Friday, October 5, 2007

No Patterns, So No Jeans in December

It appears that we will not have blue jeans in December after all. I am disappointed, but wiser from the experience. I have also learned, first hand, the criticality of the pattern maker in the apparel production process.

In the spring, I began working with a very nice woman who was just beginning to do pattern making as a side business. She had worked for several years as a pattern maker for major apparel makers - East Coast-based national brands who evoke a classic, preppy mental picture. That seemed the perfect background for our company, which is beginning with jeans and chinos - also classics. And, as I mentioned, she is a very nice woman willing to counsel and teach me as I began this odyssey. She's in Pennsylvania and I'm in Illinois. But thanks to modern day technology and Priority Mail, geographical distance should pose no problem in this situation.

It's probably obvious that a pattern maker is critically important in the apparel making process. The obvious reasons are the fashion/aesthetic factors. The pattern is the starting point for the look, the fit, the drape of the clothing, the fabric matching (i.e. stripes, plaid, motif matching) The pattern also influences, to a large extent, the quality of construction. But there are other factors that make the pattern maker so important in clothing production. The pattern influences the cost of an item. Since it determines the ease (or difficulty) of sewing/production the pattern effects the amount of time required to sew the garment. Likewise, the amount of fabric use, and therefore a key raw material cost component, is determined by the pattern. A good pattern maker is key to quality clothing production and a good pattern maker is hard to find.

The patterns are critical in another way as well. Until patterns are in hand, development is stalled. The production samples can't be made until the pattern is completed. So, costing can't be finalized, the production can't be scheduled, the fabric could be ordered without knowing the usage quantities - but the order is just an estimate. Having either too much or too little fabric can be costly, just in different ways. The pattern can't be graded (i.e. modified for the smaller and larger sizes) until the initial pattern is completed. Patterns can really hold up the show.

Anyway, the pattern maker came highly recommended and when we first talked, she had just begun to take on projects in addition to her full-time work - which was not pattern making. In light of the difficulty in finding a good pattern maker and this woman's sterling reputation she picked up many other new clients at about the same time. This was also the time that my Mom was hospitalized and then recuperating and then died. So I was, admittedly, distracted and sad and floundering. Also, thanks to my recently diagnosed hypothyroidism, I was lethargic and bone-weary and when I wasn't napping or sleeping I felt like I should be. So, I was certainly not aggressively managing the timing and progress of the pattern development. Also, since she and I had hit it off so well, I just trusted that she'd be doing the work that she committed to do. We'd exchange emails now and then, but the patterns were not delivered.

As turns out, at least one of her other new clients was difficult and time consuming and even discouraging and demoralizing to her. She decided to stop pattern making. She notified all of her clients and began wrapping up her projects. She told me that my patterns were just about done and she'd be sending them and my original samples soon. Those patterns would be used for the first jeans and pants production - and that dress inspired by the one I found in Paris in the Spring. So we'd still be able to have jeans before the end of the year, and still have time to find a new pattern maker for the next product line.

Unfortunately it was a month ago that our patterns were at the top of the priority list and only awaiting the tie up of some loose ends. If I got the patterns on Monday morning, I might be able to manage the project well enough (and by that I mean grovel and beg enough) to have product in December. But, I have finally realized that I'm not going to have the patterns on Monday - or even on Thursday, the date by which I've requested at least the original samples back. It's highly unlikely that we'll have jeans in December. Now I'm shooting for January and stunned that 2007 will have passed before we've got a product to sell. I have learned a thing or two about perspective, given the events of the past 15 months (Susie's husband's illness and death, Mom's illness and death, my health issues.) So I know that missing our launch by a handful of weeks may sting right now but in the grand scheme, it's a hiccup.

The good news is that I'm meeting with a new pattern maker the week after next. Pattern making is his full time endeavor. He's been at it for 20 years. He was direct and upfront about delivery timing. I'm not first in the queue; he's got a pretty steady business so there are a number of projects ahead of mine. I choose to see the upside of that. I know what to expect, what to plan for. No surprises. He also does the grading and marker making. He sounds ideal. He's in Colorado and I'm still in Illinois. I still think working together long distance is no problem. This time, though, we'll meet face-to-face. I'm flying to Denver. I think there's a lot to be gained by meeting in person the first time, looking someone in the eye, shaking his hand, having a frame of reference for that person - not just a disembodied voice. I feel confident and optimistic about this turn of events.

I do believe that there's a reason for everything; things turn out the way they're meant to. So, in the long run this pattern maker interruption will have been a good thing. For now, though, I'm sorry that we won't be delivering jeans in December after all. Please stick with us. It'll not just Fit'll, it'll be worth the wait!

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Jessica said...

Glad to hear you are persevering! I think delays and "roadblocks" are always part of a business start-up. Since it is so chilly today, I went to get Sophia's clothes and stared at an empty drawer. The weather has been so nice, our shorts have overtaken our wardrobe. I found one pair of last year's pants and reminded myself to visit your blog to check on the jeans status. I am sad they won't be ready but still excited that they will be a reality! can't wait!


Sherry said...

Jessia, hi!
Thanks for your note and your encouragement. I think you're right; these obstacles are just a part of the start-up experience. But they are still frustrating. Boy this weather really has gotten chilly - fast! We'll be at the GiGi's Anniversary Celebration on Sunday and I'm hoping for a warm day and sunshine....
Again, thanks so much for your kind words. They really are so nice to read!