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The ABC's of Apparel Production

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

The ABC's of Apparel Production for startups

The ABC’s of Apparel Production

As an emerging brand, or even someone new to the industry, there are so many details necessary to not only design great product and connect with your customers but also the back end where the magic of making your designs a reality.

I’ve been in this business 33 years now. I spent the first 15 on the brand side and I’ve worked in companies both large and small startups. I’ve always said I think this may be the last industry you can’t Google to figure out what you need to know.

I wrote this white paper to give you a quick overview of so many facets of the industry. Some of this is related to our company of course, but the broader purpose is to help you see “behind the curtain” in general, and hopefully spark some ideas about questions you should be asking yourself and your partners.

About Me:

Holli Gibson is an apparel industry veteran with more than 30 years experience on both the brand and the production side. During her tenure as Head Designer for Russell Newman, her team produced more than $25million annually, in countries ranging from Guatemala to Egypt to Turkey to China and Indonesia for major retailers including Nordstrom, Dillard’s and JC Penney. After relocating to Colorado in 2004, Holli turned her emphasis to producing sustainable apparel. In 2009, she was awarded the Rising Star from FGI for her efforts and in 2010 was named one of Westward’s “Most Influential People” in the Colorado fashion industry. She also co-founded the Denver Design Incubator, a non-profit organization to support and advance the needle trades industry in Colorado. Today she serves as the Executive Vice-Chair. In 2016, she and her partners Tulio and Ana Hernandez founded Direct To Source as a triple bottom line company focused on people and planet in addition to profit. In 2018, they built their own factory in Guatemala as an answer to the problematic common practice of certified factories subcontracting the work out to low price or illegal sewing plants. Today, they partner with brands of all sizes to produce high quality, sustainable apparel and produce it ethically.

A: Apparel Industry

The apparel industry is I think one of the last businesses that you can’t Google and figure out everything you need to know. So you need someone who knows the ins and outs to guide you through it successfully

B: Broker

We are not brokers. Brokers work with many factories and introduce another layer of opacity since you don’t actually know where your fabrics and trims are coming from or who is sewing your clothing. My business partner and I own Direct To Source together. I’m based in the US and she’s based in Guatemala and is in the factory every day.

C: Certifications

Certifications in the apparel industry are important. They are third party verifications that the mill or dye house or yarn spinner or factory are complying with the rules of the certifying body at the time of the inspection. But certifications are only part of the picture. Outsourcing is the most common industry practice to “get around” certifications.

D: Development

You need quality development for your designs to ensure you have quality production. Performance, construction, fit, etc are all decided during this stage.

E: Ethics

Ethics matter. Ethics are about doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Not necessarily because it’s the easy thing, nor the most convenient at the moment. It’s the reason we built Direct To Source on a triple bottom line framework of People and Planet in addition to Profits.

F: Fabrics & Trims

We’re happy to work with the fabrics and trims you’ve already selected, or we can take care of the sourcing for you. After 30+ years in the business, we’ve developed some great relationships in this area and most of sources are on this side of the planet, lowering your carbon footprint.

G: Game Changer

We’re industry disruptors, and we like it that way.

H: Hiring practices

Child labor and slave labor are unfortunately real issues in the apparel industry in the world today. We don’t hire anyone under the age of 18 and all of our employees are permanent full time employees. We don’t use prison or slave labor nor do we use migrant labor. Most of our employees live in the town where our factory is.

I: Importation

The thought of dealing with international shipping logistics and customs can be daunting. That’s why we take care of all of this for you!

J: Just-in-time production

We have pioneered innovative just-in-time programs for our mid-size customers to reduce waste, reduce deadstock, reduce the need for larger warehouses, improve product flow and ensure our employees have sufficient work.

K: Knockoffs

Yes, knockoffs abound in the apparel industry. But we aren’t going to help your competitors knock off your styles. It’s standard industry practice for factories to send you samples of garments they’ve made that are similar to yours (from all of your competitors that they work with). We don’t do that. Your patterns, tech packs and samples belong to you. If your competitor wants to knock you off, they’ll have to buy your garment at retail and reverse engineer it from there.

L: Labor Force

Can I tell you about our kick-ass team of makers? They aren’t just sewers, they are craftsman who take pride in their work. It’s because of their skill and dedication that we can sew anything from tee shirts to pants and woven shirts and jackets and swimwear and underwear and more.

M: Minimums

We offer flexible MOQs starting at 300 to 500 of a style, which includes all of your sizes and a couple of colors. As your quantities go up, our efficiency goes up and we pass the savings on to you. Every supplier deals with minimums in different ways, so be sure an clarify what “500” units entails.

N: Niche

We are a niche operator – in fact, there’s no one else quite like us. We’re a one-stop-shop for your apparel needs where you’re not just a customer, you become part of the family and part of making a difference in our industry

O: Outsourcing

This is actually why we built our own factory. We couldn’t figure out how to solve for the issue of giving orders to a certified factory, only to have those orders outsourced/subcontracted to an illegal factory (yes, the horror stories are real – 4 story building with one way in/out, no one making a legal wage, etc)

P: Partnership

It takes a good partnership between an apparel brand and a factory to make amazing apparel together. A great partnership is where everyone wins, and this is what we do every day.

Q: Quality

Quality is one of the pillars of sustainability. We focus on high quality garments, they have a longer lifespan of use, which is more sustainable.

R: Recycling

Recycling keeps items out of our landfills and waterways. We work with suppliers of recycled polyester made from post consumer plastic bottles to give then new life as high quality garments. And we recycle our cutting scraps from all fabrics so they have new life as mattress stuffing, blankets, sleeping mats and the like.

S: Sustainability

We’ve been working in sustainability for 16 years now, and we love passing on our knowledge and experience to our partners

T: Transparency

Opacity is a problem in this industry, it breeds bad behaviours behind closed doors. We’re staunch practicers of transparency – you should understand your supply chain. And when you work with DTS you will.

U: fighting Unemployment in the apparel industry

Seasonal labor is very common, with the flow of peak fashion seasons and it’s difficult for workers to have stability when they’re working day to day. All of our employees are full time permanent, we don’t follow the hire and fire cycle.

V: Vendor Management

Vendor management is one of the most challenging aspects of the apparel industry. From every fabric to button to snap to care label and brand label and hang tag and thread and packaging and cutting and sewing and decorating and shipping. Particularly when you’re starting out or are still a small company, managing all these separate vendors is a daunting task. Here’s where a full package factory can really make your life easier, so you have time to design your next collection and market your brand.

W: Wages

We all work to earn wages to take care of ourselves and our families, no matter what our job is. The mentality in the apparel industry tends to be a drive to the bottom – demands of cheaper prices ultimately negatively affect the wages of the people sewing the clothing. But there is a better way. Because most sewing is done in countries with low wages and lower costs of living, brands can pay only a little more and greatly affect the wages of those sewing their clothing in a positive way.

“Shivakumar said that workers, particularly those in the global South, are often made to feel like their lives are disposable. The failure of the garment supply chain to bring any kind of stability to its lowest-paid employees, whose wages have largely remained stagnant, is an indictment of the current “exploitative and extractive” business model, she said.” Rivet Magazine, “No Way Out: Levis Said to Seek Discounts from ‘Doormat’ Denim Suppliers”, by Jasmin Malik Chua, 4/12/23

X: the X factor

Not the game show! The definition of X-factor is the innate factor of talent or skill that makes someone distinctive. Your brand exists because you have the x-factor….shouldn’t your manufacturing partner have the x-factor too?

Y: CAFTA Yarns

Yarns are at the core of a garment being eligible for duty free entrance into the US. The yarns must be spun in Central America, the fabric knitted or woven in Central America and the garment cut and sewn in Central America for it to enter the USA duty free under CAFTA rules.

Z: Do you remember little cat Z in Dr. Seuss? He had VOOM, which made everything happen.

We are the factory with VOOM!


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