What to do if a contractor shorts an order

A designer I’ll call Liz writes:

I have a problem with my sewing contractor. They were willing to work with me on my first order and agreed to make 250 so I appreciate that. However, when I got the shipment, I was shorted by 9 dresses that they charged me for anyway. They said something about “losing those in cutting” but I am not clear what that means. If they made cutting mistakes, I think it is fair they pay me back but I shouldn’t have to pay for something they did not sew. I realize they did me a favor with a lower minimum but I don’t think this is fair. I feel like I should say something but I don’t know what. Other than this I really like my contractor and want to make this work but I don’t think this is acceptable.

In the olden days, I would have been brimming with outrage but I know better these days. Many designers don’t realize that determining the size of an order is much more than filling in a blank on a form. The key questions here are how did it happen and whose fault is it (who should bear the cost of the shortage?)

There are two ways to indicate the lot size of an order. One is with the purchase order (sewing contract) and the second is with the marker plan (supplied by manufacturer vis a vis a marker maker). Of the two figures, the marker plan takes precedence. That’s because a contractor can only cut from a marker they’ve been given.

So I asked Liz who made the marker. She said she hired a service I know pretty well. As it turned out, the marker was short 9 units. So perhaps you might think the marker maker is liable but not so fast.

The number of units laid into a marker can depend on a variety of factors -which are explained on pages 114-120 of my book- but the yardage length of each fabric roll was the culprit in this case. Liz’s fabric was made up of several short rolls (now she knows why the fabric was so inexpensive) which meant that fabric sections had to be overlaid at given match points so there would be no shorting of parts belonging to given garments. We call these match points “splice marks” and needing to use too many of them (owing to short lengths of fabric) can dramatically affect the total number of products that can be cut and sewn.  In fact, the losses can be quite a bit which is why you want as few rolls as is possible.

But back to Liz’s shortage problem. If a purchase order stipulates a 250 unit order but the marker plan only provides for 241 items, the manufacturer (the customer) is responsible for the consequences of the missing 9 units.

Obviously the marker maker needed to communicate the difference between the desired number of dresses to cut versus what was actually able to be placed. I spoke with Liz about this and she admits the marker maker said “something” about the cut but she didn’t understand and didn’t worry about it because she was confident in the yardage she calculated for the order (Liz is a CPA).

So, the crux is that Liz was notified and proceeded with the cut -which was the thing to do, there being no other alternative by that point. If  you should have this problem in the future, you need to confirm the marker plan after it has been made and amend the purchase order to reflect it.

The only issue remaining is whether the contractor should have charged her for the nine dresses they did not sew. The traditional practice has been that if a sewing contractor shorts an order, they pay for their mistake. The usual breakdown is 20-25% times the cost of materials and direct services such as marker making. If the manufacturer shorts it, well they pay for their mistake too. Typically though, no cost adjustments are made either way if the loss is small, usually one or two percent. Keep in mind that with a small lot (half the usual minimum of this contractor), nine dresses can be the difference between breaking even or taking a loss. My suggestion is to write off the loss as tuition, acknowledge your culpability with the contractor and hope that this will score you points and future favors you’ll surely need.

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  1. Paul says:

    I think the statement ‘they were willing to work with me on my first order’ says alot. We learn as we go, and mistakes on our first tries are inevitable but hopefully not too costly. The lesson here ties back to your previous post on contracts: know and understand every detail of the contract that you sign! It would make sense, and I can’t imagine an honest contractor wouldn’t agree, that the cost should based on the actual quantity produced (in a situation such as this). I guess it seems pretty obvious to me (being an engineer, and sharing a mindset with pattern makers) that the marker and actual usable length of fabric on the roll(s) will determine the number of pieces that can be produced, but I can see how that would not be obvious to the non-engineering/pattern maker mind. At least on the first try.

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