A tech pack can go by many different names, such as technical specification, specification pack, spec pack, BOM (bill of materials) or GWS (garment work sheet). Essentially it is a document referred to by you or your garment technician and the factory or person making your patterns and manufacturing the clothes. I find a lot of my clients have heard of the term tech pack, but don't really know what it entails or why they need one and often wonder if the factory should do it. This post is to explain what a tech pack is and why you need it.
- 'I don't need to pay for the spec sheet, the factory can handle those' - I hear this quite often and to be honest it scares me! Essentially, a tech pack is about control (we'll dive a little deeper into this in a moment), do you really want to be giving the factory control over the measurements and finish of the garments? The problem with the factory doing the spec sheets is that they will often do what is easiest for them, this is especially true if you are inexperienced and don't know what to look out for. Certainly, if the factory offers suggestions on ways to improve the garment, hear them out, but make sure the final decision is down to you. Also keep in mind that, the factory are a business looking to make an income. If they do the spec pack, it would be easy for them to choose more expensive methods they can charge you for, if they are that way inclined.
- 'once the tech pack is done, that's it' - sadly, it's not that simple. Tech packs are a working document that are updated regularly over the duration of the fit and manufacture process, which can take around 4 months. The tech pack you receive from your garment technologist, or a freelancer you hire, is effectively the first draft. Even before the first fit sample is made, it may change. This is because the factory need the tech pack to quote a price. You may find the price is too high, so you make some changes, such as decreasing the measurements so you don't need as much fabric or removing some of the detail. This all needs to be updated on the spec sheet. Then, during the fit process, you'll update the measurements chart several times until you approve a fit sample.
Why you need a tech pack
A tech pack is the starting point for getting your garment manufactured. It provides all of the key information that will determine things like the cost of the garment, what fabrics and components will need to be sourced and how long it will take to make. This document gets you to the first stage of production. It also allows you to get a cost price from different manufactures and give them the opportunity to source the best fabrics and components, prior to making a call on which factory to use. This is beneficial because the factories will often quote a better price when competing against others and also because it means that several people are out looking for the fabrics and trims you require, so you have a better chance of getting exactly what you want at the best price. For those of you who aren't looking at factories, just a really small quantity produced by a sample machinist, this document will still be very important, but used slightly differently. The pattern maker will use the measurements to create the pattern and the machinest will refer to the construction notes, as a factory would. The fabric and trims section will be useful for you to make a note of who is supplying what and keeps a permanent record for you to refer to when completing any documentation, or responding to any queries on your product.
Having a tech pack allows you to keep the fit of the garments consistent across your range. Have you ever been into a shop and tried on several things, to find you're a size 8 in some things and a 16 in others? Annoying isn't it. Good spec sheets allow you to control the measurements of your styles and make sure they are relevant to your customer. As time goes on and you learn more about your customer and their preferences, you will be able to create the measurements of your ideal customer, which will help you with fittings in the future (this is quite a complicated topic and something I'll go into on another post, after I've covered the basics!). You may notice that the sizing of some companies is more generous than others; this is due to companies having a different version of their ideal customer (there's an interesting article on that here, if you're interested). This is another reason why spec sheets and fit sessions are important, there's no such thing as a 'generic size 16', for instance, in retail and you need to figure out what is suitable for your customer.
Possibly the most important reason to have a tech pack is for security. If you've written out your supplier contract or code of conduct correctly, then the factory is contracted to following the tech pack when you give the go ahead on the shipping sample (the final sample you will receive). This means, aside from any slight variances you have previously agreed, the bulk order you receive has to be as per the tech pack. Any variances in fabric, construction, measurements, etc could mean the factory have to pay a penalty, fix the order at their expense or the order is cancelled, depending on how you want to proceed and what you have included in your contract.
What to look out for in a tech pack
There are different ways to put tech packs together, I've put a couple of sample pages in this post and if your spec sheets don't look like this, it doesn't necessarily mean they are wrong. Key information that should be included are measurements, grade rules, tolerance, construction notes, fabric, trim, sample and packing information. This information can be presented in different ways. Personally, I notice a difference when I see a tech pack by someone who has only been a garment technician and someone who also has some sort of buying or negotiating experience. Garment technologists will generally be super clear in their initial spec and add a huge amount of detail. People who have had the negotiating experience will generally include all of the key information, but rather than being specific about things such as fabric and components, will write something like 'or similar, send options for selection'. This is the way I work and I find it very helpful when negotiating. For instance, if you're making a swimwear line and for the fabric the garment technologist has written '72% nylon, 28% elastane 170gsm', the factory is going to look for exactly that and not bother with anything else. The reality is, that there's a lot of similar fabrics that could do the job, either a slightly different weight or fibre percentage, or even something like a polyamide/elastane, for example. By limiting themselves so much on the spec sheet, chances are the price will be higher as there's not as many fabrics out there and you might miss out on a great fabric that's slightly different, but will still work really well for what you want. Oversea's factories can be quite 'blinkered', in that they will see what's written down, accept it and go with it, disregarding anything that's not been instructed. By giving a slightly more open fabric option, for instance, the factory will look at a wider variety of options and you will have a number of fabric qualities sent to you and several prices to chose from. When the fabric has been selected, you can simply update the tech pack.
If your spec sheet comes in with a lot of empty columns or spaces, don't worry, you've not been given a half finished document! There will be a lot of empty columns initially, as these are filled in during the fit process and also when things like labels and shipping providers have been confirmed. I'll be doing another post on how to fill these in next week (update; How to use and complete a tech pack can be found here).
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I hope this has answered any questions you have on what a tech pack is for, if not feel free to leave a comment below and I'll get back to you. If this post has got you a little concerned and you're not sure what would be right for your brand, you may be interested in the one-on-one coaching packages I've recently launched for small and startup companies, which you can learn about here.