Working with a British clothing manufacturer

How to take the pain out of sampling with a British clothing manufacturer in 8 easy steps

UK clothing manufacturer
Photo: S.E.H. Kelly

I get a lot of designers contacting me asking for recommendations for British manufacturers that can make their products. Some of them are very frustrated because they have sampled with factories that I have recommended but they have been disappointed by the results. They cite time taken to sample, quality of the end results and failure to communicate as the reason that they don’t think things have worked out.

Are our UK clothing factories really not up to the job? Or is something else going wrong here?

I spoke to Russell Hammond of the Scaphan Network, who works with many top end designers to help them make their businesses more profitable and get their production right. He had the following great suggestions for how to get sampling right first time:

How to Make Perfect Samples in 8 easy steps

  1. Plan – Benjamin Franklin said “failing to plan is planning to fail”. You need to set a critical path (a calendar detailing who will do what by when) at the beginning of the season and stick to it. Build in a 2 week buffer for expected delays.
  2. Be realistic – Are you really going to finish designing in October for the February show?
  3. Involve your suppliers – If you tell them when you think you will give them fabric/trim/patterns and when you expect them to produce the sample then they will feel involved and be more likely to deliver on time.
  4. Include a range plan – Most of the timing is dependent on capacity. Try and think about how many styles you want to show by category (dress, trouser, skirt etc) and then add 20% for samples that don’t work. Make that your range plan and stick to it.
  5. Expect the unexpected – Build in time to do last minute samples. Even the best designers change their mind at the last minute so don’t try to plan everything. Assume 10% of your range will be designed/patterned/produced at the last minute and warn everyone.
  6. Communicate – Russell says “So often I can resolve a problem between a factory and a designer by helping them to talk and listen to each other. It’s surprising how often I hear from factories who say they can never talk to the designer.” Make sure you explain what you expect from the factory and when. You should have already told them roughly how many samples you’re making and when they are expected to produce them. Talk to them (ideally face to face) about it before even starting to sample.
  7. Be clear – Make sure any correspondence is clear, concise and consistent. Russell says he often finds that specs contradict toiles. The factory then decide which one to follow (usually the wrong one) and then the sample looks terrible. Before sending the pattern/fabric/toile pack, imagine you’re a factory. Is everything clear? Do they have everything they need? Are they expecting this? Do they know what to do once they get it?
  8. Keep your promises – In his business Russell often helps designers with late deliveries. When he investigate it turns out that the designer makes all sorts of promises regarding production orders, fabric arrival and deadlines that they don’t keep. If you want a factory to keep their promises then you have to keep yours. Treat the factory with respect. They’ve hopefully been doing this longer than you so make sure you listen even if you don’t like what they’re saying.

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