Are you ready to see your fashion line in shop windows? You're going to need to manufacture your clothing! But if you're planning to oversee the manufacturing operation yourself, rather than outsourcing it, you're very quickly going to find that it's definitely not as simple as lining up a space for sewing machines and cutting tables. Here's an idea of what the process looks like, from start to finish, though keep in mind that many of these steps are happening simultaneously.
1. Start with a marketing and sales plan
Before you start making your clothing en masse, you should have an idea of how much you can sell. This is a tricky prospect, and it's going to take some practice to learn to balance how much customers want with how much you can (and should) produce. Talk to retails you think would like to carry your clothes. Ask about minimum orders, how often they reorder, and usual sales volume. When do they put in orders for different seasons, and when do they need them delivered? All of this information will impact how you market and sell your clothing to retailers.
2. Consider final branding
This is a step that's often overlooked when entrepreneurs first start producing items for wholesale. How will they look in their finished environment? You won't be merchandising the items yourself, but you can provide resources to make sure your brand stands out. Send along a look-book that pairs items for display, or branded signage to be added to racks or stands. Ideally, your displays should evoke both brand recognition and interest in immediate sales.
3. Finalize your designs
Now it's time to take those fantastic designs you've created and determine exactly how they're going to be made. Will that jacket be fully lined, or use facings? Will that dress come in three colors or four? How many different pieces make up your collection? These are important choices, so think through the whole process, from thread and notions to how easily a garment can be shipped.
4. Determine the materials and equipment required
Once you have your final designs, make lists of everything you're going to need to produce them, down to the smallest detail. Think pins and ironing boards as well as zippers and care tags. If you're not experienced with industrial sewing equipment, this is where you need to get an expert to help you. Domestic machines are not built to handle the stress of commercial manufacturing.
5. Decide on vendors
From fabrics to notions to sewing machine repair companies, make a firm plan for where all your supplies and materials will come from.
6. Finalize pricing
Once you've gotten final quotes from vendors, you can finalize the pricing for your items. This includes both the wholesale price that your retail customers will pay, as well as the manufacturer suggested price that you recommend for the final customer.
7. Secure potential sales avenues
Ideally, you'll want to secure as many orders as you can before you ever start production. This can get difficult legally, however. If your production plans fall through and you can't fulfill your orders, at best you lose the trust of your customers—at worst, you could be financially liable. Consult a lawyer about how to set up contracts that protect your best interest.
8. Design your patterns
Manufactured clothing is typically made assembly-line style, with pieces being cut, aligned, and sewn in by different people. Your patterns must be exceptionally clear and precise, with all the necessary marks to ensure garments will be reproduced identically each time.
9. Scale patterns to the appropriate sizes
Even sewists who create their own patterns are often unfamiliar with the process of grading and sizing. How do you properly scale a dress from a size 10 to a size 2? What's the difference? Again, this is typically a task for a professional, unless you particularly want to create the pattern for each size of a garment you offer.
10. Plan for distribution
How are your clothes getting from your sewing machines to your retailers' racks, and what's going to happen in between? Winter coats made in July need to be stored until that first shipment in October. Will different items for the same order ship all together or separately? Which carriers will you use? All of these are things to think about before you have finished garments.
11. Determine production runs
You know where your clothes are going and how many you need to fulfill orders. Now's the time to decide precisely how many items you're going to make. Always have at least a few extra items to deal with quality control issues, and you may want to have stock on hand in case popular items sell out.i
12. Plan for delays
No plan survives first contact with implementation. Maybe your fabric order is delayed. Maybe it arrives in the wrong color. Whatever the reason, something is bound to go wrong, and it might mean your final product is delayed. Do your best to avoid this situation, but if a delay is unavoidable, contact your customers as soon as you can to let them know.
13. Don't forget finishing steps!
You want your items to arrive in perfect condition. That might mean giving them an initial dip in a stabilizing starch solution and pressing just so, or vacuum sealing them into garment bags to prevent damage to delicate beading. Whatever you plan to do, have the equipment and supplies ready.
14. Pack and ship
Time to go! Take careful stock of orders as they're packed to make sure the right items are going to the right customers. No one wants to deal with the hassle of re-shipping items and hoping things are returned properly.
15. Follow up with customers
Congratulations! Your clothes have been made and shipped and customers are (hopefully) buying them up as fast as they hit the shelves. But do you know that for sure? Is there something your retailers would love to see? Something that isn't moving as quickly as expected? Follow up with your retailers to see how you can improve for the future.