Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Garment Production

If someone had told me last September, when I finished my first prototypes, that it would take me nearly a year to get the clothes into production, I would have treated it as a bad joke. And yet, here I am, eight months later, and the job is still not done!

It doesn't help that I've had to learn how to launch and operate a business along the way (and I've still a lot to learn on this front!). I typically put in 80 hours of work a week to stay on top of both my jobs, my university job and my fashion business. I get to do some design work, but far less than before I started my own company.

The trickiest thing about doing this is getting the garment production on track and up to speed. In retrospect, I spent about four months working on moving the garments forward more or less on my own, whereas that work might have been done more profitably and faster by experts. I have now been referred by one of the businesses with which I'm working for the sewing, to a full time "patternist", someone who works with patterns 24/7. Although this feels a bit like a setback, in fact I think this is going to move things forward faster, once we get the "bugs" out of the patterns I've developed on my own. She's going to do the grading to get different size versions as well as clean the pattern up.

Before I started, lots of people said to me, "you don't need to sew to be a designer - you get other people to do the manufacturing". Sounds simple and straightforward, but the reality if far from this. In reality, it's a good thing that I can sew, and manipulate patterns, even if I'm not doing the final work. In reality, the more "techniques" you can do yourself, the more control over the whole process you have. Even with these advantages, however, it takes weeks, months even, to develop the set of contacts and business partners you really need to have a "production chain" in place. In addition, everyone seems to think that they "know better" than I do - I constantly have to "fight" to get my ideas/needs/goals recognized and keep them front and centre, even though I hold the purse strings! As in many other industries with which I've worked, people have a "standard" way of doing things, and when you innovate and step outside of normal practice (which is what innovating means!), people resist. It is a real struggle to get them to work with you, rather than working at cross purposes or even, in some cases, against you!

I'm not at the end of my learning curve in this regard, but already with what I know now I would start "at the other end" of the production chain and work backwards if I could do it all over again! That is to say, I'd start with the patternist, work back to the manufacturer and then work with the seamstress to get the prototypes ready... It sounds "backwards" but it would be far more efficient than the process I've used. Still, I had to go through it to learn the "right way" to get things to work!

It also doesn't help that the garment manufacturing business in North America is in a shambles, due to the offshoring of manufacturing contracts. Although the tide is beginning to turn on this, the past decade has led to massive bankruptcies in the garment industry, and finding reliable outfits to do the work is a real challenge. In Quebec City, for example, the manufacturing businesses that are still in operation have specialized, for the most part, in providing medieval garments for the burgeoning cosplay movement, or into developing uniforms and specialized garments for industry.

Maybe by August we're going to be "in business", that is, finally selling our products, but it's been a long haul to get all of this underway. And you have to be persistent, keep your moral up, and push and push until you get things to work. Otherwise, we'd still be at it next year without any products for sale!

I have a whole new respect for businesses that break into the "garment business" and make a successful go at it. There is nothing particularly "simple" about it. I still get a great deal of satisfaction out of each major step forward, and am looking forward to the day when our products are actually available in our online store (also under development). But it's been a tougher road than I expected, even knowing it was going to be tough!