The product development phase may seem daunting, but it is actually just a time to test and tweak your design before mass production. Each step has a purpose to help you evaluate different aspects of the product and how it’s manufactured — from performance, to fit, to ease of care. Once the testing is done, you’ll have all the proper tools you need for production.
Testing in Product Development:
Choosing fabric for your design is the first step in developing your product. You’ll order swatch cards or headers from different mills, agents, or converters and compare them to find a fabric that is just right for your design. With the fabric swatches you’ll be able to see which fabrics you like as well as compare cost,colorway, and MOQ options.
If you are producing custom fabric, lab dips are what you will use to test the color of your fabric. Lab dips are a cut of your fabric dyed in the color you requested. Often you are sent several shade options and you can choose which you like best for production.
Similar to lab dips, you’ll get strike-offs when developing custom printed fabric or graphics. You’ll be able to check for colors, scale, print quality, etc.
Once you’ve decided on a fabric, you’ll want to order several yards for fit sampling and care testing. Test cuttings with multiple washing methods: regular wash and dry, hand wash and flat dry, dry clean, etc. You can use this data to create your care labels. Also note how the fabric hand feel changes after several washings and make sure it holds up to your quality standards.
Torque and shrinkage is another thing to test with sample fabric. Take measurements both before and after washing to measure how much the fabric shrinks in each direction. You may decide not to use the fabric based on your test results. If the fabric passes your testing and you decide to use it, the shrinkage information will be used by your patternmaker so they can adjust the pattern specifically to the fabric.
Fit samples are used to test the pattern and make sure the fit of the garment is how you want it. The goal is not to end up with a perfect, one-off garment, but to end up with a perfect, well-fitting pattern. Each sample embodies that iteration of the pattern. Once the sample fits well, you’ll know the fit of the pattern is ready.
You can also use the fit samples to further test washing and care if the sample has all the final trims and closures included.
Tools for Production:
The goal of all this testing during product development is to arrive at the tools you need for production. Each tool has its own purpose.
A tech pack is a complete document that details everything about your design and how to make it. It includes technical sketches, sewing instructions, a list of materials, sizing specifications, and label placement. The tech pack not only helps you keep track of development and what decisions were made regarding the design, but also communicates everything to your factory. It is a go-to document that keeps you and your factory on the same page and outlines all the quality standards and expectations. (If you want to read more about what’s in a tech pack and see examples, check out this series of posts.)
Your factory will use a sew-by sample along with the tech pack as a guide to how the garment should be sewn. An approved fit sample can sometimes be used for this purpose. All the internal seams and finishes need to be how you want them so that the production sewers can use the garment as a reference.
The pattern is the template that is used to cut out your garment. It includes all sizes of your design as well as any guides for applique, trim, or button placement. A good pattern is the backbone of your product and controls good fit, quality, and ease of sewing.
Product development is all about testing every aspect of your design so you end up with the tools you need for successful production.