Apparel 101

Your guide to all things production.

Key Takeaways

  1. Production is about more than just bringing a collection to life. You have to consider a gamut of processes from fabric sourcing to drop shipping.
  2. Who you work with matters. Some factories may be inexpensive, but their production quality won’t necessarily be up-to-par. 
  3. The best way to ensure that you receive the right product is to maintain quality inspections throughout the production process. That means visiting factories IRL, or hiring someone else to do so.

For up-and-coming designers production is often a make-or-break moment. Whether you’ve got buyers lined up for your new collection or you’re just starting to draft a business plan, there’s a lot to consider before you start manufacturing. That’s why we’ve created a go-to glossary for all things production: everything you need to know before you start turning sketches into samples. 


Ideation

Ideation is the process of coming up with a concept for a collection or one-off design. For most designers this means creating a mood board, sketching, and swatching fabrics—whatever it is you need to do to get your creative juices flowing. 


Emotive Sketching

Put simply: emotive sketches are drawings that express the proportions, mood, and styling of your designs—the end-vision of your products. This step of the drawing process is usually done by hand on 3-D models, but feel free to get creative. Emotive sketching should be fluid and romantic. 


Technical Sketches

Flats or technical sketches are the clean, precise drawings used for pattern making. Flats usually consist of clean, black outlines with minimal shading, but can also include full-color computer renderings. Most designers like to use programs like Adobe Illustrator so they can create variations on a single garment. The most important thing to remember about flats is that they are technical sketches, meaning they should be proportionate and include details like seams, stiching, and zippers. 


Tech Pack

A tech pack is a blueprint for how your garment should be constructed, including: materials, colorways, hardware, trims, and measurements. Tech packs are more detailed than standard flats, acting as the final step in the design process before pattern making, sampling, and production. 


Pattern Making 

Pattern making is the act of turning your design into a physical blueprint that can be used to create a prototype, and later, manufacture your garment. This is one of the most challenging parts of the design process, as result most designers leave pattern making to the pros. If you don’t have an in-house pattern maker it's easy to outsource this step of the production process to someone else, or hire individuals on a freelance basis. It’s possible that you can draft your own pattern, but keep in mind: building a sample is usually the most cost-intensive part of the design process and the better your pattern, the more likely you will end up with a finished product that reflects your initial vision. 


Fabric Sourcing

For new designers, fabric sourcing can be a tricky part of the production process. Depending on your budget and location, it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. To start, do your research. Fabric is all about touch, technical specs, and functionality. Once you find a look or feel for the fabric you want to use for your garment, it’s important to get a second opinion. Fabric retailers can help you decide whether a certain fabric is appropriate for the style of garment you are producing, whether it’s a technical sportswear or high-end couture. If you’re ordering samples online or buying fabric in bulk from a wholesaler, the most important thing to consider is budget and future production. Always make sure your fabric source has enough product to support the production of your collection later on, otherwise you could end up with orders you won’t be able to fulfill in the future. 


MOQ

Minimum order quantities (MOQ) are the minimum amount of fabric a supplier will sell to you in one order. Suppliers will often have two tiers of minimums, fulfilling small orders for samples and larger orders for manufacturing. Most designers like to start out with small orders in case their samples don’t turn out the way they want. In fact, many go through several iterations of the same style with different fabrics before finding the correct look and feel for their product. Fabric prices can sometimes be negotiable when you’re buying directly from a supplier. As a general rule, the higher quantities, the better the price point. 


Prototype

A prototype or sample is the final iteration of your garment before going into production. Usually creating a prototype takes several attempts, and can be one of the more costly aspects of the design process. Some designers create their own samples, but ideally this step of the process will be completed by a technical seamstress. Prototypes are crucial as they provide a blueprint for your final product. These true-fit fabrications should be fully functional, and proportional, as they will determine sizing and fit specifications later on.  


Grading

Grading is the process used to alter the size of a garment, taking it from a four to a six, eight, for example. Grading is technical, and needs to be done correctly to ensure the garment stays proportional and doesn’t veer from the original silhouette or design. Grading will also help determine your production cost, the amount of fabric you will need per garment, per size. 

Marking 

Marking is the process of laying out your patterns to determine how much fabric you will need for production. You can think of it like a jigsaw puzzle, only in this case you’re fitting the pieces as close together as possible so you can minimize fabric waste when cutting out your patterns. Marking can be done by hand or, for large-scale production, by machine. Once marking is complete, your fabric can be stacked up and cut. 


Quality control

After you’ve sourced a factory for production, you need to continuously check-in to ensure that the quality of manufacturing is maintained throughout the production process. This could mean visiting the factory yourself or sending a trusted quality assurance inspector to check in on the production of your collection. A garment goes through many hands during the production process, so it’s important to check in every step of the way to make sure you’re getting the quality you want. 


Shipping

Before you complete production you need to decide how and where your products will be shipped. If you’re dealing with manufacturers overseas you need to consider the time and cost of customs and shipping. For this reason, many retailers choose to “drop ship,” sending their finished garments directly to their stores or third party retailers. Drop shipping is a great option for larger companies who maintain strict quality assurance protocols throughout the production process but it is riskier for smaller brands. Generally, you want to have your final product shipped to your studio or warehouse for final inspection before sending it out to retailers.