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New MTM Business - Need Advice


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#1 AB28

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Posted 13 March 2013 - 03:21 AM

Dear Members,

After working for the better part of a decade in fashion editorial (magazines) in both Toronto and New York, I made the bold decision to quit my job, move to a new city and pursue my dream of starting my own business.

While submerged in a world of designer clothes, produced at such a rapid rate (most designers have 4 collections per year), and in a world that promotes the idea that to have style one must purchase the most current clothes from each season, I found myself increasingly wanting stability. That is, I found/find it very difficult to find good quality (just because it has a designer label does not mean it is well made), well fitting, classic clothing for women - clothing that is not embellished, overly designed/styled, in the season's 'it' colours, etc. Clothing that is flattering to individual body shapes/sizes, tailored, and never out of style is what I am, and many other women I have spoken to are, after. Basically, all that is relatively easily available to men.

Thus, I have been doing some research into setting up a MTM operation to facilitate this need. What I would like to offer is a limited amount of styles, (perhaps beginning with just shirts or pants/trousers and moving on to other garments -skirts, dresses, coats, etc), great quality fabrics and superb execution. The business would be geared towards quality, not quantity.

My strengths, at this point, are on the business and design side of the operation. I will be able to design the limited style range, but it is from that point on that I need advice. I know, this is a huge and challenging venture and I have so many questions I would like to ask about patternmaking, sampling, grading, cutting, sewing, trimming... But so as not to bombard those of you who are kind enough to be reading this with dozens of questions, I will just start with this:

As the start-up cost of creating an in-house workshop will be enormously high, do you feel that this operation can work based on freelance hires, at least at first?
I keep hearing that it is very difficult to find well-trained people to do high-end work. Would well-trained people be interested in this sort of work? If not, why?

Any additional advise on the main idea is very much welcome. I would also be exceedingly grateful if I could contact any of you patternmakers, cutters, tailors etc, out there via email to get some of my many questions answered without taking up too much of the forum's space and patience.

Thanks in advance,

AB

#2 Martin Stall

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Posted 13 March 2013 - 04:32 AM

Hi AB, (got a firstname too? :)

First: Congratulations on your courage. You must have big brass balls, to be starting something like this.
Next: Good luck. You're probably in for a rough ride, BUT! The good news is that there's no reason why it wouldn't work.

How to make it work? Depends. From my own experience, outsourcing isn't always the best option. Communication is incredibly important (something that not all artisans are good at), and quality control is indispensable. Given that you won't be the cutter/seamstress there, that basically makes it impossible to outsource. Or so it seems to me.

I would much rather have an in-house expert, especially at the planning stage, but also in the startup phase (which are not the same - planning comes before startup and deserves plenty of time. If you currently want to launch in 3 months, plan for 6. Or 9.)

Feel free to PM me if you like, though this forum is very much for the purpose of having this type of discussion. No need to feel you're taking up time or space - that's what it's all for :)
Sure, I believe your work rocks, but... have you considered, how are you going to sell that stuff?

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#3 Brave Tailor

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Posted 13 March 2013 - 04:56 AM

Dear Members,

MTM
Any additional advise on the main idea is very much welcome. I would also be exceedingly grateful if I could contact any of you patternmakers, cutters, tailors etc, out there via email to get some of my many questions answered without taking up too much of the forum's space and patience.

Thanks in advance,

AB


AB! First and last problem of MTM is bad measuring. Exactly - no any system of taking right base for cutter. So good luck, but candle on the wind will live more, than MTM , that we see.
I can explane every point of my replay, if you are interested, better in privat.

#4 shirtmaven

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Posted 13 March 2013 - 07:22 AM

Unless you partner with someone who knows how to run a workroom, then you are better off working with outside factories.
where are you located? can you find talented workers.
I have a custom shirt business for 30 years.
I have no skills other then being able to measure and instruct my workers.
I do not make patterns,cut, or sew.
I had a cutter who kept deviating form our basic block patterns.
my sewers complained that armholes and sleeves were different sizes.
We have since remade almost all of his patterns.

I also work with one of the custom shirt factories in Newark. I understand how their shirt fits.
I get excellent results, there are certain things they can not do which can be frustrating.

feel free to contact me as well
cegocs@aol.com

Carl
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#5 Kathleen F.

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Posted 13 March 2013 - 08:47 AM

Thus, I have been doing some research into setting up a MTM operation to facilitate this need. What I would like to offer is a limited amount of styles, (perhaps beginning with just shirts or pants/trousers and moving on to other garments -skirts, dresses, coats, etc), great quality fabrics and superb execution. The business would be geared towards quality, not quantity.

You might want to read this: Is mass customization in apparel possible?

The cut to the chase summary is that if it is difficult to produce "normally" (whatever that is) producing across categories (i.e. men's AND women's, coats AND dresses), it will be virtually impossible in MTM. As a start up, for sure.

As the start-up cost of creating an in-house workshop will be enormously high, do you feel that this operation can work based on freelance hires, at least at first? I keep hearing that it is very difficult to find well-trained people to do high-end work. Would well-trained people be interested in this sort of work? If not, why?

It will be extremely difficult to staff with freelancers. Just the front end -product development for custom patterns and the like, most of us are scheduling several months out. I've been back logged so long I'm not taking on any new customers. The people who are good, meaning people who could turn patterns around for you in a very short period of time with ready to produce patterns, are similarly booked. The sewing is another story. You're looking at paying sample room rates for one-offs -they are also backed up. It is really tough right now. Oh, and starting up an apparel company shouldn't be as costly as it often is. It really depends on how wisely one makes their choices. I'm too frequently dismayed at the misplaced priorities of many start ups. See: how much cash do you need to start a clothing line.

As someone who has had customers do this successfully, I don't suggest it is insurmountable but you'll need skill sets at your beck and call (meaning: full time!). You might also read this article: Made to measure manufacturing. Just last month, another company (Quincy Apparel) trying to do MTM within a palette of developed styles, went under. They had raised about a million in seed money. I don't know any more than that. The only people I've known to do this successfully are those who had the people they needed on staff.

If this model excites you, maybe you could team up with someone who shares your vision and can bring their skills to the table for the benefit of you both. Good luck!
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#6 AB28

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 12:09 AM

Hi AB, (got a firstname too? :)

First: Congratulations on your courage. You must have big brass balls, to be starting something like this.
Next: Good luck. You're probably in for a rough ride, BUT! The good news is that there's no reason why it wouldn't work.

How to make it work? Depends. From my own experience, outsourcing isn't always the best option. Communication is incredibly important (something that not all artisans are good at), and quality control is indispensable. Given that you won't be the cutter/seamstress there, that basically makes it impossible to outsource. Or so it seems to me.

I would much rather have an in-house expert, especially at the planning stage, but also in the startup phase (which are not the same - planning comes before startup and deserves plenty of time. If you currently want to launch in 3 months, plan for 6. Or 9.)

Feel free to PM me if you like, though this forum is very much for the purpose of having this type of discussion. No need to feel you're taking up time or space - that's what it's all for :)


Many thanks for your response and your encouragement.
I would love to have an in-house operation and will heed your suggestion by looking into having an in-house expert (especially at the planning and start up phase). My question then is: who would be considered an expert? A former manager of a sewing room?

As I am now based in London, UK there is an abundance of talent around me. That being said, I am new here and have found it rather difficult to find people I can talk to purely for informational purposes.
As having an in-house operation would require a huge start-up investment (before I even have customers), I was thinking that I could hire a local patternmaker on a freelance basis. Given that he/she would be local, I could potentially work closely with him/her in ensuring my designs are clearly understandable/translated.
Ideally, I would like to build relationships with tailors/seamstresses in the city, so when I have orders (which will fluctuate in numbers - low at times, high at other times) I can send the work to the local tailors/seamstresses. Again, given proximity, I will be able to communicate and oversee the work. As business progresses I would work to set up my own facility. Is this not possible?

PS: First name is Alana ; )

#7 AB28

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 12:25 AM

You might want to read this: Is mass customization in apparel possible?

The cut to the chase summary is that if it is difficult to produce "normally" (whatever that is) producing across categories (i.e. men's AND women's, coats AND dresses), it will be virtually impossible in MTM. As a start up, for sure.

It will be extremely difficult to staff with freelancers. Just the front end -product development for custom patterns and the like, most of us are scheduling several months out. I've been back logged so long I'm not taking on any new customers. The people who are good, meaning people who could turn patterns around for you in a very short period of time with ready to produce patterns, are similarly booked. The sewing is another story. You're looking at paying sample room rates for one-offs -they are also backed up. It is really tough right now. Oh, and starting up an apparel company shouldn't be as costly as it often is. It really depends on how wisely one makes their choices. I'm too frequently dismayed at the misplaced priorities of many start ups. See: how much cash do you need to start a clothing line.

As someone who has had customers do this successfully, I don't suggest it is insurmountable but you'll need skill sets at your beck and call (meaning: full time!). You might also read this article: Made to measure manufacturing. Just last month, another company (Quincy Apparel) trying to do MTM within a palette of developed styles, went under. They had raised about a million in seed money. I don't know any more than that. The only people I've known to do this successfully are those who had the people they needed on staff.

If this model excites you, maybe you could team up with someone who shares your vision and can bring their skills to the table for the benefit of you both. Good luck!



I have read all of the articles you suggested, some of which I have read before from frequenting your enormously helpful website. Thank you.

You mention that producing across categories is virtually impossible in MTM...
Perhaps I am living in a fantasy land (and if I am I hope you will tell me so), but is it not possible to operate a very small made-to-measure operation and gradually grow? I am not looking to do MASS customization. I just want a small operation. I do not intend to sell online, but would rather get to know my customer on a personal basis and build a relationship and a solid client base. At first, I would offer, for argument's sake, 6 different styles of trousers. If that works well, I can move on to skirts...etc. I will increase garment options as demand (and cash flow) increases. Am I missing something?

If it is feasible to operate the small MTM operation that I hope to, would it still be difficult to initially staff with freelancers? Taking into account Martin's response above and your advice below, I could potentially partner up with someone who has the skill set that I lack or I could hire an 'expert.' Assuming I do, could freelance work from there? Or are you suggesting that I need to set up a sewing room and have all key players in-house from the start?

Thank you again for your time and advice!

#8 Martin Stall

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 01:27 AM

Many thanks for your response and your encouragement.
I would love to have an in-house operation and will heed your suggestion by looking into having an in-house expert (especially at the planning and start up phase). My question then is: who would be considered an expert? A former manager of a sewing room?

As I am now based in London, UK there is an abundance of talent around me. That being said, I am new here and have found it rather difficult to find people I can talk to purely for informational purposes.
As having an in-house operation would require a huge start-up investment (before I even have customers), I was thinking that I could hire a local patternmaker on a freelance basis. Given that he/she would be local, I could potentially work closely with him/her in ensuring my designs are clearly understandable/translated.
Ideally, I would like to build relationships with tailors/seamstresses in the city, so when I have orders (which will fluctuate in numbers - low at times, high at other times) I can send the work to the local tailors/seamstresses. Again, given proximity, I will be able to communicate and oversee the work. As business progresses I would work to set up my own facility. Is this not possible?

PS: First name is Alana ; )


Hey Alana,

An expert would be anyone able to translate your design into something you can sell. Either by hands-on getting it done, or by managing other people. What you're looking for isn't so much a person with a specific job history, rather someone skilled.

Given that you're in London, it shouldn't be too hard, especially if you start on a small scale thereby not asking lots of time from them. How to find them though... I don't really know. Me I would talk with as many people as I can, and find out how the industry works. I think at this point that's probably what you should focus on: learning the ropes. In that process, I'm sure you'll find the right people.

So yes, I think it should be possible. But you're looking at hard work, a couple of failed projects, a few sleepless nights, and a fair bit of money invested. If you're up for that, then I'd say get on your walking shoes and go meet people :) I would probably begin by contacting cloth merchants and see what leads you get from there. Usually the person who can't directly help you can put you in touch with someone who can, and so on and so forth.
Sure, I believe your work rocks, but... have you considered, how are you going to sell that stuff?

http: under construction...

#9 Terri

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 08:20 AM

A couple of thought s come into my mind.
You've been reading Kathleen's blog and I suggest getting her book.

Your strength are design and business, so who is your clientele and how will they decide to pick you over someone else in the market.how do they find you?
It would be wise to acquaint yourself with the basics of patternmaking and sewing so you have a basic understanding of the process, if only to ask intelligent questions when issues come up.

Finding experienced qualified freelancers who are available when you want them to be may be a hurdle. Unless you can hire them as part of your team, you cannot expect them to drop other contracts for you when you need them.

The other issue may be keeping fabrics in stock, for sales you haven't yet made. $$$
As MTM goes, who is deciding that the fit needs to be tweaked? The customer?

I think you can start small and work up, but usually it works best if you have the skills to do more than just design. I think you may be able to get patterns made by a qualified person, and possibly samples, but after that it is sales driven and you have to either be ready to accomodate the slowness of demand or worse, too much demand that you cannot fulfill in a timely manner.

I don't mean to sound discouraging, but I think you have to be careful of putting the cart before the horse.

#10 Kathleen F.

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 08:31 AM

I just want a small operation. I do not intend to sell online, but would rather get to know my customer on a personal basis and build a relationship and a solid client base. At first, I would offer, for argument's sake, 6 different styles of trousers. If that works well, I can move on to skirts...etc. I will increase garment options as demand (and cash flow) increases. Am I missing something?

Trousers is awesome so focus on that. Once you nail it, I'd suggest men's shirts and jackets or sportcoats instead of hopping into women's. You're looking at it as "bottoms" when you should be thinking men's vs women's. Men shop very differently from women; men are less hassle (imo) fit wise and less likely to shop on price. Styling is also much more stable as is fitting profile. Women's is a whole other ball game. Women don't shop like men (altho many increasingly are), they're more price conscious and their clothing cycles in and out of fashion more quickly (read: less styling stability = +$ pattern and development costs) and lastly, the variation in women's figure types is much more variable than men's. But anyway, it sounds like you would be closer to a custom clothier. Nothing wrong with that. Plenty make a nice living at it and enjoy their work.

If it is feasible to operate the small MTM operation that I hope to, would it still be difficult to initially staff with freelancers? Taking into account Martin's response above and your advice below, I could potentially partner up with someone who has the skill set that I lack or I could hire an 'expert.' Assuming I do, could freelance work from there? Or are you suggesting that I need to set up a sewing room and have all key players in-house from the start?

I wouldn't change what I said before. You're going to need someone with skills that you can offer something they don't already have. That could be sales ability, management, customer relations, a location, infrastructure and a steady wage. Good luck!

Edited by Kathleen F., 14 March 2013 - 08:32 AM.

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#11 Der Zuschneider

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 04:07 PM

Trousers is awesome so focus on that. Once you nail it, I'd suggest men's shirts and jackets or sportcoats instead of hopping into women's. You're looking at it as "bottoms" when you should be thinking men's vs women's. Men shop very differently from women; men are less hassle (imo) fit wise and less likely to shop on price. Styling is also much more stable as is fitting profile. Women's is a whole other ball game. Women don't shop like men (altho many increasingly are), they're more price conscious and their clothing cycles in and out of fashion more quickly (read: less styling stability = +$ pattern and development costs) and lastly, the variation in women's figure types is much more variable than men's. But anyway, it sounds like you would be closer to a custom clothier. Nothing wrong with that. Plenty make a nice living at it and enjoy their work.

I wouldn't change what I said before. You're going to need someone with skills that you can offer something they don't already have. That could be sales ability, management, customer relations, a location, infrastructure and a steady wage. Good luck!


It is almost the same, what I wrote in the background. Here lays the problem, you need a real good cutter/tailor in the backgroud. Freelancer might not work, you need to employ them, that is expensive, and nobody knows if everything will work. The production could be in China with the design you produce...
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#12 tutorversal

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Posted 25 August 2016 - 03:29 PM

Don't expect to get rich quick with MTM. Having a concrete plan that recognizes the costs, ensures that all personnel are properly trained, and understands the current and potential sources of revenue will be essential to make the program work.






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