After the inspiration, ideas, sketches, and research comes the first stage of clothing production - having the pattern made. Patterns are generally constructed of thick brown cardboard, and make up the template pieces that the fabric will be cut out from. The next step is to have a sample garment made to make sure the pattern is going to work, and that everything is sitting as it does in our mind's eye. Sometimes it's not quite right, and we have to go back to our pattern maker for adjustments. This can be quite a costly procedure, but it's important to get it right before the production run starts. Once we're happy with it, the pattern is graded into all the different sizes we're planning to offer.
Once the pattern is good to go, we organise the fabric. Some of our fabric is knitted on shore here in Melbourne, but a lot of it is knitted overseas in an Australian owned factory, and then sent back to Melbourne for dyeing. The raw fabric is taken to a dye house, where it is dyed under very high eco and ethical standards. Gathering all of the fabric takes the longest time out of the whole manufacturing process. Even if we purchase already finished fabric from local retailers, this can still take a while depending on supply and international logistics. Having a custom colour done can take a few months, so we really need to plan in advance and know what we're doing.
Step three is to figure out which factory is going to be making our new garment. Different factories have different specialty areas, and the kinds of clothes they're able to produce will largely depend on what machinery they have.
The main four manufacturing types for clothing are lingerie (bras, undies, sleepwear, and swimwear), wovens (dresses, anything made out of a fabric that doesn't stretch), knits (t-shirts, sweatshirts, anything made out of a stretch fabric), and denim (jeans, etc).
Seeing as most of our clothes are tees and sweatshirts, almost all of our production is done by a knits factory. Another word for 'factory' or 'manufacturer' is 'maker', which is usually how we refer to our factories. We sometimes trial new makers to test the quality of their workmanship, especially if it's a brand new product.
After deciding who is going to be doing the production run, we organise the fabric to be delivered. Sometimes we stockpile the fabric in advance. Each roll of fabric weighs roughly 20kgs, and it adds up real quick. We have to make sure wherever the fabric is being stored has a concrete floor, or suitable racks, so we don't put a giant dint in the building.
The first job of the maker is to do the marking. Marking is the process of tessellating the pattern pieces next to each other to ensure as little fabric as possible is wasted when cutting. Some more high tech makers have electronic means for mapping the markers, such as computers with CAD pattern programs and giant plotting machines or printers, but the majority of makers physically get up on the tables to trace out the cut lines. This is the most laborious part of the production run. Marking out a run of our sweatshirts can take up to two weeks of consistent work. There's a lot of maths involved in the process, and the more colour blocking we have in a garment, the more marking it requires. People who do this manual form of marking must have exceptionally strong knees!
Once the marker has been completed, the process of spreading can commence. The fabric rolls are put onto metal spreading machines on wheels, which help to lay out the fabric as flat and smooth as possible. Each layer of fabric is spread out on top of each other, ready for cutting.
After spreading, it's time to cut all the fabric out. The marker is placed on top of the layered fabric, and an electric knife is used to cut out all the shapes. If there's only a few layers, generally a rotary cutter can be used (an electric knife with a spinning round blade), but if there's many layers of thick fabric, a tall knife is used. This slices through the fabric like butter, and is fascinating to watch. We try to keep as much of the scraps as possible to repurpose them, saving them from landfill.
There are some huge laser cutting tables and machines that can take care of this process as well, but I have only seen these being used in massive production houses in Asia via their YouTube channels. Some technologically advanced production houses in Melbourne also use laser cutters, but I do believe these can only cut one layer of fabric at a time.
The cut up pieces are bundled together in sizes and colours, depending on the type of the garment. It's then sewn together by skilled machinists. The actual sewing is one of the most straightforward parts of the process, but the more experienced the machinist, the more attention to detail and speed can be achieved. Some things can slow down the sewing process, such as changing the threads and ensuring the tensions on the machines are correct.
The finished garments are bundled up, generally in sizes and colour ways, and then transported to a garment finishing facility.
If the fabric is wrinkled from manufacturing and transport, the garments can be sent through a steam tunnel (which is a giant machine that uses steam to iron out the clothes), or pressed. Most of our clothes don't require this step because the majority of the fabric we use is very low maintenance.
These facilities also tackle quality control. They inspect the garments for loose threads, stains, or faults. They take care of our folding, bagging, tagging, and labelling. For e-commerce, garments are folded into bags to make shipping and warehousing easier. For retail stores, the finished garments are put on coat hangers and hung up on huge racks that snake in and out in rows, sometimes around the whole building.
Et voila! We have our finished garment that's ready to be worn and loved by you.