Working with a factory is a big step towards getting your designs made. You’ve worked so hard creating the design, getting it patterned and fit just right. Now it is time to actually make it at scale and get it out to the world. As a patternmaker, I help my clients onboard their designs to their factory and I find that designers fall into one of two camps when it comes to this stage. They either are intimidated by this stage and are scared to move forward on their own or they underestimate what goes into onboarding a new design successfully. In either case, it is helpful to know what to expect from the process so you can meet your launch date and your goals.
Import your pattern and tech pack
The first step in onboarding a design to a cut & sew factory is to send them your pattern and tech pack. If you have a sew-by sample of your design, send that to them as well. The more detail you can provide about your garment and the quality of finishes you expect, the better. That will help the factory understand your product and provide you an accurate quote.
Importing the files is not always as simple as just hitting send on an email or dropping a package off at the post office, though. Sometimes getting the patterns and tech packs set up on the factory end takes a bit of back and forth. There are multiple types of patternmaking software that use different native file types. DXF files can be exported and imported between two different softwares pretty efficiently, but sometimes you’ll need to have your patternmaker adjust some export settings so that everything imports correctly on the factory’s side.
Sometimes the factory prefers a hard copy pattern or marker if they don’t have CAD software in house. This requires an extra step of printing or copying the paper patterns or getting a marker made, printed, and shipped to the factory.
Usually tech packs are sent to the factory as a PDF or a Microsoft Excel file as pretty much everyone is able to open these types of files. Some factories may require a certain format be used for tech packs, though.
It is best to ask your factory what their pattern and tech pack file type preferences are even during the development process so that everything is ready to import smoothly without any back and forth during onboarding.
Sample testing and approval
After patterns and tech packs have been imported at the factory, the next step in onboarding is pre-production sampling (PPS). Before providing any firm pricing, the factory will want to make a sample of the design to see how long it takes. This sample process also gives you the chance to see and review the factory’s sewing quality. If you provided a thorough tech pack and well-made pattern, hopefully the PPS looks good and no changes are needed. It is not unusual for there to be slight adjustments made at this stage to clarify the desired construction or for the factory to adjust their machines to better handle the fabric or style.
Optimize for production
Even the best tech packs and patterns can sometimes be improved based on factory testing and feedback. This is not necessarily the fault of the designer, patternmaker, or technical designer (though if there are lots of frequent issues here, it can be). Especially when working with a new product type or working with a new factory for the first time, opportunities for optimization emerge at this stage.
The factory may have a recommendation for an easier way to construct a part of the garment or they might suggest a different seam type that will yield more consistent quality results within their workflow. The pattern might need to be adjusted to account for table shrinkage that the factory might experience. These types of tweaks build on the product development process and further refine the style for production. I always appreciate when a factory is proactive and voices their concerns and recommendations as it makes the final product that much better.
Price quote and purchase order
Based on the PP sample and any refinements made, the factory will be able to give you a quote for producing your order. They will need to know how many units you plan to order. They might have been able to give you a rough estimate after importing your pattern and tech pack and looking at your sew-by sample, but now is when you’ll get the firm price.
If you need to lower your cost, you might need to make more tweaks to your design and patterns to reduce complexity. This pushes you back a few steps in the onboarding process as you’ll need to have a new PP sample made before proceeding.
Once you and the factory are happy with the pricing and sample quality, it is time to place your purchase order (P.O.) and schedule your production run.
Send your material inventory
You’ve already sent the factory some sample materials to use for the PPS, but at this stage in onboarding, you’ll need to send them all your fabrics, trims, notions, labels, etc. needed to make your production order if you haven’t already. Each factory has different preferences on how they want materials shipped and organized. Ask your factory how they prefer to receive materials, if/how they quality check incoming materials, and how the inventory will be tracked as materials get used toward your orders.
The last step of onboarding a design to your factory is often getting sales samples or a size run made. Sample orders are small quantity orders ahead of a larger production run that are used at trade shows, for marketing shoots, and to double check sizing before the bulk order is cut. Samples are often 2-3X the bulk production price, but are worth it to test the market and the product before making the commitment to the final production order.
Onboarding a design to your factory is a big step towards getting your design made. The product is designed, but there are still things that need to be done to get it properly set up at your factory. Depending on whether you’ve worked with this factory, materials, or product type before, this onboarding process can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Once complete, though, you’ll get to start seeing your customers wearing your design.