StephieAnn has come a long way since the manufacturing of the 2015 ‘Rose’ collection. Despite expanding as a business, I’ve still had a huge learning curve while manufacturing AW16/17 ‘That Tender Light’. I design and make the prints myself, as well as making my own pattern pieces and samples, which is a challenge in itself. This can cause problems, and requires a lot of hard work and thinking on my feet… In this blog I will outline the trials and victories I discovered while manufacturing, and share with you How to Manufacture a Collection #ThatTenderLight!
Perfecting the Print
With every collection, I spend ages perfecting the print. I make around 15 prints per collection -that’s a lot of outtakes! Below you can see the progression of my designs, what they started out as and how they ended up. My Midnight design has proven to be the most popular from the collection, remarkably this is the design I most struggled with. It took approximately 5 weeks of pure photoshopping to work this into something I was happy with. As you can see the first take is darker, messy and confused compared to the glossy final version.
– outtake Midnight print & final version –
At StephieAnn, we value the importance of luxury products – we believe our customers deserve only the best. Based on this philosophy, I wanted the binding – edging of the fabric – to be made of 100% silk. Unfortunately, no one in the UK makes silk binding! Luckily, I’m a problem solver, so I decided to order reams of black silk and have it cut into strips to make the binding. Annoyingly there seemed to be a mass shortage of black silk fabric just as I needed it! Sourcing 100 metres of black silk was proving to be a nightmare… I ended up traipsing all over Goldhawk Road with my interns and buying it individually in separate metres! It took a while – but at least it was done.
Lesson learnt: Reserve silk beforehand!
– manufacturing specification –
Right before manufacturing, I sought the advice of a lingerie expert and mentor to look over the collection and my designs. She helped me by pointing out several issues which needed addressing before I could get the products manufactured, including ‘stitch per inch’ and suggesting I inserted a StephieAnn signature in the form of an ‘SA’. While her help was much needed, it meant a lot more extra work for me to do! You can look out the the ‘SA’ signature in all new printed products…
Lesson learnt: Seek advice earlier in the process – not a few days before manufacturing!
– working on the pattern pieces –
I can’t rest until every tiny detail of my products is flawless. This includes the rings and sliders – bits of plastic which adjust strap length. I was desperate to have silver rings and sliders, but surprise surprise, it was impossible to find any! Solving this problem was pure persistence – I kept searching until I eventually sourced some in Nottingham. Just as I was about to relax, I spent an evening hand counting over 500 labels only to discover there wasn’t enough. As bad luck comes in threes, it was only fitting that I discovered the labels which go inside my products weren’t going to be ready in time for me to send them off to be sewn into the products. I decided the only solution was to sew them in myself by hand – enlisting the help of my Mum and my interns!
Lesson learnt: Now I have the number for the rings and sliders company I’ll be holding onto it! With the labels it was just a case of things being out of my hands…
– everything ready to be sent to the seamstresses in Wales –
The Final Cut
Once I’ve done the finishing touches, I send my products to the Welsh valleys where they’re sewn into StephieAnn products. I make the prototypes myself, so I have a rough idea of what the end product will look like. I also make the pattern pieces which I send to Wales. Being a self-taught pattern creator can be tricky, but luckily by this time I encountered very little hiccups. I did notice that the notches – little slits in the patterns so the seamstresses know where to include seams – became loose on the patterns. Luckily, my interns and I sellotaped them together to make them more robust!
Lesson learnt: Teaching myself to pattern cut is a mammoth lesson in itself. Oh – and hire interns if you can!
– the factory in Wales –
Finally, I’ve included a list of Top Tips for Manufacturing a collection!
- Never stop until it’s perfect.
- Get others perspectives and be prepared to take criticism
- Visit the manufacturing unit and be prepared to not compromise on quality. If you want matching thread top stitching, you should get that matching thread!
- Manufacturing a collection doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. There is a lot you can teach yourself and Youtube is a haven for pattern cutting videos (link to good ones?)
- Really think about the branding. These extras might cost but they are worth it. Now each product has a label sewn in that tells the name of the poet and the poem
- Think about your identity as a designer. What would you like to be known for? And if someone placed loads of products in a room would they be able to pick out yours? What’s your trademark? (Thank goodness florals will always be in)
- Don’t forget the packaging! I am delighted with the new StephieAnn boxes, they are a real treat for my customers
- Ask the manufacturers for ALL the waste scraps back from the factory. When silk costs £22 per metre it’s amazing what you can do with the little pieces.
- Don’t get stuck in a rut. Shake it up a little and try something new!
- Enjoy the stress and learn how to crisis manage. Really, what’s the worst that can happen?
– fabric samples –