Nutshell Summary of Submitting Design Briefs

:: deep, long, drawn-out sigh ::

We have parted ways with our Hong Kong / China manufacturer. I’m.. hm, okay, how do we put this nicely in a PC way.. well, personally, I’m done with China. I’ll summarize my main criticisms of doing business in China in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say our sights are set elsewhere.

So we’ve been chatting with a couple of factories in various parts of Southeast Asia and South America. For some of these places, I had to look them up on a map. (No shame in acknowledging my ignorance here…) Hubby and I are checking over our 2012 vacation days to plan a couple trips to countries we’ve never been to and don’t speak the language. For us at least, the good part about doing business in China was we spoke the language (me, sorta; him, native fluency). Ah well, that was all in the past. It’s all looking forward now. So hold on tight for some world frolicking adventures.

Over the last year, I’ve revised the designs in the alpha collection multiple times. Some of the revisions were in the design details and were minor. 90 degrees to 85 degress. I remember this one. The factory responded with, “Really? 90 degrees to 85 degrees. Really?!?” =P

Others were serious revisions, after I received feedback from product testers. For instance, see above shoulder strap revision. Our shoulder straps will now come with an ergonomic shoulder pad. The pad is removable, so if you find it too hideous, you don’t have to use it. However, my more pragmatic friends griped to me about how their shoulders ached after lugging around a briefcase with a laptop inside for hours on end. I’m hoping the ergonomic shoulder pad will help some.

Since we were working with the same factory for the whole year, I didn’t need to rewrite full briefs for the changes; I just had to notify them of the desired adjustments after each samples production came back.

After a year’s progression of tweaking this, redoing that, the original design briefs I drew up are now so different from the final design I want that I have to draw up entirely new design briefs to send to the new factories. What a pain.

And because the world is not fair, all this has to fall on me the same month I couldn’t be busier at the day job. I’m neck-deep in some big cases right now and have had to deal with more litigation work than usual. (I’m a transactional attorney; this is a clarification that will make sense to some people and invite understanding nods of sympathy.) So in addition to all the day job stress, I now have TZ stress. Anyway, complaining over, I promise. Now on to the purpose of this post, the nutshell summary, design briefing part.

The purpose of this post is to provide a nutshell summary of what goes into submitting design briefs to a contract manufacturer, or at least how I do it. It’s certainly not the most efficient way, considering I don’t have any of the cool specialty design software programs. The way I do it is pretty old school and it’s not like I recommend it exactly, but if you’re an amateur starting with nothing, my old school process might be an option.

I’m too stingy to buy a legit sketchpad, so I use print paper, as in computer printer paper. With blank print paper and a black roller ball pen, I drew the final version that incorporates all the changes I’ve made in the last year.

An impressive drawing? No. Does it get my point across? Yes.

Typically if I were just sketching, I’d add a lot of shading, but I keep that to a bare minimum when doing these design sketches because they’ll be uploaded digitally for alteration. It’s hard to do the digital stuff to these sketches if there are too many pen lines, so the fewer the pen lines, the better.

Once I complete the pen and paper sketch, I scan it in and save it as a JPG file. I archive it so if I lose the hard copy original, I can still print out the JPG as backup.

Then on that same sketch sheet, I mark up the drawing with notes. All measurements (in centimeters, not inches, something I’ve had to work real hard at getting used to) are in red ink and all notes and descriptions in blue ink.

My supervisor, the kitty pictured above, totally micromanages me. He has to check and double-check everything I do. There he is looking over a sketch of the signature TZ handle bases.

I also draft style summary sheets, which serve as the cover page to each brief. These are done in MS Word. Above is a screen shot example of a style summary sheet. This page summarizes the dimensions, stitching instructions, hardware notes, etc.

For an illustration of what the styles will look like in the color options I’ve selected, I upload that pen ink drawing onto the computer and using a paint can function, digitally color in the pen ink drawings.

The above illustration is from a page of the briefs that illustrate the contrast stitching I want. If there are special stitching instructions for the style, I include it on this same page. For the Peripatetic weekender tote illustrated above, a more industrial needle than the standard ones used is required, so I make that notation here on this page.

That’s a screen shot of Jasc Paint Shop Pro, the software program I use for digital alterations of my sketches. It’s a fantastic program, and I prefer it over Photoshop. In Jasc, the paint can function is referred to as the “Flood Fill Tool,” I guess.

To cover my bases, I reviewed all the swatches I’ve collected from the many leather factories I’ve talked to. In the above photo, my feline supervisor is also reviewing the swatches with me.

Over the last two years, I’ve visited and chatted with dozens upon dozens of factories around the world that manufacture vegan (synthetic) leathers. We don’t look at any PVC at all. Ew, gross. Among polyurethanes (PUs), there’s a wide variety of manufacturing methods, embossing techniques, treatments, and therefore a wide range of quality.

“That one looks promising.”

We’re focused on the high end stuff, to put it simply. We’ve looked at soy-based polyurethanes, other vegetable-based materials, and the varying types could be listed on and on.

By this point, I’m settled into my choices already and we’re going with a totally customized material (so it’s not pictured in any of the color swatches above).


And there goes the kitty’s attention. Birds flying around outside our window interest him more than leather swatches.

Anyway, I then compile sketches with the dimensions (in centimeters, in red ink), sketches with notes and descriptions (keep it concise, in blue ink), any special stitching or color pairing instructions, and the style summary sheet, which lists out the hardware, etc. That is all then organized into a PDF and sent off to the manufacturer. If I get back a workable quotation, we then move forward and I coordinate between the leather factory and the handbags factory. Then we’ll proceed with samples making and if that goes well, confirmation samples and if that goes well, a production order is finalized and signed and then we wait. It’s on average a two month production wait. Then it’s shipped by sea and then we wade through U.S. customs, which is always an adventure in and of itself.

Since production time for packaging materials is typically shorter than production of the handbags (which are all made by hand), once the handbags purchase order is out of the way, I focus on getting the packaging produced. It’s not awfully expensive to get that done state-side, so that’s what I’m intending to do.

I apologize to all those who contacted me about Christmas orders. As you can see, we’ve encountered several production bumps and have nothing to sell right now. Production with the prospective new factory won’t complete for another who knows how long. I so wish I had cheerier news to report, but alas.

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