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Product Development Process by Apparel Search - Terms of Interest to the Fashion Industry

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Product Development Process
The purpose of the product development process is to certify that the supplier understands and adheres to the specifications established for a specific product.  Typically, a retailers objective is to provide their customers with the highest level of quality and service at the most competitive price.  Clothing stores can meet this objective most successfully when their supplier fully understands the product development process. 
The development process is critical to ensuring customers satisfaction and minimizing customer returns.  Most retailers approach to product development consists of a multi-step process that must be completed before finished goods are produced.  Here are a few common steps in the product development process.
  • Product Review Meeting
  • Submission of Trimming & Components
  • Fit Testing
  • Photo Samples
  • Performance Testing
Product Review Meeting: Apparel buyers, merchandise managers, quality assurance personnel, or other members of the retailers staff can schedule a product review meeting with the supplier.  This meeting should be conducted directly after the merchandise manager approves the concept for development.  The purpose of the meeting is to review the preliminary product and package specifications and to ensure that the supplier is aware of the companies quality and product development procedures.  The meeting should be of a technical nature.  Therefore, the supplier should bring to the meeting the appropriate representation from their staff.  Expect to discuss the manufacturing process in detail and address any potential manufacturing concerns or limitations in regard to manufacturing the particular item being discussed.  In this meeting, the supplier should be provided a preliminary spec file with details of the garment that is to be manufactured.  The supplier should be requested within a short period of time to formally acknowledge their understanding of the requirements.  It is a good idea to obtain this in writing.
Submission of Trimming: before apparel production begins, it is critical that the buyer approves all components that will comprise the finished product.  Some buyers will require review of all trimming and others will require the approval of major trim components only.  For example, some buyers will want to see examples of the actual sewing thread.  However, others may not require to view the thread.  It is important to understand what the buying company wishes to review prior to production.  Experienced fashion merchants will require that you submit trim submissions on an appropriate form.  This allows both the supplier and the purchaser to maintain well organized records.  Here are a few examples of items that may need to be submitted for review.
  • Lab dips, strike offs (screen printed swatches), reeling of yarn in all colors.
  • Production fabric, knit downs, handlooms, etc.  Most often required in a large enough size to to contain full pattern repeat.
  • Care labels & main labels
  • Clothing Components: Buttons, lace, zippers, interlinings, shoulder pads, elastics, hangers, hangtags, price tickets, etc.
  • Packaging: ASN labels, chip board, jet clips, tissue paper, polybags, etc.
In addition to trimming, you will most likely be required to submit Fit Samples, pre-production garment samples, testing samples, TOP Samples (Top of Production Samples), etc.  You may also be required to submit documents during this phase such as flammability documents etc.
Fit Testing: some fashion companies will require fit testing as part of the product development process.  In order to ensure proper fit, steps must be taken to evaluate the garments comfort.  This process is to both monitor the manufacturer, but also to make sure the original size spec developed was proper.  Even if the manufacturer follows the spec file perfectly, during the fit process the fit technician may discover that adjustments may be needed.  Some companies will conduct the fit testing on live fit models and others will do the testing in fit forms (mannequins).  The merchandisers should advise the supplier regarding which size garments they wish to review for fit.  Some companies will review only one size, and others like to review the smallest and largest size.  For example, if production will be ordered in a scale including small thru double XL, they may require one sample in size small and one in XXL for the fit review.  Again, the retailer (or company purchasing your product), should advise you regarding the sizes they require for review.
Note: There are many different How to Measure Guides in existence.  Make certain to receive a copy of the how to measure guide that your buyer utilizes.  This is the only way to insure that you provide accurate garments.
After the Fit testing is complete, the final spec file should be issued in writing.
Photo Samples: some retailers will require photo samples.  These samples are utilized for developing catalogs or advertising.  Photo samples typically do not require all final trimming such as brand labels, but the outside appearance of the garment must be in correct silhouette and color.  The photos must represent exactly what the finished product will look like when shipped (the outside visual appearance; does not need price tickets, hangers, etc.).  Unfortunately, retailers can not wait for bulk production samples because catalog photos and advertising photos are needed far before the finished garments are ready to ship from the factory.  Again, not all retailers need photography samples.  By the way, some companies use digital fabric printing to make samples more quickly if they have an urgent photo shoot pending.

Performance Testing: This is a very important aspect of the product development process.  All products developed must pass performance testing requirements.  It is the suppliers responsibility to ensure that all products produced meet or exceed the buyers performance standards.  Before entering into an agreement to manufacturer apparel, be certain to fully understand the quality standard requirements requested by your buyers.  It is normal practice to have both fabric and garments tested before product is delivered.  Typically, the testing is done at a third party testing facility such as CTL, MTL, etc.  Often times the buyer is the one to assign the testing lab.  Some times the retailer (buyer) will submit the garments for testing.  However, often the buyer will require that the supplier submits the fabric and garments directly to the testing laboratory and then provide them with copies of the test results.  Testing will be done prior to production and after final production is complete.  Many retailers will also do surprise testing on garments after they arrive into the stores.  This technique is used to discourage suppliers from submitting garments for testing that are not actually the same quality as final production.

 
Some articles of clothing will require more testing then other items.  For example, items that claim to flame retardant, water resistant, anti-bacterial, etc., may require additional testing.  Also, some children's apparel may require additional safety evaluation.
 
Above are "some" of the common issues involved in the product development process.  This article unfortunately, can not contain every aspect.  The overall suggestion from Apparel Search is to make sure that both the buyer and supplier fully understand the programs requirements.  Ask each other questions and communicate openly.  It is in everyone's best interest if the process runs smoothly and results in top quality garments.
 
Learn more about Clothing Quality Testing.
Learn more about Garment Factory Inspections.
Learn more about AQL Inspections.
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