. I still love it.

  15. anil kumar says:

    am a master graduate in fashion and costume design and rank holder in my under graduate i pocess sufficient designing and art skills am a fresher and seek a suitable job

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