Wednesday, August 9, 2017
When I started working at the well-known North London fashion production studio, I was astonished by the amount of time and money wasted by fashion brands due to poor communication with the manufacturer and misunderstandings about production processes. The factory clientele included both world known and young designers, but the problems were clear to affect everyone across the board.
Having worked with both parties: brand's production managers and factory floor workers closely, I'd like to share my learnings on how brands should approach and work with manufacturers.
In this post, I'll describe a couple of most common issues that factories complain about when dealing with fashion designers at the very beginning of the production process. In my experience, these issues are shared between fashion professionals across the world, be it in Europe, the USA or Asia.
Try to avoid these pitfalls and you’ll stand a better chance of building successful relationships with factories that will last for years.
1. Communicate all technical details of a design as accurately as possible to know what your garment will cost to make.
PROBLEM: Very often, designers fail to clearly convey all, if any, technical details of a design to manufacturers that leads to unexpected final costs in production.
MY EXPERIENCE: At our studio, we’d typically get emails that contained a few vague sketches, often with no other details, asking for sampling or production cost based just on that data. Only at a later date, after numerous meetings, messages and phone calls, we’d finally find out all technical requirements to be able to give designers a more accurate sampling or production estimation.
SOLUTION: All this can be avoided if designers take time to carefully plan and start creating techpacks (or spec sheets) before they contact factories.
Techpack is undoubtedly the most effective fashion design communication method with your sample maker and factory. Being a work in progress, techpacks are regularly revised and updated. Experienced designers constantly ask factories for ways to make production quicker and cheaper, and amend techpacks with new info. Things like applying different finishing or using more suitable zippers and buttons can have significant influence on how long your garment will take to make and cost. So keep asking your factory manager whether there’s a way to make production processes easier for the workers and therefore lower the make costs for you.
2. Address any changes in production as early as possible to avoid delays in delivery.
PROBLEM: While many designers have a general idea about the manufacturing process itself, very often they underestimate the impact a simple design change could make to the production timeline.
MY EXPERIENCE: At our studio, brands often repeated their best selling styles, season after season, while “only slightly” amending design or introducing new fabrics and trims for the new collection. They then expected the factory to simply repeat the last season’s production processes and deliver ready products in the same time frame as the last year. Another example would be designers providing new, not previously seen by factory, materials to be used for production, forgetting that the pattern cutters have to spend more time to cut new cloth, machinists had to adjust sewing machine settings and the workflow to accommodate new developments etc.
Again, the way we’d find out about all these changes would be right before the sampling or production to be started, and thus having to renegotiate terms and conditions of this particular production.
Very often, information on such sudden changes would be sent via email, and may get lost on the way to the cutting and sewing floors, resulting in mistakes or even ruined orders.
SOLUTION: The best adapted solution I've seen to this? A brand production manager I’d worked with had adopted a triple (!) reminder system for us and other manufacturers.
With every design/materials change, they would:
Email a factory a new techpack, highlighting each change in BOLD RED LETTERS;
Send the physical copy of the email or the attachment (techpack or spec sheets) with the date stamp and the same BOLD RED LETTERS highlighting the changes;
Give us a phone call to confirm that we'd received the latest information and make us make the record of the call for future references.
All that was done because in many years since this brand had been in operation, they had so many orders messed up, they didn't want to take any more risks!
Can technology aid into simplifying these processes?
Nowadays, in addition to email, more and more brands are using messaging apps like WhatsApp to communicate with factories. Hoping that all amendments to designs would get fully noticed and clearly communicated to the factory floor from the person who receives such messages in the office. But ultimately, all that gets improved is the speed at which these messages are received.
Is there a better solution? I believe firstly creating techpacks using Techpacker, then taking advantage of its Track Changes feature to visually communicate revisions let designers handle both the above mentioned issues rather very simply:
When factories receive techpacks made using Techpacker, instead of Excel, they get a professional template detailing the images, flats, BOM chart and spec table of the required design. Even the most complicated of ideas are easy to note there with features like drag & drop Images and annotation/ callouts.
To address design changes, Techpacker has this really cool feature that automatically highlights the new amendments made between the techpack versions. This way factories can easily spot new details without having to flip through every page; whereas designers do not need to worry about manually highlighting those differences in the new version.
And all that’s left to do is to create a brand new PDF document to be sent to factories, in one click. With a handy option to view and maintain all previous techpack versions, in case of future disputes and misunderstandings. And without having to look for crucially important details all the way in long email chains.
Across the industry, many established and new designers still rely on emails and personal meetings to give factories the first idea of their desired product. More technically advanced brands make their techpacks in Excel, but have to resend new versions over to the factories when any changes happen.
Isn’t it time fashion designers started using the most effective way of introducing and informing factories of design elements and changes to them?
My experience says that manufacturers will be certainly grateful for clearer communication, and brands avoid delays and errors in production. It’s a win-win for everyone.
By: Venera at Techpacker
The author of this post is Venera Nurgazieva, content contributor at Techpacker. She has worked in the London fashion scene since 2003 and have been exposed to all aspects of the industry: retail, design, production, e-commerce and marketing. She's fascinated by technology and currently focused on what comes next in fashion tech sphere.