Do you know when you’re on the wrong path?

As you may imagine, I get a lot of email. Letters from DEs form a pattern. Today I read this email and I can see where things first went amiss but I’m thinking this isn’t so clear to many of you (she like many of you bought my book). Particularly when you are in the throes of line love. That’s not a criticism either, if you’re not passionate about your product, no one else will be either. Anyway, I’ve edited the email to number each stage. It would be great if you could analyze the letter and tell me in your estimation, when things started to go awry -and of course, why. Icing on the cake is a proposed solution. This designer (let’s call her Jenna) will be reading your responses so please be nice. Jenna writes:

1. After much thought I decided to launch my own clothing line using sustainable fabrics. I took a sustainable design class last year, and a dress I designed was adored by a professor who wanted to sell it at her store/catalog. So far so good, right?

2. Her business partner liked the dress so much, they wanted me to develop a jacket to go with “the line”.

3. I bit, and happily. I was thrilled to be doing something creative, investing my own money in my own business, and doing something positive.

4. The professor informs me their store is closing, and while they would still be interested in selling some pieces, well, they are closing in a month…

5. So I decide to go out on my own, and sell some pieces to other local boutiques in the area. I hire a pattern maker (in the biz for 30 years) a seamstress, and start making samples, using fit models, adjusting patterns, making more samples. OK! its time for production.

6. I decide to go with a company who made some belts for me and did a great job. I contract with them to make 16 dresses. I go the site to work with the production manager on a sample. No problems.

7. I sent them patterns for each size, and a measurement/size grade sheet, cutter’s must…and when questions came up…I even had the production manager speak with my pattern maker. We talked about the tolerances.

8. The dresses have arrived. Oh my. Not only is there very bad top stitching, there is also puckering where there shouldn’t be, and the extra small (which I tried on since that is my size) is way too big in the hips. I know I have to send them back but I have the sinking feeling…

9. I am sure the answers are all in your book, but I am just feeling overwhelmed and thought I might ask for your advice.

In the interests of transparency, this is what I sent her (in addition to saying she should join the forum since she qualifies and it’s a better place to sort these questions).

Better questions for me to ask at this point are:

  • Whether you know when it was that things started to head south?
  • When did you get to a point of no return once on that trajectory?

I’m trying to figure out how it is that people start on a path that is not advantageous for them and why they can’t get off of it once they realize there’s a problem. I don’t know when it was that this process began and whether you had time to read the book before all this happened.

Your task is to analyze the points I’ve marked from the email and mention when you think it was that things started to go downhill and why. Again, Jenna will be reading your responses so say what you have to say but don’t be gratuitously unkind. Thanks!

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  1. mish outsider says:

    I would say that there was a mistake in going into production with no orders but sixteen dresses appears to be a pretty small lot, and then there’s the mark up.

    The big mistake I see is not over seeing production and waiting until she got all the samples back.

  2. Ann K says:

    Hi Jenna, What an unfortunate situation! Your professor shouldn’t have urged you toward production on her behalf knowing that her shop would be closing. Though that’s a minor point as you would want to sell to as many accounts as you could manage anyway.

    It sounds as though you hired competent people and put a lot of care into developing your styles and patterns. (Several styles, right?) Regarding the factory, you must have been satisfied with their first sample to go ahead and place an order and you then have every right to expect the results to be comparable to the sample you approved. I’ve seen this very problem happen to someone else and, frankly, your best remedy would be to make an even-tempered (meaning, don’t get angry) attempt to get the factory to admit the work was sub-par, allow them to save a little face, then request the garments be done over at no further cost to you. You didn’t say if you’ve paid them yet; more leverage for you if you haven’t.

    I’m puzzled by point #7 where you say “we talked about the tolerances”. Where would “tolerances” figure in garment making? I’m trying to imagine your conversation with the production manager. Did he imply that the cutter might cut outside the lines? or that the sewer might be a little sloppy with the seam allowances? Since you found one size to not fit as expected —-have you measured it against the flat pattern?—- you may have cause to wonder if they made changes they shouldn’t have.

    I guess it’s not clear to me where things started to go wrong. In any case, we all start out lacking experience and even advice from a seasoned pro can sometimes be, well, very unhelpful.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m so sorry for what happened.

    I’m not sure, just assuming that no 1, when the professor asked to sell your garments it’s by consignment and not bought from you wholesale? That might be when things first went wrong. If people really like something, as in thinking that it’s profitable to sell it, they would buy it off you.

    Same re no 2 and 3.

    Also, when you made the samples, you didn’t make them with the people who are going to produce them and work with a seamstress. And that the contractor made belts for you, which are very different from dresses, different machines, different fabrics? I’ve done this before, so I know that you really have to make samples with the people that are going to produce them otherwise the result might be disastrous, unless you get lucky.

    Hope everything’s going to work out for you. I’ve experienced this quite a few times (giving stuff to people who said they’re going to sell them by “consignment” and it never worked out well for me, it probably works for some people…) and I think I’ve learned by now…

    Hope you can still get everything fixed. Best wishes…

  4. dosfashionistas says:

    First, how much research went into determining the demand for your type of product? Are you aware of an active market for these goods or is it just that you love the concept and your professor does too? (Of course she does, she is teaching the class.)
    Second, Do you have orders? Not talk, not consignments, orders.
    Third, In all the list of what you furnished the contractor, I did not see mention of a sewn sample to go by. Did one exist?
    Fourth, and probably most important, is failure to stay close to the sewing process. I have done the same thing; assumed that these people I have hired to sew my garments will see them through the process. I have come to believe that this will work only if I am in close contact with the process, checking on things probably on a daily basis. I will be very interested to see other people’s take on this.

  5. Jeff M says:

    I think you were going good through the sample making and adjustments process. You should have then gone into the market place to try to get orders and/or critical comments next. Skip the professor- She’s going out of business for some reason, and it should be a red flag to avoid them.

    The contractor who made your belts is where it looks like things started to go wrong. Ask as many people as you can to find a good contractor, with good sewers, not just their sample sewers. Poorly made garments need to be returned for repair at the contractors cost. They will know that they are poorly made, but they might try to down play it to cut their losses. Stick to your guns on this one. It still might not be a winning situation, and you might have to chalk it up as experience.

    Each contractor does a few types of garments very well, and many other things may be out of their normal experience. Look for someone who makes complicated jackets, pants and dresses. See what they are currently sewing on the sewing floor. Is it belts and backpacks or nice fashion wear. Ask them for references of people who have had dresses or jackets made by them.

    The Size XS that was too big could be poor sewing by not taking enough seam allowances (try to use 3/8″ for manufacturing), or they made up patterns, or adjusted them for some unknown reason. Or your patterns could be wrong and your sample sewer made adjustments to the sample to make it fit, and didn’t adjust the patterns. Measure the patterns that you gave the contractor, and see if they match the dress.

    Good luck! You still have a fighting chance to be a success.

  6. Brenda says:

    I agree with previous posters, I may also add, at what point did it go from one dress to 16? Demand? Sales rep suggestion? Etc.? Based on many things I’ve read here and on the book, a smaller line at the beginning would have been a little more manageable financially…I truly hope this works out and they can correct the deficiencies on the garments.

  7. “I decide to go with a company who made some belts for me” belts & dresses are completely different animals. So sorry this happened. It reminds me of that test that teachers give in school and the first direction is to read all the directions before beginning and the last is to put down your pencil and wait for further instruction. Nobody ever reads to the end.
    I’m sure the dresses can be remedied by someone who is more familiar with that process. Don’t let it deter you from your goal, just chalk it up to education and be glad it wasn’t more than 16 dresses.
    One word of caution. Don’t send them back to the same manufacturer who did the work. If they don’t get it, they won’t get it. We have a saying either you have it in your hands to do the work or you don’t.

  8. Rochelle says:

    This may have been posted by someone else…regarding the hips not fitting. If you did not include a cutting guide for the cutter specifying the stretch of the fabric, the fit would be off using some fabrics.

  9. Jenna says:

    Thank you so much for all your advice and insight. It helps a lot. To answer some questions, yes I do have some orders for the dress, but not for all 16.
    And yes, lesson learned – I should have gone with another company; belts and dresses, are not the same (duh!). And should have overseen the sewing process better.

    Anyway..thanks for all your well wishes. I really appreciate the help.

  10. Kathy Jo says:


    I am so sorry this has happened to you however, you have now found the way to a much better path. Trust me I have made many, many more mistakes and as bad as you must feel this is normal (so they tell me) as you will find out here. This is exactly why Kathleen wrote the book and started the forum so welcome, you are among friends.

    1 & 2 Be careful of friends(or anyone) telling you how much they like something, as Kathleen has pointed out here many times, do they love it enough to plunk money down, now?

    3. Nothing wrong here, this is how it starts

    4. Any signs that you can think of that you missed then but remember now that might have warned you? This is exactly what I am doing right now, trudging back through the story so I can learn from mistakes, hindsight makes it much easier.

    5. No production until you have orders $$$$.

    6. This is where I really started to cringe, belts and dresses are night and day, no matter how much they tell you they can do it.

    I don’t know anything technical about clothing as I am in shoes.

    8. I would be interested to hear how others think this should be handled as I imagine there are many ideas.

    9. Yes the answers are there, but even if you’ve read it over and over sometimes we can’t see the truth of something until we learn a lesson. (or at least that’s what happened to me)

    Definitely join the forum this is the absolute best place for you to be.

    “I’m trying to figure out how it is that people start on a path that is not advantageous for them and why they can’t get off of it once they realize there’s a problem.”

    Kathleen for me I had already spent so much money, I had (I thought) done all of my homework, spent so much time etc…. I got your book long after I found the factory and was already on the train, although I read what you had said I ignored some of the advice you gave, hoping against hope that I would be ok. Frankly I didn’t have a better answer and the reasons I stuck with it are many.

    1. It’s like a train sometimes you get on and it’s going and you just can’t stop it (or at least you think you can’t).

    2. I thought that I could fix the problems and if I just learned more and worked harder I could make it work. This was also because I assumed that I was to blame for everything. I am reading your book again (for the I don’t know how many times) but this time I am seeing it differently and I am embarassed that I had read these things and glossed over what I was affraid of seeing.

    3. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way is all I can think of, but bless those that try to help us along the way. One day we will come back around and thank you. So keep trying to save us from ourselves and maybe we will be able to return the favor one day.

  11. Brian says:

    The short answer, in my opinion is…

    I wouldn’t have hired staff and started production unless I had solid sales other than the closing boutique.

    A manufacturer that makes belts (simple rectangular shapes) doesn’t automatically qualify as a high quality garment manufacturer.

  12. emily says:

    Hmm. Tricky! and Sucky. I’m sorry this happened!
    While there are a few things that jump out at me, most of them are things that only seem apparent in hindsight. Re-reading the list, my only confusion is between point 6 and 7. How did you work on samples with the production manager without having already sent them patterns and the tech pack. How did they know they would be able to make you 16 dresses without having seen the patterns and specifications? I am assuming that the factory made you fabric belts and that’s why you went to them?

    Good luck on getting it resolved! I would go back to the pattern and sample. If they did a horrible job after that, it seems they should bear the burden of corrections.

  13. John says:

    Jenna I’m so glad to see in your SECOND post that you gleaned the most important and relevant advice from the posters here concerning your problem. Forget all the other stuff about consignment vs. wholesale.. whether or not you should have produced for your professor.. whether or not you did the proper demand determination for your garment… all that stuff is irrelevant to your problem. Clearly you developed a hot product because it seems your professor wanted to cash in on it before someone else did. If you have the touch and the passion to make hot clothes then the next and only step you need to make is to develop your production machine. In my opinion there were two mistakes you made. First, you should have spent some time with the patternmaker making samples and narrowing it down to the dress you wanted to produce. You may have done that.. I don’t know.. but if your dresses came back to you other than what you expected then you should consider that part of the process in determining what went wrong. It’s not enough to just send the sketch to the patternmaker and then send off what the patternmaker produces once its done. For each style you produce you must be meticulous about ironing out the details of how you want it to be made or you will always be displeased about how it comes back to you.
    Your second mistake was to go with a contractor who hadn’t shown you a garment similiar to what you were trying to have made. It is a common thing that happened to you. In the future, if you desire to have someone produce a garment for you there are a few things you must do first….

    1. Use a contractor who either specializes in the type of garment you want to have made. Before you fork over the cash they should at least be able to show you a garment they have made that is similiar to what you want. If making a jacket have them show you a jacket.

    2.Spend a considerable amount of time in research and development on how you want your garment to been seen by the world. Especially if this is your first shot out of the box. Sales reps and customers will determine the value of your product based on the detail work you put into it. If you don’t pay attention to the details of your garment’s fit(most important!) ,color choice, style relevancy, etc….then your product won’t have the hanger appeal it needs in order for someone to pass by 20 to 30 dresses on a rack to pick up yours.

    3. After you and your patternmaker have developed the proper formula in your lab, make sure your patternmaker includes ALL REQUIRED INFORMATION on the pattern card/cutter’s must.
    All notches, seam allowances, and special sewing details should be marked clearly on the pattern AND indicated on the patterncard/cutters must. If the sewer has to get up from the machine to ask a question about how something should be sewn then your patternmaker didn’t do a good job of drawing a roadmap of how the garment should be constructed. The sewer should never have to get up. Time is money. YOUR money!
    Make sure that the patterncard includes all of the following….

    a. Type and color of thread to be used and all lengths and placements of trims(elastics, binding, border pieces,etc.) and buttons.

    b. proper stitch length and distance from the edge you would like the topstitching to be done.

    c. any stretch or shrinkage information concerning the fabric that might help the sewer as he/she is taking the fabric through the machine.

    d.detailed sketches of the complicated issues thesewer may encounter when sewing your garment. If you have a double row of topstitching going around your collar then draw a picture with arrows pointing to each row indicating the proper distance from the edge it should be.

    3. Always provide the contractor with a PERFECT sample they can refer to while making the garment. A perfect sample and a detailed sketch of all of the dress details will COMPLETELY CUT OUT any legitimate excuse a contractor can give you as to why your garment didnt come back exactly how you expected it to. When you go to pick up your order you should be able to lay your original sample you gave them out on the table next to what they produced AND NOT SEE ANY DIFFERENCE…that is if you picked a good contractor!
    4. Provide your contractor with an accurate spec sheet of all of the garment’s dimensions. Make two copies and staple them to the pattern card/cutter’s must you give them. Your spec sheet should have all of the measurements listed for each dimension of each size. Once they have constructed your garments they should be able to lay the full graded set of the product out on a table and go through each size … measuring the all the dimensions of the garment (full length, shoulder depth and width, neck, bust, waist, hip, seat, arm length, across chest and back length, etc.)
    Your spec sheet should be as thorough and detailed as possible so they can be 100% sure you will be satified with your product once you pick it up. Make sure you tell them…in fact insist….that they to check all sizes against your spec sheet before they even send it back to you or call you to come pick it up.

    Im sure this is too much.. and I’m also sure I left out some stuff…but this is a pretty good guideline for making sure your ideas come back to you the way you sent them off. Good luck!

  14. Marie-Christine says:

    Poor Jenna, I hope you won’t be so discouraged you won’t keep at it.. I’d have said, after the all-important point of having actual orders (I’m totally with Kathleen on that point) rather than vague good wishes, the one that really raised my hackles was the idea of ‘tolerance’. There can’t be any tolerance, this isn’t what it’s about. You spent all that money on a good patternmaker so it’d all be perfect to begin with, you can’t have it end up some other way.
    Anyway, I think the main point from the comments is: it’s normal to make mistakes. Don’t fret. You won’t make these same ones again :-). There is definitely something I think about hearing only the advice you’re ready for, so keep plugging at it and it’ll come.

  15. Annik Van Steen says:

    Problem: the dresses are badly made and don’t fit right.

    Answer: It’s the first time they made a dress themselves. The company should have made a sample by themselves. That proves they can make the dress.

    Nobody said the dress or jacket is not wanted,
    nobody said teacher and business partner aren’t buying one,
    noone said the teacher’s shop had a problem selling (it says they are closing, not “going bankrupt”),
    a number of items were sold before production,
    the production company may be perfectly capable of making dresses,
    the company and Jenna spoke a lot.

    Or, Jenna may as well teach the company to make the dresses. (for all we know they may be neighbors)

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