So I thought it might be nice to give you a peek into how Lineage leggings are made. A lot of you are probably wondering why and how it takes so long to make a simple pair of pants. Well wonder no more!
A little background
On Broadway, I'm what's known as a Draper. I take a sketch of a costume, an actors measurement sheet, and drape fabric onto a dress form in order to figure out how to make that sketch into a real, 3 dimensional garment for that particular person. I then turn that garment into a flat paper pattern. I spend a great deal of the time at work playing with paper, scissors, and markers. Once I've made that paper pattern, I can make that garment an infinite number of times in many different fabrics.
Lineage leggings currently come in sizes XS-XL. Here is a photo detailing the differences in each size- this is called grading a pattern. You start with one size, and shrink it down and expand it in either direction to come up with a range of sizes. Lineagewear is about to expand into plus sizes, as well as baby and kids sizes. To get from newborn all the way to 3XL requires a lot of patterns! And every one of them was hand drafted by yours truly.
Now comes the fun part- fabric shopping. This is a (rather blurry) shot of one of my fabric suppliers. They have thousands and thousands of fabrics to choose from, however I still have to decide which prints are cute, and make sure they have a good amount of stretch, make sure they don't go sheer or turn white when they stretch, etc. These are all listed as 80/20 Nylon Spandex, however there's so many slight variations in quality from batch to batch that no two bolts of fabric will ever be exactly the same. (I myself have six or seven pairs of my leggings, and each one fits me slightly different, even though they were all cut from the same exact pattern and constructed the same way.)
When I first started Lineagewear, I was drawing out and cutting each and every pair of leggings myself, by hand.
every. single. pair.
Using only my trusty 8" Gingher shears. You should have seen the calluses!
Then I would bring them home in a huge bundle, and stitch them myself on this ridiculously small Ikea writing desk. Often with my toddler playing in laundry baskets full of leggings, getting mad that I won't let him play with mommy's overlock machine. (Meanest mommy ever!)
I'm pretty fast, but once orders started really rolling in, it got to be more work than I could handle. So I found a manufacturer.
The manufacturing process
My factory is a small production company in the heart of NYC's garment district. I refer to them as a factory, but it's more like 15-20 men and women in a large room full of sewing machines. A very small, cozy little facility, very much like the shop I work in myself. There are no faceless hundreds of people chained to machines.
Now, the apparel industry works a little bit differently than theatre does. As a theatre person, I'm accustomed to building one garment at a time, start to finish, completely bespoke. Not so with fashion! They build things in huge lots, using what's called a marker to cut many multiples of a garment out at once using an electric rotary cutter. Then they are stitched one after the other in rapid succession, with each stitcher doing a different step (sorta like a bucket brigade). This allows for better time management- so they can produce huge quantities of garments quickly.
Lineage leggings have a lot of variation in them. For my first manufactured batch , I had to have a set of markers made. (Markers being the paper pattern that the cutters use to cut out garments.) A marker is basically a big sheet of thin paper with each pattern piece drawn out onto it. It's like a map for the cutter. Lineagewear comes in five different sizes, three different lengths, and a whole bunch of different prints. Some prints are cut out straight grain (up and down), some are cross grain (side to side), some need to be symmetrical across the garment (match and mirror), and we are now running a bias design legging (at a 45 degree angle).
When I was cutting out each pair of leggings by hand, I could place the patterns on the fabric in the correct place each time. However, cutters stack many lengths of fabric on top of each other at once, and place the marker on top of everything. So they need a marker (as opposed to a paper pattern) to tell them where to cut the fabric.
So each of my paper patterns had to be scanned and digitized, seam allowance built in, and turned into separate markers. (I.e straight grain ankle length, straight grain capri length, straight grain mid foot length, etc). My first batch of leggings had a HUGE delay because so many markers had to be made... all that digitizing took a long time!
Each time a new size is added, new markers have to be made. (This is me prepping all my kids patterns for the marker maker.) Periodically, markers have to be adjusted too. For example, the original Mid Foot Extra Small marker was too narrow around the foot. We take all customer feedback into account- even tweaking something a half inch makes a huge difference sometimes!
Now, it's time to start processing individual orders. I usually work in batches of several hundred at a time. How fast they are processed depends on how slow or fast orders come in. Some days, I may only have a couple of orders trickle in. Other days, I could get fifty individual orders. And then there's wholesale orders thrown in the mix!
(Is your head spinning yet?)
First, I place an order with my fabric supplier, who delivers the yardage to my manufacturer.
Then, I do what's called a cut ticket. Lineagewear requires nine different cut tickets! Each length and grain requires a separate cut ticket, with swatches of each fabric stapled to it so as not to confuse the cutter. Here's an example of an Ankle Length, Cross Grain cut ticket:
|not so basic black||0||17||23||1||4|
The cutter cuts out all nine cut tickets. This can take up to a week, depending on how big of a batch I give them. The stitchers will not stitch until everything is cut out.
Once they are all cut out, they are stitched, cleaned of any stray threads, folded, and given to me in bundles.
Which I then bring home and take over my whole living room. (After my son's bedtime, since he will try to "help" mommy pack up orders.)
Every order is personally packed and shipped by me, sometimes with the help of my very patient and wonderful husband. This leads to a lot of late nights squinting at the computer, checking for mistakes, checking for duplicate orders from customers that can be combined, checking to make sure that any changes requested were applied (i.e medium swapped out for large, capri swapped for ankle, etc). I check and double check and triple check.
So what happens if there's a mistake?
Yes, mistakes happen. Sometimes I am a few yards short of a fabric. Sometimes, the cutter will accidentally cut a couple of mediums out as smalls, or mix up fabrics. Several prints run small, so I have to adjust the cut tickets a size up. One wrong keystroke in excel can throw off the whole ticket. Sometimes someone will request a change, and that change doesn't make it onto the cut ticket for whatever reason.
I try to throw in a handful of extra leggings with each batch to account for mistakes and exchanges. However with 15 different variations of each print available, it's hard to guess what exactly I will need. Maybe someone needs a mid foot length size medium Green Peacock legging, and all I have on hand are medium capri length Green Peacock leggings. Eventually, someone else will need the medium capris, but the person needing the medium mid foot gets stuck waiting! Aaarghh!
I would love to have several extra of every size, every length, in every design, but it would cost quite a lot, and will continue to cost even more as I introduce more sizes and prints. This is growing pains that I'm sure everybody doing what I do experiences. (Not to mention that Lineagewear exists in my living room, which is a finite size!) In the meantime, if there's an error that I can't fulfill with what's on hand, I have to include it in the next batch. :(
I hate making people wait, and I especially get frustrated when mistakes beyond my control mean that someone will have to wait longer for an order. I answer every email inquiry about orders truthfully and quickly, I include coupon codes with delayed orders, and occasionally free leggings will appear in a package. Until I am a mega huge, rich company with tons of capital and a warehouse full of pre-made leggings in every variation, the best I can do is be honest with my customers and grateful for their patience until I grow and expand.
It's been weeks. What gives?
The payoff of waiting so long for leggings is that they are completely customized for you. I frequently email with customers about sizing, and am happy to answer any and all questions. My size exchange rate is very low (maybe one or two per batch), and my rate of returns is extremely low- less than five returns total since I started. We pay SO MUCH attention to detail, that it shows in the end product. Not to brag, but everybody loves my leggings. They are worth the wait. They are cute as hell, and fit like a dream.
So far I've found that if you are transparent about your process, and treat your customers well, that the vast majority of people are happy in the end.
I appreciate everyone that has taken this incredible journey with me. Namaste!
Since Lineagewear qualified for a small business loan, we were able to switch over to carrying inventory. This means that instead of everything being made to order, I now carry stock of each print in an array of sizes and lengths, just like a real store. Everything for sale already exists, and if it is not listed, it is sold out. This has allowed us to streamline our fulfillment process and eliminate all the crazy mistakes and waiting, eliminating stress on all ends. Now, when I submit a cut ticket to my manufacturer, I can just order a couple of each size! This has allowed me to move forward with plus sizes and kids, and has freed up some time to work on prototypes to expand my line beyond leggings. Orders are now packed and shipped within 1-5 business days! Yay!