Success in the fashion world is a factor of control. The more control you have the more successful you will be. Every time you outsource something you're losing control, especially early on. If you're in one city but producing in another, you're losing control. If you're sampling but not visiting the factory often, you're losing control. If you really want to succeed, you'll do everything you can to garner as much control as possible. This doesn't mean you're overbearing and a pain in the ass. It means that you know where everything stands, you know your products inside and out, and you know how to talk to the people who matter. Communication is crucial, especially when there can be language barriers, both in real language and in the technical language of patterns and garments. Being physically present helps minimize miscommunications.
Early on, try to accomplish your goals with the tightest circle of suppliers. If you can produce in the same factory as you sample, do it. If you can source most of your fabrics from a handful of places, do it. Every additional step and supplier you add creates an additional level of complexity, and another relationship to build. Now, this has to be balanced with having backup plans if something goes wrong, since you don't want all of your eggs in one basket. But the more fragmented your process is the harder it will be.
Some thoughts on control
- Find the best sample maker your can and work with him or her. Don't change this unless you have to. Few people can translate your vision on the level you want it, and finding the right person is one of the hardest tasks. Once you find this person, protect them and don't go dropping their name around town unless it's to people you trust.
- Work with as few factories as possible for production. Built a few strong relationships where you can get price quotes from each, negotiate, and then get to work.
- If you can't travel to a manufacturer in an hour or less you probably shouldn't be working with them early on. Your ability to get there if they have a question or problem is crucial. And the faster you respond and get them back to work the more they will like you.
- When your fabric is getting cut for production (and even sampling), be there. You'll learn how it all happens and what matters. After visiting the cutting room for a garment we were making, we learned that if we had made a sleeve a half inch skinnier, we could have saved a ton of fabric. Now we know to lay the pattern out during sampling to see if we'll run into any of these issues again, which we can fix since we're still in the sampling phase.
- If you think you're too important for any part of the process or you don't need to be there for it, you're wrong. Sampling, dying, marking, grading, cutting, sewing—you should be there for all of it. Every step is important. It's a game of little things accumulating into bigger things.