We often get asked how to get from an idea to a finished garment so we have produced this guide which will hopefully answer most of the questions you may have. It is by no means a definitive guide as it is based on how we work.
Listen to an interview with our founder & Director (click image):
This Podcats is a great one to listen to when you are just starting out (click image):
Keep clicking next to move from page to page....
Overview of a Cut Make and Trim or CMT factory
We are a cut make and trim factory, as are most small factories in the UK.
Cut make and trim means that you supply us with all the fabrics, trimmings and components etc, which can include thread, rubber and elastic, and we assemble them into a finished garment - effectively you are paying for our time and the use of our machines. Unless you are looking at ordering in the tens of thousands you are unlikely to find a factory that will supply ready to wear garments (also called Fully Factored Production) based on your designs.
The cost of manufacturing is charged per individual item. So a bikini top and bikini bottom would be invoiced as two manufactured items. We don’t charge an hourly fee for manufacturing unless there are special circumstances that have been agreed in advance.
This is one of the most misunderstood parts of our business. It is very labour intensive and can take up over 50% of the total time it takes to manufacture an order if the quantities on the order are not correct. Small orders we cut in-house and larger orders we sub-contract to a specialist garment cutting company (generally over 1,000 pieces). Orders must be in what are called lay quantities so the cutting can be as efficient as possible and helps minimise fabric wastage.
Some clients do a call-off cut. This means that we do a large cut covering a whole range of colours, styles and sizes. These are then stored and the client calls them off for manufacture on a regular basis. This has two main advantages. The cost of manufacture is far less and small regular orders can be made up much quicker. The main con for the client is that once the fabric is cut eventually it has to be made into a garment or the fabric is wasted.
We often get asked about pattern placement. Small patterns are always randomly placed on a garment within certain criteria i.e. stripes must be vertical and straight. Precise placement is almost impossible to do with a machine cut and so has to be cut piece by piece by hand! If this is a must have for you then please contact us for more information about what we can and can’t do.
This is where the cut pieces are assembled into a finished garment. This can involve quite a lot of processes and different machines. It can be simple or complex depending on the garments construction.
This is the final part of the process where all the loose threads are trimmed away leaving a neat and clean garment. These are then folded and bulk packed into plain poly bags.
There is one further service we can provide on request which is “bagging and tagging” the garments and attaching hygiene stickers etc. These are charged at an extra cost which is agreed in advance depending on what is required. Bags, tags, hygiene stickers etc are supplied to us on a free issue basis. We do have stocks of polybags and tags which, if suitable, can be used by clients at a nominal cost.
So you have an idea for a design, what next?
You don’t need to be a designer or fashion school graduate to have your own range. You do need to have a clear idea of the design and how you want the finished garment / item to look.
The next step is to turn your ideas into a finished design and patterns that can be manufactured into finished garments. If you have design flair there are courses you can study to learn about fashion design and technology, but the quickest and best option is to hire a freelance designer. There is a list of designers in our directory that we work with on a regular basis.
If you have an idea that you think is unique then you might want to consider registering your intellectual property rights on the design. This takes time and can cost a lot of money so needs careful consideration.
The designer will need to understand what it is you want them to create and what fabrics you want to use. You can draw your ideas on a scrap of paper, do CAD images on a computer, find pictures of similar designs on the internet (but don’t copy them) and give them to the designer. In discussion with you they will then turn them into finished designs with pattern templates and a detailed spec sheet.
This process can take some time as most designers have regular clients and are often busy working towards seasonal deadlines, so you may have to be patient. Most designers charge an hourly rate for their services.
While the design process is underway it can be a great opportunity to start looking for your fabrics and trimmings.
Sourcing your components
This can be one of the most frustrating and time-consuming jobs for you. There are hundreds of companies all over Europe selling everything you need. There are still quite a few in the UK as well.
There are two major trade shows in Paris that specialise in swimwear and underwear fabrics and trimmings. Click the names below to be taken to the websites.
Mare di Moda
Here you will get everything under one roof. Interfiliere is particularly good as it features another trade show called Mode City which features ready to wear swimwear and underwear from top brands from all over the world so you can see what colours and styles are trending next season.
Other options are to ask your designer, use the internet or ask us. Beware of companies that sell products by retail, as the prices are usually far higher than trade prices. These companies are most useful for sampling resources.
Once your designer has finished the initial patterns you need to do some sampling. This is to check the patterns work and that the finished garment is what you wanted. This is also the time you can start getting accurate costing’s for the manufacture. Your factory (if you have appointed one) should be able to do the sampling or there are numerous companies that specialise in making samples. Most factories charge an hourly rate for sampling services.
Sampling can be time consuming for the factory as they will have to stop the machines from production (if they are working), re-set them and change thread colours to meet the need of the samples. At the end of the sampling all the machines have to be changed back so production can continue. Specialist sample makers won’t have this problem as all they do is move from one sampling to the next. The problem with using a specialist is they may not have the same machines as your factory which means they may not be able to achieve the same finish in production as the samples.
When we do sampling it is always beneficial for the client to be there while we do it. This can save significant time and money as often errors in the pattern can be corrected immediately rather than an incomplete sample being posted back for further instructions. It can also help reduce the designer costs as the corrected patterns can be returned to them so they can see exactly what the problem was.
There are various different types of sampling. It is not always necessary to do all these samples and often budget will not allow it. Most of those listed below are only done by companies with an in-house sampling department and are listed for reference only. The two most important samples are the toile and production. Your manufacturer will need to have a sample to reference against during production and you should also keep a sealed sample to verify production meets standards.
Toile or Muslin
This is a concept sample, often a rough rendition to test the pattern. Used primarily by designers who prefer to convey design ideas in actual fabric as part of their creation process instead of drawing a sketch.
Fit sample or First sample
This is a sample made from the first pattern and intended to test the designer’s idea or concept in the chosen fabrication. If design, fabrication and fit of this sample come out as planned and doesn’t need corrections it is approved and becomes the prototype sample.
This sample is the result of previous iterations, the version that meets the designer’s test for execution.
This sampling stage is to prove the pattern, test cost effectiveness and consistency in production whether it is done in house or outsourced to a contractor.
These samples are made in smaller sizes for photo shoots intended for editorial and marketing. This may not be necessary if you can pin a garment strategically on the model. Some people know they will need smaller sizes for photography so they use this as their base size. This is not recommended.
Ideally the pre-production sample above can be used for sales and marketing. You would have duplicates of the approved pre-production or production sample made for each party.
Primarily intended for showrooms (but not exclusively) that market directly to editorial (fashion editors etc.), you may need to have photo samples as above and for the same reasons. You may also need the mid-range size for retail buyers who stop by.
This is a sample lot of a style in all the intended sizes. Ideally you design sizes to target your customer profile early on in product development. This may not be possible if your silhouettes vary greatly between styles, meaning you will need to test sizes of various styles.
This is the final approved version of a style produced by whoever is doing production. Often a production test run is done and the output is gauged for. The quantity of units produced will vary from one to a percentage of the intended production lot size. This can be very expensive if the run includes all colours and sizes.
A sample that reflects what buyers will receive down to folding, tagging, bagging, labelling and final packaging if included.
Once the sampling is finished and the designs approved the patterns need to be graded into different sizes.
The purpose of grading is to proportionally increase or decrease the size of a pattern, while maintaining shape, fit, balance and scale of style details. The grader will need to know what sizes you want to grade against i.e. Marks & Spencers or Next and what sizes you want for example small, medium or large; UK 8, 10, 12 or 14 or 32, 34 or 36 inches.
To properly fit a pattern to a range of sizes each pattern piece needed to be graded or systematically increased or decreased. Pattern graders take a middle-sized pattern (typically a size 12) and grade it up for larger sizes and grade it down for smaller sizes.
There are three basic methods of grading: cut and spread, pattern shifting, and computer grading. No one method is technically superior and all are equally capable of producing a correct grade.
The easiest method, which is the basis of the other two methods, is to cut the pattern and spread the pieces by a specific amount to grade up, or overlap them to grade down. No special training or tools are required - just scissors, a pencil, tape, and a ruler.
Pattern shifting is the process of increasing the overall dimensions of a pattern by moving it a measured distance up and down and left and right, (using a specially designed ruler) and redrawing the outline, to produce the same results as the cut-and-spread method.
This used to be only available to big manufacturers and is by far the fastest method. However, sophisticated home computer software is becoming affordable and many freelance designers are now using this method.
It's important to remember that grading only makes a shape larger or smaller and isn't intended to change a shape. Grading also reflects the fact that individuals of different sizes are proportionately different not uniformly different. When patterns are graded up or down they don't merely make everything equally larger or smaller. Instead the grader takes into account that different body parts increase at different and proportional amounts.
Grading vs. alteration: What's the difference?
Grading is used to increase or decrease a size, based on an average difference between sizes.
Alteration is used to make a particular size conform to an individual's personal figure challenges.
Production and Ordering
Once all your patterns have been created, sampled and graded and you have found all your fabrics and trimmings then you need to book production. Much clothing manufacturing is seasonal so it is advisable to book production as far in advance as possible, but making sure you can get everything delivered in time to meet this date. Late delivery of components can affect your production and can also negatively impact on other companies so it is far better to get everything delivered early rather than late.
Order dockets need to be clear and concise. The design names on the order docket must match those on the patterns so there is no chance of the factory making up the wrong garments or quantities.
If you would like an example order docket please don't hesitate to contact us.
It is impossible to put a time scale on how long it takes to turn an idea into a collection of garments ready for sale. 6 months would be a reasonable time scale, but we have worked with companies who have taken several years or more. Longer time scales tend to be for new and innovative designs that involve protecting intellectual property rights.
Factors you need to consider include are how busy is the designer, how long the sampling takes and how busy the factory is.
Most factories have regular production booked either on a weekly or monthly basis and these clients work will often take priority over one-off jobs.
To help you calculate the finished cost of each garment you need to consider:
To calculate this you need to know the width of the fabric for each design and the ratio of how many of each size (for each design) you can cut from one metre length of the fabric. An example of a ratio for a bikini set could be 2 small, 4 medium and 2 large per metre. If a garment has binding and or strapping the fabric consumption can be harder to calculate and there must always be an allowance for wastage. If orders are not in ratio quantities the fabric consumption can only be calculated once the fabric has been cut. This can mean a higher cost and more fabric waste.
This is generally a fixed cost but some companies may offer discounts for larger orders so this needs to be taken into consideration along with transport costs.
Cost of trims
This can include thread, elastic, labels, tags, badges, buttons, zips etc.
Cut Make and Trim (CMT) charges
This is usually calculated from the sampled garments and is based on how many of each garment can be made in an hour. For production the cost is usually per piece. Where the client indicates that volumes may be different for every order then there may be a sliding scale of charges.
Cost of accessories
For example hangers, polybags, hygiene stickers etc.
This can include embroidery, heat transfers, tagging and bagging etc.
Maintaining a database of these costs can be difficult without using specialist software. Keeping a record in Microsoft Excel is a relatively easy way of keeping track of costings and stock levels. Accounting software like Sage and Quickbooks also have facilities to build and maintain assembled items and keep very accurate stock levels which are automatically maintained when garments are manufactured.
There are also specialist software applications for the garment industry. The easiest and cheapest is World on a Hanger which is web based software.