pre-production 101

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Pre-production is all of the preparation you do before you are ready to move into production.  It can feel frustrating to slow down and pick through all of the details when you want to dive right into producing your garments.  In your mind, they make perfect sense, they fit everyone perfectly, and it’s all going to be perfect, darn it!

Well, I hate to break it to you, but perfection is the elusive unicorn of apparel manufacturing – meaning, it doesn’t exist.  

One of the realities of apparel manufacturing that makes it so incredible is also its biggest hurdle.  Many, many people will have touched your garment by the time it reaches your customer.  For a small operation like The Whole Works, I estimate that at least 20 people will physically handle some part of your garment on its way from the fabric mill to the sewing floor.  That is beautiful, because it means that the clothing you are producing has an amazing story to tell about the people who make it.  Unfortunately, it also means that are many opportunities for mistakes and misunderstandings to happen along the way.  All of those wonderful people are only human, and sometimes a child at home is sick, or a loved one has just graduated from college, and we miss something in the distraction.  Other times we do the best with the information we have, only to realize we were missing one crucial detail.

The people who knit, grade, cut, bundle, sew, and ship your garments are not mind readers – we will not guess that you wanted 3 buttons instead of 4, or that you imagined a ¾” inch hem not a ½”.  As the designer you have great power, and, of course, great responsibility.  We are here to make your production as easy as possible, but we need your input from the beginning.


Clarify your design.

If you have not yet completed a spec sheet for each garment in your line, do so now.  Before you do anything else.  Stop buying fabric!  Quit ogling trims!  Until you have completed the design in your own mind, down to the hook-eye closure, you don’t want to be spending money.  You will have lots of opportunities to spend money, so just hang in there.

Please take a look at our spec sheet template, if you need an inspiration.  This will help you to create the blueprint for your design, and will guide you the rest of the way.

If you are new to the design process, and have trouble translating your design into a spec sheet, we can help!  We offer Design Consultation services, where you can tap into our expertise to solve any design problems or questions you have.

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Source Fabric

Now that you have your design spec’d, and you know what kinds of fabrics, contrasts and trims you are looking for, reach out to vendors and start collecting swatches.  There are many fabric vendors with low minimums and in stock fabrics that are perfect for small designers.

The apparel industry is notoriously murky and difficult to navigate until you get a foothold and learn to speak the language.  Don’t despair.  We offer Fabric Sourcing services, drawing on our extensive network of vendors and mills both domestically and internationally to fill your fabric needs.  

Also, keep your eye out for our Fabric Sourcing workshop, where you will learn the language, terms, and tricks of finding and ordering fabric.  Coming soon!

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Pattern Making

Communication is key when you begin working with your pattern maker.  Together, you will make an idea a reality, and it is truly amazing.  Find a pattern maker you trust and hold on to them for dear life.

Good pattern makers are highly educated, well trained, and imaginative.  They can turn a 2 dimensional sketch into a 2 dimensional pattern that will become a 3 dimensional garment.  It is a special kind of mind that can handle that sort of transformation.

Your pattern maker will use the information in your spec sheet to make a first pattern.  This is why the spec sheet is so crucial to begin – it will keep long and costly conversations with your pattern maker to a minimum.  

Take a look at pricing for our Pattern Making services here.

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Ordering sample fabric

Your pattern maker will give you a rough yield based on the first pattern, and you can use this to order your sample fabric.  Order enough for two to three samples, because 9 times out of 10, you will be making changes to the first sample.  Sample fabric is usually quite a bit more expensive than fabric that you buy for production.  Unless you are incredibly good at sourcing fabric, and already know exactly what fabric you will be using, try to source fabric from a vendor that offers sample yardage.  If your only option is to buy a roll before you have ever even touched the fabric, you might have regrets.  

Fabric Sourcing services available.

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First sample:

It is a good idea to make your first sample in the fabric that you want to use for production.  It may be tempting to use a cheaper fabric, since this first sample will most likely need revisions, but just don’t.  You are using this first sample to get an idea of fit and design, and fabric plays a huge role in both of those aspects.  You want the changes you make to be correctly reflected in the final sample, and in final production, so do yourself a favor and use the correct fabric and trim.

We offer Sample Making services to help you with this stage of development.

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Oh fitting, you fickle fiend.  This is one of the most important aspects of the development process.  Your first sample will most likely need fit corrections – meaning small tweaks in the way the garment fits on your fit model.  

What is a fit model?  A fit model is a live person who has the same measurements as your sample size – which you outlined in your spec sheet.  If your pattern maker makes your pattern with a certain set of measurements, but you fit the sample on someone with different measurements the sample will not fit.  It seems intuitive, but it is really important to emphasize this point: your sample size is not arbitrary.  Do not rely on a generic size chart to determine your sample size.  Know your audience, and find a model that represents the person who will wear your clothes.  

When you fit, put the garment on your fit model and take time to really see how the garment fits, hangs and moves.  Many fit corrections are small – ½” inch here, ¼” there.  This is the moment when you either make or break or break your garment.  Fit is one of the most important qualities customers look for in their clothing – make it great.

For help with fitting, see our Design Consultation services.

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Final Sample

First of all, you may have a few rounds of fitting before you get to the final sample.  Simply repeat the two previous steps as many times as necessary to get the fit just right.

After you have made your fit corrections, and they have been applied to your pattern, you will make a final sample.  This sample will ideally represent your garment exactly the way it will look coming off the production line.  Fabric, trim, finishing, and sewing quality should all be representative of your final design.  This is the sample that you would give to your sales rep, or post on your website for pre-sales.  You want it to be – I’ll say it – perfect.

It might be a good idea to make your final sample with the factory that will be sewing your production.  That way, you kill two birds with one stone – a final sample to drum up sales, and you have the peace of mind of knowing what your production will look like from your manufacturer.

At this point, any changes you want to make should have been made.  Between the final sample and production nothing changes.  The hem doesn’t magically get longer; the fit doesn’t suddenly become more relaxed.  If something is not sitting right with you speak now or forever hold your peace.  

Again, production sewers are not mind readers.  It is our job to re-create your design exactly as it is presented to us.  It is not up to us to decide whether or not the sleeve cap should pucker or lay flat.  We will make what is given to us, so give us exactly what you want.

Check out our Sample Making services.

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You made it through pre-production! Congratulations!  Time to kick back and pop a bottle of champagne.  Pre-production can often feel frustration, confusing, and time consuming.  At The Whole Works, we strive to make this process as streamlined and stress free as possible.  You can always check out our Design Consultation services to get support and have a knowledgeable guide lead you through pre-production.  That’s what we are here for!

Now, take a deep breath, because you are ready to think about Production 101!

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