“Behind the Seams” is written by Jessica Gold Newman, CEO of Dobbin Clothing in NYC. In case you missed it, here’s more background on Jessica and the series.

My apologies! It’s been a very long time since I posted here at YLF! The good news is we’ve launched our Spring 2013 Collection. The bad news is that the crunch time prior to launch meant our very small team was all hands on deck for the final month of production, photo shoots and web development.  We’re relieved and excited about being able to share and sell our third season, and about finishing our first full year of business.

Since my last post, which was about fittings and the marking and grading process, a lot had to happen very quickly. In this post, I’ll cover the immediate next steps in production, and in future posts, the additional steps it takes to launch the season.

Our patterns were finalized at our fifth and sixth fittings on the fit model. After the last few small tweaks by our pattern maker, we deliver the hand-drawn patterns to our marking and grading companies for scanning, grading and printing markers (large-scale printouts of all the sizes of the pattern) for our cutting room to use. It’s always a nerve-wracking process to hand over the manila envelopes of original patterns to the markers and graders; if they get lost, we have no time to start over on that garment. Once the pattern is scanned, the markers and graders have the computer file of the pattern and it can be printed anytime, which is a huge relief. It takes a few days to a week for the marker and grader to print our pattern pieces in every size on a marker, which is a big roll of paper that we deliver to the cutting room.

At the same time, we’re scrambling to buy and receive trim orders that are needed to produce our garments. In another post, I’ll explain how trim is chosen and how those choices affect the fit and quality of an item of clothing. The trim is delivered separately to our factories in anticipation of their sewing our line.

Once the markers are delivered to our cutting room (which is located on the same floor as one of our factories, conveniently enough!), we send the owner of the cutting room our size run, so that he knows how many of each size he needs to cut of a garment. The cutting room is a really amazing place. It’s a long, narrow room that houses huge cutting tables. Above those tables hang the electric hot knives the cutters use to stay as close to the pattern as possible when cutting our fabrics.

The marker and grader and the cutting room help us to try to achieve the best ‘yield’ as possible. This means that we all strive to use less fabric to produce our garments, and to lose fewer extra fabric scraps on the cutting room floor. The marker and grader does this by lining up all the pattern pieces on the marker in a way that there’s very little space in between all the pieces. These spaces are where fabric gets lost. The cutting room is able to further optimize our yield in the cutting process.

Here’s why having a ‘good’ yield is best for us and for the customer: if our fabrics cost $28/yard, not including the shipping costs it took to get those fabrics to us from Italy, we want to make sure that we don’t use more yardage than necessary to make one garment. Of course if we do need multiple yards it means we need to increase our retail prices in order to price the garment in a way that we still make a modest profit. We aim to keep our prices under $200, so the fabric cost and yield constantly factor into that equation.

When the cutting room finishes with a garment, they deliver large bags of all the different parts (pieces of fabric) of the garment to the factories for sewing. The factories then start piecing together the puzzle of sewing the clothes, all the while following the original pattern and the final sample in order to achieve our desired result. 

I just want to stress what an intense and complicated process the sewing of clothes is. At this point, apparel factories around the world, but particularly those in major cities like New York where our sewing rooms are located, employ very skilled workers. Clothing production is as much a craft as pattern making. The right machines must be used in the right way, with the right thread, and with finessed techniques that mean it takes weeks to sew our clothes properly. We want our clothes to stand up over time, and so we need to be patient while the clothes are sewn correctly, and not hastily. Details like the twist neckline on two of our dresses meant an entire extra week spent carefully sewing just that element over and over. If questions or problems arise or the factory needs additional or alternative trim during the sewing process, we run down to the factory to chat with the owner and the women sewing our clothes. It’s a very interactive process and we feel so lucky to live in close proximity to where our clothes are made. We can do quality control throughout the process to again ensure that our end product has integrity and is sewn for durability. We can’t control everything and we can’t be there at every moment, but we try our best.

As soon as the garments are finished in production, Catherine and I run a quality control on them and count the goods to make sure we have the correct amount per the original size run (and with known changes in yield, fabric shortage etc.). From there we inventory everything and get it ready for shipment!

In the next post, I’ll cover trim choices. So glad to be back at YLF!