Help me prototype my fashion accessory idea!
July 14, 2011 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I have an idea for a design for a fashion accessory (made of cloth or leather) -- but no idea how to make a prototype or manufacture it. Help!

Hello! I have an idea for a product accessory (made of cloth/leather) that I want to manufacture and sell. It's not a particularly new idea, but I think it would appeal to a certain teenager set. (Sorry for being so vague).

My question is -- how do I go about getting someone to make an actual prototype of the fashion accessory -- and then arranging manufacture, say, in China? I know this is kind of broad, but are there any resources to point me in the right direction? It wouldn't be difficult to prototype or manufacture (I think) but it definitely would require someone with a flair for design or otherwise it could be tacky. Maybe students take on these kinds of things cheaply?

I know other questions like this have been asked, but they are for more technical products and inventions, whereas mine is closer to clothing.

I am not a business person at all -- so any advice, no matter how small, would be much appreciated!

Thanks in advance!
posted by EtTuHealy to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From what I remember from my days working for a clothing line (ca. 2005, so this information might be outdated) you might want to look into arranging manufacture in India rather than China, if you're dead-set on doing this overseas. There are some strict quotas from China, which means you'll have to change up countries (which is an enormous pain in the ass) if you start requiring a lot of product.
posted by griphus at 7:21 AM on July 14, 2011

Response by poster: Interesting! I hadn't thought of India. And I'm not dead-set on doing it overseas -- it would be great to do locally, but it just seems like most of these products are produced abroad. Happy for USA recommendations as well! Thanks!
posted by EtTuHealy at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2011

You might look at the community and resources at AliBaba. I'm not sure if that's exactly what you're looking for, but lots of good info about small-scale domestic and overseas manufacturing.
posted by apparently at 7:37 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is this something that requires special machinery to manufacture?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:55 AM on July 14, 2011

Response by poster: Nope TW - just sewing, and maybe some leatherwork/zipper/clasps?
posted by EtTuHealy at 8:00 AM on July 14, 2011

Try Etsy Alchemy to get a prototype - you can look specifically for artists in your area. They might even have capacity to produce a larger quantity for you.
posted by cubby at 8:21 AM on July 14, 2011

For the prototype, find a local (CraigsList? Yellow Pages? Tailor? Dry Cleaners? Quilters?) who does sewing or alterations and supply them with instructions and material.

For full-on production, you can research the costs of doing it locally vs overseas. China might produce an item for pennies but you could be faced with ordering a shitload of product, ie a 20' container, not to mention shipping costs, customs duties, etc. Unless you are selling to Walmart and have guaranteed orders, that might not be the way to start.

I know that in my small city, there was some kind of city-sponsored program for women who were recent immigrants. I can't remember the details but these were women who all possessed sewing machines and worked out of their homes, who took on projects like this.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:27 AM on July 14, 2011

I highly recommend reading through the archives at Fashion Incubator. There's a lot of really useful information there that I think you could use. (And not just fashion -- it includes sewn products manufacturing of all kinds.)
posted by pie ninja at 9:44 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

My fiancee does this for a living. Recently, she did the prototype and master patterns for, I'm not trying to spam here, but to show that it can and does happen.

Here is the process, from my observation:

1) Hire a person like her to help you. It is much much better to hire someone locally, as you will need to meet to look over prototypes and to discuss modifications. Language barriers and physical location barriers will add much time and expense.

2) Trust but verify what they are telling you about getting your prototype manufactured. Also take into account what your designer is telling you about materials suitable for the apparel item. Sometimes you have to compromise because some types of fabric or leather are simply difficult to source reliably.

3) Pay this person to make an "operation sheet" and a set of master patterns once you are happy with the prototype. This is what you deliver to the manufacturer. This is key. A well-done operation sheet (essentially instructions written in a technical jargon about exactly how to put it together) is necessary, and if you don't have one, you'll have to pay the manufacturer to make one. It will take time and money if you don't do this.

4) Do NOT try to hire someone just out of school. This kind of thing takes contacts, experience and very specific industry knowledge to pull off on a budget.

Other observations:

1) You will be eaten alive if you just go with an idea to a manufacturer. They will be like the worst programmer ever, interpreting what you say literally, delivering something that just doesn't work, and charging you each time.

2) Work with someone who speaks the same language as you.

3) You do *not* have to go overseas to get decent pricing on manufacture. That's a myth. There are plenty of good small-run manufacturers in the U.S.
posted by Invoke at 10:05 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, thanks everyone! This is amazing -- makes me think I can actually do this!
posted by caoimhe at 10:06 AM on July 14, 2011

(Not my question, but someone with a design idea :)) Thanks OP!
posted by caoimhe at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2011

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