I don’t want to make prototypes for the patterns I make. I prefer the client does it. The main reason I don’t like doing it is because I don’t like cutting and getting it ready (fusing, marking and sorting). I wish I had a fairy. People who’ve watched me say I’m really good but they have no point of comparison. I had a boss who was fantastic at it. Anyone who has cut for any length of time can do it better than me.
If I were just out of school or looking for entry into the industry and I wanted to learn as much as I could with the idea of starting my own line or to become very excellent at my work, getting a job at a uniform factory would be my top choice -even though I feel sorry for people who work there. I feel sorry for them because as a group, they probably do the best manufacturing across the board of any sewn product class but they get no credit. People who work in uniform manufacturing are diffident that they’re not “fashion” lines. It’s not sexy to work there, it doesn’t impress your friends. Everybody wants to intern or work for hot young designers because that does impress your friends and besides, it’s hip and happening and everyone loves the energy. But if you wanted to be good, working for a young designer isn’t the best choice if you have the option of being hired by a uniform manufacturer.
A big reason I like uniform companies is because there are more of them that are doing cut and sew domestically. This means you also have the option of getting production experience.
The thing I like most about uniforms is that the product attributes are fixed, the sameness of the product lends itself to refinement. If your product attributes don’t vary much, any kind of problem that crops up is easier to define and fix. It’s also easier to refine the process especially if the product isn’t causing problems. Anytime there is a problem, you know it faster (if not immediately) and have a very good idea what caused it -namely, the one thing you did differently last time.
You don’t have the same degree of predictability with the typical apparel line because there are too many variables from one season to the next. If your fabrics and patterns change every season, you’re less likely to be able to know whether the problem is due to fabric, operator or pattern -or maybe even all three. With typical lines, you cannot get as comprehensive feedback as someone who has been making the same exact thing for years with the same fabric and the same patterns. With uniform manufacturing, it is much easier to know if a complaint is valid and if it is, how to fix it. By comparison, the average fashion company does not know what lies at the root of their problems. There are too many variables to nail it down without a lot of trial and error.
You probably think a uniform manufacturer wouldn’t have need for designers or pattern makers but they do. It’s how uniform companies get better. They bring in new blood who have worked somewhere else with experience that is intriguing to the company. New skills help them expand their product line or increase the quality and to do it all more cost effectively. Moreover, they are the best judges of the importance and value of the skills one offers; who could know better? In my biased opinion, you would be hard pressed to find a better learning opportunity than one at a uniform company.This is where the heart of institutional knowledge and skill sets are built.
If you can’t get a job at a uniform factory, the older the operation (if they sew in house), the better. If they’re older, their product line is characterized by continuity and their production is more uniform. They’re using blocks steadily and the spatial references of workers has been calibrated to the product and nobody even realizes it. Like the example of my boss that I opened with. It wasn’t a uniform company that we worked at but the output was so similar from one style to the next that it well could have been.