Thursday, June 28, 2012

How To Get Us to Sew Your Stuff

                  This post is for Lauren, who asked me how designers put together tech packs for me to do contract sewing for them. So yes, our little shop does contract sewing in the area for locals who need private label work and others who are small designers looking to take the step-up from one-offs with their first big order. Nash and I are not rich. We sing for our suppers. While it would be nice to think that there's a VC or magic investment from a rich family member in the business, I've had to make my peace with the fact that there's no $10-40k check waiting in the mail for me to launch us to the next level or even over the highs and lows of starting out. Or if there is, would you please give me a call, because I've been waiting for that?
                   What we lack in money, I feel Nash and I are lucky enough to make-up in wonderful friends, family, colleagues, and businesses who love, support, and work with us. Some great partnerships have come from matching my needle to someone's pen or need. One of the most fun is pushing a fellow designer a little farther up the hill to the big digs. While I used to just tell people to bring in a drawing, I have become more selective over time. Our general minimum order is 100 that we accept for a product, the max is 10,000. We will do 4-6 colors per order at no extra cost, provided the fabrics are similar. Fabric can vary by content, weight, and color so different fabrics may require different patterns to cut them which means I can not just cut them in one go. Dark, heavy, and thick fabrics generally require larger patterns than light, thin, airy ones. Small orders under 500, a shop generally is breaking even on and paying labor, so I like to ask for the following:

1) Drawing- prefer technical with seams in Illustrator, I will also accept an actual sample in place of a drawing. (1-2 hrs.). You can also sketch one out on the back of a napkin with pen and ink. Both old and new school are perfectly acceptable. I want to see where your thoughts are.
2) Sewn Sample- this can be a rough prototype, something you've sewn at home, or a few samples you've sold at stores. If you have made less than 500, please be open to me cleaning up the pattern for a professional look. (5-6 hrs. typical if starting from scratch) I've also gotten all types of hot glue, paper, etc. Give me an idea of what you want. A picture is worth a thousand words.
3) Tech/Spec Sheet- think of the back of a sewing page that lists your sewing notions you will need, order pieces are sewn in, and type of seam sewn. I prefer the international seam system developed by the US military as it standard, I've also had clients cut out pieces of the sample and tape them to the page which is KICK butt. I've worked in factories where the assembly line would call 4 different seams: a hem. It was maddening. Either follow the standard industry names, pictures, etc. or give me a physical sample. Please assume I'm not as brilliant as you. Most of what I do is lightweight manufacturing single needle construction and serging. I want to have the tech sheet to calculate thread and time usage. If you are flexible on the construction methods for cost let me know and we can discuss different methods which will cost you more or less than others. (30-40 minutes)
4) Physical pattern- You should give me 2: a cut pattern and a marking pattern. If you are doing this in the computer, I expect an STL file. DO NOT give me a cut pattern in illustrator. Do your technical drawing in it, but you will drive me crazy if you try to send me actual cut patterns in it. NO, just NO. No exceptions. If you are doing it old school, I love oaktag or heavy cardstock. Heck, if you do it with the green back, I'll knock 3% off the price because you're that awesome and we now LOVE you for marking your backs. I also accept x's and marking one side to help with cutting. There is a great designer paper outlet in Cary near Crossroads 20 that sells lovely stuff as well as a place in Durham. This is not expensive and should take 1-2 hrs. to do. The patterns must be cleanly marked with a front and back via standard methods. If you are unsure how to do this you can download a free sewing pattern off the internet or pick one up locally, heck...I'll give you one. If you are doing sizing, you will need to give me the graded patterns.

This is all considered standard designer stuff. I will generally charge $50-60/hr. to fix anything here before going to the next part which is the actual sewing. About half my clients need no help, the other half require some piece of the above being done in house by me. I will tell you what needs to be fixed before doing it, I will not run up a bill just to run one up. I can hand it back to you to fix on your own time or you can pay me to fix it depending on what is worth more to you: time or money. Typical time is 6 hrs. to a day to fix issues/walk a client through this the first time. Generally, clients can learn these parts on their own or I can get you patternmakers in the area to do these parts for you. And if YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GRADE, DO NOT FAKE IT. Especially in Gerber. Gerber is crap and your finger should be slapped for that sloppy work. It is too inexpensive to have that done for you to have the headaches. The sewn sample is normally the longest, most expensive part. The tech pack is the least expensive. I will often forgo charging for it if the client has everything else.

How I determine Pricing From What You Give Me

Based on what you give me, I take the standard sewing rates, factor in thread usage rates, and add any extras such as printing, embossing, etc to give you a final quote. If there are any questions, I default to the standard. Generally sewing rates are determined by cutting $1-2 per piece and seams which vary between $.30-1.50 per seam, the average is $.70-1.00. I have a number of specialty machines which do some multiple functions like inserting a zipper in maybe 1-2 steps instead of a typical 7-10 steps. You are charged for the physical pass that the sewing operator is making to set the price, not the number of needles used. Handling time sets rates and is 80% of the contract sewing time. This only applies for large order contract sewing in which economy of scale is a factor. Small orders or one-off are charged at the normal American Guild sewing rates because you don't really get the speed or efficiency in small orders that you do over 100 or 1,000. The rates are readily available on the website. After you agree to an amount, Nash writes up an invoice which is good for 7 days, you must put down a full deposit up front. After that, the rates are subject to change. Sewing rates tend to be highest in the second half of the year and lowest right after Christmas. It's not a huge difference, but there are typical seasonal variations. General turnaround is 2-6 weeks after you approve the first sample. Especially for new clients, I will give a sample pack to make sure the quality is what they are expecting and allow for any last minute simple tweaks. It's helpful to have a proof before you have a hundred coats, pants, etc. sitting on your doorstep. I tell clients, one or two problem...anything more than that and I start charging my hourly design rate. It helps smooth over small fixes, while preventing getting bogged down in unnecessary changes and dithering. It's too easy to get so attached to one's design to the point of being unable to let it go to the public. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. We will often offer a 1 year limited warranty, if something breaks or a client returns it a couple months after they bought it from normal use(stuff happens), we will repair it at no cost. This is normally small stuff like sewing back on a button or replacing a clasp. It has to be stuff related to the sewing. I can hem a pair of pants, I can not change cheap fabric that unravels if you buy inexpensive stuff. I have some great resources in the area if you are looking to use people in this state, North Carolina is awesome for local resources. Most of my stuff has been out in the market for several years now with no returns, but I like people to know we stand behind our product. This is our way of trying to balance out the upfront deposit, you know you can come back and get us to fix stuff on the back end. 

Alright, I hope this has been helpful. And for those that are curious, now you know. Have a great day and if you are interested in having us make or manufacture some of your product shoot me an e-mail at:

Note: We do not do children's wear.

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