Design and Production
Most wholesale fashion companies, where clothes are manufactured for sale to retailers, are divided into several departments, where teams of workers with specialist skills handle the design, production, and marketing of garments. Key roles in a fashion company are those of designer, cloth-buyer, pattern-cutter, sample machinist, production controller, factory manager, and sales, marketing, and promotion executive. The function of each department is related to that of the others, and the company’s efficiency depends on effective planning and communication between departments.
A medium-size company would normally have separate departments for purchasing cloth, for designing styles, and for production.
A The Cloth-Purchasing Department
This department works closely with the designer to locate and purchase the specific materials and trimmings required to make the styles planned for a particular season. This may require visiting numerous textile fairs in many different countries, textile mills, and showrooms, and arranging for sample lengths to be delivered to the design department. Other activities include testing cloth for colour, quality, weight, and finishing. This department also collates information needed for the bulk purchasing of cloth for production.
B The Design Department
The design department usually consists either of a single designer, or a chief designer and a team of junior designers or stylists. The department is responsible for the overall concept of each season’s collections. Designers keep up to date with marketing conditions and emerging trends by visiting international textile and fashion fairs, and shops in major international cities, and by maintaining an awareness of such major influences on style as films, exhibitions, new textiles, and street styles.
For each season, the design department produces a range plan in which are set out new designs as well as repeat designs for ranges that have sold well previously. Each design is presented in the form of a sketch or series of sketches; samples of the fabrics and trimmings to be used are attached to each sketch.
When the range to be produced in a particular season has been finalized, patterns and sample garments are produced. Usually, several pattern cutters and sample machinists assist the designer in producing the exact shapes and styles shown in the sketches. Patterns may be produced by fitting fabric to a tailor’s dummy, or by flat pattern-cutting. In some companies, the pieces of the pattern are scanned by computer and manipulated on the computer screen.
Once the pattern has been cut, the sample machinist makes the first garment, either as a toile (a prototype made in calico) or as a sample made in the material chosen for the garment. The sample machinist’s job is highly skilled, since there are often new shapes to manipulate and different fabrics to manage. At this stage, an approximate costing of the garment is made. In many design departments, costings are made by computer; graphics software packages allow designers to create images on screen, discuss them with buyers and production staff, link them with fabrics and trimmings, calculate costings, and process them via samples through to the production department. The designers can also call upon inspirational images, keep records of their past designs, and store information concerning suppliers, colour, and textile trends.
C The Production Department
The production department is responsible for coordinating orders from retailers, making production patterns, grading patterns to different sizes, lay-planning (laying the pieces of the pattern in such a way as to ensure that the mininum amount of cloth is wasted); planning cutting and assembly batches; costings; organizing machines on the factory floor to suit a particular production run; organizing outworkers; ticketing bundles (batches of separate pieces to be sewn); and labelling the finished garment.
The use of computer software allows patterns to be manipulated and graded (made to different sizes) far more quickly and more accurately than is possible by manual methods. Automatic grading of pattern pieces to specific sizes and the automatic preparation of lays remove much of the tedious manual work previously required. The computers are either linked to plotters that print out lays on paper to be cut manually, or linked electronically to a laser cutter or cutting knife.
On the production floor, lays are made up of the fabrics to be cut for particular orders. Often, the sizes in the lay are mixed but carefully labelled for the machinists. The assembly lines are usually arranged in a line running the length of the factory floor. Garments made in a factory are normally made in sections, with machinists working on specific machines, sewing seams or collars, pressing garments, or applying trimmings. The bundles of garment pieces are distributed to the machinists by conveyor belt or trolley, which is also controlled by computer. Each machinist sews one or two specific sections of each garment in the bundle, which is then passed to the next machinist. Separate processes may include stitching seams, attaching trimmings, inserting zips, making buttonholes, attaching sleeves and collars, under-pressing and top-pressing, and finally checking for quality. Each of these processes, except quality control, can be carried out by machines, which are now often computerized so as to ensure a uniform quality of sewing. Typical machines found in most factories are lock stitchers for seams, over-lockers for seam covering, buttonhole machines, and double-chain stitchers for stretch fabrics. Machines may have attachments for special functions such as ruffling, elastication, and making welt or piped pockets.
Finished garments are temporarily stored in the factory warehouse while complete orders are assembled for the retail customer. Orders are then packed and dispatched from the warehouse. For fashion merchandise, a delivery date is usually agreed between the buyer and the manufacturer, since any delay may result in the shop or store missing the peak retailing period and suffering financial loss.