There is so much to learn when you are starting any business, and if that business involves figuring out manufacturing it’s an even bigger learning curve. To learn more about the process, I contacted The Apparel Agency, a full service agency based in Chicago that works with clothing brands from concept through production. They help fashion businesses with:
- Sourcing of materials
- Creative Design: design spec development, line merchandising, concept development, trend forecasting
- Technical Design: tech pack development, digital pattern development, grading & marking patterns
- Cut/Sew: prototypes, fit samples, sale samples, small and large batch manufacturing, overseas manufacturing
I talked with Denise Belyea from The Apparel Agency to get answers to those really important questions that you need answered before you dive in.
How much time should fashion startups budget for prototyping? for production?
Prototypes take a minimum of 3 to 4 months and production takes a minimum of 4–6 months depending on the factory. So get started on prototyping as soon as you can, because it will be at least seven months before you have your product in hand!
What do you need to have done before working with The Apparel Agency?
You can come to The Apparel Agency with as little as a vision for your fashion brand – but you need to have the vision. This might take the form of sketches or retail concept images that convey the styles you are looking to develop. The Apparel Agency will help you turn this vision into garment designs and then support you through the manufacturing process.
If you want to work with The Apparel Agency on manufacturing only, you would need to have:
- tech pack
- digital pattern file (graded, if you’re doing multiple sizes)
- all of your materials, trims, and notions already purchased and ready for production (plus your BOM – Bill of Materials – if you have it)
- production order request by style, colour and size
You should also have your logo done before you start production because it will need to go on the sew-in tags – so you should hire your graphic designer at least 2-3 months before you want to start production.
Which of your services are fashion startups most surprised that they need?
Tech packs! They are the technical blueprints for your contractor to build the exact product you are producing. If you do not have a tech pack with ALL of the information, your contractor will likely not even take the job. Don’t know what a tech pack is? Here is an example from The Apparel Agency:
The Apparel Agency has partnerships with local Chicago factories as well as partnerships with factories in the USA and internationally. What are the benefits to using local (or semi-local) production?
We have a small sew shop locally to do small batch production (minimum orders as low as 150) and we have partnerships with numerous domestic and off shore factories. Doing your production locally definitely gives you more control over the process. You also have a quicker turn around time and lower shipping costs.
What are some specific challenges of managing production and how does The Apparel Agency make that easier?
Factories want to work with industry professionals to be sure production runs smoothly. Unexpected delays in production materials and trims happen more often than not, which slows the production process considerably.
We have established long-term relationships with our vendors and factories, and we work with them to make sure they meet deadlines. We make sure the factories get ALL of the information they need and have open lines of communication throughout the production process.
And finally, what are 3 industry words or abbreviations that get used all the time in this process that a newbie might not know?
TOP: Top Of Production, the first garment sewn after production is cut.
MOQ: Minimum Order Quantities
COGS: Cost Of Goods Sold, this is the total accumulated cost involved in producing your garment.