Style Numbers revisited

If you have my book, you already know I’m rather humorless when it comes to designers who name, rather than number their styles. In this post, I’ll reiterate the most important reasons and bring up some additional ones. Thanks to Claudia who brought the need to my attention.

Okay, first of all, if you’re a small company with limited styles, you don’t number them for your convenience but for ours. By “ours” I mean retailers, contractors, fabric reps, pattern makers and the like. While you do own the company and have the right to do as you wish, so do we and using names marks you -publicly- as being less than professional. I mean, there is just no better way to advertise your newness at a glance. Just because it doesn’t seem like it’s not a big deal to you, doesn’t mean that it’s not. It’s something that any of us notice -immediately- it’s the first thing I look for. As I said before, naming styles rather than numbering them is a way that you’ve drawn attention to the fact that you’re a newbie and consequently, either a target or someone who is too green to understand the value of our services and products. So why would we go through the hassle of working with you?

I reiterate what Miracle said in her line sheets post:

Names are cute, but style numbers are easier to remember. Try to have consistency with your style numbers as well. Some people mix style letters and numbers– WPE122, and some people use all numbers 8233 (which, in my opinion is easier to remember) and some people use all letters FPJSAX (which, is easy to remember only when it makes sense, this example is a real style number and FPJ stands for Flannel Pajama and SAX is for the saxophone print). I have seen companies use style codes like DNAYTOPDA and I think that just makes people feel dyslexic and they can’t remember how to write them down. Literate people instinctively try to make words out of collections of letters and when they don’t resemble anything meaningful, it becomes frustrating. Kathleen has a whole section in her book about why style numbers are easier for everyone to deal with, including your pattern maker, sample maker and contractor

Mixing letters and numbers

“I have your book, and although you’ve pointed out that we shouldn’t mix letters and numbers when creating style numbers, you haven’t explained why. Is it just for simplicity’s sake?”

I wouldn’t ever recommend mixing letters and numbers unless you’ve been in the business for a long time and know what you’re doing. The only people allowed to use letters are people who produce commodity items like tees etc. They can use shorthand like LS, SS (long sleeve, short sleeve) etc but those exceptions are rare.

Other than the fact that people will instinctively attempt to make words from groupings of letters, your style numbers must be visually friendly to people who are learning disabled, illiterate and non-English speaking. Arabic numerals are internationally universal and you only need to know 10 graphic representations. Never assume factory workers speak English! With letters, you have unnecessarily raised the bar, not all stitchers speak English or use a language with our character set. If someone is illiterate, an “S” and a “Z” can look the same. Similarly, learning disabilities are common among factory workers and “S” and a “Z” can look the same to someone with a visual processing disorder. Never forget that the very people who are spatially and kinetically talented have these kinds of learning problems and it has nothing to do with intelligence. If you think they’re stupid because of it then be sure to add me to the list too. Then, let’s not forget the handwriting differences between people; there’s a lot more ambiguity with letters than there are with numbers, especially if something is printed in block letters vs cursive. It’s much easier to discern a number scrawl than letter scrawl. With the former, the process of elimination is 10. With letters, it’s 26!

Most DEs will use style numbers like this: sb203, ss212 etc, the “sb” representing “sleeveless blouse” and “ss” representing “short skirt”. If you must use a letter, it should always mean the same thing. The “s” in these examples means either sleeveless or short depending on the context (which is only known to you by the way). Basically, these examples are using shorthand descriptives for words. It’s better to use a number like 4 to represent blouses (4203) and another number, say 6 to represent skirts (6212). Believe me, the rest of us will learn very very quickly that “4” means we’re looking for a blouse pattern and “6” means we’re looking for a pants pattern. We’ll organize your patterns by category. If you’re using “s”, it’s takes longer to find your patterns because we’ll have to look at every single pattern! Using an “s” provides no rhyme or reason and we can’t sort things quickly at a glance. So maybe you think it’s not important because you only have a few styles but then, you’re not our only customer.

Some designers will add letters at the end of the number and this is problematic for the same reasons. 420S and 420C may make sense to you but it’s confusing to us and it only makes sense if you speak and write English. If you’re making the same blouse but in two different fabrics and need to distinguish cotton from silk, use another number. If it is exactly the same pattern, instead of using the previous examples, use the numbers 4201 and 4202. You’d write both style numbers on each pattern piece. As far as costing goes, you’re covered because different costs are assigned to each style, no? It’s much easier to account for the separate styles this way than your way. Similarly, do consider that you may have differing buttons and trims. If you’ve labeled them 420S/420C, people may not realize these are separate styles and may mix up the inputs. The latter numbering scheme leaves the impression that these styles are mix and match and they’re not. Remember, style numbers do not track what something looks like. Style numbers track what something is.

I think the worst numbering schemes were from DEs who used part of their company name as a part of their style numbers, ex 123DAQU456. Don’t do that. It lends the impression in other people’s minds that you’re not smart enough to remember your own name. This example also illustrates why letters shouldn’t be in the middle of the numbering sequence because from a visual standpoint, they get buried.

Again I reiterate, don’t start style numbers with a zero. I’m amazed at the number of people who’ve read my book (by the way, all of the examples in this post are from book readers) and they still do that. I realize that some spreadsheet software programs will assign numbers beginning with zeros but don’t rely on an accounting program to do that for you. A style numbering system is something you design to reflect the needs of your product mix. Use numbers to represent meanings you assign.

How to issue style numbers pt.127
How to issue style numbers pt.128
How to issue style numbers pt.129
How to issue style numbers pt.130

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  1. Georgina says:

    I have noticed that there are many lines that have both names and style numbers. I guess they use the style numbers for manufacturing, and names for marketing and sales. I wonder if a buyer prefers to buy a “Lolita” bustier versus a 4506 bustier.

  2. Anyone in the manufacturing-retail stream will prefer the style number over any other choice so buyers will similarly prefer style# 4506. Buyers are the ones who’ve complained most about a designer’s habit of naming styles. It was a buyer who told me naming was arrogant (clothes are not children, cities, cars or buildings); she couldn’t remember the names of cars so how could she remember the names of clothes?

    While consumers may like “lolita” more than 4506, I seriously doubt that dislike of a number will be the reason they’ll leave it on the shelf.

  3. Eric H says:

    There was an article in the Wall Street Journal a while back about a thong, style number 4811, which had gotten popular. Yes, the customers knew it by the style number; you can google it by “4811 thong” (leave the quotes out). Here is the article on the manufacturer’s website

    The customers will never know what to call it if the retailer never orders it. If the retailer orders it and it’s good, it doesn’t matter what you call it; the customers will figure something out, even if it’s just to use the style number.

  4. Anly says:

    I am currently trying to come up w/ new style numbers. I have thought about using the number system, but was wondering what you do when you reach style number 6999. For example. alll skirts are style number group 6000. But say you are on you 999th skirt and you go to make your 1000th skirt. Were do you go from 6999, since you can’t go to 7000 (since that should be another category? I know this situation is unlikely, but some designers make tons of dresses and do 3 seasons or more, so in 10 years you may run into this problem. What is the ideal way to handel this so that you do not have to reorganize your system in the future?

  5. Kathleen says:

    A clue to the answer to your question can be found within the entry How to issue style numbers pt. 128:
    Then, the coding system is useful for other kinds of specialization. Let’s say you stick with women’s apparel but you branch into pricier or lower cost lines than the one you launched with. You’d need a numbering series for a higher price point and to distinguish it from your existing one. Similarly, if you add a modest price point, it’d need it’s own series too.

    10000 = existing women’s line
    20000 = pricier women’s line
    30000 = modest priced line

    If your product line became so successful and had such longevity that you’d have produced 999 skirts, chances are excellent that well before that ever happened, you would have introduced an entirely different label/category, if not 2 or 3 others by then.

  6. Summer says:

    I am a designer working on my line. Can anyone suggest a manufacture that I can use to have my pieces produced once I receive orders? My line is small so a small production will do for now. Also what are usually the minimums that designers have for boutiques price wise? My friend suggested $1500 min. order amounts. Is that too high or average?

  7. Jennifer says:

    I am just trying to read all the old posts.I am sitting here snickering about this post and the PN number posts Ha! if only
    as previous mentioned I worked at import and domestic manufacturer in Canada. They have been around over 65 years. The number system for style is soooo messed up.

    first the style number were 6 character long
    first four for style last two for line and sizing ie XXXX16 the 1 for regular regular size and 6 for specific brand or customer. now they did start all the parka in say “2300” section but they keep that for all lines i.e. the mid price and higher priced line therefore leaving only 99 style for type of garment for both lines ha ha ha
    fortunately they are business who does not change it product a lot it is work wear very basic stuff

    when they added import 10 years ago they insisted the first character be turned into “i” therefor leaving only three character for style – at first the imports were small, eventually thing picked up and in the three years I was there, we went through over 999 styles. so when I left we using numeric and alpha like I5j412 ha ha ha ha

    now you ask why only 6 character – because the computer system which is written in basic or some other decrypted old language and could only handle 6 digits – kinda the Y2K thing memory space.
    Now you ask just up grade the system ha ha ha ha when i joined they said in three years the have a new system up and running. I been gone 8 months still no system even on the horizon.

    additionally some major customers have transposed and added characters to our repeat style numbers They now do not fit into the system and the customer won’t change back so we had cheat sheet to know what style is what. ha ha ha ha

  8. Michele says:

    Okay…so I have a line of children’s sets which are available with long or short sleeves, and with pants, shorts or skirts…and all sets are available in a wide range of fabric prints. SO, I am thinking I need to have a style number for each variation on the set, and then a second string of numbers to denote the print? (i.e. 101-901…101 being a short-sleeved skirt set for example, and 901 referring to the print…) Does that make sense?

  9. Meilin says:

    you would go through the hassle of working with newbies because of ‘the dip’ concept by Seth Godin. Everybody is a newby at something, it’s only the gracious thing to do.

  10. Kathleen says:

    Meilin, you’re making some grave assumptions. Many of us don’t have the time or resources to hold people’s hands, we only have time to work with newbies who’ve done some heavy lifting on their own before they get to us. This is not any different from someone who has decided they’re going to open a surgery clinic only they’re not even a doctor. Is the local hospital supposed to be “gracious” and train them for free? I don’t understand why people think our industry should be any different, that just because someone can draw a picture, that we’re somehow obligated to spend hours of time, on our dime, to teach them how to work with us. That’s why I wrote this book and write this blog, so you can learn. I don’t see anybody else doing it so it makes no sense to me that you criticize the one person who is doing something about it and at no cost to you.

    Business is not a democracy, we choose our customers just as you will. Maybe you would feel it is okay if a new store came to you and said you have to sell to them on credit, that it’s the only gracious thing to do, but you wouldn’t last long if you did making this whole discussion academic. No one owes anyone anything.

  11. Meilin says:

    The concept of the Dip written by Seth Godin who is a world class marketer also refers to the fact that initially it may be a pain for a manufacturer to deal with a newby. At first it’s more effort than it’s worth, but over time, you get over the dip and you build a business relationship which pays off over the long term. It may be good business policy.

    Of course I’m not referring to a newby who only hands you sketches. Although there are famous designers in the interior world who have done that… and what they lack in technical expertise they may make up for it in connections or taste or whatever. In business it’s good to be flexible and not to judge things too quickly.

    anyway I found your blog helpful :0)

  12. Kathleen says:

    I am well aware of who Seth Godin is (and as my visitors know, have linked to him many times) but I don’t think you understand my point (the day Seth knows as much about my business as I do, I’ll acquiesce). For many of us, a newbie is not our customer so it is pointless for us to market to them or do the heavy lifting for them. It’s my understanding that Halliburton is also in the concrete business but good luck trying to hire them if you need a concrete slab poured. I don’t know why it is that people assume that just because they can find us, that we are somehow obligated to take them on as a customer. This is why so many contractors hide, they never advertise or market themselves. That’s their choice. You can say it’s stupid or that it’s hurting their business but this is not the case in my experience. Rather the opposite is true. Start up contractors who will take anyone go out of business fast. To survive, they become more discriminatory in the clients they choose to accept.

    Let’s look at it your way, you assume that contractors should be in the education business. Veritable colleges don’t take just anyone so I don’t understand why people think businesses should. It would be something else if contractors got tax money like public schools and so have to take anyone but even state colleges who get tax money don’t. Or how about, you go to a nursing college but you insist that they teach you fashion design? Good luck trying to get that college to change their entire curriculum and basis of operation with your point: “At first it’s more effort than it’s worth, but over time, you get over the dip and you build a business relationship which pays off over the long term. It may be good business policy.” Most of us are in the business of providing production services. We are not in the education business. That we may choose to help someone out, someone WE decide is worth the effort (see below) is not the same thing as being obligated to help everyone. We don’t owe it to anyone.

    The viability of a client -how we decide someone is worth helping- is usually determined by the quality of the questions they ask. It might be more productive were you to spend some time to read and learn more. The more you know, the better your questions will be.

  13. meilin says:

    “As I said before, naming styles rather than numbering them is a way that you’ve drawn attention to the fact that you’re a newbie and consequently, either a target or someone who is too green to understand the value of our services and products. So why would we go through the hassle of working with you?”

    I was reacting to the above statement. So if someone is a newbie, and let’s assume makes a few innocent mistakes which is inevitable since a newbie may not know everything, then that bars them from getting access to manufacturing?

    There are more neutral ways the manufacturer protects themselves from hassles… isn’t that what the minimum order requirement is for? Or putting the newbie on the last place in the manufacturers production schedule… Or having higher prices for lower orders?

    There was nothing in my statement that implies a manufacturer is obligated to take a newbie on, but simply not being so hasty in their judgment ‘oh this person is a newbie, forget it’.

    The Dip as a concept applies generally to all sectors.

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