As you know, starting a clothing line isn’t all that easy. There are a number of essential steps between ideation and clothing production, each requiring your full attention. Whether you’ve just received your pre-production sample or your manufacturer is nearing completion of it, chances are you’ve spent a great deal of time and money bringing your design to life.
In any case, once your pre-production sample is in your hands, you’ll need to decide how and where to complete your clothing production run. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of apparel manufacturing, consider using our clothing production checklist and sample production order for helpful tips on sourcing, costing, and more. Regardless of your expertise in the industry, understanding what goes on behind the scenes can help you get the most out of your relationship with your manufacturer. To shed a bit of light on the process, we’ve created a guide to the stages of clothing production.
The Stages of Clothing Production
While you may have given some thought to fabric choices during the development of your tech pack and prototypes, sourcing materials for samples is only the start. The fabrics used in these earlier stages can give you an idea of how your final design will look and feel, but they might not be viable in the long run. This is why it’s best to choose fabrics for your samples with assurance that they will be available for large-scale clothing production.
As you move towards the finished pre-production sample, you’ll need to start thinking about how to source bulk fabrics and materials to be used in the clothing production run of your design. When shopping around, there are a few important factors you should consider:
- Are in stock fabrics available in the quantity you need? If not, what is the lead time?
- What is the MOQ (Minimum order quantity) per color?
- Pricing per yard
- Cuttable width (58″/60″ is standard)
- Fabric weight (GSM)
- Available inventory and frequency of purchasing
- What are the payment terms (COD, Net 30 etc.)?
If you haven’t already confirmed that your choice of fabrics will be available long term, now is the time. This will save you time and money if you decide to do another clothing production run after the initial batch.
Hot Wash & Pre-shrinking
Depending on your choice of materials, you may want to consider having your fabrics pre-washed before cutting. This step can prevent your garment from shrinking during clothing production or once the garment is washed by the customer. Additionally, it can help remove any impurities to prepare for the next steps.
If your fabric isn’t already your desired color or if it needs any sort of special treatment, it is usually completed during this stage. The process involves submerging fibers, yarns, or even entire rolls of fabric in a solution of water, dye, and mordant, which is a chemical that bonds dye to the fabric. Once the dye has adhered to the textile, it is rinsed to get rid of any liquid or impurities.
While textile dyeing is a common procedure, it is also possible to dye garments once they have already been assembled. However, this approach can be complicated if there are multiple fabrics being used since each fabric will absorb and react to dyes differently. Many custom hoodies and custom shirts are garment dyed to offer a wide variety of colors without having to produce as many units.
Marking & Grading
Once your fabric is washed and ready for the final clothing production run, your manufacturer will need to begin grading and marking using the pre-production sample as your base and sizing ratios that you decide to use. The manufacturer will create patterns in all the other sizes requested in your clothing production order.
Once all patterns are made (graded) they will be placed together (sort of like Tetris) into a computer software that mimics the width of fabric you’re using as to cover as much fabric as possible with all the shapes. This is done in a way that maximizes efficiency so that fabric isn’t wasted during the process. The marker is now made up of all pattern sizes and is used as a guide for the cutters to follow.
Cutting & Bundling
Now that your fabric has been cleaned, graded and marked for final production, it’s time to cut out each segment for assembly. Cutting in industrial clothing production is incredibly precise and held to very high standards. Even small errors like cutting on the outside (as opposed to the inside) of the marked outlines could lead to major issues with fit, making it very important that this step is done properly.
Once all sections have been cut out, the manufacturer will bundle and prepare cuts for sewing. They may also mark each part of your garment to pinpoint where seams, folds, and other details should be on the final design.
If your design involves water-based screen prints, plastisol transfers or sublimation, now is the time. Once your garment has been cut into sections, your manufacturer can easily print directly onto the fabric. Rather than printing onto an assembled garment with seams and other details that could affect the design or layout, printing onto the fabric ensures that the graphic will turn out as intended and is not compromised.
After your design has been washed, dyed, cut, and printed, it is then assembled. Manufacturers will use details from your spec sheet and tech pack to sew your garment together, ensuring it meets all quality control standards along the way. The final garment should be an exact representation of what the customer will receive, down to the fabric, fit, trim, and any other details
Trimming, Spec & Finishing
Now that your garments are complete, the last stage before they are mailed to customers is called finishing. This involves first trimming loose threads, measuring again to make sure they hit specs, and, finally, attaching care tags, sizing labels, price tags, and poly bagging. This stage is the last quality control measure before your clothing is packed and shipped out, so it’s essential that each garment meets your standards right down to the finer details.
Packing & shipping
Finally, your order is packed up to be shipped to your fulfillment center – or if you’re just starting out, your garage! From the material your garments are wrapped in to the boxes they are delivered in, this stage incorporates special packaging and design-related details that align with your branding. The fulfillment center will handle this. Once final packing is complete, your order is shipped to showrooms, retailers, customers, and any other parties you’ve involved in product fulfillment.
The apparel manufacturing process can be daunting for new designers. To help you get started, we’ve created a clothing production checklist and sample production order that includes insider knowledge on sourcing, costing, and other important details. Best of all, it’s free.