EDGE team contributor and technical designer, Melissa Lugo, shares her expertise on garment spec packages.
We talked to Melissa, asking her pertinent questions regarding the importance of design specification packages.
Melissa, what are spec [specification] packages and how important are they in the product development process? I use the word packages, because it is inclusive of size specifications.
Spec packages are a compilation of detailed information that pertains to a particular garment or style. Each style in a collection receives its’ own spec package. Depending on the company, a spec package would include information on the fabrics used, yardages, trim details, pattern pieces, print layout (if applicable), cutting or spreading callouts, sewing callouts, points of measure, grading by size, and a detailed sketch. Depending on the company, you may include a cost sheet and bill of materials. At my current position, we also use it to record comments to our factories and final QC notes.
The spec pack is an important tool we use from development through shipping. During development, the spec pack is used for cutting duplicates for the showroom- as a reminder of all the little details of each garment. We also use it as our guide for costing, since it tells us the type of fabric, yardage used, and if a particular print requires placement cutting. Once in production, it becomes a way to communicate the style expectations and comments to the factory. After shipping we use it to record any quality call-outs in the bulk so that we can use that information to improve our products as we move forward.
Are spec packages the same as tech [technical] packages or are there differences?
They are mostly the same regardless of the company. It is more the term used within an organization. At one place I worked, they called the spec/tech pack a ‘style master’. The type and amount of information given by a technical designer can vary depending on the culture and size of an organization. Some organizations will have you work from concept through shipping, while others only on production orders.
With fit being the most important element in these specifications, where do you start with the ideal fit for a new item or new business?
This all depends on the target customer you are reaching for. As an example, the body standard for a budget size 4 is different than a couture size 4. Similarly, a missy customer is looking for something much different than a junior customer. Once you know your target customer, you are able to understand what they are thinking when they are shopping and trying on your clothing. As an example, some consumers only buy bra friendly styles- so this information will direct how you fit. In addition, researching the size charts of other brands at stores you want to be in will help guide your own fit standards.
Are spec packages part of the initial sampling such as a proto sample and adjusted and finalized at the pre-production stage? Yes. The spec packages are started with the proto samples. After the very first sample is sewn, we gain the majority of sewing instructions based off that sample, as well as our fabric and trim information. As the style changes throughout the development and fitting process, the spec pack is updated accordingly.
Describe the interaction between the design/product development team and the manufacturer in finalizing the actual fit before production? Is this a lot of back and forth, corrections, and fit sessions with models?
At my current position, we are able to limit the back and forth with in development due to our in-house pattern and sample team. We make development samples in-house as well as at the factory. Even for styles that our factory is developing, we give them a pattern that has been created from our perfected pattern blocks. This allows for all our development samples to have good balance and come out similar in size. As a result, the fitting becomes a time for finer tuning that gives us a near production ready garment before we even have the production order. This also means that our showroom samples are not just ‘pretty for the hanger’- they can be worn by our sales team to generate more interest.
Once a sketch has been issued to our pattern team, the majority of samples are ready to duplicate for the showrooms after only two fittings. It is a rare case where we are struggling back and forth on a style – most times we would choose to drop something that just isn’t working and move forward.
What are some of the challenges if the level of detail is missing, lack of accuracy, or quality check is not there? In other words, how important is this very meticulous part of the process that, if not done correctly, could negatively impact the production outcome?
When details are missing, the struggle is with the factory and the production team. The factories are very good at finding discrepancies between what they costed and what is being produced. Differences in sewing instruction, fabric weight or yield, or the difference between a local zipper versus a YKK zipper all mean added cost. You can quickly lose your profit margins when the accuracy is not there, but you demand a high quality outcome.
Cutting styles with stripes or placement patterns can also be a nightmare if the details on what you want is lacking. The result are garments at do not look like the showroom samples.
Typing errors on fit comments or points of measures can negatively impact the fit or look of a garment when commenting to an overseas factory. As an example, let’s say you mean to lengthen a maxi dress +2” so that it graces the floor. Instead the measurement was shortened -2” and now the production on your maxi dress is a strangely short length!
How do you know which manufacturer to source given your requirements and specifications? What is that process to find the right match? In a large company it can typically be a sourcing team that is responsible for finding the right manufacturer. For the emerging designer or brand just starting out, what advice would you give?
Even within a large company, where did the sourcing team get their contacts? Greatly through work experience and networking. For the emerging designer, it is important to start with what you know and can control- your local resources. Ask your fabric or trim suppliers for names of manufacturers- they will be able to direct you in most cases. You can find many larger manufacturers on the web. If you visit a fashion bookstore, you can purchase books filled with contractors by location. Once you have a collection of resources, you will quickly see who produces better knit fabrics versus better woven fabrics.
Domestic production is not easy. However, the benefit for the emerging designer is that you can control the process a little more. You will be able to visit and ask questions as much as is needed from the fabric suppliers, dye house, print house, trim suppliers, cutting service, and sewing manufacturers. These people are a wealth of information for a start-up and want to see you succeed and grow your orders with them. As the orders become so large that they require you to move production overseas, ask your local suppliers for advice and contacts. Some locals have facilities overseas as well.
Please share any other tips for those new to the industry that would be of value in this part of the design and development process.
Find a pattern maker and a fit model with experience in your product category. The spec pack starts with the information and expertise of your pattern maker and continues with good feedback from your fit model. Having this solid foundation will bring consistency to your products.
Get to know your target customer’s buying habits. When you understand the price they are willing to pay for the type of products you design, then you can develop your items more accurately. Knowing your final price point will determine how much you can pay for fabric or trims- allowing you to go into your vendors and find that perfect component within your budget. It’s heartbreaking when you have something amazing, but through costing discover that you’ve designed over your customer’s budget.
Melissa Lugo, contributing writer.
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All images courtesy of Melissa Lugo.