Once upon a time, I’d written a post about sewing contracts and a few about quality control (links at close). Those were fine as these things go but lately, I’m seeing a lot of silly advice on the web. I read a particularly bad post this morning that inspired me to clarify. My advice applies most specifically to products manufactured in the U.S..
In most cases, you only need:
- A purchase order (that you create)
- A reference sample produced by the factory
- Clear communication which -steel yourself- may involve using a telephone to call someone.
You don’t need an officious sewing contract document drawn up by an attorney. Most business to business transactions are done with a purchase order which you can send via email. A purchase order is something you create or don’t as the case may be. Often you just need a PO number which signals to a vendor that an authorized person has approved this purchase and that payment has been budgeted for. I don’t use purchase orders myself but I do track purchases in a database so I can keep track of what has or hasn’t come in and to make reordering easier. I create a PO number based on the date and that doesn’t mean you should because some vendors will reject those. My vendors probably sigh and roll their eyes but I’m a long time customer who always pays in full before any product is shipped to me.
Via email, the purchase order can be a description of the job and what you and the sewing factory have agreed the cost will be and when payment will be made. [More established vendors (like fabric mills and equipment sales) will usually respond with terms and conditions of the sale. You’ll have to read that and if you agree, can move forward on the parameters of your job.] This is where things can go wrong quickly -namely, describing the job and your expectations for what constitutes successful completion of it. I should say, this discussion presumes you’ve had a sample made by the factory. If you haven’t yet, well, all bets are off. There has to be some kind of fixed ideal of your product that has been generated by the contractor.
Contrary to popular advice, do include specifics of your quality control standards and even the checklist if you have one (!). Doing otherwise presumes this is some kind of mind game or test. This is not a test because if the factory fails, you’ll fail too. Speaking of, if you’re fond of testing, get a teaching certificate and become a teacher. One way or another, you’ll still lose out in aggravation and annoyance even if your contractor makes you whole.
So let’s be practical, since it can literally take weeks if not months to develop a checklist (truly, a constantly evolving document) it is best to do so within the context of the sewn sample. Specifically, the failures in the sample. You’d stipulate that the product would be made identical to the sample with the exceptions being (for example) that the hem be blind hemmed rather than rolled, and or the facings be tacked at the shoulder etc. The reason that this is expeditious is that you cannot imagine the myriad ways that things can be messed up.
I can’t speak to how others do things with respect to repairs and a standard defect rate, only how we do (which is to make the customer whole). I’ve read there is some kind of acceptable failure rate of 5% -for which you can, presumably, not be compensated for but that’s silly. You’ll only be bound to X percent failure rate if you agree to that which also means agreeing as to what constitutes acceptable product. I can’t overstate how important it is that you use the sample the factory has made to specify your quality control standard because if the contractor can’t duplicate that, this means their internal processes are in disarray and it will be a constant battle to deliver product to your customers (ideally, you have such a good contractor that they will drop ship your orders to your wholesale customers). If you decide to skip the sample, well, you’ve been warned. I would not have any confidence in a factory that agreed to take your order without having made a sample of your product first.
Next time, I’ll create a sample purchase order and documentation for quality control so you’ll have a better idea of how things should go. Or at least, how we do it around here, things we’ve messed up on and how we fixed it.
PS. I did not forget about tech packs as being useful for specifications and quality control but you know, I’m beginning to hate those things. With a passion. If I am lucky, I get tech packs from people who took one class on it in college, and failing to get a job as a designer, settled for being a technical designer because it had the word “designer” in the job title and not that they have any interest or facility for the work. Nor skills. None of their numbers add up. And if I’m not lucky, I get some kind of bizarre mash up of imagery and branding mood boards with a side bar of unattributed measures -and the more gigabits, the better. I mean really. I’ve gotten a TP of an urban tee shirt line and the only measurements listed (in the entire 28 page document) were for ladies dresses. I am never lucky enough to get nice, professionally made TPs from colleagues anymore.
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