Saturday, February 21, 2009

Problems in Fashion Design & Production – Ideas for Solutions

The following paper was presented by the Organizer of Boston Fashion Industry Meetup, Shirley Willett, and founder of Boston Design Laboratory, February 19, 2009. The paper illustrates her continued commitment to create solutions for the problems and difficulties faced by young design entrepreneurs in the fashion industry today. See more at


1. Their production lots are too small to do it overseas – with expensive shipping costs, and paying someone to carefully watch quality control.
2. Production knowledge is not taught anywhere. In the past it was learned by apprentic-ing in the factories. All fashion schools teach 19th century couture for first patterns, which is the process done in the design rooms – making a wider and wider “wall” between de-sign and manufacturing.
3. DEs must increasingly do everything themselves, their own patterns, their own selling and increasingly their own stitching.


Frederick Taylor at the turn of the 20th century developed mass production, especially for the auto industry. The basic condition was quantities of sameness. Ford was known to have said: “The customer can have any color they want but it must be black.” Mass production and factories in the apparel industry were developed by Jewish tailors in their patterns created for production of quantities of the same style. They continually developed ways for lower and lower costs.
With the advent of the computer, design rooms disappeared and product development took its place. Everyone designed – sameness, and more sameness. Young DEs can not compete with the way all of them work today, producing one or very few of one style. The solution is to build a large collaboration of designers, whose patterns are all built on one common set of standard (same) pattern templates (Stylometrics). There are many other ways to build some commonalties or sameness as the foundation,(fabric pooling) (systems for cutting and stitching) etc. while uniqueness, customization, and personalization can be done at a higher level. Boston Design Laboratory is committed to research and create ways to achieve affordable production.
This system has not been done yet, but it CAN be done. Only it will take time and the right people – and commitment.

The suede evening gown in the photo was designed in Shirley Willett’s manufacturing business in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She created a totally new production system with sketches on stitcher’s machines with numbers and letters. They made the shell of the gown in 15 minutes. Willett could not sell it that cheap so she made a 60% profit on each. The photo is by Ron Ranere

1. Start with a competitive market price of a product – say $200 to the consumer.
2. 50% (often 60%) on average to the retailer. This leaves $100. Selling direct is better, but there is still costs and more labor involved – but reduced by collaboration.
3. To be very general and using my mfg. business as example, make 50% for factory, design, pattern, and other overhead. (Overhead can be reduced substantially here by collaboration.) This leaves $50.
4. If splitting it to $25 for materials, trims and supplies, the materials must be bought wholesale in order to only spend $25 for a garment that the consumer will pay $200 for. This is do-able by collaborating and pooling resources.
5. That leaves only $25 for all labor costs, cutting stitching and pressing. Think of how fast it must be produced to make a quality $200 garment and still get a decent hourly wage. The only way this can be accomplished is in production patterns, and collaborative production systems.

A database management system of offers of skills, needs for skills, and project ideas in the Boston fashion industry. Hopefully we can start with “MyZDesign” See


1. A leader establishes a possible project, and searches database for right people.

2. Each person involved in the project is self-employed & responsible for all their own business processes, and for all decisions. Each has registered on the database what skills they offer and what skills they need.

3. Each buys from others as they need, or forms separate collaborative groups to own a part of the pattern design, production making, promotion or selling of a total project or product.

4. For every transaction a contract is agreed upon and signed dealing with price, time and conditions when paid.