How can fashion creatives design with production in mind, developing a better relationship with suppliers and factories? Working in the fashion business for 20 years, Boaz David brought this expertise to Human B -- a Fashion Consulting Firm whose solutions have improved the businesses of many independent fashion designers and fashion brands. Discover how to optimize your fashion brand's supply chain saving money and time below:
[Digifair] Why do you think fashion designers often have issues facing their production/supply chain? What kind of details do they forget?
[Boaz] The main reason is that they are simply not thinking about production and the process of how their products will be made. They only focus on the design and making a perfect sample. Since the production process is quite complex, when the time comes to produce their products, they are faced with challenges. For example, many times the samples are made by someone who is not part of the factory where production happens, so there might be parts of making the garments that are easy to work out by improvising that one sample, and by the time it gets to production the designer either forgot to make these corrections and prepare the pattern for production or maybe the sample maker made it work but hasn't told them.
Making one sample is easy to make it work, but when making bulk production, 500, 1,000 or even as little as 100 pieces, there has to be a clear and manageable process otherwise the quality, price and time of production will be impacted.
I always advise fashion designers to think about the production process when they design their products, this will help them decide what type of fabrics they can afford and where they should get them from, what factory to choose and how much can they afford to pay for manufacturing or even the logistics and shipping.
One recommendation that I have is to think simple, simple doesn't mean compromising on creativity, it just means smarter business. After all, this is supposed to be a business and a successful one.
Thinking and addressing these things at the design stage will help them avoid issues in production, saving them time and money and make their vendors happy.
Design the process, not just the garment.
You want to trace back your garment’s journey from design to finish product which will help you plan your supply chain. This way you can design a seamless and clear supply chain that will provide consistency in product quality and save you time and money.
[D] And what methods can fashion designers use to design the whole supply chain and not just the product?
[B] Great question. The first step is to define what they want as the end results. What type of products they wish to offer, at what price point, in what quality, where do they want to produce their fashion products, how will they sell it and their general business model.
The second step is to start from the end and work backwards, tracing back the production steps that are required for the products and the logistics involved (where fabrics come from, where is the factory, where is the warehouse, etc.) and then create a map that will coordinate how all these steps will work together seamlessly.
I see many young fashion designers and even established brands who only think about how they can get better prices from their vendors and don't think about the whole process from design to finished product. In the long run, they end up spending more to make up for all the things that go wrong in their supply chain.
[D] How can technology help them find the right suppliers for their demands?
[B] The short answer is tremendously helpful. Back in the day, finding and communicating with vendors required, travelling, phone calls, mailing packages and if the vendors were in a different time zone you needed to work before and after hours to speak with them. Nowaday with email, video calls, and the internet you can find and communicate with any vendor anywhere in the world. Digifair is the best example because, if I'm a designer and I need fabrics, I can go on your website in a click of a button from the comfort of my office (or even on my phone from anywhere), find fabric resources that i would never find on my own, from anywhere in the world. This is huge in saving time and money for them. Not to mention how convenient and easy it is. It made the world a lot smaller because everybody can work with anybody.
[D] How can different categories, price point, and quality level affect the production of garments?
[B] When I work with a new brand/designer the main questions that I ask are: What are the product categories that they are producing and the unique selling proposition of their product and brand? Who is their target customer? Where do they see their brand positioned in the market? And what is their target retail price for their products?
Once they are clear on those questions, we can have a good idea of what are their production options and what their supply chain would look like. Meaning in what country can they produce their products, what type of fabrics, trims, and finishing can they use/afford and what kind of minimums they would require to produce.
For example, if their product will be retailing at the high contemporary or designer market, then they can most likely use better and more expensive fabrics, they can produce domestically, they can finish the products at a high level and produce smaller batches of 100 pieces per style at a time. However, if they are targeting the mass market, then price becomes very important which means they will need to produce offshore in higher minimums per style (at least 1,000 pieces and up), they will need to choose lower-priced fabrics and can’t afford to invest too much in the quality and finishing.
Connect your supply chain, keeping the design, fabric sourcing and garment production close, and consider the volume of orders as well. Producing pieces in China or India might require larger quantities -- above 1,000 pieces.
[D] How can fashion designers build a better professional relationship with their suppliers?
[B] That is a very important question for designers to think of, and I actually wrote a post about it a long time ago. Creating a product from scratch will require using different vendors, and as your business grows, these vendors become more and more important, and your business will depend on them. In other words, they become your partners. Therefore, for them to care for your business, you want to care for their business.
Unfortunately, in my career, I saw (and still see) fashion designers treating their vendors as someone whom they are paying money to do a task for them. They assume that the vendors are there to take their money, and they would treat them accordingly with no respect for their business. Why can't the factory do this for me, why can't they do it at a particular time and why their prices are high and so on.
Yes, there will always be people that only care for their business but this doesn't mean that all vendors are this way. Fashion designers need to understand that vendors have businesses to run; they have employees, bills, and expenses to take care of just like them. This is not personal.
For example, factories will charge prime prices for small production because it is not economical for them; there are steps that they need to do regardless if they are producing 1,000 pieces or 50.
There's a level of understanding once you comprehend the process and the factory point of view, and that will transform the relationships with your vendors. Once you understand where they come from and do your best to consider that in your production process (simplify and organize things for them, communicate with respect, if you can flexible in delivery dates, paying on time, etc.) the vendors will do things for your businesses that they normally will not do, and they will take extra care of your business. After all, this must be a win-win situation to build successful and lasting relationships.
[D] In bigger brands, how can the design team improve communication with the development team to make sure everything runs smoothly?
[B] This goes to all departments, from design to sales, development, and production. Again this has to be a win-win situation for everyone involved. It’s not uncommon in big brands to see that every one of these departments works in their own bubble; they are not thinking about the effects of their work on these other departments. That usually leads to miscommunications that lead to mistakes that affect the final product and the brand.
The key here is for everyone to communicate with the others as they are working on their step of the process so they can see the whole picture. For example, the design team should speak to the sales team as they are designing the new season to learn what are the products that are selling and what that are not. They then should consult with the development department on whether certain fabrics and design details are too expensive, too complicated etc., so they can design accordingly. Next, the development department should consult with the production department before they develop the products so they can make development decisions that will make production easier and more effective. When that happens, everyone wins.
Good communication is crucial so no misunderstanding occurs along the line. This includes the design team communicating with the development team and the factory. Visual references can help the process go smoother as well.
[D] Anything else you would like to add?
[B] To build a successful fashion brand, the founders must answer 5 main questions before they start. What I call The Essential Five. Having clarity on the answers will set the foundation for their business. Every action and decision should then be filtered through these five essential points, and if they do that their business will thrive. The questions are:
WHY are you starting this brand? Re; what is the reason for its existence and what is its unique offering?
WHO is the ideal target customer? And what are their needs/pain points?
WHERE will the brand be going to be positioned in the market?
WHAT are the best products and solutions that you can offer your customers based on the answers to the above questions?
HOW are you going to sell your product? How are you going to get to your customers?
And with that final lesson, Boaz simplifies easily how fashion designers could improve their businesses, and why his work as a fashion consultant at Human B is highly sought after by fashion professionals.
Check them out for more tips on how to optimize your fashion business and our previous conversation to Boaz about how to improve your fashion business in general. Sign up to Digifair to have all your fabric, material, and trim requests delivered at your door.