When do you cut your losses?

I got this email from Colette Jones who doesn’t wish to remain nameless but I did remove the name of her pattern maker. Other than a few suggestions at close, I don’t have any (new or novel) answers. Maybe you will.
I had made my choice based on a few things. One, she wrote a guest entry on your site [about a show she attended], so I was thinking …“Well she must be pretty good, or she wouldn’t have been able to publish a post on the blog.” The second factor in my decision was talking with you. We had discussed some issues that raised red flags with you, but also how she was really eager to learn and try to improve, so I went forward with my decision to use her because of the third reason ….her prices are low. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on blocks and patterns so I really thought “ya know if I am going to take a chance on someone, I would really rather it be less costly for me.” This is a huge reason why I think certification is going to be great… companies are going to be tried and true.

I was really disappointed with my first sample from her. There was an extra seam in the back of the pants a couple of inches below the waist line.

I was reassured that the final pattern wouldn’t have that extra seam, that the cutter had misread the pattern. She said we just really need to see how the fit is so we can move forward. The measurements were off from what I had sent her in some areas, up to 3 inches too small. The upper thigh of the garment measured 22 inches, the measurement I sent was 25 inches. Okay, my feelers were already up at this point, but I know that nothing rarely turns out perfect the first time out so I thought I should move forward with the second sample. I was trying to keep an open mind. What was the most disappointing was that the sample wasn’t even what I would consider acceptable mostly due to the extra seam and some of the sewing. I can look past the fit being a little off because that is to be expected. Part of me says who am I to judge? I am a new DE and don’t want to make unrealistic requests putting a bad name out there for myself.

I had returned the first sample for her to be able to compare along with more measurements so she would have more to work with. When I received the second sample, I was REALLY disappointed-shocked-dumbfounded. I knew that at this point it was over for me. The pants were not what we had originally discussed. Before the thigh was 3” too small from the measurements I gave her. The hip measurement of the second sample was over 8 inches too big! The back of the waist band would barely cover my butt crack (although it was kind of hard to tell because the waist was at least 5 inches too big). The leg seams didn’t even match up. The inseam matched, but the outside seam had 2 inches hanging off the legs with no attempt to even cut it off so I have a good idea that the pattern is off too. The sample had been washed after it had been sewn (I am guessing because they were so freakin huge) because the legs twisted with the outseam ending up at the front of the shin.

The pattern that I am wanting is for leather pants with a lining, neither of the samples had a lining (which I would think is going to slightly alter the fit). I can see the first pair not having one, maybe to get close to the fit so you don’t waste materials. I have yet to see any block or pattern. I have emailed her and she has shipped the patterns to me, for which I received yet another invoice to pay another $23 for shipping of patterns that should have been sent along with the sample (after talking with you I found out that I should have had them with each sample).

I really am just super disappointed that I have wasted a few hundred dollars with not much to show for it. I realize that there are DEs out there who have lost thousands of dollars, so I shouldn’t complain too loudly, but I just have to. I’m not really comfortable with confrontation (when my knowledge base is low) so I just asked for everything that should be mine for that money I have spent, told her that I think I can make the first pair work, and would like to compare patterns for myself. However I will not pay her anymore money. What else should I do? I could keep getting invoiced for this and that and before you know it, it’s a few more hundred. I had a bad feeling about her after my first sample and when I saw the second sample I think I was in disbelief.

My comments:
Like I said, I don’t have any answers. I did talk to Colette before she hired the pattern maker. I had concerns because the training of this pattern maker consisted of private lessons from a designer for “several years”. The same pattern maker also told me she wasn’t interested in learning any (more, presumably) sewing. However, she’d written me before about wanting to learn more about “commercial” (use of that word also raised flags) pattern making. I estimated her to be limited in experience but sincerely motivated to progress in her career -and I do feel experienced practitioners should encourage the less experienced. To encourage her, I’d answered the many emails she’d sent me (I find 25 responses) and in the interests of full disclosure, she’d paid for a one hour consult last year. Colette will tell you I didn’t influence her decision either way.

At the same time this was going on with Collette, another flag was raised because this pattern maker (who has the book but I don’t know that she’s read it) emailed another DE she was in the process of doing a production lot for, saying that “most contractors only have eight foot cutting tables”. Other than the fact that I was mortified she was doing production lots -I’d never consider her qualified for that- I say specifically in my book that if a contractor only has an eight foot cutting table, they aren’t a contractor. Period. An eight foot table is barely long enough for pattern making. My pattern table is twenty feet long but I’d never describe myself as a contractor because I still don’t think that’s long enough (for adult sportswear, tiny items would be okay). The DE in the latter example should have probably visited the pattern maker for a site inspection, Colette didn’t have that option. This raises the issue that certain protocols described in the book weren’t followed. I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming anyone because it’s not that simple although I do feel service providers are accountable to higher standards. All parties in these examples had the book so they knew what the standards were.

Specifically, other than the table issue and a matter of paper medium (discussion omitted from this entry), a service provider must always include the pattern when shipping the sample to a customer. Another item that troubled me a great deal were the samples. There is just no way I’d let a sample go out the door like these were. If anything on that 2″ too long outseam, one should have trimmed the sample and corrected the pattern so the client never should have known. Also puzzling, I don’t understand how the cutter could have misread the pattern for that first sample. Personally, I suspect a pattern error. That back piecing in the photo above looks to be exactly the same width as the waistband (not that I’ve ever done anything like that, no no). Was it on tissue paper so that it could have been cut through? If it were on oak tag (like a professional would use), it would have been traced onto fabric; I don’t understand how that mistake could have been made unless the pattern itself was made incorrectly, having been broken up for piecing (which is wasn’t but should have been for leather). Besides, when I’m having a sample cut, I’m there. Either I’m doing it or I’m directly involved. And another thing, you have to inspect the cutting and match up all the pieces before you approve it for sewing (again assuming one isn’t doing it themselves).

Many many steps were either delegated (without oversight) or skipped entirely. If small details are overlooked, the large ones are too. By definition, the kinds of people most appropriate for this line of work are anal retentive. It’s okay if you want to do it all yourself -for yourself- at the outset but someone you’ve paid never should. Manufacturers who are sticklers for quality will destroy samples and prototypes that are defective. They won’t sell these as seconds (even to staff) lest a consumer get their hands on one and get the idea that all of the products from the manufacturer are poor quality. A service provider should never send anything out that would embarrass them.

There was one last red flag with this service provider. She’s trying to launch her own line. I intend no offense and I love all of you dearly but typically, designers are at their best when they’re designing and managing the whole ball of wax. Rarely are they specialized in arcane activities like pattern making and grading to the extent they can charge others for these services. Now, if you have to do these functions for yourself until you can afford to hire it out, I’m with you. I get it. However, it’s not responsible to provide services to other parties unless it’s your profession or part of your primary function. In other words, I have seen situations in which a DE is established and has some flex time in her production schedule to take on work and that’s okay but she usually has others in the organizations performing functions she can’t. In such cases, it’s more likely that she’d do it as a favor but not because she needs to unless she’s thinking of becoming a contractor rather than producing a line. Besides, barring the latter, where does the service provider’s loyalty lie? Personally, I’d have strong reservations about using the services of someone who may potentially compete with me. I’m not a paranoid person but I’d draw that line easily.

When do you cut your losses? Or rather, when have you cut your losses?

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  1. bethany says:

    You get what you pay for.

    Look, we all make mistakes. We have all hired people who say they are able to do the job we have asked them to do and then they failed. Was it our fault? Yes, and here is why: because chances are we were looking to do something on the cheep.

    When I first started GW, I split my production btwn two contractors. I had gotten quotes from about 5 contractors. The first company I chose had prices in the same range as 3 of the other contractors. Then I chose the lowest priced contractor. That contractor was lower by up to 4 dollars a garment! I figured I would take a chance and see how it went.

    Well, it went bad. Big shocker there. The cheep contractor kept putting other work before mine and I missed my original ship date. I ended up taking back all of my cut fabric (he never did start any of the production work) and begged my other contractor to take the work. They did, but it ended up costing me big bucks.

    I took a chance and I lost.

    But guess what? I learned more from that mistake then from things that went smoothly.

    It seems to me that if you are going to start a clothing line with no experience, no money and you don’t live in an area where you can physically see the work being done, then maybe you shouldn’t start a line of clothing. I know this is going to piss off a lot of people, but I am just trying to save some DE’s some suffering and money. If you cant afford to fly to where your samples are being made, you don’t have enough money to start a clothing company. Personally, I don’t think anyone who has zero experience in the rag trade should start a clothing company. I know, I know, there are plenty of people who have made it big with no experience. But think about all the DE’s who didn’t make it for every one who does. Those with no experience usually find a partner early on who has experience in the industry.

    Ok, I am digressing. My point is this: you get what you pay for and if you cant afford to hire experienced and reliable people, maybe you should rethink the whole DE thing.

  2. Karen C says:

    I have to disagree with Bethany. Sometimes you don’t get what you pay for. I paid hundreds of dollars to my initial pattern maker, who not only was my pattern making instructor at the local college, she had been a pattern maker for many years at very well known sportswear company in So. Calif. I have now learned how to pattern make on my own and made my own blocks. It took me a lot of money and a lot of time, but now I can at least produce my own prototypes to give to my production people to final and produce.

  3. Kathleen says:

    It seems to me that if you are going to start a clothing line with no experience, no money and you don’t live in an area where you can physically see the work being done, then maybe you shouldn’t start a line of clothing… Personally, I don’t think anyone who has zero experience in the rag trade should start a clothing company. I know, I know, there are plenty of people who have made it big with no experience. But think about all the DE’s who didn’t make it for every one who does. Those with no experience usually find a partner early on who has experience in the industry.

    ~sigh~ Oh come on Bethany, that’s really harsh. Personally, in my opinion? I prefer people who don’t have experience in the rag trade. They’re not cynical or jaded, they’re less mean (not saying you are) and they’re easier to teach. A lot of people who think they know, don’t know much. Actually, the more somebody thinks they know, the less they actually do. Me, I think I’m an idiot by now. And living in a garment district? No thanks. You can have it. Frankly, it’s getting to the point where I see that 213 or 714 area code on my caller id from someone I don’t know and I don’t want to answer. There’s a LOT of harsh girls out in LA. They know everything and they’re rude to boot. And people say I’m rude? And they’re cheap too. I tell you, LA has gotten harsh. NY always had a reputation for being abrupt but LA beats the band over the past couple years. It gets really old to have these arrogant little 22 year olds trying to push me around and tell me what to do over the phone (no, none of them have heard of F-I and couldn’t care less). One screamed at me on Monday because I wouldn’t make her samples. I won’t do samples if I didn’t make the pattern. She called me an arrogant fat cow saying her patterns were perfect. If this is the new garment industry, I’m looking for an exit. That electrician’s license is looking more attractive every day. I’ll take somebody who is civil and lives in the sticks any day.

    You’re basically saying somebody like me shouldn’t have ever done it either. I have one year of trade school. That’s it. I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t know nothing. I don’t have any money, less when I started (my nest egg consisted of $700). I still don’t live in a garment district. The closest I get to the textile industry is riding my bike past the cotton fields on my way to work. And I don’t plan to. Ever! I wrote my book living in an area so remote I didn’t have even have an address. However, like some big city folks, I kept a firearm in my office in case of predators. Unlike city folks, I didn’t have to worry about two legged predators; it was the four legged big kitty cat kind of predators I had to worry about. And elk but that’s another story. Elk are only peaceable in the movies. Elk are very scary.

    Frankly, most of the companies I know that have made a success of this, aren’t from the industry and they don’t live in a garment district. And oh yeah, none of them had buckets of money to blow. In fact, I can say that the people I know who had money to blow, blew it. And quickly. Only one I know hasn’t. Imo, having money can be an impedance. Big spenders don’t budget at the outset (or the budget is too big or horribly mis-prioritized) and they go through it faster.

    And nobody said Colette didn’t have the money. Not wanting to waste what she has is another thing entirely.

  4. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    I think that the pants would have looked kind of neat if they didn’t have the waistband, but yeesh! What on earth????

    I’m not a professional pattern maker by any means, but I did take pattern making from a man who did theatrical and upholstery stuff and had worked at Jantzen. He would have scalped us if we had made errors like this. And I would still (still will) hire a pattern maker and an illustrator because I *know* I’m not at a professional level and may never be. I’m still in the small, beginning stages, though.

    I’m all for giving someone inexperienced a chance to get more experience, but I would have wanted to see a ton of their patterns and samples and stuff first. Even then…

    I’m appalled that this pattern maker tried to pass herself off as professional with obviously unprofessional work. So sad.

  5. Bethany says:

    First of all I agree, I was harsh. Maybe I should have chosen my words more carefully. But it gets really old to see all of these posts (and I mean the general ‘these’, not this specific one)where people are blowing money left and right and then wondering why they cant make it in the business.

    And I stand by what I said- If you have zero experience in the business you shouldn’t start a line of clothing, expecially if you don’t live near a center of industry. There are too many variables where you can loose too much money.

    Lets say you were building a house. Would you hire the architect who had tons of experience or the architect who was just out of school? Why would anyone hire someone who had no experience? Why would they give someone a job when they never met them, didn’t see their place of business and had no references?

    Of course people make mistakes. I make them all the time. My problem isn’t in making the mistakes, my problem is in the assumption that creating a successful business can be done on the fly with very little seed money. I get emails all the time from women who have morgaged their homes to pay for a company they never should have started in the first place.

    All I am asking for is a little bit of experience. A year working in the industry, or going to school, or just reading some books.

    Look, at the very least, if you have no experience then know that every time you hire someone you are taking a chance and own your choice. Colette never should have paid the patternmaker in the first place. The patternmaker was hired to create a working pattern and that was never accomplished. Why would Colette be out of any money? Time, yes- money, no.

    Is that harsh? Is that mean? I guess it will appear that way, but if I can help one person to save their home, then I think it is worth it.

    As for your experience Kathleen, I don’t know what to say to that except I think you are the exception, not the rule.

    And Kathleen, those people you know who had no experience probably had someone working for them who DID have the experience, such as yourself.

  6. OMG…Collette, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Shame on this patternmaker. I hope you don’t let this bad experience stop you from realizing your dream.

    Bethany…really? I, too, disagree. Sometimes thinking one knows everything closes doors as they aren’t open to learn better, more productive ways.

    If the world went by your suggestion not to take a chance, there would be slim pickings in the fashion world and everything would have a big arse logo on it.

    Personally I prefer to encourage my peers as they have encouraged me. You never know who will be the next top designer…and it usually will be the one who was told they’d never make it.

    With friendship,

  7. Helen says:

    I have a follow-on question. What could Collette have done at the point she received the first sample. Would anything she did at that point have changed the outcome?

    What would you have done differently that what she did? (Given the choice of patternmaker and samplemaker.)

    1. Wouldn’t there be situations in which you’d give a novice or less experienced person the contract? If so, would you expect the person to share the risk of their inexperience? How?

    2. If people do a crummy job, do you give them a chance to fix it, redo it, etc?

    I guess my question is a variation on when do you cut your losses, but it’s also how do you know what you’re getting and how do you control and oversee a process that’s out of your hands?

  8. Penny says:

    I actually see this sort of scenario alot because I’m usually on the end of having to pick up the pieces, which always requires starting totally over from scratch. The “not being interested in learning anymore, sewing” comment would have been enough to send me running.

    I’m finding that there are an awful lot of freelance patternmakers fresh out of trade school that want to start off being their own boss. The problem is that they lack the valuable learning experience of working in demanding situtations with seasoned professionals that will shed new light on everything you ever thought you knew. There is a lot to be said for “paying your dues” and without exception, every good patternmaker that I know of has done this in one form or another. I would personally never hire a patternmaker that did not have some legitimate industry working experience under their belt…

  9. This pattern is not for me to create a clothing line. I wanted a perfect pants block that I could use to create different patterns from to learn and use for myself. As a way to better educate myself in this industry. I have read books, lots of books, I have asked people if I could intern (on a limited-short term type because I am a mother with 3 small children and can only be gone for a week or two at a time) Kathleen being one of them, and I begged(really only a conversation or two) her until I booked a class with her. Logistics sometimes are just an issue. I am really trying to do all the right things here.

    I personally am not gambling my famlies grocery money here. I am however a small company (new DE) what ever you want to call me, and with that said I really am just growing slow paying for things as I go, not getting a second mortgage on my home.

    I am at a very large disadvantage for the rag trade living where I live ( Okanogan, Washington), but I wouldn’t have it any other way for the world (raising my family on 40+ acres with horses and livestock). It is also not going to limit my goals, it may take me longer to reach them than other people who have every industry service provider at there finger tips or in eyes view. It just means I have to work harder to find just the right person/company to work with. Will I take a chance on new upcoming “someone” again, yes I will. I will approach the situation differently taking with me what I have learned from this experience. and thats not to say that this pattern person will not be good in given time, but not for me right now.

    As far as not being out any money…well I better re-read that part of the book because I receive an invoice, I paid the invoice, then the sample was shipped to me. I didn’t even think of questioning it. I guess that just shows my little side of old fashioned, country hand shake agreement. Naive…I guess sometimes I am.

  10. Bethany and Kathleen – I’m confused. Bethany is saying Kathleen shouldn’t have done what exactly? Kathleen, did you start your own successful clothing line before you’d ever worked in the industry? Did I miss that part of your biography or are you over-interpreting something Bethany said?

    Anyway. I think there’s something to what Bethany is saying, if she is saying that you need to be able to take ownership of the process and accept that you are the manufacturer.

    I’m thinking of your earlier post on business plans where someone’s business plan looked something like this: “Look at fashion magazines and decide what to rip off. Send the looks out to be produced. Sell them and make a million dollars.” You didn’t think much of it. But I think a lot of people are under the impression that they can just “send the looks out to be produced” and don’t realise just how much they have to be involved.

    I’m not saying any of this applies to Colette, and I don’t think that you have to live in the garment district to make sewn products, but if Bethany is saying that you have to be involved, then I think she’s right. What form “being involved” takes will vary with each business, but it’s still there.

    *** *** ***
    To Helen, with respect to sharing the risk.

    The first way that newbies share the risk is by undercharging. They are being paid to deliver a product, yes, but much of the work they are investing is their own learning process. This can cause a problem if they don’t have the resources they need to get the job done right, and can’t pay for them because they are undercharging. Talk about this carefully.

    If you know you are working with a newbie, then you need to be explicit about exactly what you expect to receive: a wearable garment that matches spec, delivered on time, with lots of communication. You can be specific about “lots of communication”: you can tell them in advance that you expect to talk to them every day to discuss the obstacles they are facing and help them prioritise.*

    Letting a newbie know when their work is unacceptable early on is actually doing them a favour. They need to know. If you cut your losses when you can’t reach them to talk to them; if they aren’t delivering on time; if they don’t deliver what was agreed to, then they have learned a lesson that they can apply next time.

    (I say this as someone who has been a difficult newbie. I appreciate the chances people gave me, but I appreciate the difficult lessons even more.)

    It’s hard if you yourself are a newbie too, so you don’t really know what to expect. But realise that they are in the same position. Someone has to be laying out clear expectations and it might as well be you. Ok, so someone with more experience would lay out different expectations. Once you’ve been through this process your expectations may change. But you need to be really really clear about what you, right now, are expecting. If they don’t think your expectations are reasonable, they should tell you in advance.

    And then you need to talk. A lot.

    Finally, when all the expectations are clear and you have been talking every day (or whenever), then when you don’t get what you were expecting then you cut your losses right there. You did everything you could, you gave them a chance, and it’s not working. Let them know what the issues are and move on.

    *This doesn’t mean standing over them and telling them how to do their job! It means expecting that there will be obstacles and being there as the customer to discuss what is most important to you as your service provider tries to find a solution.

  11. Bethany says:

    Look, I believe everyone should follow their dreams. What is the point of living if you are not trying to achieve a goal?

    Colette: I think creating the perfect pair of leather pants is a worthy goal. I mean, who hasn’t fantasized about creating the perfect pair of jean? People have made millions trying. And the loss of money I was referring to wasnt aimed at you specifically. I was talking about others who have emailed me with stories about loosing THOUSANDS of dollars because they didn’t know any better. Personally, I don’t think you did anything wrong except pay the samplemaker. Actually, after reading the post again, I don’t think there is much you could have done EXCEPT hire a better patternmaker in the firstplace. And that was the point I was trying to make: as a new DE you should try to hire the most experienced person you can afford. If you know you dont know, then hire someone who DOES know. Especially if you are trying to learn how to be a patternmaker.

    In regards to hiring someone without much experience: When it comes to patternmaking and sewing, I dont think you can cut corners here. It is like trying to cut corners when building a house and then the roof leaks. I do think you can hire people with little experience when it comes to something you know how to do well because you can train them to do the thing you know how to do and then get it off your plate.

    Here is an example: My patternmaker has hired someone to be her assistant. My patternmaker is training the assistant to do the easier jobs first and then, I imagine, once she has perfected the easy jobs my patternmaker will continue to train the assistant until the assistant can do what my patternmaker can do. Now lets say in a few years that assistant goes out on her own. Would I hire that patternmaker? Maybe. But I would start slow with very easy patterns. Would I suggest her to newbies on the boards? Probably not.

    I will admit, I think my earlier posts were pretty myopic. I need to realize that there isn’t one way to skin a cat. It IS possible to create a profitable DE business and not live in a city or have much experience. Heck, the whole point of why Kathleen started this was to help those who didn’t know. I just want everyone to realize it is possible, but MUCH MUCH harder.

  12. Karen C says:


    Re: paying the invoices. I, too, paid my invoices even though I didn’t get what I contracted for, as I was raised to honor my agreements. That said, I did email my patternmaker (after a discussion on this forum) and let her know that I did not receive what I paid for and asked her “to make me whole.” Well, that unleashed a wicked Pandora’s Box and she flipped out on me and told me to never contact her again. But she refunded my money.

    So just keep pushing on and learning. I did, and I am so much better for it. You’ll eventually end up with a quality, marketable item. Good luck.

  13. Anita says:

    Sadly, in today’s world, an “old fashioned, country hand shake agreement” just doesn’t cut it. I learned that the hard way years ago doing a freelance software job without a signed contract. The clients stiffed me out of a few grand because they changed their minds about the direction they wanted to take and felt they didn’t have to pay for the work I’d already done. Bad on me for not insisting on a signed contract specifying that paying my $XX per hour rate meant they were paying for my time.

    I think Bethany makes some valid points, but I don’t think you necessarily have to work in the industry before you’re able to work in the industry :-) I think you have to have the ability to recognize what you know and what you don’t know. (does that make sense?)

    I think realizing what things fall outside of your skill set is the most important thing. I, for one, know that I don’t know near enough about patternmaking or the whole garment-making process to actually start a business doing it and I would never spend a penny without researching and learning more (like reading Kathleen’s book). But then again, I’m also an engineer and somewhat detail-oriented. I like to know all the variables before I attempt to solve the equation :-)

    But, there are a lot of people who will watch a few episodes of Project Runway or see that [insert celebrity of the week] has their own fashion line and think that qualifies them to start a fashion business. I agree with Kathleen that there are a lot of people out there with this kind of arrogant attitude who think that no one can teach them anything they don’t already know. These are the types who will spend ridiculous amounts of money, only to wonder why they failed.

    I think it’s entirely possible for newbies to succeed, provided they’re willing to shelve their egos and take advice from experts. You also can’t expect overnight success and you need to take the time to learn the ins and outs of your business. Some can do this with lots of research, others can take Bethany’s approach and put in some hands-on time working in the industry.

    This kind of thing goes for any type business. Sometimes, the best way to learn is to just go ahead and do it. You may fail (I have), but at least you know what *not* to do the next time.

  14. Erin says:

    I think the locale (NY /LA) issue makes sence – if you are talking about say, mainstream fashion. If you are intending on making clothes that girls in Brooklyn will love, and that gets picked up by trend catchers such as Urban Outfitters, you should probably not live in, say, where I live, Arkansas. But as this blog attests, there are many cultural niches in this wide and deep country we live in. There are attatchment parenting moms who want organic cotton slings, there are rodeo folks who want leather jackets that feed off a long tradition of cowboy fashion, there are regional, cultural, and local differences in people’s needs and desires. And from what I’ve learned from reading this blog – just like any good writer who writes what they know, a DE should make what they know. And yes, if you possibly can, get contractors that live somewhere driveable, or maybe a short flight away (Dallas is 1 hour for me, Atlanta or Miami a little more). I think that’s why this blog and Kathleen’s book are so useful and interesting – they address those of us who live off the beaten path as well. And, oddly, some things you assume about a place are not that true. There is a major department store chain based here that chews up and spits out young designers day in day out, just down the street from me, yes, here in Arkansas. Seeing the dregs (some good friends!) come out of that place make me think I’d rather just skip the industry and go my own route. Not foolishly, or without an education (instututional, self, or by mentorship), but with intention. I imagine much of what bethany says is true, but I have also heard a litany of negative things said about living in a “non-mecca” as I do, and I have discovered I do just fine ignoring them and forging my own path. I find Kathleen’s path inspiring, and it speaks to those of us, rural and otherwise, who are off center, or out here on our own in one way or another. And I promise, I will not morgage my non-existant house any time soon.

  15. Thomas Cuningham says:

    If you know nothing (as I did) you can get rooked two ways — one is using someone who has no skills — the other is using someone who as all the skills and just bleeds you dry because you don’t know the right price for anything. I’ve been taken both ways.

    Someone once described stock trading as the kind of business where you could make all the necessary mistakes in two years and then go on to a successful career. I think the fashion business is signicantly harder than that stock trading. It will take me a dozen years to make all the necessary mistakes. But hey, that’s life.

    Certainly if you don’t have, or obtain, business savvy then you’re involved in a hobby, not a career.

    And I belive that it IS possible to build a business outside New York/LA. If you are in those two towns it is too easy to get stuck thinking like everyone in the business because that is all you see.

    Outside of those towns I think you have a better opportunity to find new products, niches and ways of doing things. So good luck to Colette Jones — don’t you ever quit!

  16. Rocio says:

    Well, these are my views from 3 different perspectives:

    Working for a global brands (producing off shore) forced me to take my communication skills to the next level and leave ABSOLUTELY NO ROOM FOR ASSUMPTIONS.
    This means that if it isn’t in writing, it might as well not be there at all (regardless of distance)

    Many years ago I got stiffed by a couple of domestic factories that quite simply couldn’t be bothered to produce my orders but obviously didn’t have a problem taking my money to “secure a production slot”… Even with my technical and production background I wasn’t counting on them simply NOT WILLING to honour their contract.

    I decided to start offering services to DE’s in 1997 because I was tired of the corporate rat race and didn’t want for someone else to go through what I went through… Unfortunately these days I get at least 1 DE a week who comes with a horror story and desperately needs someone to come and clean up the mess… (that is at least 52 DE’s a year) In most cases they don’t have anything in writing so they can’t even justify going to small claims to try and recover some money.

    So, while all the research and industry know how may get you there a bit easier, there is no substitute for effective communication and constant follow up.

  17. Mike C says:

    If you have zero experience in the business you shouldn’t start a line of clothing, expecially if you don’t live near a center of industry. There are too many variables where you can loose too much money.

    We had no experience in the apparel world at all when we started. We also had no jobs and no source of income and are about as far away from New York and LA as you can be in the continental US.

    Knowledge, experience and money can help, but tenacity, smarts, and a willingness to learn can go a long, long way in this business.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I’m confused. Bethany is saying Kathleen shouldn’t have done what exactly? Kathleen, did you start your own successful clothing line before you’d ever worked in the industry? Did I miss that part of your biography or are you over-interpreting something Bethany said?

    No, I didn’t start a clothing line and I also don’t think I’m over interpreting Bethany. The assumption still stands that a service provider is close to their customer. Likewise, I had no connections and a paltry education. It’s immaterial that I wasn’t manufacturing; I’m a service provider. I can understand how you’d think I was over-interpreting tho, you’d have to have witnessed the (still) never ending deprecating remarks I’ve had directed at me because I don’t live in a garment district. People who live in those areas think the world revolves around them.

    Here’s one example:
    When we went to SPESA last May, Eric and I were visiting the FIT booth staffed by four young students. I was genuinely pleased to see them there and thought to ask about their school experience. They TOTALLY disregarded my question. One of the girls picked at my badge as I was leaning over the table and she squealed -and I do mean SQUEALED- “New Mexico!” “Ohmigod, she lives in New Mexico and she thinks she works in the garment industry!” tee hee hee, twitter twitter, turning to each other amid snarky giggling. They never did answer my question. They totally ignored me. Eric was dumbstruck. I was shocked.

    All I could think to say was something along the lines of “if you’re the best we have to look forward to, we’re in real trouble”. If there were such a thing as black listing in the industry, they made the best case ever to be included. I doubt it’ll ever come to that tho. With those attitudes, they’ll come to naught all by themselves. That’s what I tell myself every time I think that I should have written down their names…

    That said tho, I think these NY students were the exception to the rule (but why are students in general so frigging catty?). People always say that people from NY are rude but I’ve found that there are more rude DEs in LA than there are rude DEs in NY. I thought about it a bit and I think it’s because NY is less transient than LA. There are more relationships based on longevity. In LA, people come and go every day, everyone is disposable. In NY, people have been in the business for generations and they have long memories. If you do someone dirty there, more people with longer histories will know it. I think NY’ers see the value in having better relationships. It’s harder to go to NY and get discovered and make a go of it than in LA, so most of their talent is home-grown (and often, with established relations).

  19. /anne... says:

    I think they’re catty because from Day 1, they’re told they’re better than everyone else because they go to such a fabulous school, and they’re also told that they’re in competition with each other – that only a few of them can succeed.

    Oh, and their teachers are bitter, twisted and catty.

    I only lasted a year – not helped by the fact that I could sew better than my teacher (and I know a lot more now).

  20. Kathleen,

    Thanks for responding so kindly. As always, when something isn’t coming together for me on the blog it’s because I’m missing so much of real life.

    Sorry about the catty twits.


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