As a small label finding good sewing help is hard! Well finding sewers at all is hard-where do they hide out? Well it’s not so much they are hiding as they don’t really advertise. Finding a good seamstress or shop is best found via word of mouth. Which presents its own set of obstacles since this industry is pretty tight-lipped. Good thing for you, I am not. 😉
If your small fashion business is growing to the point that you need to outsource some of your labor-or if you want to start a line but don’t sew yourself-I have a few pointers in finding sewing help. But first it is important to understand how the garment production process works. It may vary slightly based on the size of your company but it goes something like this.
- Designer works with sample maker to bring design to life and get fit correct.
- Sample is then taken to pattern maker who can grade (create your size ranges) and create digital patterns.
- Patterns are sent to a cut shop as well as your rolls of fabric.
- Cut fabric is sent to the sew shop who sews product (Sometimes a garment will go through several shops to complete the full garment as it can be more cost-effective. Your sew shop may make suggestions to you if parts of your garment would be better produced in another shop.)
- Finished product is sent to designer
Let’s say you are still doing steps 1-3 on your own and you just need help sewing. Where to start? First you need to determine how much help you need. If you need under 50 pieces of the same style then you need a production seamstress. This is where it gets sticky as many production seamstresses are willing to do the work but want cash payment. If you need more than $600 of labor done in a year than you might find the IRS at your door. Another problem is that the law does not allow people to work from their home unless they have an office with its own entrance and the seamstress has a license. So you need to find someone with their own office who will 1099. How?
Start asking around. Start with your local dry cleaner. They often know of seamstresses to recommend. Another place to ask is at your local sew shop. (google and yellow pages will help you find them. Search “sew shop”, “production sew”, “sewing services”). By asking your sew shop you can bring in a sample and get their input on how many pieces you would need for tem to take on your job. This way you can start planning for growth. Be sure to have seamstresses make samples and inspect their work before you employ them. Use my sew shop negotiating tips below for negotiating. Expect to pay more for a seamstress taking on small workloads.
Let’s say you are to the point that you need more than 50 pieces of the same style. Start by taking it to your sew local sew shops. Before you take it call on the phone to be sure they sew the material you sew. Some specialize in wovens, some in stretch knits, others in delicate light weight materials. Each garment requires a certain type of machine and not all sew shops will have the machines you need. If they don’t specialize in your type of fabric, ask for a referral.
Once you find a shop that may be a fit for you, here is what you need to bring:
- A sample of the product you want sewn.
- A cut garment they can sew to give you a quote.
- Qty you are asking
- Your negotiating skills
The first thing they are going to ask you is how many you need. At this point they will talk more or shoo you out the door. If they shoo you out the door do not leave without asking the following:
- How many would I need for you to take my job?
- Can you recommend a shop or seamstress that will take on my small run. (The job you need is called a run. It refers to how many pieces you need sewn on one order or run-not how many you need all season but how many you need at once. Not to be confused with a “size run” which refers to the range of sizes you offer.)
If they are OK with the size of our run they will then ask how much you want to pay. To which your answer should be either, “I’m not sure please make a sample and give me a quote”, or it should be a crazy low number they will gasp at and then you will say, “please make a sample and give me a quote”. (Option one is your best bet becuase you may say $5 and they would have quoted $3.50 so no you are paying $1.50 too much. They will not say-it’s ok give us $3.50, they will charge you the $5.)
Leave the sample and cut fabric. You should do this process with at least 3 shops so you can compare pricing and find a shop to make quality product. It doesn’t hurt to let them know you are getting other quotes so that they give you a competitive rate.
Keep in mind that garments made on your home machine will be made differently on industrial machines so seams and construction will vary. I don’t recommend being too specific up front with how you want construction, don’t say “please do it just like my sample” as you will learn a lot by letting them do it their own way the first time around. Once it’s done you need to do a good inspection and ask questions of how construction can be changed. Can you change your pattern to make construction faster and easier for them on their industrial machines? This will lower production costs and maybe even make your product look more finished. Not happy with how a seam is finished? Ask how they can do it differently and have them do a new sample and give you a new quote.
Finally here is a list of questions you should ask all shops you interview before you choose:
- How long will it take you to finish a job of X size? When can you start?
- Are you licensed? (unlicensed shops risk a raid in which your product will be confiscated and you will not get it back. Additionally you can face fines)
- What form of payment do you take? (many won’t take credit cards)
- Do you sew in lables? Do you trim garments? (some will quote low and then add these as additional fees)
- Do you hang and tag? What are charges for this?
This is a quick overview geared towards a small label looking to outsource small to mid sized workloads. I welcome your questions.