Navigating the Rubik’s Cube that is Manufacturing Fashion Tech

Although the manufacturing industry is currently in the midst of transformation, thanks to digitisation, executing a fashion tech prototype successfully can still feel like the wild, wild west. This is why it is vital that you take a moment to learn from those who have been through the process countless times because they have learned the hard way the best way to mass produce their prototype.


The harsh reality is that “ideas are cheap if they are not executed properly”. This is why many startups who try to mass produce their prototype either end up with a costly product that no one can afford or fail to make it happen. With no one immune to the challenges,  the goal of many (fashion) tech startups is to find a more natural way to bring down the costs of what can end up to be a rather expensive problem. So how can a small business navigate through the minefield of the issues which can arise when mass manufacturing a prototype?  I spoke with Anina Net of 360fashion to get the answer straight from an industry insider. She is a talented woman in tech who I had an in-depth conversation with about the challenges of manufacturing. During our discussion, she shared some encouraging tips that not only helped her navigate her way around this problem, but also challenged the belief that manufacturing is a difficult problem to solve.


The Minefield Of Challenges You Could Face When Creating Your Fashion Tech Prototype


When you start your business, the core of it is usually built on instinct and an unwavering passion for the product you want to bring to market. As your idea starts to take shape, there will be moments where you are met with rejection, but as a founder, it is imperative that you believe in your product.


“Trust yourself. If you think it will fail and imagine weakness, believe me, it will indeed fail,” shared Anina who experienced resistance when she was working on her dance performance prototype.


From realising your idea, your next step is to move onto making your prototype. This is when you start looking for a factory that you can work with. On finding one, the next big challenge is explaining to the factory how you want them to create your prototype. This can be tricky because how they interpret your ‘technical drawing’ and instructions might mean that you end up with a very different product.  So to avoid confusion and frustration, you need to be there with them, every step of the way. Make the factory your second home, because remote prototyping means risking that your directions getting lost in translation.


As you work alongside the factory always make sure that you get all the changes documented with photos. Do not take a laissez-faire attitude to your work. Make sure that you have technical drawings of the changes, along with a written list of the changes that you and the factory agreed to. All this should be put in a signed document that you can use as a point of reference should there be a misunderstanding that you want to resolve quickly.


It is no secret that working on your prototype can sometimes evoke moments where it feels like the end is nigh, and other times when it feels like there is no end. So when it’s the latter,  you must not be tempted to give up, and you must also not let the people you are working with give up either.


“At one point we had made 40 prototypes, and the factory was going to give up on me because they became so discouraged that they could not meet my standard of quality and precision”, shared Anina. Her solution was agreeing on how many more finals they would make. Stating, “I decided only to make x number of changes. You are in a long-term partnership; you have to give and take and understand their side also with material costs, etc.”.


Anina’s approach to the workforce and her need to want to get her hands dirty right alongside the people creating her product has to lead to her building a long-term relationships with the factory.


On her method, Anina confessed: “The factory workers’ happiness is your key to get great products. I had more loyal workers willing to do their utmost to make everything correctly. I brought them snacks and water and played music – joked with them occasionally,” she added, “remember they are people and the more you show them and treat them as people, and treat them well, they will want to do their best to make it how you would like. You will have fewer returns, a more durable product, and a flexible partner with whom if there are mistakes you can agree to correct them quickly.” On the subject of payment, Anina stressed that it is important to pay them a fair wage before revealing; “the truth of the matter is most factory managers and owners will not try to cut corners if you pay them a decent salary”.


So you have reached a stage where your idea is coming to life and you’re excited with how the factory is handling your instructions; this is usually the point when most people feel comfortable enough to leave them to it, and the truth of the matter is that you shouldn’t. Like I mentioned earlier, not only is it better to be present at the factory, you should always try and stay until the completion of your project because it will decrease the chance of you ending up with a product that you did not want.


On this Anina explained: “I remain in the factory until the product was completed. I will tell you why: because receiving a shipment of 200+ duplicates of each item, you need to know if they work. So you must take the product one by one out of the package and test each one yourself. ” She continued, “If you accept the package, the factory’s responsibility ends there with FOB. When I set up our production line, I walked around, and I kept showing and telling them how I wanted it done, because how they imagine to sew stitches or make things, was different. I would ask them to take it out and show them how to do it myself.”


Lastly, although it can be quite tempting to allow the factory to do all the sourcing, it is probably best that you take on that responsibility yourself. Whether it is thread, fabric or buttons, make sure that you bring all your materials yourself to avoid some surprises later on. “Controlling your material suppliers is the only way you will know what goes into your products, but remember, to source all your materials; you need time.”


The above advice might not make everyone’s manufacturing process run smoothly, but it will certainly help when it comes to figuring out the Rubik’s Cube that is manufacturing.

Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde


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