Copying processes

In the past I’ve made frequent references that you don’t have to worry about confidentiality when working with professionals. However, that is not to say that contractors or pattern makers don’t ever copy -boy that’d be an untrue statement if I ever heard one- it’s that they don’t copy your designs. As I said before, contractors don’t copy products, they copy processes. I bring it up now for three reasons. One, I found something I’ll probably copy at some point if for no other reason than to say I could so I’ll be showing you that (and why it’s worth copying). Two, that although we do copy, you can understand your design integrity is still safe with us; and third, that if we think some things are worth the bother of copying, I’d suggest you consider the possibility that it’s worth the bother of you copying it too. In fact, you should develop the practice of analyzing existing processes and use the experience to improve your own products. Most importantly, you must understand that we don’t copy designs, we copy processes, usually from each other, not designers. If you’re new, it’s unlikely that you have a process that a contractor would copy (although the reverse is true) but you should.

I do realize that the word “copy” may raise your blood pressure but before you go and get your integrity in a twist, you must understand precisely what I’m talking about. First, do you truly understand what a process is? Process can be described as

a naturally occurring or designed sequence of operations or events …which produces some outcome. A process may be identified by the changes it creates in the properties of one or more objects under its influence.


…a process may be categorized as singular, recurrent, or periodic. A singular process would be one which occurs only once. Few processes in nature can be considered singular. Most processes found in nature are recurrent, or repeat more than once. Recurring processes which repeat at a constant rate are considered periodic. The more periodic a process is, the more useful it is ..

Unfortunately, if you’re using home patterns or poorly made patterns, you’re more likely to have singular or recurrent processes which aren’t good enough. You’re shooting for periodic processes which are controlled. Recurrent natural processes while desirable are not infallible. If you’re manufacturing something, you want a process with predictable and controllable outcomes. In summary, you want consistent predictable results and you get those by finding and using existing processes.

Now, for some reason many designers have the attitude that they shouldn’t copy anything, that copying something to whatever degree is a violation of somebody’s intellectual or creative integrity if not their own but that’s rarely true. Or, some designers think that copying is cheating or somehow subverting the “rules” but I’d ask, what rules? Whose rules? Humanity’s? Let me tell you, while forgiveness may be divine, to reverse-engineer is human. I’m just glad humanity in general hasn’t agreed with fashion designers otherwise we’d have been reinventing the wheel repeatedly. Speaking of reinventing the wheel -a wheel being a utility to enhance the process of moving things around, you’d be hard pressed to find a better shape than what we already have- that being specifically a round disk shaped object. One of my pet peeves is the constant expression of “whatever works best for you” which is rarely true! Sewing processes -like wheels- are not subject to the vagaries of “whatever works best for you”; processes can be defined and controlled nor is it a matter of opinion (home sewing experts really hate it when I say that). If anything, the practice of societal habituation and development has been dependent upon learning processes and refining them until they meet very specific needs. Agriculture is an easy example, this example from auto manufacturers is less obvious:

We asked them to rank all of the other auto makers in terms of how manufacturable their products are at the assembly plant. They were to base their rankings on tear-down studies that car companies conduct as part of their competitive assessment programs. (Strange as it may seem, the first production models of any new car are unlikely to reach consumers. Instead, competitors buy them, then immediately tear them apart for competitive assessment.) The results the manufacturers reported are shown in Figure 4.10. _The Machine that Changed the World_ pp 96-97

In other words, competitive assessment is a given among auto makers to the extent that assessment projects are planned, funded, studied and documented. The authors of _The Machine…_ didn’t ask if auto makers conducted them; the presumption was they did as a matter of sound business practice. While we can all agree that apparel items no matter how complex are as detailed as an automobile, it goes to show that if auto makers can withstand the scrutiny of their products by the competition, there’s little justification for you not being able to weather close inspection either. The reality is, not only does everybody do this but you should too.

Another reason this shouldn’t threaten you is that most DEs don’t have a process worthy of being copied. Rather, it is most likely that processes are invented (or reinvented) by technical staff -people with an intense all encompassing grasp of the technical aspects of construction. New methods and processes are not something one expects from designers due to the technical level of experience from which gestates technical novelty (Vionnet -who did generate technical novelty, detested being described as a “designer”; she preferred the term “technician”). A designer’s talent is in recombining colors, textures, line, silhouette and details so this is not a criticism. Still, you should have processes worthy of being copied by others but you’ll only get those through competitive assessments. Tearing down a product you buy at a thrift store is a much better way to learn because there aren’t any accurate industrial sewing books. For example, one such titled “industrial sewing” book says that bluff pockets (the author doesn’t even know the correct name of the pocket, she calls them as “floating pockets”) are sewn through a hole cut from underneath -I just about fell out of my chair when I read that!- and if you want to produce bluff pockets, information like this can lead you so far off track I don’t ever expect to see you again. By the way, making bluff pockets is sweet; those impress everyone. Maybe I’ll do a tutorial on those sometime.

Monday I’ll continue the series regarding replication of processes (copying). If you can stand some homework this weekend, read my previous post about how to select an item from the thrift store in order to start your own “assessment program”.

Copying processes #2
Copying processes #3
Copying processes #4
Copying processes #5
I couldn’t make this up if I tried

Get New Posts by Email


  1. oh, yes, bluff pockets, that sound awesome!

    that “whatever works best for you” thing is a response to teaching
    non-professionals to sew. Since it’s supposed to be done, they resent
    being told their skills are insufficient to sew things the correct/most efficient way. And they aren’t paying their salaries
    from it (usually), so theydon’t care if THEIR way is inefficient.
    different demographic from the one you’re trying to reach.

    Actually, you’re the only person I’ve ever met trying to reach the
    demographic I’m in (trying to start a line with potential to grow). As
    you’ve said before, those “industrial sewing secrets” books are always
    targeted at home sewers, and I’ve usually been dissappointed with their contents.
    I’d hire you if I had the cash. sigh, cashflow is such a dream…

  2. Gigi says:

    I’m all set. I have a lovely 1970s-era sport coat that my son recently bought at Goodwill. He and his friends went to a party dressed as anchormen (from the Will Farrell movie). It’s a doozie and I can’t wait to tear into it! I love buying garments at thrift stores and taking them apart. It’s such a wonderful – and cheap – way to learn.

  3. Tom says:

    Very interesting piece. You would be surprised at the number of clothing brands worldwide, that do not have any design personnel on staff. Season to season, year to year, they rely on existing garments in the marketplace, to be subjected to a “process” of interpretation, in hope this new restyling will re-emerge in a new line break.Many
    retailers request “concept” garments to be sent to them, by designers, that have manufacturing sources.If deemed acceptable, they will expect you to do develop this garment to their specifications, and most importantly, engineer it to a specific price point for them. In return,you become a freelance designer/manufacturer, and are entitled to a piece of the profit. In order, you design , source fabric/notions , manufacture, finance, ship. And you thought designing apparel was fun.

  4. Jess says:

    Speaking of copying. I was reading this article:

    about how textile designers were cracking down on manufacturers using copyrighted patterns on fabrics. I was aware that using patterned fabrics requires a license but the fact that you could get sued for just being the manufacturer (atleast that’s how I read it) and not the actual clothing company is scary. Also, the fact that you could be buying fabric that could have copyright infringments and not even know it. How can we protect ourselves?

  5. Copying processes #2

    I was glad to see the enthusiastic comments in response to my first post. Similarly, I’m glad you all are realizing that the clothing police will not come and get you if you deconstruct a thrift store item. By the…

  6. Colleen says:

    Thanks, Kathleen, I can usually follow your posts, but am completely in the dark about “bluff” pockets. I hope you find the time to do a tutorial, or perhaps post a pic.

    Yesterday, 60 Minutes did a story on a Presidential Historian/Thief who had a tailor make large (document sized, wink, wink) pockets in the lining of his blazers. This allowed him to easily steal valuable documents. Valuable Documents. When I read “bluff pocket” I thought of this :)

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.