Now that our jacket design has been decided upon, a ‘spec’ must be created. Essentially a blueprint or the DNA of the garment, a ‘specification sheet’ provides patternmakers with the measurements necessary to bring the design to life. The designer will often provide the pattern maker with another important reference, a ‘body’ to follow. No, the designer is not suggesting the patternmakers stalk some poor unsuspecting soul; rather, a body refers to a silhouette or fit from a pre-established basic pattern called a block (aptly named perhaps because it is an important building block to the style’s pattern development…).
After the pattern has been created, it’s time to start sewing! A first prototype is made, and then assessed by the designer and technical team for accuracy to the drawing and specs, and compliance to company fit standards. Once the style, fit, fabric, and trims have been finalized and approved it is sent to the factory to be sewn into salesman samples for the line’s agents to show buyers at tradeshows. (Wait! Not so fast! A company may go through 3 prototypes before it is approved. However, a new style leads a risky life, facing rejection at every turn, and may or may not be developed through to completion. After all, three strikes and you’re out.)
During this time, Designers or their assistants will list and cost all the fabric, trims, and labour necessary to manufacture the style—these numbers help determine the wholesale cost of the style, as well as the SRP, or ‘Suggested Retail Price’. Once the samples are completed, they have to be checked for quality, tagged with important sales information like fabric content, colours, and sizes, and mailed to each agent. During the tradeshows, it’s up to the company’s agent to sell as many units of each style as possible. At this point, our jacket’s destiny on a retail floor is still uncertain. The jacket must perform well during the 2-3 month selling season if it is to proceed into production. While as designers we sometimes become particularly attached to our garment children—willing each and every one of them to reach the retail floor, the powers-that-be have no problem cutting (off!) a style with a sub-par performance at market.
Entering production, styles are assessed one last time for any adjustments or corrections, and graded into the required sizes.
Grading can be thought of as growth; where and how much does my base size need to grow or shrink to create proper proportions and fit for every size. Most companies are choosing to grade and make markers digitally for a number of reasons. A marker is essentially a layout of all the pattern pieces in all the sizes for one style and one fabric. Like playing a giant game of Tetris, the marker maker must fit all the pattern pieces in an area corresponding to the fabric width, with as little waste as possible. Placed over layers and layers of fabric the marker serves as a template, through which the fabric is cut, usually with a narrow, electric, saw-like apparatus.
With all the pieces cut, our Jacket is now in the home stretch! The factory sews production line style with one or two sewers per step. Now a wearable garment, the style is passed off to QC, or quality control, which is performed either by the factory or the company itself. Trimmed by hand of threads and inspected for quality, the garments are then tagged and shipped to the warehouse or distribution centre where they are packaged and sent out to retailers.
Alas, our baby is all grown up!