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Stitch In a New Business Idea

Learn how to take your textile invention from idea to reality.

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Perhaps you love to sew, and you have a can't-miss idea for a new clothing or handbag line. Or maybe you've never brought needle to thread in your life, but you know your target market will love your apparel creation. Either way, help is here.

Creating a textile invention--clothing, bedding, basically, anything that involves sewing--is similar to developing other inventions. Yet, there are specific things you should know that can help you develop your textile-based invention and make it more marketable.

I'll start at the very beginning: creating a prototype. Fortunately, it doesn't take advanced sewing skills or experience on the sewing machine to turn your idea into something real. Although these can be helpful, if you have a vision and can communicate it to someone who has sewing skills, you'll be fine.

Creating Your Prototype

A prototype is a 3-D manifestation of your vision or drawing. For example, perhaps you've sketched out a line of specialty T-shirts. Your prototype will be an actual sewn version of these T-shirts, with the cut, embroidery, printing or embellishments you've envisioned.

a prototype allows you to test your idea's functionality. Say you've designed a new type of water shoes for children. Your prototype will allow you to test the materials and the construction of those shoes to learn if they will hold up properly. Your prototype will also help you perfect the use of materials. If the original material you used for these shoes wasn't as waterproof as you believed, or the rubber you used on the bottom ended up being extremely slippery, you'll discover these flaws during the prototype process. When you move to the final manufacturing stage, you'll reduce the risk of making costly mistakes.

If you are completely lacking in sewing skills, you can ask a sewing shop or a local seamstress to put something together for you. Be sure to clearly communicate your goals for the item.

Michael Thomas, owner of Choices Apparel, a California-based textile manufacturing company says when communicating your idea to a sewing shop, start with a sample that already exists. Go to a store, find an item similar in fit and design to your own idea, and use it as a cornerstone. This doesn't mean copying the item; it simply means using an existing cut as a pattern to help communicate your idea. Then you can make changes based on your vision and design.

You can also work with a sketch of your item. If you're lacking in illustration skill, consult a graphic designer or fashion sketch artist to help put your idea to paper with the correct measurements. Michael Thomas, whose company specializes in working with startup and first-time designers, explains that while his company prefers to work with a prototype, he can work with a sketch and desired measurements to achieve the same goal.

Once you have a working prototype, you're on your way to full-scale manufacturing. First, though, you must create a pattern.

Creating Your Pattern

Just as a plastic gadget requires an injection mold or CAD drawings for a manufacturer to create it on a mass scale, a textile item requires a pattern. Your pattern is your factory's roadmap and must be sewing-friendly, especially on a large scale. It's important that you hire a professional pattern designer to create it, so that your manufacturer can use it without any problems. Patterns made by people who know nothing about production sewing can be problematic, as they may not be suitable or cost-effective for large-scale production. In this case, your manufacturer may require a pattern to be re-created.

Finding a Manufacturer

The best place to begin your search is via word-of-mouth, so you can get references from those who've actually worked with a particular manufacturer. Another great resource is , which lists hundreds of thousands of manufacturers by state and materials they use. Note that these factories range from textiles to plastics to chemicals, but you can narrow your search to whatever materials you are working with.

Another helpful resource is the Textile Association of Los Angeles , which provides education, networking opportunities and resource information for locating textiles, related products and services within the apparel industry.

You may also choose to work with a company overseas, which can be cost-effective, but also logistically challenging. The most important factor is to choose a reputable and reliable company that will meet your needs. Note that the least expensive manufacturer is not always your best choice. Paying more for a reliable partner, or a company that offers additional services such as designing, pattern-making or consultation, can save you money, time and headaches in the long run.

Other Tricks of the Trade

Here are some additional tips specific to the textile industry:

  1. Keep production costs and ease of manufacturing in mind. When you're designing your pattern or working with someone who's helping you, be sure to work with a professional who understands production sewing and the costs involved in various techniques, appliqués and designs. This way, you won't end up with an end-product that has cost you too much in production to make a profit.
  2. Some materials are easier and less costly to work with than others. Thomas explains that woven fabrics such as cottons, twills, nylons and polyesters are the least difficult to work with, as opposed to knits and stretch fabrics with Lycra, which require proper needles, machines and experience setting the tension while sewing, as well as knowledge to allow the fabric to "relax" after spreading and prior to cutting. Leather is also more challenging to work with, requiring special equipment and needles.
  3. Don't forget the care label. The most common cause for apparel returns is improper care. For instance, chlorine bleach can change the nature of a fabric, prompting the customer to return it. This is why it's important to include detailed care labels, with washing, dry cleaning and ironing instructions. In addition, a woven label is desirable as opposed to a printed label, because it lasts longer and adds perceived value to a garment. Although printed labels are initially less expensive, once you are purchasing 5,000 or more labels, the price is worth the investment.
  4. Choose a partner, not a vendor. Especially if you're a first-time inventor or businessperson who is learning the ropes about everything from manufacturing to marketing to managing a business, choosing a manufacturer accustomed to working with startup companies can be a real advantage. You will avoid making costly mistakes and have an experienced partner who understands your unique issues and who can guide you in making the right decisions.


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