Getting your design ready for production is a many-step process that takes time, resources, and dedication. When deadlines are approaching or budgets get tight, it is tempting to skip over some steps to get to the production stage quicker. In the long run, though, skipping steps can really cost you. Here are five steps that are tempting to skip, but are actually critical to the success of your end product.
Wash testing fabrics
Have you ever had a tee-shirt where the side seams twisted? Or pulled your new tall jeans out of the dryer to find that they are now crops? Or wondered why the zipper on your hoodie is all buckled and scalloped? Or what about finding that your favorite soft, brushed knit top is suddenly pilled and scratchy after the first wash? Frustrating, isn’t it. Thankfully, all these things can be prevented or avoided if you wash test your fabrics.
Wash testing all your sample fabrics and trims at the very beginning of development tells you ahead of time how your fabric holds up. Measuring the width, length, torque (twisting of the fabric), and hand feel of your fabrics before and after a few wash and dry cycles will tell you key information about how it will behave as the end customer uses it. If there is a chance your garment would be dry cleaned, send a yard of sample fabric to the dry cleaners as well.
Wash testing is done at the very beginning of development before any patterns or samples are made. Sometimes after seeing the results, you may decide to source new fabrics altogether that wash and wear with fewer changes or less shrinkage. Or if you decide to go with your original fabric, you can give your patternmaker the wash test results and they can cut the pattern accounting for any shrinkage of the fabric. Once you’ve chosen a fabric, the results of your wash testing will also help you determine what care instructions need to go on your care labels.
Fitting in your middle size
I know it’s tempting to do your fit sampling in a size extra-small so that you can double up and use those same samples for your photoshoot. Don’t give in. You want to test your fit in the most popular size you offer which is usually the middle size (medium for a standard XS-XL or an eight or ten for a 2-16 size range). By sampling your middle size, you get a better look at how your garment will fit the average customer.
Calculating costs and yields is another reason to fit sample in your middle size. If you estimated your fabric usage (yield) based on cutting extra-small samples, you could find yourself short fabric when it comes to production. Estimating yield based on your middle size is a much more accurate average.
Additionally, whoever is grading your pattern to create the other sizes will have a much easier time of it because starting from the middle size and working out rather than starting at one end of the size range will be less prone to errors.
Fitting your samples on a live fit model
Time savings are great, but skipping fitting your designs on a live person is not worth the risk. Waiting a few extra days or even a week or so to schedule a fitting with your fit model will save you time down the road. Fitting on a dress form can reveal some things about the fit of a sample, but there is no substitute for trying your garment on a moving, breathing person who can offer feedback on how it feels and how easy it is to get on and off. Even better to test new products is to have your fit model wear the garment out and about for a few days. With this feedback, you can more quickly get your garment perfected and not end up with products that don’t fit. For example, you don’t want a batch of jackets that are so constricting when worn that you can’t comfortably give someone a hug or pull-on shorts that don’t stretch quite enough in the waist to get over your hips.
If anyone other than you yourself is doing the production, you’re going to want to have a tech pack for each style. You may be thinking “my factory is local and doesn’t need a tech pack” or “my sewers have been making my product for a while now and they know how it is made” or “my product is really simple – it doesn’t need a tech pack”. It is not about how good your sewers are, how complex your product is, or how near or far away your factory is. It’s about documenting all the materials that go into your product and the process for how it is made, quality checked, and finished. It’s about communicating standards and expectations so that your production runs are consistent and meet your quality standards.
If you don’t have a tech pack and the sewer who knows the construction of your product by heart leaves, who will then know how to make it? When you receive your product from the factory, how will you know if it is in spec if you don’t have specifications written down anywhere to check against? How will the factory know they have received all the right fabrics, trims, and labels they need to make your product if they don’t have a tech pack to reference?
A tech pack will contain all the key information about construction, materials, sizing, labels and hang tags, packaging, quality control, colorways, and a history of all the developments and iterations for that style. It is a go-to document for you and your factory to make sure you are both on the same page about all aspects of your product. Even if you think your product is simple, there is probably more than one way it can be put together. Trust me, neither you nor your factory will be able to remember all the information in your heads, so do yourself a favor and don’t skip getting tech packs.
Size Run Samples
You just approved your base size pre-production sample and you are tempted to skip sampling in your other sizes and go ahead with production instead. What can go wrong? The factory has made your samples correctly in one size, why would the other sizes make a difference?
Size run samples provide a check and balance. Size run samples are a good practice run for your factory to ensure that the pattern for every size goes together as well as the base size does. It is also a chance for you to test your size grading by having different people try on each size. This is especially important for new brands who are still testing their fit and sizing with their customers.
You don’t want to get your production run made only to find out that the extra-larges don’t fit quite as well as the mediums and aren’t selling or the graphic placement on the center front looks awkwardly large on the extra-smalls.
There are ways to be efficient and save time and money while developing your designs, but skipping one of these five steps is only going to cause you bigger headaches down the road.