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Reducing Number of Proto Rounds

Nothing will kill your apparel brand’s launch timeline like too many rounds of fittings. As Developers and Project Managers in the apparel industry, we like to overestimate the number of proto rounds we need, but this typically means planning for a maximum of three. Our goal is always to need less, but it’s better to plan for the worst case scenario. So when we have to do more than three, we’ve gone beyond the worst case into a danger zone.

Fittings start with what we call a “base size” in the industry. Every brand will have an ideal fit model size, but most traditionally, we try to use the middle size in our size range to get through proto rounds. Medium is the most used size, but I’ve seen some brands use Large for their men’s line and Small for their women’s line if it warrants those body types as more ideal for their collection.

First fittings are mainly design-driven. We send out a technical packet to our factory requesting all of the details that our design team has requested, along with our best attempt at measurements and fit guidelines. Nine times out of ten, these first protos come back less than perfect, and will require revisions to a second proto before we feel good about the product. If you’re really lucky or started from a very solid previous style, you might get it just right on the first try, but this should not be expected. Personally, I like to utilize a second proto round in as many instances as possible, as it lets me get closer to perfection in a timeline that is already laid out for me. Other Developers will move straight to size sets if a first proto looks good, and that can help reduce workload, but if you’ve already planned for it, why not take advantage of the opportunity?

If you have an experienced technical design and development team, the second proto should arrive in much better shape. The comments they’ve made to the factory, requesting specific pattern and measurement updates will yield a much closer garment to what your team wanted. In the instance where this second proto is not looking good and requires another full round of revisions, this is where we use that “buffer” time in our calendar to request a third prototype. Otherwise, this is when you want to request all the sizes in your style’s assortment, to check that the garment will fit on all body shapes.

There are a handful of times in my career when a third proto has come back to us in a state that cannot move us onto size sets. In my best experience, if your team isn’t completely confident that they can correct the third proto and go straight into size sets, then it probably needs to be dropped from your line. I’ve seen too many teams try to push through to a fourth or even a fifth prototype, and it can completely throw off your season.

Now, as Developers and Project Managers, we are first and foremost problem solvers. There are dozens of ways to get yourself back on track, determine whether the risk of a fourth or fifth proto is worth it, or work with your internal team to expedite the additional protos you need. So I’m not saying that it’s impossible to proceed if you get to this point. But if you are consistently needing to request more than three protos for every garment you design and develop, then you might need to take a deeper look at what is going on in your process.

What would happen if your small brand or start-up could take weeks or months out of your timeline by getting the fit and design details right in just a couple of rounds? You could launch faster, deliver to your customers as you’ve been promising and release products in their appropriate seasons. It also helps you to reduce development fees with your factory and it keeps you from making too many prototypes that just end up in the garbage. There are so many reasons to leverage professional help to get your number of protos down to two or three, so when you’re ready to take your brand to that next level, let me know! Unmarked Street is here to help with tech packs and fittings any time.

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