Taking orders from retailers, while quite an achievement, is only part of the challenge of running a successful designer brand. How a designer manages the garment production cycle can be the difference between success and failure. Production management covers the entire cycle from production orders to the factory.
Production management of your hard-won orders is a vital skill that applies to a fashion clothing business irrespective of the size. The same pressures, problems and delays will affect you, whether you are making 50 garments or 50,000 garments a season. The only differences between these two scenarios are the numbers. The skills required to manage the process efficiently are exactly the same.
Many designers use a dedicated computer software system for the management of their orders and dockets (production orders to the factory). These software tools can be a huge benefit to your business and, as you grow, they become more and more vital. They can be sourced on the internet under ‘fashion production software systems’. However these systems do come at a cost and your business may not be ready to bear this administration expense just yet. If you are not ready for a software system, you will need to create your own modus operandi so that you, and your staff or helpers, have a clear sequence of actions to follow.
The procedure for putting your sales orders ‘into work’ (i.e. into production) breaks down into these sections:
This is the first stage in the whole manufacturing process. Without creating an overview of your production requirements you will be tackling your manufacturing process in a piecemeal fashion which will have disastrous consequences.
The ideal way to achieve this is to create a spreadsheet ‘Production Schedule’ showing the total number of orders against each style – and the delivery details that apply. This schedule will form the foundation of your whole production management system.
Once you have taken your orders and you know the total number for each style, you need to calculate your requirements for every fabric, button, zip and label and get them ordered as soon as you can. It is vital to obtain a clear delivery date – you should already have had a rough idea of these times to ensure that you are not quoting unrealistic delivery dates to your customers – from your fabric and component suppliers. The factory will usually base their delivery to you on the date that you can give them the complete set of components that they need to make the order. The factory cannot quote an accurate date unless they have all the fabric and trim information. Many orders are delayed each season because something is not supplied in time. £10 worth of missing labels can result in a cancellation costing thousands of pounds.
Every designer needs the skills and support of a reliable manufacturer. Finding these factories can be a challenge, so make sure that you use any friends, contacts or professional networks and scour the web to identify the best candidates.
Once you have done your research and compiled a list of manufacturers it is important to assess their suitability to be part of your network of suppliers. This can only be carried out by visiting their premises and seeing how they work.
When you visit, it is very important to not just assess the physical conditions and making procedures of the factory, but also to get some idea of how well organised they are. For example, are all the trims for the factory’s dockets kept clearly labelled in one place?
Are the working areas clear of clutter and is their paperwork neatly organised? While good organisation is no guarantee of good quality garments, a well organised manufacturer will be more likely to have well organised production.
During your visit, make sure to check with the factory, how and when the payments are required. You are unlikely to get credit terms straight away but if you stick to your part of the bargain, pay promptly and build the relationship, it will almost certainly follow that credit terms will become available.
Points to consider
Now that you have compiled a list of potential manufacturers, you have to match the factory to the orders. If your collection is multi-category and includes, for example, tailoring, jersey and soft dresses, then your choice of manufacturer will be determined by their technical capabilities. If, when you visited them, they were making lined tweed skirts, are they going to be able to successfully deliver a docket of silk dresses? Despite what the factory tells you, your decision to work with them or not can only be based upon your own observations. The safest way to select the right factory for you, is on the basis of a sample that they make for you of the style in question – although cost is an obvious factor here.
Points to consider
So at this stage you have your sales orders, your fabric and trim requirements and you know who is going to make the docket.
Best practice is now to make a production booking with your factory so that they can ‘block out’ some production space for your orders. This production booking will be influenced by the delivery date of your fabric and trims. If your component dates are delayed then you need to alert the factory so that the production booking dates can be extended. Remember that production cannot commence until all fabrics and trims are in place.
In an ideal situation you should collect all fabric and components in one place so that once everything has been delivered to your studio you can pass it to the factory with the docket (their purchase order). This way you are giving the factory everything they need to make the order at the same time. If it is possible, this is undoubtedly the best process, as it dramatically increases the chances of the factory being able to keep to agreed delivery dates.
However, it is not always practical and it is sometimes hard to avoid sending deliveries of fabric and trims direct from the supplier to the factory. If this direct delivery occurs, it is very important that you tell the factory and that they are able to take responsibility for recording the direct delivery and notifying you that it has come to them.
The docket is the order to your factory that tells them exactly:
It is very important that the details are correct. For example, it is too late to change the size breakdown when the cloth has been cut.
Most professional production managers will use a variety of methods to maintain contact with their factories. Progress can be monitored by phone and email updates but there is absolutely no substitute for visiting the factory on a regular basis. By visiting their premise regularly you are more likely to develop a rapport with the factory and create a good working relationship.
Once the garments are ready it is your responsibility to get them from the factory to your chosen location. The garments should be thoroughly checked for quality and quantity before they leave the factory. It can be difficult to rectify any problems once they leave the makers’ premises.
Be very careful about sending interns or part-time staff to collect the finished garments.
The factory will have spent a long time pressing and finishing the order and careless handling will negate much of their work.
Inevitably, despite everyone's best endeavours, things sometimes go awry when using factories.
The most common problems in dealing with manufacturers are:
How the problem is handled with the factory will have a significant impact not only on the order but also on your relationship with the management and staff of the factory as well as on your customers. It is important that production problems have as little impact as possible on your customers and their perception of you as a reliable fashion supplier.
Getting into a dispute with a factory that is producing your orders should be avoided at all costs. Many thousands of pounds will be tied up in the orders you have entrusted to the manufacturer. In addition, your reputation in the industry will be judged on how efficiently you produce and deliver. If you enter into a dispute that cannot be easily resolved you run the risk of incurring cancellations, and other financial penalties, as well as risking damage to your reputation.
While the courts are there to deal with commercial disputes, this is really the very last course of action that you should consider and is the least favourable option.
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