Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Contract work - hearts and headaches...

We've been terrible about updating the blog.  Shame on us!  Please accept our sincerest apologies!

Quick updates - Spring 2011 went off without a hitch.  Beautiful prints on a lightweight voile paired with super comfy knits.  Lots of smocking and oversized details.  Go to our Facebook page to see some photos from the collection. 

We've just finished the designing and patterns for Spring 2012.  It is a beautiful collection with lots of print choices in bright and fun colors trimmed with cotton eyelet trim.  Let's talk a little about the development process.

Headaches.  2 days before we were to meet with our pattern maker to do the handoff of Spring 2012 designs we received an email from her letting us know that she is completely overbooked and would not be able to do the patterns for this season.  This is one of the risks you take when you work with contract/freelance employees.  The biggest issue for us was that this meeting had been planned for 3 weeks prior when she never made any indication of possibly having a scheduling conflict.  If we had been notified of this  problem 3 weeks prior it would have been a huge help.  We could have started working sooner with another pattern maker.   To add to this problem, we are located in New England.  Not exactly the apparel manufacturing hub of the world.  Patternmakers are hard to come by.  But I digress...  The quick solution is to seethe over this issue for an hour or two and then get over it.  That's what we did. 

So, after a frantic 24 hours of trying to find a replacement at the last minute (are you available NOW?) we were referred to a local pattern maker with a great reputation.  Ok, she's 1 1/2 hours away but that's better than NY or CA.  She has turned out to be a fabulous find.  She's fast, asks lots of questions and communicates well.  And best of all?  Every single style looked fantastic on the first try.  No second fitting required for any style!  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!  This is quite a wonderful thing to happen the first time you are working with a new patternmaker.  Many times it takes a season or 2 for you to be on the same page. 

What YOU need to do to help have this kind of situation happen more often than not. 
  • Do you have a basic body measurement chart that you use as a base for your line?  If you don't, you should.  It will be tweaked a little here and there as you develop your line and get through a few seasons.  
  • Tech packs.  Tech packs. Tech packs.  Details, details, details.  
    • Sketches - these must be DETAILED all the way down to the stitch detail.  A tech pack is a packet of information that goes to the pattern maker with all the design details included.  Is that hem finished with a 1/4" double turned hem or 1/4" coverstitch?  If you don't know, the pattern maker doesn't know. This packet will be updated many times during the process of design and development and will eventually be given to your sample maker and/or your manufacturing factory.  This is their BIBLE.  I strongly suggest hiring a freelance tech designer with previous experience in creating tech packs for at least the first season or 2 (if not for every season) until you get the hang of what needs to go into this packet.  Warning:  If you don't update your sketches and all the other details in your packet do NOT be surprised if the garments you get back match those packets exactly.  Even if you had called multiple times with changes...  Back up EVERYTHING with the paper otherwise you will pay for it both in time and money.  
    • Here is a link to a great article about what a Tech Pack should include from a seasoned patternmaker.  Please note that I don't think you need anything more than Excel to create a tech pack.  This article references a software that can definitely help you but new companies need to watch their cash flow.  While using Excel/Word/Illustrator may be the longhand way of creating a tech pack, trust me that it works.  If you hire a freelance tech designer they should already have their own templates that they work with.  Be sure to look at some samples so that you know what you're getting. 
    • If your pattern maker or sewer or factory suddenly can't complete something then you can hand this information off to the next company you hire.  It will save you lots of headaches.  I promise.
  •  Reference Samples.
    • These are not necessary but are very, very helpful.  If you see something that can help your pattern maker understand what you're trying to create be sure to include that in the handoff.   Explain to them what it is about the reference sample you think will help them - is it the drape, construction, fit?  
    • Tape or staple a piece of paper to this sample with a reference number so that there is no confusion about what sample you are referring to for later conversations.  
    • Be sure to include a note in your TECH PACK about this reference sample - "refer to red dress sample #... for sleeve detail."  
  • Communication.
    • Make sure your pattern maker has everything they need.  Trims for reference, accurate elastic measurements, fabric to work with, etc...
    • Call and email to make sure their questions are answered and to follow up on schedule.  Every pattern maker I've worked with tends to forget where they are and what time it is once they get into their work.  This is a GREAT thing but also something that YOU need to monitor.  Help them to help you by discussing with them an order of preference (if you have one).  Which styles do you need to see first?  If you hand everything off and just expect everything to be on time without checking in and double checking on the status of everything you are going to be disappointed and in a bind.  
  • The Golden Rule
    • Always say thank you at the end of any of your emails or phone calls.  You are paying for their services, yes, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't say thank you.  I'm surprised by how many people I've seen not do this.  Thank them for their time and for a job well done. 

Hope this information helps!  Feel free to ask questions.