Developing Your First Apparel Product or Accessory: The Basics
So, you’ve come up with a new idea for an apparel product or accessory. You’ve researched the market and know there is a whole host of customers waiting for an amazing product just like yours!
So, now what?
Before diving in, you have a key decision to make. Are you going to hire a designer? Or are you going to DIY? Hiring a designer will be an upfront investment, but will save you time as you make your way to the final product. DIY’ing will save on expensive design costs, but you will spend more time upfront learning what you need to get started.
Here are 5 simple steps to guide you through developing your first apparel product or accessory!
STEP 1: ILLUSTRATE YOUR IDEA
In either case, you will need to get your idea out on paper. I say paper figuratively, because there are a lot of different methods you can use to get your message across. If you have some basic drawing skills, you can sketch out your design and point out the details specific to your unique product.
Is drawing not your strongest skillset? No worries! Here are some other methods you can use:
Take images from the internet or your camera. Mix and match the images and add detailed callouts to illustrate your idea without drawing.
Create a simple video using your camera or phone. Explain your idea and use physical items (like clothes from your closet) or pictures to show how your design idea is unique.
STEP 2: PREPARE TO REACH OUT TO THE FACTORY
Now that you have your idea clearly outlined, you can put it into a format that the factory can understand. The factory will require Technical Sketches or a full Tech Pack in order to give you a quote for their manufacturing services. If you choose to hire a designer, they will include Technical Sketches as a part of your Tech Pack package.
If you have some graphic design skills, you can try your hand at DIY’ing your Technical Sketches. I have a full series, Introduction to Technical Flats, that walks you through everything you need to know about creating your very own Technical Sketches.
Once you have your Technical Sketches finalized, you or your designer can create the Tech Pack. Your Tech Pack houses everything you need to build your design, just like a blueprint. Want to know more about what goes into a Tech Pack? You can read my full blog post “What is a Tech Pack?” to find out more.
Are you DIY’ing your Tech Pack? I’ve got great news! My new series, DIY Technical Design: Develop Your First Apparel Product or Accessory, gives you everything you need to be able to take your design from idea, to a ready-to-sell product, completely free.
As a part of the series I will be teaching you how to create your very own tools to help you along the way. Don't feel like creating everything yourself? No worries! I'll also be releasing a series of affordable digital products as well to save you some time. So whether you're DIY'ing to save time or DIY'ing to save money, there's an option for you.
In order to complete your Tech Pack, you and/or your designer will create a Size Chart by deciding on the range of sizes you wish to offer. If you’re creating a “one size” product, you can skip over this part! Once you’ve finalized your Size Chart, you can choose your Sample Size. Your Sample Size is typically the size right in the middle of your size chart. All of your samples from the factory will be sent in this size for you to review.
STEP 3: RESEARCH & CONTACT A FACTORY
Great! Your Tech Pack is complete and you’re ready to start reaching out to factories. Here are some important things to know before reaching out to a factory:
How many units will you be producing?
How many styles?
How many colors?
How many sizes?
Do you have a specific date or timeline in mind to launch your products?
Not sure where to start with your factory search? Try looking at some of these great resources:
Or try using specific search terms like these:
“Low minimum* leather bag manufacturer in the US”
“High volume denim manufacturer”
“Apparel manufacturing factory directory”
Remember that not all factories are created equal. Some may work with you directly, while others may require you to work with them through an agent*. A full service factory can provide you with sourcing* (for fabric and trims) services, but smaller factories may only offer assembly. Do some research to ensure that the workers at the factory you choose are experiencing fair working conditions and that the factory has processes in place to make production more sustainable. There are a lot of garment factory disasters that you do not want your products to be associated with. Take the time to make sure your factory is the right fit.
STEP 4: PROTOTYPING
Once you’ve secured a reliable factory, request a First Prototype*. The factory will use your Tech Pack to create a sample of your product. After the Prototype is complete, they will send it to you to review. If they needed to make any changes to the design while making it, they should let you know. Be sure to carefully compare the Prototype to the Tech Pack and make any updates necessary. If you are developing a sized garment, fit your sample on a form which reflects your Sample Size from your Size Chart. If you need to further evaluate the fit and function, you can perform a Wear Test*.
Send the updated Tech Pack and review comments to your factory, requesting a Second Prototype if you need it. Continue this process until you are happy with the outcome. Typically 1-3 Prototypes is sufficient. Approve the Prototype and finalize the Tech Pack.
If you are creating a sized garment, you will request a Size Set* after the Sample Size has been approved. Samples are made off of the production line in a separate sample room. Therefore, you will need to request a PP* and TOP* to confirm the design is correct. Approving these last two samples will finalize the design.
STEP 5: PRODUCTION
Your samples are approved and you’re ready for production! Double check that everything is correct one last time, because you won’t be able to make any changes once the production starts. If you do need to make a change, it will be very costly. Your factory will give you the target date for the order to ship. Once you receive it, you’re ready to sell!
Some other things to consider:
Factor in customs, duties, taxes, and tariffs for offshore manufacturing.
Tags, labels, and logos can be added by your factory. Be sure to do your research and confirm you are including everything that you need to, legally, on your label.
Factor in how your products will be shipped to you versus how you will sell them. Do they need any extra protection when they are shipped to you from the factory?
If you are creating children’s products, there are many laws and rules to follow. Do your research!
Any terms above with an asterisk are defined here for you.
Minimum = The minimum quantity of items you must order from a factory for them to manufacture your product.
Agent = A “middleman” that acts as a liaison between you and the factory. It can be an individual that belongs to the factory or a third party company.
Sourcing = Researching and ordering supplies to build your product, such as trims and fabric.
Prototype = An initial physical sample produced in a sample room to perfect the fit and construction of the product.
Wear Test = A Wear Test is simply wearing the garment over a short period of time to see how it feels on body. This is typically done towards the end of development, just to double check that nothing feels out of place while the garment is worn.
Size Set = A set of the product in each size it will be produced in. Allows the development team to evaluate the grade between sizes.
PP = A Pre-Production sample is the last fully correct sample before production begins.
TOP = A Top of Production sample is the first sample off the assembly line, to confirm that the production line and team are constructing the garment correctly.