This weeks blog post is for technical designers and pattern-makers. You are challenged to create perfectly fitting garments in minimal time. The garments need to fit various body shapes, not just the fit model. Taking time to strategize how to create a smoother fit process amidst the challenges seems like a luxury. The following are some tips and reminders compiled for you.
Spend more time training
There are many viewpoints on how a garment should fit. Pattern-makers are trained differently around the world. They also grow up in different cultures. Sharing photos of your fit models allows pattern-makers to become familiar with the body shape. Holding fittings via Skype or recording fit sessions can help factory pattern-makers interpret the vision of designers and technical designers. Some companies assemble a manual for suppliers. The manual contains photos of garments that fit well and represent the fit preferences of their customers.
The right tools
Make sure your factories are using the same tools as you. Do the factory pattern-makers all have the same dress forms as your technical designers or pattern-makers? Do your factories have access to your product lifecycle management (PLM) system? Is their internet reliable to access your PLM system? Sharing the same tools allows everyone to meet the same goals.
There is a lot of free, dependable technology. Sometimes, we simply forget to capitalize on what is available. You can text message your overseas vendors for free with Whatsapp. Skype works great for collaboration. You can hold live fittings, share your screen and talk through photos or fit issues, or review samples with the vendor on a dress form before they are shipped to you.
Advanced imaging methods, such as 3D pattern-making and virtual samples allow you to visualize your pattern in the correct fabric before proceeding with physical samples. 3D virtual prototypes can offers numerous ways to improve fit. See the previous Fireflyline post Virtual Samples vs Fit Samples.
Tracking the status of styles in the development process also requires technology. The status of a sample can easily be lost in the shuffle. Virginia Meckley recommends keeping documents to track the status of styles within the fit process. “I use tracking docs that tell me where everything is at a glance. [I] color code categories for quick visual assessment of work flow and keep [the] team engaged with on going training. This gives me the flexibility to expedite and not lose time trying to find something.” Tracking documents can be created in a spreadsheet. Many PLM systems also track development status. Vendors can be given direct access to save time communicating via e-mail or retrieving large files from another location.
Rushing is not always best
Spending more time evaluating an initial prototype or spending the time to create a good pattern block can prevent countless iterations of samples. Waiting on correct sample yardage for the initial fit prototype can save time. Xochil Scheer reminds us “Never use muslin except as a draping tool. Even your first sample should be made in a fabric that is very similar to or exact to your final garment. If you're making a blouse in silk chiffon, muslin will never look, feel or hang the same on the body as silk chiffon.” A few days of patience waiting on information or materials may ultimately save time.
Sometimes, a deep breath and a moment to think is all that is needed to create better product. If you have additional tips, please share in the comments section. Collaboration can make all our lives a little easier.
If you are looking to create product faster, the first step is a well developed and managed product development schedule. Below are the basic steps to creating a schedule. The smaller the organization, the easier the process. Larger organizations will need to gather information from a large variety of people and departments. The time is well spent because those same individuals will later be supporters and can help explain how and why the schedule was built.
Start by listing all tasks that must be completed. Set some guidelines for the size of tasks that will be included, depending upon the complexity of your development process. If you get too detailed, the schedule will become difficult to manage. If you do not include enough detail, an important task might be overlooked. Think in terms of tasks that take days or weeks, not hours.
One person cannot be responsible for the task list. Pull together people from various roles that are involved in the process. Brainstorm with the whole group. A good method is to have everyone list the tasks that they perform on sticky notes and put them up on a wall to see. Later you will start to put them in order.
Estimate Task Durations
You will need an estimated time duration for each task. Gather initial estimates in the brainstorm session but you will want to validate. Do a historical evaluation against previous product development schedules. Hopefully, you tracked if tasks were completed on time and therefore how long they really lasted. You can also survey an expert group. Remember when asking experts that personal experiences will influence responses. Those who work directly on the task, may overestimate hoping to get more time. Management may underestimate the time their team needs in order to please a leader. Using a three point estimate can alleviate biases. By asking for the most likely, optimistic, and pessimistic estimates; you will receive a clearer picture.
Determine Task Dependencies
Now you need to determine which tasks must take place before others can start. For instance, garments must be sketched by designers before the technical designers assign measurements. Sometimes tasks do not have to be finished before the next can be started. For instance, a two week task (D) may only need to be 50% complete before the next (E) can start. Record that the start of task (E) can lag behind the start of (D) by one week.
Again, lay the tasks out visually so a group can brainstorm and validate the dependencies. Once finalized you can assign a task number and record the dependencies like the table below. This information will help you with data entry if you use a software tool to create your schedule.
Visualize the Schedule
Use Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) to create a diagram which will allow you to visualize the critical path and near critical paths. The PERT diagram below was created by entering the above task list, predecessors, and durations into a software tool.
The tasks that add up to the longest sequence form the critical path. There is no slack on the critical path. If a task is late the whole schedule is delayed unless a later task can be shortened. Treat the critical path like the artery of your schedule. Keep that path healthy!
You will also want to identify if you have any near critical paths. For instance if the schedule is 36 weeks long and there is a 2nd sequence of events only one week shorter than the critical path, you will also need to manage that path to avoid delays. In the above PERT diagram the yellow tasks indicate the critical path. The fit review process is a near critical path as it ends only three days before fabric production. Both the fabric production and fit review 2 tasks must be complete before garment production can start.
You will also create a Gantt chart. A software tool may help you place your schedule into a calendar and recognize limitations such as weekends and holidays. The Gantt chart is the tool I suggest sharing with the product development team. Each task can be assigned to a resource, so teams or individuals understand which tasks they own. By assigning resources you can also recognize if any resources are overloaded.
The Importance of Milestones or Gates
The example schedule has three tasks that are milestones: Start, Prototype Review Meeting, End. The equivalent milestone meeting in your organization might be called line review meeting, development meeting, product review meeting, etc. The purpose is a report on the status of development and to insure everyone agrees on the direction of the product line. You can see in our schedule example that a pause is created as multiple development processes feed into the meeting and no production processes can continue until after the meeting. Creating a milestone allows for the status of development to be analyzed at this point and manages the risk that work is being done that will need to be changed. This can also be referred to as a gate. Either it opens and you continue work or it stays closed until issues can be corrected.
There are many scheduling software tools available, many of which are free. Many organizations already use a tool like Microsoft Project and a few PLM systems such as YuniquePLM by Gerber Technology have built scheduling tools into the software. WhichPLM describes this advantage well in this article. Other PLM tools commonly include workflow tracking or task management, but may not include schedule planning tools. There are also several open source software tools for project scheduling. I do not recommend trying to manually create a product development schedule in Excel when more automated options are available. Regardless of the software tool used, remember that the person using the tool needs to understand the theory behind building the schedule. The software tool can’t replace good management skills.
If you have multiple product development schedules that overlap, you will want to look for a software tool that allows you to view overlap between the schedules. For instance, if you develop for multiple seasons / product releases and development of the next starts before the previous is finished. This is true for most of the apparel industry. Project management refers to this level as Program Management (management of a portfolio of projects).
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Print scale can make or break a design. The sophistication, attitude, and mood can change. A floral print coat can look like a high-fashion moment or like your grandmother’s wallpaper depending on the scale.
Every apparel design assistant I know has spent time running back and forth to the copy machine adjusting the scale of photocopied artwork. Then they cut the artwork out and tape it to a garment. This is so a group of people can stand around and debate which size works best and exactly where on the garment the artwork should be placed.
Xerox introduced their photocopy machine in 1959. At the time it was revolutionary, but I think we can do better fifty-seven years later. By using 3D virtual clothing prototypes we can alter the scale immediately and shift the placement on the virtual garment. We can change the ground color of the garment with a click.
Fireflyline can create a 3D virtual prototype of your garment. We can schedule a webinar to review all-over print scale or graphic print scale and placement. Once you have selected several options, we will send 3D image files to you to use for market testing or your internal presentations.