How to hire a production facilitator

The question of how to hire someone to manage your product development and/or production has come up several times in as many days, leading me to think we should discuss it. I don’t have a ready bullet point list, just gut reactions but I hope we can explore the topic with your help.

For grounding, I called a peer, Valerie Cooper (Heart Hunters Consulting). Although we’ve never met, we think we are soul sisters or something, karmically separated this go round if you believe in that sort of thing (I don’t) although the idea of kinship with her pleases me. Because she’s also a former pattern maker with even more years in the business than me, we tend to feel the same way about things. One example, she thinks “a contract is an invitation for someone to sue you” so she doesn’t use those either. I suppose with this airing we could get dissenting opinion but for what it’s worth, the redux boils down to expectations and transparency.

Expectations are pretty simple. Confidentiality is a given; any possible alternative sends my blood pressure through the roof. Second, no consultant should ever guarantee your stuff will sell. No ifs ands or buts.

You should expect them to do what they say they can. If they say they can find your fabric, a contractor or a factor, then that’s what they should do. Valerie says you should only hire someone who’s done what you’re asking them to consult on, for at least 20 years. They should tell you what business licenses you need, maybe backers or factors.

If you hire someone for product development, they must have a background in production sewing and pattern making. She doesn’t make patterns for her clients but if there’s a problem, she can see immediately what’s wrong. A production facilitator should have the resources and connections to get prototypes done with all of the glitches worked out.

Transparency is the problem lately. Do not hire someone who will not provide the contact information of your sources. If the facilitator (who in one specific case was a sewing contractor) is not forthcoming with the person who’s done your production, find someone else. If you are paying for this information -and you are- you are entitled to have it.

Regarding payments, you should be writing most checks to the given subcontractors personally. There have been several recent incidents in which consultants have been paid on behalf of a subcontractor but then the subcontractor was never paid. You might think you’re off the hook since you paid somebody but at least in the state of California, you’re not. You are responsible for the entire process chain. If your contractor doesn’t pay the subcontractor, you can be held liable. The only way to prevent people from using your work to take advantage of others is if you write the checks to those parties personally. Your facilitator should bill you for their services separately.

Contract production managers have varying relationships and pay arrangements. I know a guy in El Paso who deals with larger production lots. His clients have hired him because they don’t want to be bogged down in the minutia of quality control and product management. He charges two or three cents per piece, meaning per piece of the cut garment. In other words, he’s paid about 10-15 cents per tee shirt etc. The client cuts the check to the contractor and his fee is paid separately.

Some contractors may provide some sourcing assistance and charge you a mark up over the cost of goods. One person mentioned her elastic was five cents and the contractor charged her six cents, his fee rolled into the cost of goods. If a contractor keeps a store of goods you need or can get them more readily than you can (bundling your order in with other customers) this can be a good solution but still, the costs should be transparent.

Someone who does sourcing for you though, not a contractor, should not do this. You pay the cost of goods and their sourcing fee separately. Does it go without saying that the consultant should disclose any relationships they may have with vendors? There’s loads of consultants out there who love to push certain products upon which they get commissions, typically equipment, tracking or software products. I don’t have any relationships like that personally. I push products that I like personally and get no commissions. If I have a personal relationship with another party, I am usually more transparent than anybody wants me to be.

Valerie (and I) are concerned about the advent of “all-in-one” houses; the people who’ll do it for you soup to nuts. We don’t dare suggest they’re bad but you can definitely run into issues of transparency. They’ll source everything from fabrics, patterns to production and present you with one bill. This may be a simplified solution if you have more time than money but if you ever want to switch services, you can run into trouble. Valerie’s had more experience doing clean up after them than I have and says it’s like pulling teeth to get your patterns out of them. Never forget, if you paid for them, they are yours! Valerie says her number one credo is that all of her clients have their vendors and their sources in their database. All clients have all the components. Every client should have their digital files, patterns, spec sheets, cutter’s must, sources, everything. And that’s the other thing. Technically, we feel a consultant should only make introductions and recommendations. The client is the person who makes the final decision of who to go with.

By all means, feel free to add your comments, questions, experiences and concerns.

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  1. bethany says:

    I live in California and 7 years ago my husband and I purchased a crappy home to redo and live in. I wanted new hardwood floors and a kitchen.We hired a kitchen contractor who had been in business for like 20 years who subcontracted out the floor. I called 3 people who had used them in the past and checked his license. All was fine. At the time I was working in Hollywood, and didnt have a job so I was around while the guys were working. Suddenly, right at the end of the job I got a call that the flooring subcontractor had never been paid! I had sent that check to the contractor like 2 months before the call came and it had cleared. But the contractor never paid the subcontractor. That is when I found out I was still liable for the subcontractor! I immediately put a stop payment on the check I had just delievered to the contractor and asked the plummer in the house what was going on. He said they had laid off everyone except two people, he being one of the two! They were bankrupt! I immediately got a lawyer and I managed to squeek out of the contract and not loose any money, but I had to hire other people to finish the job.

    The saddest part of the story is, someone else in the neighborhood was using the same contractor. They had purchased the home they grew up in and were in the middle of a huge remodel. Because the contractor screwed them out of so much of their money and it was such a horrible experience, they got a divorce and lost their home!

    Though I am talking about homebuilding, it translates to manufacturing and I think helps support K’s argument: pay all subcontractors yourself, and keep an open line of communication with the contractor. Also, NEVER pay the last payment until you have the goods and you have inspected them yourself. Even if that means you are in your office counting every single unit and making sure they sent what you ordered.

  2. Jenny says:

    I am a DE considering using an “all-in-one” house in China to do my samples, patterns, fabric sourcing, and garment production. Do you have any advice on how to choose a contractor of this sort? How much will an “all-in-one” house generally charge for these services?

  3. Rocio says:


    I think it’s important to point out (as a service provider myself) that a lot of misunderstandings and problems could be avoided by getting having access to a list of itemised prices with standard rates or requesting a written estimate for any specific projects.

    In our case, I started out as a CAD Service provider (patterns, grading, marker, product development) and have sinced embarqued on a joint venture with my mentor (who is like my surrogate dad) and has been a sewing contractor for 30 years.

    We always have meetings at the factory together with clients so that he can meet them personally and give them the factory tour, while I explain the pre-production process and answer all questions relevant to it (since that is my area of involvement).

    Invoices are always itemised by style number and service, and if the invoice is under $100.00, he prefers that I bill for sample sewing or cutting (so that his accountant doesn’t keep telling him that he shouldn’t bother with small de’s) but is shows up as a purchase to his company…. It never occurred to me that it could leave room for problems.

    Transparency is a big issue in this business, and it affects all of us….We deal with so many de’s every week who come to see us with some sort of horror story, so we have to work very hard to deal with the trust issues after a bad expericence with a crook.

    The other side of the coin is that when we have a company referred to us by a colleague, many times they will offer to work with us directly (trying to save themselves the referral fee rightly due to the facilitator after the introduction) :-(

  4. Kathleen says:

    I am a DE considering using an “all-in-one” house in China to do my samples, patterns, fabric sourcing, and garment production. Do you have any advice on how to choose a contractor of this sort? How much will an “all-in-one” house generally charge for these services?

    It’s more difficult to answer this question because you’re outsourcing. Were you domestic, I’d advise you to select the contractor based on the standards I described in my book, assuming the service provided the transparency that permitted you to do so. However, since your contractor is in China, you’ll have to rely more heavily on the facilitator and probably gauge the value based on the services-value he/she is providing to you. It is difficult to say what an “all in one” house charges. Most certainly it’ll be governed by the level of complexity of your product. Have you thought of asking the facilitator what they’re charging you? Then Rocio says:

    Transparency is a big issue in this business, and it affects all of us….The other side of the coin is that when we have a company referred to us by a colleague, many times they will offer to work with us directly (trying to save themselves the referral fee rightly due to the facilitator after the introduction) :-(

    Valerie and I talked about this, you have two things going on here. One, the client is looking for referrals. They way we each do that is that we charge a consulting fee which covers the sourcing of the product or in this case, sourcing of the service, so we’re paid. Perhaps it’s a problem for the service making the introduction in that they should charge in a similar fashion as they should assume the client will go or *should* go around them -eventually. Neither Valerie or me want to be in a situation where there is long term dependency. Valerie avails herself for some hand holding at the outset, to get a line launched and set the DE on firm footing but she’s not encouraging the client to depend on her indefinitely. That service is best provided by a production manager. As Valerie explains it, once she’s established the client with a good pattern maker and production house, those two service providers will work together and as a matter of course, manage the production of the line. Of course, this means the DE is picking up the other duties such as sales and fulfillment.

    Based on a recent report, I do not recommend S.J. Manufacturing in SF aka S J Private Label for what I’d consider to be exorbitant pricing (he charged one of our members $750) for a two hour consult. The normal price for that is $200-$350. Any contractor I’ve heard of gives you a tour and talk for free, altho not for two hours. To make matters worse, Seymour did not disclose the cost of his time up front but sprung it on her at the close of the meeting. If someone won’t disclose their prices up front, walk away. More on this incident is here. Still worse, he didn’t have any sources she didn’t already know. You can buy three directories for the price of this consult.

  5. Linda Ramachandran says:

    I am interested in finding a production facilitator. I have made 5 prototypes of infant and childrens clothing. Doe anyone know of anyone in the New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania area?

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