Industry produces both high-end and mass-produced clothing

What are the methods used to produce them? How are these methods different? How they are alike?Here are some answers. First, lets define the terms:

Mass-produced garments that are mass-produced are designed in a designing department, cut and sewn in a factory. A thousand garments are cut at a time.

High-end clothing can be purchased at Bergdorf Goodman’s in NYC, shown here, and at Sax Fifth Ave., as well as many other stores throughout the world.

High-end – also referred to as industrial couture, or couture, these garments are designed, cut, and sewn in a designing department, usually to fill orders for individual customers. Customers may include state queen pageants and/or department stores such as Sax Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf Goodman where preferred customers see sample garments that may be exclusive designs purchased by the department store and available only to their customers. Customers then order particular samples to be cut and sewn to their measurements. Customers may also come in to the designing department to order custom-made clothing. Garments are almost always cut one at a time.

How high-end and mass-produced garments are alike

  1. Both are sewn using low-level engineering procedures., developed in the USA during the First and Second World Wars and 1940s. 
  2. Seam allowances for both garment types are reduced the same amounts with this exception: high-end garments’ straight seams may be drafted 3/4 inch wide instead of the standard 1/2 inch to allow for possible future alterations.
  3. All seams are sewn on gauge.
    For excellent fit, all seams MUST be sewn on gauge.
  4. All seams are sewn notch-to-notch.
  5. Patterns used to cut high-end garments are often used to cut mass-produced garments as well.
  6. Although the sizing may differ (a size 10 in low-end may be a size 2 in high-end) a company’s grading is probably the same throughout both their mass-produced and high-end garments. For example: the same patterns may be referred to as size 2 when used to make high-end garments, a size 10 when used to manufacture mass-produced garments.
  7. The same careful drafting, grading, cutting, and checking are used in the designing departments to produce both high-end and mass-produced samples.
    Grading enables manufacturers to produce clothing in proportionate sizes.
  8. Layouts are determined. All garments are cut as tightly as possible so as to save fabric.
  9. Most, if not all pressing is done after the garment is completed.
  10. Seamstresses use industrial sewing machines, set in industrial tables which are bolted to the floor.
    Both high-end and mass-produced clothing are sewn on industrial sewing machines.
    Both high-end and mass-produced clothing are sewn on industrial sewing machines.
  11. Factory workers and sample makers are each assigned a sewing machine. Rarely, if ever, do they switch sewing machines.
  12. If the company is unionized, all workers who sew on the sewing machines and use other factory machinery are members of the union.

How high-end and mass-produced garments differ

  1. A company’s top designers, patternmakers, and sample makers work on the high-end clothing. These are highly desired positions. Only those with the most skilled hands are given the work.
  2. Rarely, if ever are any high-end garments made in the factory.
  3. Fabric is chosen for lushness and beauty. Price is determined by the cost of fabric and labor, not by what the market will bear. It is assumed that the beauty of the finished garment will eliminate any financial concern by the customer.
  4. These are exclusive designs, presented at private showings to buyers with high-end customers. Rarely, if ever are the clothing designs shown in magazines, or even to the average customer unless they should venture into the areas of the stores kept exclusive for preferred customers. The clothing samples may even be kept behind closed doors in the stores, shown only to the store’s special clientele.
    High-end clothing has special detailing, such as the mitered cuff shown here.
  5. Custom orders from the shows are cut and sewn in the designing department. The garments are carefully cut and sewn by the same workers who designed and developed the garments.
  6. Seams are sewn notch-to-notch with minimal pinning. Sample makers have small scissors at their machines to trim threads.
  7. Minimal machinery is needed or used.
  8. Considerable hand sewing may be involved in the making of the garments.
  9. Everyone is on the clock. Exquisite sewing is the goal. No one wastes time, but time is taken to ensure that the garments are sewn perfectly – to an accuracy of 1/8 or less of an inch.
  10. Each sample maker can sew the entire garment. She sews most, if not all of the garment.
  11. The sample makers have usually been promoted up from the factory. They are perfectionists.
  12. Considerable hand work may be involved. If the garment is beaded, beading may be done by machine on the fabric or lace before it is cut, then after it is cut, beading may be added by hand.
  13. Care is taken with the fabric pieces, as they are cut and sewn, to make sure the fabric is not distorted.
    High-end sewing can be replicated in the home. Minimal equipment is needed. A feather-weight sewing machine can be used to make most high-end clothing.
  14. Careful, minimal pressing ensures that the finished garment looks fresh and new.
  15. When the garments are finished they are carefully packaged and then shipped directly to the store or customer.
  16. Almost all high-end procedures can be replicated in the home.
  17. Because the clothing is carefully designed for the customer, clothing is often kept for years.
  1. Because much work is computerized and/or uses heavy machinery, most procedures used in mass-produced can NOT be replicated in the home.
  2. Price is determined by the cost of fabric and labor, and by what the market will bear. If a cheaper fabric can be substituted, then that fabric is used.
  3. Fabric is chosen that can withstand the stress of factory production.
  4. Samples of the clothing designs are cut and sewn in the designing department. Samples are shown to buyers at shows such as the TexWorld Show at the Javits Center in NYC.
  5. Grading into the size range is not done until enough of the style is sold to break even on a cutting of 1000 garments.
  6. The garments are manufactured in the factories, often thousands of miles off-shore from the designing department.
  7. Cutter
    Machine cutting plies of fabric with a band saw has since been replaced with computerized laser cutting. Even though extremely dangerous, smaller manufacturers still use this method to cut their garments.

    The fabric is spread and cut, usually for at least 1000 garments. The layers of fabric spread for cutting weigh down the underlying plies, causing the bottom pieces to be slightly smaller than the top pieces, when the pieces are separated and bundled. The bundles are then sent down the factory line to be sewn.

  8. No hand sewing is involved.
  9. Garments are constructed by piece-workers – workers who each sew one or just a few steps of the garment’s construction. There is no pinning. The operators are not allowed scissors at their machines.
  10. Many, if not most piece-workers do not have the skills to sew the entire garment. They sew at top speed, making minimal wages. Since they are paid by the piece, the faster they sew, the more money they make.
  11. Speed is of the essence. All sewing is by machine.
  12. Nothing is sewn by hand.
  13. The finished clothing is pressed, then packaged for distribution.
  14. It arrives in the stores, is hung and made available to customers.
  15. What doesn’t sell is sold to jobbers, who then resell it to outlet stores. What doesn’t sell there may wind up in the Third World or even landfills.
  16. Styles turn over quickly. Because the clothes are fairly inexpensive, customers often buy more than they need. Clothing is quickly discarded. Much ends up in landfills.
Want to learn how to make high-end clothing?

Regardless of your skill level, this winter you can learn how to make a beautiful skirt that fits in just 10 lessons on Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 12:30.  Classes start Saturday morning, January 18, 2020. The lessons are offered at the Abington Art Center. The course is listed under Fiber Arts, at the bottom of the page. To learn more about the course, read my previous post,  121: The Skirt Course.

121: The Skirt Course
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© Laurel Hoffmann, 2019.

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