Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Business of Fashion: Evolution of a Garment

The construction of a single garment can be a daunting task, let alone that of a large number of garments. Typically, the garment making process starts with material being made by creating fibres that are then woven into a specific material. This is usually done at a fabric mill of some sort and this part of the process can be developed either pre-designing a garment or after a garment has been designed.

In the instances of high-end designers, who sell via their flagship boutique stores, they usually design garments first or create looks for their collection and then visit their fabric manufacturers to discuss the development of fabrics specific to their collections and theme. While the fabrics are being developed, the collection is designed, refined and fine-tuned according to any mood-boards or look-and-feels that have been developed.

Sample cuts of the finished fabric are then bought and the designer takes these cuts to the studio to get the ball rolling on production. The pattern maker or makers are involved at this point, depending on whether we’re talking independent designer or a department store. Pattern makers do exactly what their name says, they make patterns. Using computer software or by hand, they create patterns for each of the garments in the collection. One pattern could take anything from an hour to a day to produce, pending on what garment the pattern is for and its complexities.

Once a pattern is completed, it is passed on to the sample maker to cut fabric from and create a sample of the garment. They usually use cheap fabric first just to make sure the pattern is designed correctly. If it is, they then use the sample fabric bought to cut out the pattern and make a ‘mock’ version of the garment, which is then displayed on a mannequin for the designer to review and crit. Now, if we were talking department store, at this stage, a sample garment would be created for every single look in every single size to be manufactured in the end to be displayed in a showroom for the creative team, buyers, merchandisers and head of departments to review and crit.

For independent designers, this is also the stage they usually showcase at a fashion week. Their entire collection has been decided and designed. Sample fabrics were bought and the ‘mock’ collection was created. In the case where department stores display their collections in the showroom for internal members to see and crit and prepare for merchandising and publicity, independent fashion designers take to fashion week so buyers, consumers, media, fashion editors, photographers and the likes of investors can see what has been designed for the forthcoming season and they decide what to buy and distribute.

Illustration of the garment evolution process

Once the showcases are done and dusted, whether internally in a showroom or externally at fashion week, collections are taken back to studio and final production kicks in. Quantities of each garment are stipulated and calculations into the amount of fabric required begin. The team works out how much time it will take to produce each garment and that is weighed in against the deadline for when garments need to be made available in store for consumers to purchase. This is always a tricky process, so what labels do generally is work backwards. They start with the deadline date of when clothes need to be in store, and work back from there.

Once the production timeline is completed, fabric is purchased and patterns are graded accordingly. The grading of patterns is usually a process of taking the standard pattern size made, which is usually a small or medium, and the additional sizes of garments are then created from there. Once the fabric purchased arrives, it is sent to the pattern cutters along with the patterns that were graded. The fabric is cut to size, sent to sewing. From sewing, the garments are sent to finishing for things like buttons and embroidery to name a few, and from finishing the garments are sent to pressing do ensure no wrinkle is left untouched.

Once all garments are done, they go through a quality control process. Here are they are checked for everything from straight and aligned seams, buttons in place, labels stitched in correctly, no missing pockets etc. After quality control, garments are packaged accordingly and shipped of to the respective outlets expecting garments. Upon arrival, stock take is done and the merchandisers discuss the creative plan with the window dressers for getting the store window ready for sale. Once that work is prepped, merchandisers ensure the garments are packed on the shelves, hung on rails and mannequins are dressed accordingly. Thereafter, the garments are ready for sale to be bought by fashion hungry consumers.

The above elements are generally what occurs in the process from point A to Z, of creating a garment or range of garments. Some designers or boutiques or department stores add other elements and points of contact or take away some steps and even combine some because in some instances, one person or group of people are capable of performing more than one process, for instance, with today’s training one person can make a pattern, then cut the fabric from that pattern, sew the garment and add the finishing touches to the garment, all by themselves.

The evolution of a garment is one lengthy and extremely rigorously process that involves, although more specifically mentioned close to the end, constant quality checks. After every single step quality checks are performed to ensure progress is made with as very little fault as possible. Considering this is a process of six to seven months, they are forgiven for being so pedantic. And at the end of the day, none of us want to buy an item of clothing with a missing button, now do we.

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