In this episode…
Renaud is joined by another special guest, Belinda Jacobs founder of Techpacks.co, a company that has been helping soft goods designers and brands improve production & decrease waste, through tech packs since 2016.
If you’re an apparel designer and have a new garment to bring to market, you’re going to love this episode! Belinda and Renaud join forces to talk you through the new product development process for apparel, what tech packs are and why they play a central role in your success, and share some best practices you can follow, along with warnings about what could cause you trouble!
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🎧 How To Develop New Apparel (Feat. Belinda Jacobs from Techpacks.co) 🎧
00:00 – Greetings & Introduction to today’s topic.
01:07 – Belinda’s background and business, Techpacks.co
02:58 – What are Techpacks?
A tech pack is like a blueprint for soft goods with specifications, drawings, and materials all combined and everyone involved with production can refer to it. The measurement points along with tolerances for each size are also included (that’s a lot of info). This helps guide all parties throughout product development and production.
They are also an evolving document, being added to over time throughout product development until production.
05:51 – Do apparel manufacturers (suppliers) have the tendency to skip a lot of pre-production steps and rush straight into mass production unless they’re told very clearly what actions to take beforehand by the customer?
Rushing into mass production in any product niche can be an issue with Asian suppliers, as many get paid upon shipping. Some importers who are new to apparel manufacturing may think that providing the manufacturer with a tech pack for their product is enough, but they can miss that they need to be very involved with follow-up and outlining the necessary approval steps to be followed before mass production can start.
The apparel development steps one by one
08:42 – Initial design.
Start off with an initial rough design and maybe more sophisticated companies will also have a preliminary tech pack in place. Some companies may base their new design on an existing garment, requesting some small differences for their version.
09:53 – Why using another brand’s garment as a basis for yours is dangerous.
Sending a physical sample is risky as it may get lost on the way to your Asian supplier leading to no development for your product. Also, you’d probably need numerous samples. Finally, using another brand’s design could get you in trouble if they find that their IP is copied.
12:52 – What comes first? Sizing, or an initial sample from the supplier for you to check the look of the garment?
Larger companies with an already established process will often request an initial sample, but smaller businesses start earlier with the tech pack including sizing as a part of the specifications.
14:18 – After your preliminary plan, the importer asks the manufacturer to prepare some elements. What are they?
You may request fabric swatches early on, then once you start making samples and sewing you may request a fit sample that shows how the product fits (but may use different materials, decorations, etc). It is important to try to use the production fabric when assessing fit where possible, though, as different fabrics can affect fit quite dramatically.
17:18 – How do designers communicate their ideas for colors to the manufacturer, and what do they give you for approval?
Designers can refer to the exact Pantone code they want and then manufacturers can create the dye in that color. The manufacturer will first create and send you a lab dip which is a small swatch of your fabric dyed with the requested color for your approval. Note that a large lab dip will be helpful as it may be cut and shared with different stakeholders and, if too small, may be more difficult to compare with garment color.
20:08 – The manufacturer has produced a sample in the right style, color, and fit, what’s the next step?
You may request different sizes so you can check the fit of those, too. Photography and salesman samples are duplicates that can be used for sales meetings or photoshoots. Then finally you get to the approved pre-production sample or golden sample.
21:44 – Full size set samples. Needed, or not?
For simpler products where the risks of going ahead after only examining an acceptable sample in one size, like a baseball cap, are low, it may not be necessary to get further samples in every size. But for more clothing like lingerie and swimsuits, it’s almost certainly required to check all sizes individually.
A smaller size range with less variance can make checking multiple samples’ sizes less necessary, too.
24:02 – When do labelling and packing need to be documented and confirmed?
It’s best to work on these from the start and add them into the product’s tech pack. Some new brands may not have the information or be unclear on it, so support is sometimes required. Getting information like labelling, packaging, and trim clear early on can prevent a lot of back and forth and samples being created again every time there’s a change which can lead to fatigue in all parties. Making late changes can increase costs quite a bit, too, which is never welcome.
27:26 – What’s the best way to communicate with suppliers once you start working with them?
Fragmented communication on WeChat, Skype, email, etc, is hard to keep track of and can lead to things being missed by accident. Keep track of all key communications centrally on the tech pack and add any comments per sample to clear sections. The comments are helpful for the manufacturer and quality inspectors, too. Other industries don’t generally use such a helpful centralized system as the tech pack as the ultimate source of information about a product.
29:34 – At what point will importers feel confident to pay the downpayment and start mass production?
An importer will usually feel confident to pay and start production when the fit for the base sizes, fabrics, colors, and packaging have been approved. These milestones need to be passed as when triggering payment there is no going back.
Production happens in 2 phases:
- Purchase and dye the fabric (changes can still be made at this point, such as adjusting color a little perhaps)
- Cut & sew (once the fabric is cut, changes are no longer possible)
33:07 – What are ‘TOP samples?’
Top Of Production (TOP) samples are a percentage of the first pieces from the batch being mass-produced that are then checked. If they pass, the batch can be accepted for shipment, but if there are issues found it should still be early enough to stop production and make changes.
Chinese suppliers sometimes send ‘TOP samples’ actually made in the sample room that are not from mass production to please the customer, but these are not a true representation of what is mass-produced, so buyers need to be wary of this.
36:01 – Summary: The garment development process that designers need to keep in mind
Don’t work on the basis of samples alone, document everything in a tech pack which is a fairly standard format.
Get samples, give feedback, write comments in the tech pack and improve it over time, approve packaging, labelling, etc, too.
Before sending payment to start production, you need to be confident about the fit and colors, so the golden samples need to be perfect before you sign off.
Instil discipline in the manufacturer so they follow your process outlined in the tech pack.
Maybe have a pre-production meeting at the factory to review the risks and process before the supplier starts. Get early TOP samples to review (not from the sample room) and lots of photos.
Do inspections during production and only ship if everything is fine.
39:53 – Wrapping up and how to contact Belinda and Techpacks.co
Don’t forget to check out Techpacks.co to see how Belinda and her team can help you develop your own apparel, examples of tech packs, their blog, and sign up for their newsletter. You may also like to connect with Belinda on LinkedIn, too, if you prefer.
- What does CMT (Cut, Make & Trim) mean?
- Some Problems Can’t Be Detected During Apparel QC Inspections
- Auditing Cut & Sew Processes for Garment Manufacturing
- How The Gap Increases Speed in their Apparel Supply Chain
- 3 Basic Guidelines for Garment Quality Assurance in China
- Get help from Sofeast to assure your apparel production starts with lower risks with a Pre-Production Meeting (discuss & get a quote)
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