I couldn’t make this up if I tried

Last October, I had been doing a tutorial series on copying sewing processes from other products in order to improve the quality of your products. These (5) entries also explained why service providers are not going to want to sign your confidentiality agreement because for most companies, it’s the processes -not the product- that really makes a difference. Anyway, the fifth entry of the series was a product and quality review of a handbag made by a DE named Beth Mitchell. My review explained all of the production related mistakes she made with the bag, things that most designers don’t see in their own products. There’s nothing wrong with being a DE but you don’t want people to know you’re a newbie by looking at your product quality. Beth could have had “Target” tattooed on her forehead, it was so obvious. Oh, and that’s how other companies decide on a knock off target. If you have a cute idea but the product quality is atrocious, you’ve made yourself a target. I’d strongly encourage new visitors to review those entries for detailed tips and information. As a reminder, below is a photo of the bag.

Anyway, in my review of the “Beth Mitchell Originals” bag, one of the topics I mentioned was whether her idea was even original (it was similar to a Kors bag). It was cute and Gigi liked it too so I lent the bag to her so she could take it apart for a closer look (there were lots of problems with it). Then yesterday, Gigi posted an update on Beth’s bag. As it turns out, Beth’s bag isn’t original. Rather, it looks exactly like a home sewing pattern that Gigi found (and bought) on ebay! The pattern was from a designer named Bobby Breslau and it is quite a bit older than Beth’s bag. Gigi compared the patterns of both bags and says they’re nearly identical, down to the too-small-for-your-hand inside pocket.

I just couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Just how many times have I said that using a home sewing pattern is deadly to your business? The quality of the sewing is governed by the quality of the pattern. Home sewing patterns are awful. Don’t use them! There is just no better way to announce to the world that you’re an amateur than to use home sewing patterns for production. Maybe you can’t tell but that doesn’t mean we can’t. How else do you think new designers are targeted for knock off? Besides, using home patterns is illegal; you can be sued. At the time I wrote my review of Beth’s bag, I had no idea she’d used a home sewing pattern. In retrospect, her use of the home pattern explains everything about the poor quality I found in her bag. Insult to injury, I cannot tell you how many designers using home sewing patterns have tried to get me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. How can you protect a design that’s not even yours? I guess they want an NDA thinking nobody can tell on them.

A cute idea will only get you so far. You’ll need the rigors of engineering to carry you the rest of the way. In summary, if you expect to succeed in this business, you’ll have to hire a professional pattern maker. If you took patterns in school but have never worked in production, be afraid, be very afraid. Do your own first patterns but hire somebody to clean them up. That is the only thing that will keep your products looking professional. Don’t be a knock off target. Give yourself a fair shot at it; buy and read the Entrepreneur’s guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.

Copying processes
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  1. Gigi says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this! I think we both agree that the bag design itself is *awesome* but there was sooooo much room for improvement! Being a persnickety home sewer myself I know there is always room for a lot of improvement where home patterns are concerned. I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider using home sewing patterns for production work! The workarounds/alterations required are easy enough when you are sewing as a hobby but must be nightmares in production. Needless to say, I am excited to complete this project now! :-)

  2. Anne Frances says:

    Is it possible that this bag – which you acquired already well worn at a garage sale – was never in fact a commercialised product at all? The only thing that suggests that it wasn’t a home sewer’s effort for herself alone, done on home-sewer’s equipment, is the label. I can’t see it very clearly in the photo but it looks quite like the sort of label lots of home sewers get made for what they make themselves or make to give to friends, just to add a personal and slightly less “amateur” touch. And since it turns out to have been made from a home sewer’s pattern doesn’t that make it all the more likely that is exactly what it was? None of which of course detracts from the main point of what you are saying, which is that home sewing and manufactured production don’t mix, are very different processes and shouldn’t be confused. And that quality matters.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Interesting argument Anne. However, nobody said it was made with homesewing equipment (highly doubtful); the leather was too heavy for that. The label isn’t the same quality either as in homesewing. Plus, if h.s.ers put in a label, it’s usually done flat so you can read the whole thing easily. This one was folded; it wrapped around. Definitely more of a commercial application with less emotional involvement. Homesewers tend to stay away from leather and rarely sew it (I’m a leather pattern maker btw). I try to encourage them to do it but they are less intimidated by ultrasuede and stuff like that. Ultrasuede -btw- is at least twice as costly as leather but they are reluctant to work with leather thinking it requires tricky production to do it.

  4. Gigi says:

    I also believe it was a production item because there were two shortcuts used: The strap lining was eliminated (you can see that in Kathleen’s photo) and the inside pocket was topstitched on (vs. the more labor-intensive but neater free-hanging pocket). These departures from the original pattern would have made it less costly to produce. I also agree with Kathleen that this bag couldn’t have been sewn on a domestic machine – the leather was much too heavy.

  5. Kathleen, what a great story. From my perspective, it’s particularly interesting because one standard claim in legal debates is that knockoffs are typically of *worse* quality than originals, and thus harm the reputation of the originals.

    It appears that, at least at the level of non-famous brands, which are presumably targeted because of their recognizability to consumers rather than their poor execution of an original idea, the opposite is true. I’m definitely going to link to your post!


  6. moss says:

    Just a note on home sewing and leather, I am a passionate amateur and work with leather a lot, but I only hand sew. I don’t own a sewing machine.

    Thus, with my trusty leather punch and sinew, there is no leather that is too thick for me.

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