The Inside Scoop is a series that chronicles the ups and downs of starting a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) apparel company from scratch...in the middle of a pandemic.
We've talked a little bit about the process of designing your first collection at a high level, but let's dive in to one of our favorite parts of the process: fittings!
Fittings are a vital part of the product development process. After your designer makes a flat sketch and comes up with a tech pack (more detailed diagram of how to construct the garment), it will get sent off to your team to make a sample. When the sample comes back, you need to try it on a mannequin or a real person to make sure every element fits just right.
Mannequins vs. Humans
mannequins like this can be adjusted to match specific measurements
The benefit of using a mannequin is that a mannequin's measurements never change. However, at Frankly, we strongly prefer to use real people to fit our garments. That's because a human can give you feedback on preferences that a mannequin never could. Maybe it fits well, but it just feels itchy in the armpits -- our fit model will tell us that. While professional fit models know it's part of the job to keep their measurements consistent, we are all human and - especially for us women - our weight fluctuates. That has to be taken into account while fitting. Again, we see this as a positive. Not every woman who buys our clothing will have the same measurements and we want each size to fit a variety of body shapes.
Sampling typically starts with a "base" size. For most brands, this is a size small. At Frankly, we actually have three base sizes: one "straight size" (which is what the industry calls a standard S, M, or L -- for us a S-S, M-M, or L-L), one "busty size" (e.g., L-M), and one plus size (e.g., 3X-3X). We have found that each of these categories has different needs when it comes to fit, and grading from a S-S won't capture those nuances. This means we fit and grade three separate patterns for every style we produce. It's more expensive and it takes more time, but it results in a better product for our customer.
So how does a fitting actually work?
An early sample of our romper is marked for changes with pins.
Once your samples arrive, you have your fit model(s) come in and try them on. Professional fit models can run you $100/hr or more, so we try to fit multiple styles in a single appointment. During the try-on process, your technical designer will look at the garment and make notes of fit in all dimensions. It is most advantageous if your sewing team / patternmaker is also present for the fitting. A good starting list of questions to ask includes:
- Is the garment too loose or too tight?
Depending on how the garment is supposed to fit, you might end up taking it in around the waist or letting it out in the hips.
- Is the length correct?
Specifically, does the hem of this skirt / pant / shirt hit where I expected it to hit?
- Are all of the other proportions correct?
Is the torso too short, the sleeves too long, or the bust allowance too small?
- Is there any unexpected movement or shape happening on the garment? For example, gapping or puckering where you button a shirt or a really bulky volume on the skirt sweep.
- How does the model feel in the garment?
Are there any areas where she is feeling pinched or poked? Armpit hole size is a common culprit on this one! Is the fabric unexpectedly itchy?
- Is the garment easy to get into / out of?
We've all tried on those dresses that are impossible to fully zip without help. No more of those!
- Does everything look and feel as expected?
Ultimately, this comes down to preference and a deep understanding of your brand / customer style. One example is that I, as a woman with big boobs, prefer to have more coverage for my cleavage. Our customers also seem to prefer this, so we often end up raising necklines more than expected for our busty sizes. Sometimes you might also just realize that you hate how a style choice that looked good on a piece of paper looks in reality on a woman's body. For example, we once swapped out ruffle sleeves for a full puff sleeve based on the fitting.
Photos and videos are your best friend during a fitting. Before you do anything else, you will document how the sample fits as-is. We love taking videos because it allows us to see the garment in motion (important for functional fashion!) and allows us to voice over the changes we want to make while pointing out the specific issues. If anything looks amiss, your designer will also pin the areas with safety pins to indicate a change is needed. The pinned garment can go back to your sewing team to make the new and improved sample.
After that, it's rinse and repeat until you get the sample jussssttt right! Once you have a successful fitting, you approve the sample for production and you're off to the races.
A Note About Testing
Heather examines a garment with one of our designers
Fitting is just one type of testing that you should do on your garment before bringing them to market. It's worth mentioning two other types of testing here briefly.
First, wash testing. Wash testing should be completed at multiple stages during the development process. First when selecting your fabrics. This is to ensure the fabric is high quality, can withstand washing and/or drying, and so you know shrinkage percent. Shrinkage happens when, during the wash/dry process, the fabric loses some of its surface area. Cashmere is a great example. If you accidentally put your sweater in the dryer on high, it's going to come out looking like it was made for a baby doll. Similarly, you should wash test again once the garment is complete. Sometimes when you sew pieces of fabric together, add trim like snaps or buttons, etc., how the garment holds up in the wash will change. Making sure the garment doesn't fall apart after just a couple of cycles in the washing machine help make your products higher quality, more sustainable and ensures that your customer is a happy camper! The results of wash testing will help you determine what information to put on your care label, again with the goal of increasing longevity of the garment for your customer.
Second, wear testing. There's only so much you can learn about a garment from a single 30 minute fitting. While it might look and feel great for the model as she stands perfectly still as we measure and pin, things can look a lot different after a full day of sitting, standing, and walking around in that very same garment. Once you believe you have a perfect (or near perfect!) fit on your garment, we encourage you to give it to someone to wear for a day...or at least a few hours! Ask them to make note of anything that made them uncomfortable and when they noticed it. Let's go back to my cleavage example. Often times, when I try on a garment for the first time in my own home, I don't notice the cleavage at all. But the instant I leave the house and am around strangers, I suddenly get self conscious and keep tugging my neckline up. If you fit without wear testing, that might be something you don't figure out until it's too late.
Final Notes on Fittings
Fittings are absolutely vital to creating good garments. And fitting on more bodies is always better! Jane and I like to get our friends, families, and even our customers involved. We even use photoshoots as informal fittings! To create consistency from fitting to fitting (for formal fittings), try to use the same models / mannequins whenever possible and follow a set process with checklist. Happy fitting!