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The Business Of Clothing: Part I
Posted by James F. Brown on Apr 18, 2009 - 4:31:07 PM


— Dress Like A Fortune 500 CEO On A Mailroom Budget!


Clothing is an enormous business that’s global in scope and generates billions in revenues for design houses, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Although, like any commercial enterprise, it has ups and downs, attire will always be an inexhaustible market because everybody needs clothing.  Clothes are consumables; they wear out and must be replaced. Plus, as kids grow and adults enlarge or shrink, they must purchase new sizes. Knowing a bit about the business of clothing confers power and can help consumers buy smart, buy right, and buy cheap. In this column and ones that follow, we’ll explore how this vital business operates.



The first step in the clothing business is the design phase. Before any item of attire is made, it’s necessary to have a blueprint, a road map, a concept of what that item is and how it will be made. A clothing designer initially sketches out his or her idea on paper. It can be well developed and standardized, with a long history such as t-shirts, jeans, socks, underwear, and outerwear. It can be traditional such as suits, sport coats, and dress pants and shirts. Or it can be something fresh for a new fashion season such as skirts, blouses, dresses, and accessories.


After the sketch, a pattern is developed for cutting fabric and assembling the pieces into the item. Fabric content, weave, weight, colors, and patterns are decided. Clothing sizes are also an important factor in pattern making. Prototypes are made and fine tuned for sizing, durability, and fit.


All of these hand-made prototypes are gathered together by the design house and modeled in runway shows and buyer fairs. These venues take place nine months or more prior to when the clothes will be offered to the public. Buyers from major department stores, boutiques, specialty shops, and other retailers place orders for the clothes they select. Large department stores and clothing chains may also place orders for their house labels, acting as their own design house. These orders state how many items of attire will be purchased, what colors, styles, and how many of each size will be delivered to the retailer.


The next step is manufacturing. Design houses and labels are in the business of designing, specifying, and marketing their wares. They are NOT in the business of actually making clothes. With few exceptions (Levi Strauss is one), manufacturing is contracted out to jobbers. Most of these are in Third World countries (such as China) where labor costs are low. One exception is Peerless Clothing in Montreal, the largest clothing manufacturer in North America. They make clothes for many designers, including Ralph Lauren, CHAPS, Calvin Klein, DKNY, IZOD, Michael Kors, Sean John, Joseph Abbod, and FUBU. If an item of attire says “Made in Canada,” it probably came from Peerless.

We’ll continue with more about the manufacturing process in the next column.


James F. Brown is a business consultant and expert on professional attire.


Cliffside Malibu




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