The Reality of producing a collection
So... like our adorable, smiling, fluff ball, goof of a Labrador who much to his quivering, knee shaking, unmanly dismay was taken by surprise this evening and bitten flush on his bare backside by some mean mongrel from down the road, I too have had my fair share of unwelcome surprises over the past few months.
How can you expect the unexpected...?
The most difficult thing for me so far has been juggling all aspects of the business.
Sales, PR, Marketing, Production...all equally time consuming and important whilst designing a new collection. I'm not gonna lie, it's tough. I have double the work load that I had designing the first time round and that was hard enough!
For me one of the biggest challenges is time management. I need to oversee production but I need to be designing at the same time....do I use a factory in London or abroad to save money and gain knowledge of dealing with factories or do I use a local seamstress and pay more but be able to monitor everything whilst being close to the studio increasing time spent designing...? hmmm tricky...
What type of production/ factory is right for you?
As far as I can see I had 4 options:
1. In house - hire someone in to produce the collection from your studio.
- Can oversee closely progress and monitor at all times
- Time not wasted traveling to and from factory
- Good use of local workforce
- May not have the quality of a factory and the quality control
- If they have a problem/ quit you are stuck
2. Small Units - I inquired at a local business that produces clothes for high West End Shows to see if they would be suitable to manufacture the collection.
- Small workforce and team means that you are not such a small fish in a big pond
- Quality control in place
- Experience dealing with small factory/ unit
- Save time if local
- Might not prioritize you if they get a big job on, leaving you behind schedule.
3. Factory in the UK - I have been mainly looking in London Suburbs as there are more here and of good quality. They are also relatively near.
- Great quality
- They know what they are doing and can help you with finishing options etc
- Less hassle and risk than overseeing In-House production
- More expensive than oversees
- Don't really like doing smaller runs and they really bump up their prices.
- You are not a priority.
- Time consuming if the factory is far away from you.
4. Oversees Factory - I haven't really looked into this as much as it is not really an option for me being a one man band I can't monitor it from afar without digging into valuable designing time.
- More cost effective
- Fast turn-around on larger quantities
- Often will do multiple tasks. i.e source fabrics and trims, grading, manufacture and distribute.
- Finding the right factory is difficult.
- Language barriers
- If things go wrong or you need to get something to the factory it takes a lot longer.
- People like brands to made in the UK and in an ethical way.
I had an email from the head designer of a small British brand asking me advice on their production. It seems they are struggling with their options too...below they detail their issues for us...
"Initially I sourced a CMT in * which seemed like the perfect solution as we are round the corner in * so I could drive down there easily. However, we found that despite their initial enthusiasm and warmth, they were really difficult to work with. They insisted that I simplified my designs and patterns and their finish was appalling. Despite pressure from me, the garments looked terrible – overlocking was unfinished so the garments would tear away at the sideseams, huge chunks would be cut from the insides and you could tell they had been rushed through. We continually had to send stuff back and were already receiving it hugely behind deadline.
We found that because of the small size of our quantities (150 per style, in some cases across two fabrics) they just didn’t take us seriously. Even though the docket was placed on time, we were dropped behind companies with more clout in their schedule. The final straw came this season when they cut one of our skirts on the wrong grainline and a whole batch of tops on the wrong side of the fabric and denied that there was a right side and wrong side to the fabric. I felt utterly deflated as all my hard work cutting patterns, sourcing fabrics from warehouses locally and ensuring the collection would arrive in time to stock our boutique seemed to have got us nowhere. In addition, they were really threatening in phone calls, to the extent where other people in the office could hear their shouting down the phone! We’ve just found it an impossible struggle.
We are thinking of taking the step next season of employing a production machinist in-house to produce the garments. For this we would create smaller quantities (which isn’t a problem) but over a greater number of styles. This means I can be more creative with my designing and can have a more direct control over the quality of the finished product. We will need to increase our prices slightly, but by stressing the fact that we manufacture the garments ourselves, we are hoping to get away with this."