VFS Mentoring Event Review: Tips on Production for Designers

For those of you who missed Tuesday’s mentoring class discussing the topic of ‘Production’, do not fear, you have not missed out! Summarised below are the key points, questions & answers raised and discussed on the night…

First though, let me introduce our guests’ speakers:

Anna Brett: Managing Director of Image Studio Production.
A high end manufacturing studio specialising in patterns, toiles, samples and production with no minimum orders. Clients have included Peter Pilotto, William Tempest, Vivienne Westwood and Marios Schwab.

Judith Tolley: Manager at the Centre for Fashion Enterprise.
Supports the very best in emerging fashion talent by helping them build successful fashion companies. These have included Hannah Marshall, Mary Katrantzou, Heikki Salonen, Louise Gray and Tim Soar.

Victoria Hubert-Butler: Studio Director at PPQ.
A fashion label based in London. Synonymous with ‘luxe pop-chic’, their collections are often influenced and inspired by music.

So designers, many of you are probably at the stage now where you have been creating your samples and small orders in house, but what I’m sure you are all wondering now is how do you get from that to mass-producing your collection for sales…

When is the right time to begin to out sourcing?
It’s usually an organic process that begins gradually. When stress from timings and mass work starts to kick in and you begin thinking to your self “I can’t do this on my own anymore,” that’s when you need to seek outside help. However, what stage in your career you start to think this is completely up to the individual designer: Some people deal with stress and pressure better than others.

How do you I go about finding the right factory for me?
There is a range of websites for manufacturers; you can find them by using even the most basic web search engines such as Google and yell.com 
If you are in the early stages of launching your label and have been working at another design house then it is a good idea to ask them ‘what factory do you use?’ and get the appropriate contact details.
The website by Fashion Alliance (www.fashionalliance.co.uk) is a fantastic way to discover UK based factories, fabric suppliers, trimmings merchants and service suppliers with its ‘High-end Supply Chain Database.’ By clicking on the tab that reads ‘Click Here To Find A Manufacturer,’ the search results can be separated into different categories, creating a clear and easy way to find the perfect manufacturer for your specialism.

If I am to contact a factory/manufacturer what questions should I be asking?
-     Who else do you work with? (However, beware that some factories will not disclose this information for confidentiality reasons.)
-     How long have you been working with particular clients? (If a factory has had a fast turn over of clients then be wary as it may mean that they don’t build and maintain professional relationships; something which is extremely important in the industry)
-     What do you specifically do? (Some factories specialise in particular areas and may even offer additional services which you haven’t already considered such as pattern evaluations and grading)
-     Where are you based? (As a new designer, we strongly advice that you keep your production within the UK for at least your first couple of seasons)
-     How long would you take to deliver my brief? (Remember timing is everything!)
-     Can I come in to meet you/ visit the factory? (It is essential that you visit the factory to check out the working environment and standard of their machinery/ equipment)
-     What do you charge? (You should ask for a couple of quotes from a couple of different factories. Remember that some charge a fixed price whilst others work on an hourly rate. Hourly rates generally apply to sampling and range from £16 - £25 ph.)

Please note if you are to contact a factory, keep it professional! If you are to write/email make sure you
include your company details such as studio address, registered company number, logo and web address
(if you have one.)

What questions do I expect them to ask me?
-        What’s your background/experience?
-        What are you trying to achieve?
-        Have you got fabrics and patterns ready?
-        When are you planning to start production?

I have arranged an appointment/meeting with a factory – what should I prepare?
The 4 main things to remember (which can be applied to ANY meeting) are…
-        Politeness
-        Organisation
-        Punctuality
-        Clarity
-        Reliability

You should bring with you:  paper work (which should be clear and organised), samples (at least 2 or 3), pattern pieces (which need to be exact and graded unless the factory is offering you a pattern alternation/evaluation service. It is also recommended that you get your master pattern technically graded at a Graders) and fabric swatches.

Should I take my production over seas or keep it in the UK?
Like we mentioned before, we advise new designers NOT to take their production over seas until they have experience of working, liaising and negotiating with different manufacturers. However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to all specialist areas. For example, if you are a footwear designer, a decision to take your production to Italy could be a positive move; it may not work out any cheaper (in fact, it could be more expensive) but Italy is highly skilled and traditionally renowned for it’s high quality footwear and leather wear.

Should I ask the factory to create a prototype sample before full production?
Even if you have created all your samples in house it is a good idea (in fact most manufacturers will insist) that the factory also makes up a prototype sample of at least one or two pieces from your collection. We recommend that you sample one simple piece and one complex/ technically difficult piece first to test the full range of the factories skills.
For subsequent seasons, we recommend that designers still sample in house so they are familiar with the construction process.
Note: Within your budget you should cost for two samples (of key styles) so you have one to send out to PR/ press and another one that can be kept in a good condition in house for possible buyers/stockists to view.

How do I calculate pricing?
Remember to allow for every single cost; everything from the fabric, down to the thread! As well as additional components such as zips, buttons and poppers, don’t forget to include your in-house machinists’/ your time (you should give your self a wage!)
[Please note: Further information on pricing will be covered in the VFS mentoring talk on sales and finance in a few weeks time.]

Is it standard procedure to have a contract in place?
In theory a contract is a good idea, but in practise it can be difficult: there’s always a lot of unforeseen complications, which may not be the responsibility of either party. However if you do chose to set up a contract, keep it simple and just state the basic terms and conditions concerning delivery, pricing and completion/deadlines. If you choose not to have a contract in place then make sure you get written confirmation of all agreed and the negotiated price before full production begins.

What about deposits?
As a designer, you should be receiving a deposit from the buyer once their order has been placed and before production begins. This is usually 30% - 50% of the final order cost; any less can be risky. Be honest and upfront with your stockist and explain that you can’t process their order until you have a received a deposit from them.
In return, manufacturers will expect a deposit (again 30% - 50%) from you when you reach full production stage. However, prototyping/ sampling rarely require a deposit, as these are much smaller jobs.
Please note: None of your completed garments will be released from the factory until they have received FULL payment from you.

Who is responsible for quality control?
This is primarily your responsibility, and shouldn’t be left until the end. Quality control checks should be carried out before production has even begun; for example, testing all your components work (such as zips) as you can’t rely on the factory to do this through out.
You or your team should also be visiting the factory through out the production process to quality check. It is advised that you take along your prototype sample for comparison. It is also your responsibility to set terms & conditions of what you will tolerate regarding any differences between the prototype sample and final produced piece; for example, you may state that seams can be 0.5 cm out in comparison, but no more…
Please note, once your final pieces have been signed out and placed in the hands of your stockist, it is now up to you to agree with that particular store the terms and conditions regarding recalls/returns of faulty items. If you have a particular delicate garment it is recommended that you attach special “careful: delicate item” or “handle with care” tags to ensure no blame is passed to you if a customer returns a faulty item to the store.

What about delivery?
Again it depends on what you agree with the manufacturer but it is generally the designer’s responsibility and so should be included within your costing. However delivery from you to your stockist is usually up to them to arrange and pay for.

Don't forget to sign up for the next VFS Mentoring Class, held at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden. Keep checking the Fashion Scout blog for further details.

Sarah Barlow
Photography by Lucas Seidenfaden