Manufacturing plays a key role in our business. Without it we wouldn’t have any workwear to offer you. Manufacturing is so much more than just sewing a garment, both pre and post actual sewing. It's a real jungle, but our experienced co-workers at the Lithuanian company First Priority help us choose the right factories and sometimes to source fabrics. Based in Lithuania, they ensure our high-quality requirements are reached in the sewing production and they also digitalise our patterns. The first key pattern, however, is always created by us in our workshop in Stallarholmen, Sweden.
Curious about the origin of our fabrics? Who produces them or how it is done?
The production chains
It’s a long and windy road from design idea to actually having a garment to sell. The production chain is often long, and often not very chain-like at all. Some processes need to be done linearly and others parallel. Read below to get a grip of the basic steps.
Naturally, you’d think it all starts with a designer getting an idea, but it’s rarely as simple as that. Instead the process of developing a garment needs to take place in many places simultaneously. Usually a garment consists of more ingredients than just the fabric, and often the fabric consists of more than one material.
This can be a time-consuming step, and designers around the world usually can't wait that long to get their products home. Did you know the lead time (the time from starting the design process to getting the finished garments out in the store) for a garment can be as short as a couple of weeks? For us it usually takes considerably longer than that, as we want to get every detail right and prioritise using the most environmentally friendly modes of transport. Quality simply takes more time!
Cotton fabrics don’t grow on trees, although the beautiful cotton shrub produces cotton fibre. The fibre used to make cotton yarn comes from the seed of the cotton plant. The plant requires loads of water, more than 9,000 litres to produce one kilogram of cotton (source) and can be harvested after about 25 weeks.
Fabrics come in a variety of materials, either natural fibres, artificial fibres, or synthetic fibres. Natural fibres are divided into plant fibres, such as cotton and linen, or animal fibres e.g. silk and wool. Artificial fibres are naturally occurring fibres, but not textile fibres in their original state. For example, viscose and modal are made of regenerated cellulose from trees.
Synthetic fibres, such as polyester and acrylic, are made from oil, resembles plastics, and can be shaped and spun however you like to get different properties. Naturally, the manufacturing process varies between the materials. Read more about it here Sveriges konsumenter
When the fibres are ready, they are spun into yarns, then usually woven, or knitted into fabric. Next step is dyeing and preparation. A lot of chemicals, water, energy, and mechanical processing is required to give the fabric its’ desirable properties. After that you need to choose whether the fabric should be softened, water-repellent, wrinkle-free, or coloured. Some materials are dyed as fibres, others as yarns, some as fabrics, and some not until they are ready made garments.
A designer or product developer decides on type and style of the garment by sketching, working out fittings and cuts, pick the right details and accessories, but also chooses which fabric should be used for the garment.
A pattern designer makes a pattern of the garment, which is then sent to the factory. The factory produces a sample which is measured, tried on and controlled. There are usually a few adjustments needed to match the function, appearance and fit the designer had in mind. This adjustment process will go on until everyone is happy and give thumbs up to the factory to start the production.
Production does not begin with the seamstresses starting to sew. First, a cut order planner needs to make a template, in which all the pattern parts are displayed and arranged to use the fabric in the most economical way. The planner also works out which sizes to be cut out together and how many layers of fabric are needed to make it match the number of garments ordered. The layering process can be done manually or with a machine. The type of fabric and tools to be used later on decides how many layers of fabric you can lay on top of each other. The printed template is then put on top and the fabric is cut out, either manually or with a cutting machine.
Once the pattern pieces are cut out, they are bundled up and then paired with other parts of the same size and colour and organised in the order in which the parts should be sewn together. A pair of work trousers, for example, requires several different sewing operations at different workstations, and with different machines and different seamstresses. The machines often stand in rows, in which the parts or half-finished garment moves around. It’s called a sewing line. The process of moving the pattern parts from one station to another can be done manually, e.g. in baskets or automatically in mobile transport systems.
Preferably you get a steady flow in the sewing to avoid one seamstress having a mountain of garments at her station, whilst another sits empty handed waiting for her turn. A supervisor is responsible for balancing the workload and to get a flow in the sewing line.
Inspection, steam press and quality control
When the garments are sewn and almost finished, they are viewed. Threads are cut and the garments are being checked to see that everything has turned out right. They are measured and compared to match the measurement lists made by the pattern designer. Any mistakes or oddities are corrected. Most clothes are then steamed and pressed in massive steam presses, depending on what type of garment and fabric it is. In the final station the garments are folded and packed and provided with labels.
We have actively instructed the factory not to pack our clothes in plastic bags or to provide them with labels. They are usually thrown away straight away after purchase anyway, so we try to reduce unnecessary packaging as much as possible.