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The Secret Journey of a Fashion Piece — Part 2: Manufacturing and Production

  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — It's a week after a Spring/Summer 2015 runway show and the buyers have come and gone. Orders have been placed. The design team has already begun developing concepts for the next collection. But work on actually producing Spring has only just commenced. While the lead up to a runway show requires plenty of time and effort, what happens afterward is what turns showmanship into reality: manufacturing and production.

The next step in the journey from mood board to sales floor starts with what production managers call a "cut ticket," or an order detailing how many units of a specific piece needs to be "cut" — or produced — for retail orders buyers have placed. Brandy-Courtney Williams, production manager at New York-based contemporary brand Misha Nonoo, says her process begins even earlier. "I like to be involved when the design team is looking at fabrics, so that when I do get that cut ticket, I already know how much fabric to order for each garment, and from where," she says. "When they start, I start."

As with the design and development process, every company operates on a different production schedule. Whether a designer produces locally or overseas makes a huge difference, as does the sort of materials and techniques a specific piece requires. "For example, if we're doing a leather piece with bonding, I need to find a manufacturer that will work on bonding leather goods," explains Christina Neagu Layolle, who handles production for Thomas Tait in London. "I need to prioritise what is very difficult to produce, whether because of the fabrics, techniques, trims." Back in New York, Williams works with Nonoo to find trimmings and buttons that are to her taste, but also fall within the budget of a contemporary designer. "Misha oversees everything from a hook-and-bar closure to a zipper," Williams says. "My goal is to find the things that I know she will love and that will have designer appeal, but are at our price point."

While sourcing details are being smoothed out, the original pattern must be taken to a pattern grader, who is able to scale it to create different sizes. Once the production manager knows the measurements for each size, she must then create what the industry calls a "tech pack," or a detailed list of specifications for each item. “How long is the zip? How many metres of fabric do you need? It must include all of the information,” Layolle says. For Williams, the tech pack is particularly important for the 30 percent of production that Nonoo does overseas. “Trying to communicate with people who speak a totally different language can be a challenge,” she says. “If we create a tech pack done to their specific standards and make everything easy to read and translate, then we don’t have as many problems.”

When it’s time to actually manufacture the product, where you produce changes the process dramatically. Layolle takes original samples to her London manufacturer, along with the tech pack, and put in a production order. Layolle can prioritise production quite easily. If a store would like dresses delivered before coats for fall, she puts in a dress order first. Williams also benefits from being two blocks away from where the majority of her manufacturing is done in New York City. “It’s nice to be able to have that sort of quality control,” she says. Adds Layolle, “I can visit the factory twice a day to check in on things.”

But many fashion garments, from mass market products to ready-to-wear pieces, are produced overseas, which makes quality control a significant and costly challenge. Most companies work with local agents who serve as liaisons between brands and factories. They also use WIP (work in progress) software that allows them to track garments from the moment a factory receives a pattern to when the resulting products are shipped to a brand’s warehouse. “Technology is a big part of this story,” says Josh Green, CEO of Panjiva, a New York-based company that connects companies with overseas suppliers. “In the old days, you called and said, 'How’s it going?' Now there’s more visibility.”

But nothing beats — or costs more than — being there in person. “A couple of different models have emerged,” says Green. “There’s the hope and pray model and the outsourcing model, where you essentially empower a middle man to take responsibility of the process and the quality. A third model requires you to send a team of people to sit in the factory and do QA on your behalf.”

In the end, the goal for every brand, whether manufacturing locally or 10,000 miles away, is to ensure that every garment that lands on the sales floor is the garment it promised to deliver. Says Layolle, “My goal is to ensure that the customer will never know how hard we had to work to make it happen.”

This article is sponsored by Lectra, the world leader in integrated technology solutions that automate, streamline and accelerate product design, development and manufacturing processes for industries using soft materials. To help companies transform and support change management, Lectra brings the most inspiring insights and best-practice solutions, based on more than 40 years of expertise in fashion and apparel.

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