What does it cost to prototype a bag or clothing line? pt.2

This is a follow up to the first entry. It not really true to the topic but addresses some issues that came up in the comments. I’m still looking for more quotes and comments if you care to weigh in.

In part, Hilarie wrote:

As a designer of leather handbags, I found a producer in NYC… who would produce small runs for me and whose quality met my standards […]. This person charges 1000.00 for a prototype regardless of the amount of information I provided, or the simplicity of the bag. He requires a prototype to be made in his shop before any production, even if I provide a fully produced perfect copy, with pattern. For production of small runs, he also required I pay for a die cut pattern in advance.

Not much to add to this except to say he must have been established enough to call the shots on requiring dies to be made because they’re so costly. It’s too bad he didn’t have one of these machines (I covet). I would also require a prototype to be made in house in advance of production no matter how perfect the pattern. Patterns must be made specific to the equipment one uses and besides, you have to sew one for costing.

Then Lisa provided some pattern costs ($4,000) which seemed very high to me. I would imagine that $1,000 to $1,500 would be more typical in other parts of the country (Lisa lives in NY). She doesn’t mention if this included grading and it may well have.

Elizabeth asked:

Is there a standard time range it would cost a patternmaker/ sample maker to do the patterns, cut and sew standard pants, skirts, jackets, shorts, dress shirts, dresses, jump suits etc? I know it varies from person to person, and from design to design but is there an average? What if the patterns are based on existing blocks the customer provides?

This is too difficult to say without knowing the extent of the design details. If these are basic sportswear, none should take more than 8 hours of pattern work or sewing. I also can’t say if the blocks would help or hurt. I’ve had some blocks that were so troublesome it would have been less work to start from scratch. I’ve had other blocks that were solid and only needed a bit of clean up, shortening the job considerably. Including these items can save you quite a bit of money, time and miscommunication.

Heidi wrote in part (frustrated with the contractor):

The quality issues were many and included pattern pieces marked with ball point pen (where the internal pockets were supposed to be sewn in, and the pen was clearly visible in the samples). They claimed that actual production would be drilled, but I thought this unacceptable regardless (am I being too harsh? Is this normal?).

It’s not unacceptable to use ball point pen to trace patterns for prototypes but all lines should be cut away. I know that’s not possible with drill holes, I just mention it if someone else has a similar problem. My question with the drill holes is, would drilling in production leave an exposed hole? If you can see the pen, you might see the holes and you shouldn’t. But yes, it is normal that one wouldn’t drill holes for a prototype. The machine used to drill holes is set up for plies and this is a single unit. At best, someone might run an awl through the marking but if you have a mark, you don’t need the hole.

In part, Marie wrote:

It seems as though I am so far out of your league and that of your other readers but I am learning. I have had a small business in which I make leathergoods, mostly deerskin, and sell them at our local Artisan’s Festival… At times this business seems overwhelming and I wish there was a way to have some items sewn by someone else, but I haven’t had any luck finding an individual or small shop to hire. Mostly, I feel fortunate to be in this unique situation where I do not have depend on anyone.

I’m pasting from the personal email I sent her below:

In some ways, your comment makes me feel bad because I’m trying to outreach to people like you before you get too big and have formed many bad habits.

You are actually in an enviable position, I think firms should remain very small. Not as a self serving way to make one’s self feel better or to self justify why they haven’t grown so they don’t feel inferior by comparison, but I mean truly, growth creates problems. Growth and success kills more small companies than the lack of sales. Most people want to grow too soon. They are ready to grow bigger, sooner than I would want.

kulchababy weighed in with:

I’m mainly a self-taught patternmaker, but was able to drum up enough biz to help pay my way through college. Talk about the nightmares. I used to get people who only had sketching 101 trying to enter design contests around the world and trying to start clothing lines…

On one hand, I know well the frustrations of which she speaks. On the other…I’ve also experienced fixing patterns made by designers, self taught pattern makers and design school grads who have never made patterns for production. How can you know what you don’t know? I don’t think there’s much recourse for the problem as long as learning opportunities remain limited. Regardless of one’s experience and education, a motivated service provider who cares about their customers and continuously strives to learn, is optimal.

Lastly, Theresa decries the lack of small quantity contractors in the US which is part and parcel of the above. I think a bigger problem is that manufacturing as a profession is not socially esteemed. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote before:

I don’t mean this unkindly but it’s hypocritical to complain you can’t buy made in the USA products anymore because who would want to do it when everyone decries manufacturing as an awful horrible thing? I once stood next to a woman in a store who complained nothing was made in the USA and when I said I worked in US manufacturing, she sneered at me and said “sweatshop”. You can’t have it both ways. If manufacturing is a dirty word, we are never going to rebuild jobs here because no sane person wants to engage in reviled and insulted work. Manufacturing is just like any other business, you have good ones and bad ones. It is unkind to insult hard working people who are proud of doing a good job especially if they’re doing something you don’t want to.

It’s common for people to describe production work as degrading and mind numbing but that’s a value judgment. I know plenty of people who enjoy it, self included. Maybe more people would be attracted to manufacturing if it weren’t so maligned.

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  1. Renee says:

    Maybe I’m nuts, but I’m looking forward to hearing what a professional patternmaker will say about my design-school-grad-and-apparel-industry-veteran-but-not-actually-a-professional-patternmaker pattern. If someone has ideas to shave a few minutes of production time off of my product without stripping any functionality I would be all over that.

    Maybe I’ve just achieved a certain degree of humility along with life’s lessons?

  2. ken simmons says:

    When young I too thought manufacturing for mass production would be the worst thing to do for a living, but later when I had my own boutique I got more sheer joy and satisfaction from being able to make 4 RTW garments an hour from a great pattern, than designing one of a kind gowns for the rich and fabulous. It was so personally rewarding somehow.

  3. Amy says:

    I love production…sitting at a machine and doing the same thing over and over again is a welcome change from the craziness of the rest of the day…it’s fun to see how fast and efficient you get without even really trying too. However, it might drive me a little nuts if I didn’t also attempt to challenge myself with patternmaking and other parts of the game as well.

    I also tend to enjoy the company of the “blue collar” folks that manufacturing/production employ far more than the “I am SO above THAT kind of work” folks…but that’s just me.

  4. I started my company 5 years back because, unfortunately, we could no longer produce cost effectively, and more importantly, with the quality required within the United States. Now I am finding that our customers are not only asking for sewing outside of the US, but also they want us to find the least expensive alternative for fabric and trim sourcing as well as the manufacturing.
    Costs overseas for any sampling, patterning, etc., are significantly lower, yet, in most cases, of equal quality to United States apparel sampling and production-The reality of the business these days is that retailers want to generate the profits and product development, sampling and production must be done cost effectively for any new company to stand a chance in this new era of business

  5. Theresa says:

    When I was a factory stitcher (hate the word sewer!) it definitely wasn’t well respected. I had gone to college to be an astrophysicist but I enjoyed the more tactile job of working with many different components and then making something useful out of it. I also found that while doing the repetitive jobs, I would think out the processes in my mind and spend most of the time thinking of faster, better, cheaper ways to do each product. I’d then sketch, write, explain, etc. to the owner and was soon promoted to stitching supervisor and then factory manager. I found all of the steps to be useful in my growth as a person and eventually my career. It has definitely helped me tremendously now that I’m on the other side of the business because I’m not just a person sitting in an office that has never been in a factory before. I understand what my factories are telling me and it helps with communication on both sides. If I had listened to those early snears from my former friends and family for doing factory word, I would never have had the career that I did or spent so many years doing what I love.

  6. Barb Taylorr says:

    ” I’m looking forward to hearing what a professional patternmaker will say about my design-school-grad-and-apparel-industry-veteran-but-not-actually-a-professional-patternmaker pattern. ”

    Renee, I expect they would tell you there is a lot of refinement needed when making patterns that are going to be used to produce 100’s or 1000’s of uinits. A miniscule mistake in the allignment of seams, or the shape of a curve, becomes magnified when graded for a much larger size. Aftyer you get the fit and design as beautiful as possible, one must spend time figuring out the optimal way to put it together. Determining that will affect the way you make your pattern and can have a huge impact on the final quality of the garment & the cost to produce it. So will adding notches that (if used) will make it impossible to sew the wrong seams together, but not so many notches as to slow down the proccess. It is very different than patterning one custom-made garment that will be sewn “in house” where the stitchers can ask you questions as needed. It can also be a very fun challenge if you like to be meticulous!

  7. Renee says:

    Barb, I wasn’t very clear. The pattern I was referring to is not a prototype pattern. It has already been used to make thousands of pull-up cloth diapers by my troop of local cottage stitchers. I do the cutting myself with a 6″ straight knife stack cutter. I have modified the pattern and the number of notches several times for exactly the reasons you state, and I fully expect to further modify with the help of a seasoned industry patternmaker as I have the pattern digitized to prepare for use by a sewing contractor.

    I truly have my background as an apparel product developer / technical designer to thank for making it as far as I have with a self-made pattern. Many specs written, factories visited and many quality checks conducted over the years preparing other companies’ products for mass production in the tens and hundreds of thousands of units. It has been so enjoyable managing the same process for my own product.

  8. Dia in MA says:

    Theresa, I was a stitcher but I was a button/buttonhole marker and, when needed, did the final cleanup to get the threads, etc. I have to agree with you. The work could be relaxing and the people were wonderful despite the pressures and hardships most were going through. As I recall, the term sweatshop was literal. Our pressers used to boast about the day they popped a thermometer with the steam.

    Most people don’t know that once nearly every major city had a shop that produced for the local mid to high end departments stores. The workers were generally poor and many had no english. Owners could and did take advantage of this. Mine did. But he had little choice, the shop was running in the red and dying. (It died shortly after I returned to college.) There were two sides to that sweatshop coin. It was a good job.

  9. Dia in MA says:

    Oops, correction: I was never a stitcher. Just a marker using the blocks to mark stuff for the stitchers. Sorry, about that error.

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