Have you ever felt lost when it comes to the technical aspects of your brand? Like you designed the pieces and are so familiar with the end product and your customer who it is for, but you feel like you’re flying blind in the middle part when it comes to the inner workings of your brand’s product development and production. You’re not alone. I’ve heard from more than one founder who’s experienced this. You want to keep a high level of quality for your brand and want to feel in control of doing so, but when you are working with outside people for development and production you feel like you have no choice but to trust they are doing it right. While it can feel that way, there actually are things you can do as the brand owner to stay in control of product quality even if you aren’t technical, can’t open your production files, or don’t know how to sew.
Invest in a thorough tech pack
You may think that a tech pack is only for the factory, but actually there is so much in a tech pack that helps you out as the designer. A tech pack is a technical document for sure, but it is mainly a communication tool – which means that it should be easy to read and understand by all involved. This is why tech packs not only have written information, but also plenty of pictures, sketches, and diagrams. If some item or finishing is in your finished product, it should be in your tech pack as well.
It is well worth it to invest in a tech pack at the beginning of development, so it can develop and evolve with your product and reflect its status at each stage. That will give you the ability to see the product details for yourself to confirm it is on track with your vision.
Once your pattern for the style is complete and graded into all its sizes, the finished measurements will be listed in the spec sheet of the tech pack. These measurements are key to evaluating product quality both from the factory side and on your side as the brand! The tech pack and the measurements within are the quality agreement between you and the factory and set the standard for the level of quality that is acceptable and what is not. If you already have a tech pack, don’t forget you can use it in this way to double check quality for yourself.
Measure each sample
Every time you receive a sample of your product from your patternmaker or factory, measure it against the tech pack measurements. Your patternmaker or factory may be doing this already before sending you the sample (this is something I always do) so you can check with them to make sure you have access to each sample evaluation as well.
While fitting the style on your fit model is important to see how it looks and feels, knowing the numbers that make that look and feel gives you concrete feedback to give to your patternmaker or factory. Subjective and objective feedback is more precise. Taking measurements for each sample provides a clear basis for comparing multiple samples or production runs to ensure consistent quality over time.
Save a copy of all your editable source files
Most digital production patterns are saved in file types that can’t be opened unless you have a CAD patternmaking software. Sometimes CAD files can be opened in Adobe Illustrator, but often not. I understand how this can stress designers out. Not being able to open your pattern files means you can’t check for yourself what is really there. Unfortunately, there isn’t a good way to save all the pattern’s production and grading information in a file and still be openable on your average computer all in one file type. Here’s what I recommend that gives you the best of both worlds.
If you don’t have them already, ask your patternmaker or factory for both the native CAD file and a dxf/rul file for each of your patterns. The native file is the easiest for someone opening up the file in the same software as the factory. The dxf and accompanying rul file is kind of the PDF of the CAD world – it can be opened in pretty much every patternmaking software. You most likely won’t be able to open either of these file formats, but that’s okay. Save them anyway. This gives you flexibility to work with other vendors without starting over on patterns. In addition to these production formats, see if you can get a copy of your patterns as Adobe Illustrator or PDF files. This way you’ll be able to open them on your computer or print them out to see them for yourself.
Beyond just patterns, keep copies of all your styles’ technical information like the tech pack, any sample review sheets, etc. Keeping your technical assets organized and accessible gives you control over your products’ production and quality. Ask for editable files whenever possible so that you can make updates as needed.
Get a size run before production
No one wants to get production in and realize that the garments weren’t what you asked for. That is why it is best to test and confirm everything is just right before production. One of the best ways to do this is with a size run. Once you’ve approved the initial factory sample (usually a costing sample or pre-production sample – PPS) and pricing, get one of each size made. This gives the factory a chance to test out the pattern in every size and catch any issues as well as giving you a preview of their work and the product quality.
Remember that tech pack? Measure and write down each of these size run samples against the graded spec in the tech pack. Then tag and keep these samples separate from your other inventory. If these samples measured as expected and the quality looked good, then these are the “gold standard” as it were of your production. Setting them aside as an example of the agreed-upon production quality gives you another level of tangible control over future quality.
If you ever feel in the dark or out of control about what is going on with your development or production, ask your patternmaker or factory if they can explain. Contrary to what you may think, asking questions when you don’t know something doesn’t make you look bad. It shows you care about your brand’s quality and are willing to put in the effort to grow your knowledge as best you can. I can’t speak for everyone in this field, but I really like when founders and designers want to be involved in their product. It is my goal to make sure you have peace of mind at each step and feel confident going into production.
Navigating the technical side of developing and producing fashion products can seem beyond your control when you aren’t the one doing all the work yourself. However, there are many things you can do to take charge of your technical assets and product quality so you can feel confident about the end result.