Vicky, of Fashion Services HK, is speaking to us today about the next step in building your own business. In this instalment we’ll be speaking about the sampling and production process for the garment industry more generally. Vicky was trained in London at London College of Fashion before moving to Hong Kong, and has 20 + years of experience in the fashion industry. She has worked with big names such as Topshop, H&M and Marks and Spencer before starting her own business.
Vicky advises entrepreneurs and large fashion brands alike through Fashion Services HK, teaches Fashion Branding Bootcamp Classes online via her other company, Create a Fashion Brand, and even has managed to find the time to write an E-Book on ‘How to Create Tech Packs for Your Fashion Brand’. A woman of many talents and very little time, it is an absolute pleasure to be given the opportunity to speak with Vicky about the wealth of her experience in the fashion industry.
Thank you so much for having us! First of all, what is your first and best tip for anyone who wants to start a fashion brand? This series is all about building a business, so any advice for any inspiring entrepreneurs?
Hi Charlotte. Well all successful businesses, whether they realize it or not, work on the system I teach in my Bootcamp. 3 C’s- Core Values; Customer Profile and Consistency. So my first tip is to be clear about why you’re building your business. Who you’re building it for, and how you are going to maintain consistency.
Consistency is the tricky one to implement and often the one people forget about. So start by defining what your core brand values are and how you plan to stick to them throughout the production process and beyond.
When building a brand every decision feeds into the next decision and then back to the first. No brand decision works in isolation. Since production is quite a large part of your process, make sure that your final product, does in fact, resonate with your initial brand message and keep this in mind throughout the production process.
Thanks for that. So if someone comes in to you and wants to create a product? Where do you begin? Why don’t you start telling us about the creative process, and a little bit about Tech Packs, what make a good Tech Pack, and their role in production?
Well let’s assume that we’ve built the fashion brand foundations and covered the 3 C’s above.
Next I have to figure out how that person likes to work. Everyone has their own creative process that works for them, so I try to work with them, rather than change their process. But in general, you would gather inspiration first, via research, draping, or visiting stores, to inspire ideas. Then figure out the products you want to create. Finally, you need to collect material samples and trims that you want to use.
Then you are onto sampling and production. So you need a Tech Pack, which is a document that tells a factory how to make the product you want. A garment blueprint, in other words.
If you’re giving your design ideas to someone to do Tech Packs for you, then anything you can provide, to explain your designs, will help. You want to make it as easy as possible for the company or designer doing your Tech Packs, to understand what you are trying to produce.
You also need to find someone who can make a good Tech Pack. You can do them yourself, but if you have no experience with factories or production, then I wouldn’t suggest doing it first time round. They are very technical. It’s engineering for clothes and you need to give yourself time to develop that knowledge and experience, before you try to tackle one yourself.
I would never recommend trying to cut corners on cost with your Tech Packs. It will end up costing you more money and time in the long run. Instead, find someone with a lot of experience in the fabric and product you want to make, who can make you a good one. Tech Packs are often over looked but an incredibly important part of your production process, so make sure you find someone who can do it well.
Aside from deciding materials and style, you’ll also have to make key decisions on garment details, weight, and sizing. A good Tech Pack designer won’t be able to make these decisions for you, but they will definitely help guide you through the process to get the product you want and fill in any of the technical details that you don’t know yet. You can look on my site for examples of good or bad Tech Packs, but generally, a good Tech Pack will have around 3 pages which include a flat drawing of the product, with measurements for every little detail on the garment. 3-D drawings, shading, or patterns or too much text on a Tech Pack are a big no. Avoid anyone who does these things. Tech Packs are technically complex, but they should also be simple and straightforward to follow.
If you’re someone who is interested in how to make a proper Tech Pack, I have written an e-book on the subject. Even if you don’t make your own Tech Packs, it is worth having a read to know what to look for in a good one, especially if you’re planning to hire a designer, or even to point out the areas of knowledge you should develop if you plan to do them in the future.
For a more detailed explanation of Tech Packs, check out Vicky’s post here.
Ok. So now you have your Tech Packs ready to go. How do you go about finding a factory or manufacturing your product?
Factories are slightly more difficult. There are many places in the world where you can have things produced, but I’m going to focus mainly on China as we’re based in Hong Kong.
You have several different options for manufacturing. You can have clothing hand-made, made by a tailor, made by your own team, or outsourced to a small or large factory. Each has their pros and cons and depends on you, your products and needs.
A really important factor when you choose, are minimum order quantities. Since all factories have them, you need to be clear on what they are before moving ahead, as you’ll be expected to meet them when you place an order You can negotiate them of course, but only to a point.
The only thing you really need to decide is how much stock you need and at what quality, and decide from the options accordingly.
As for actually finding a factory- that’s different for everyone. Sites like Alibaba or Global Sources can be good resources, as can going through a Trade Association or taking a personal recommendation. If it’s at all possible, you should try to visit your factory before commencing the production process.
When you contact a factory, you should ask for some basic information. Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ’s) as I mentioned before, are important; Sample prices and charges vs production prices, since they might be different; Time to manufacture, aka, ‘lead times’; And payment terms.
Be clear from the outset and you’ll avoid getting into trouble later.
As a last tip, factories will ask for Tech Packs at this point, so they can work out costs and quotes, but I would advise only sending your simplest and most complicated garment Tech Pack at this point, so you can compare each factory.
And what about the sampling process itself?
Once you’ve settled on a factory, the first thing you do is send them all of your Tech Packs. If you have any samples of example garments, trims or materials you want them to source, then these need to be sent too. Though, a word of caution, take photos and make copies as things do get lost.
Then, at some agreed point you should be receiving your first sample. Your first sample is not what your final product will look like, but it should be around 95% percent there. Some changes and substitutions might be made, like fabric or trims, since sourcing your specific choice will take some time. You need to measure every inch of this sample and compare it to the measurements in the Tech Pack. Once you have these notes, make sure any other details (like the number of buttons, length of zips, stitching quality etc.) are correct, or if not make note of what needs to change. After this, you can return to the factory with notes for any final corrections.
The factory will then make a second sample will be closer to your final product. It may still be in the wrong material, but it should have all the corrections you made on the first product. You will need to measure, review and approve every tiny detail before these go into full production.
The last sample you receive should be your pre-production sample. This is the third and last sample. It should be as close to perfect as it can be. You may also receive a size set, which is basically your garment in every size you are making your product in. It is up to you to review and approve these as well.
Depending on your countries regulations, you also may want to look into 3rd party lab testing and inspection. We don’t have time to cover the intricacies today, but do your research of the regulations in the regions you plan to sell, and make sure you don’t get caught off guard.
Awesome. Anything else we should know when dealing with factories?
Yes. The last pre-production step is perhaps the most important. The last thing you will do is sign your purchase order confirming the amount, date, timeframe, payment terms, delivery date, etc. for all your garments. It should really have all the specifications of the whole process. A PO, or Purchase Order, looks like an order form, but it’s much more important. It’s a legally binding contract. The factory is under a legal obligation to complete your order, to the standard you have agreed and you are under legal obligation to pay. You must make sure the terms on the PO are as agreed.
Also- it might be worth figuring out who handles the shipping, as often you are responsible for getting the products off site. Just a heads up.
In dealing with the factory- throughout the whole process I would advise putting a little pressure on your factory to get things done, since they can be slow, especially with new brands or small orders, but you also need to understand that there are many things that can delay delivery. When dealing with China, a certain amount of patience and forward planning, is certainly key.
Thank you Vicky. I think that’s all we have to ask for today. Thank you so much for speaking with us and giving us a brief overview- there are definitely a lot of moving parts to this whole process and we’ve barely scratched the surface, but thank you for sharing a little part of your 20 plus years of expertise and working in fashion and garment production industry with us. It has been a pleasure.
For any more information, feel free to check out Vicky’s Hong Kong Businesses. Fashion Services Hong Kong creates Tech Packs and offers business advice to young brands or established brands looking for help or advice. On the other side, Create a Fashion Brand is Vicky’s own advice website. She posts Blog Posts, Videos, and runs online Fashion Brand Bootcamp Classes for those looking to build their very own fashion brand. We hope you loved the interview!