“I just don’t understand why products I see at the show sometimes never turn up or are really late”, said a retailer on one of the online lingerie professional groups a while back.
After I picked my jaw off the floor and stopped laughing (sorry forever-anonymous retailer - it’s not your fault most brands never talk about this stuff), I asked how long a list of reasons she would like, and she asked for all of them. This would take too long, so consider this instead to be an indicative list!
Hopefully, this will also explain to you why you see things on our facebook in development that never make it, ideas that never even make it to samplings, things that got almost all the way and then failed . . . . and why even when we know it’s been made we can still be wary of selling them before they are in our offices! I should also put my hand up and say sometimes the hold-up is me. Trying to keep on top of everything even a small brand involves means frequently dropping the ball on, say, finding the right underwire for the multiway vargas (this weeks problem).
Samples, more samples, and components
- You have a great idea, but in practise, the samples comes out . . . wrong. Sometimes its so wrong it’s right, other times it’s just . . . really wrong. Factory can’t get the colour right (colours are cultural!), orcan’t stitch it at all, it just doesn’t function, can’t be stitched properly in a mere 3 dimensions, components don’t exist, fabric doesn’t exist outside of your head . . . fabrics require you to order thousands of metres . . . fabric changes price wildly between sample and production . . . fabric no longer exists as fellow independent brand took it away from the clearance supplier first!
- The sample is great and then the factory decides the minimum order quantity is 20 times what they originally said. Goodbye, Ophelia stockings.
- The factory runs off with the mould needed for a component. Goodbye, KMD suspender clips. TWICE. (This time, we will be keeping the damn moulds, beyatches)
- The production sample turns up wrong and has to be refused and then fixes have to be made which makes things late.
- Components in general are a headache: corsets for example have around 20 different components, often coming from various suppliers which all have to be sourced, checked, minimum order quantities adhered to, resourced, incorrect goods sent back, sourced again, goods that never arrived chased – it’s like herding cats.
Dirty filthy lucre
- Entire global economy collapses. Seriously! This happened the second year we were running and we cancelled an ENTIRE collection, partly because we couldn’t get anyone to order it in advance and were totally reliant on wholesale at the time, and partly because insane currency exchange fluctuations mean everyone involved would have made a loss.
- In related news, when the entire global economy goes splat, people stop sending you money, and then you can’t send the factories money, and they stop sending you stock. This is called a cashflow problem, but experientially I’d say it’s more like hanging off a cliff by your fingers.
- The sample is great, but no-one orders it in advance. This nearly happens to the Elle. And the Vargas. And the Fifi. Then you have to choose – take the risk and pay out for it anyway, or play it safe and cancel.
- You run a garment through production once, the factory realise it takes them way longer to sew than they thought and double the costs, so you now can’t afford to rerun it.
- And related to that . . . you plan your schedule to keep payments spread out and then because of delays 3 people want paying at once. Who you gonna pay? Pantsbusters!
- The factory suddenly changes its payment terms (oh, we said payment on delivery? we meant payment the week before).
Factories are mostly amazing, once you have cat-tuna-factory-herded everything into one place they magically turn it into wearable garments! But they are also human, so:
- The factory has a bigger order from someone who pays faster than you. As a small brand trying to use good factories, we don’t have much power – for example when we make the elle robes, even if we make 500 pieces, that’s a small order for the factory we use. We get squeezed in between bigger better orders from bigger customers who need pleasing more.
- The factory decides that it doesn’t want to make something because you mentioned you wanted to review the fit and so ignores your orders for an item for 6 months. Commendable pride in the product, but financially pointless. As with psychotherapy; you don’t have to be perfect, just good enough!
- Your factory effectively goes bankrupt because of enormous fiscal disasters and cultural change in its country, and spends 6 months trying to sort itself out and telling you you stuff will totally be made . . . next month.
- Flu outbreaks mean they have no workers (see also school holidays in the Uk as most of the workers are parents!).
- Snow stops people getting into the factory. Factory overheats (too many irons!). Factory doesn’t have electricity (the Chinese government sometimes turns it off for a few weeks if they can’t cope). The list is endless.
- Inexplicable errors – once the vargas dress turned up with tails! We’re quite obsessive about measureing where straps are since then. It just takes someone having a bad day, really.
I think everyone can sympathise with issues with couriers. Anything and everything can happen to garments en route. Lost truck drivers, weather, bank holidays, Chinese New Years, goods stolen, lost, dropped in mud, appearing with strange smells, border control, customs, paper work problems, pirates and much more. My favourites are:
- A volcano erupts. Surely volcanoes don’t affect knickers, you think, but no, when your knickers are made overseas and flown in and all flights are cancelled for weeks on end because of volcanic ash, then your goods are a month late.
- Your couriers randomly change their payment terms. Pointless, of course, because cutting off your goods means you are less likely to be able to pay, and they aren’t allowed to sell your items anyway!
- Snow. It is impossible to move anything anywhere in the UK if it snows. Or sometimes it floods instead. Basically, we’re not very good at weather. Baffling.
- Couriers are given a Sheffield address, instead take the goods to Portsmouth. They are, after all, basically very similar apart from being in two completely different parts of the country. Also one is by the sea and one is inland. But basically very easily mistaken apart from those very tiny details.
Not really, but I feel like a piece that includes entirely global economy collapses and volcanoes and pirates needed a strong ending. Also if experience is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before “rampaging giant lizards ate your pants” is an actual problem.