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Let’s spend a few weeks diving into the logistics of making apparel, hopefully providing some perspective on how intricate and - frankly slow - the process is, especially for smaller brands.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it takes two years, at a minimum, to launch a new product. This includes everything from ideation, design, prototyping, fit testing, production, and shipping. And that’s assuming everything goes perfectly (which, spoiler: it never does)!

Factors that contribute to delays:

  • 🎨 Design
    • Custom vs "off the shelf" orders: Most vendors have a selection of materials that are frequently ordered or set in a pre-selected number of colors. When brands order from that selection, orders tend to go faster, but any customizations take longer.
  • ✂️ Development
    • Size of brand/order quantity of materials: smaller companies get pushed to the back of the line in favor of large, recurring orders from well-established brands with strong relationships with the vendors
    • Delays in materials arriving at the factory: factories won't start production until absolutely everything has arrived and been fully cataloged.
    • Incorrect materials arriving at the factory: regardless of whose fault it is, new materials need to be ordered or risk the entire timeline.
  • 📏 Fit Testing
    • Not enough fit testers: scheduling a fit testing party can be really fun, or it can be really frustrating - if there aren't enough testers available by a certain date, decisions need to be made or risk the rest of the production timeline.
  • 🗒️ Production
    • Global pandemics and wars: when folks can't go to work, they can't make products - it's that simple. Similarly, some of those products are so deep into the supply chain that it's almost incredible to see the follow-on effects. For example, some of the chemicals used to process nylon are made in Ukraine - this meant that zippers, thread, and fabrics made with nylon were on pause during the first few months of that conflict, causing unanticipated delays in apparel production!
    • Factory timelines: factories have to stick to a specific schedule. If you miss your window, you have to wait until the factory can squeeze you in again (which could be a while).
  • 📦 Shipping
    • Boats getting stuck in canals: one boat can mess up the entire supply chain, meaning raw materials and finished materials alike don't make it to where they need to go within an expected timeline, which causes everything to stop and wait for resolution.
    • Crowded ports: if the ship can't dock, the stuff on the ship can't come off. And then the ship can’t leave to pick something else up, either.

This list of delays is, of course, not even remotely exhaustive - though every one of these things has absolutely happened to us at Alpine Parrot over the last five years! Sometimes delays are caused by something as simple as forgetting to pick up the mail for a couple of days from the local UPS box that serves as your business mailing address. 

The point is: delays happen, and they’re often not in our control. But worse, if the delays are significant enough, we can often find ourselves missing out on other opportunities if we’re not careful. For example, when we found an issue with one of the trims on a product late last year (the vendor delivered something other than what we ordered), we had to make a snap decision: go with the trim we received and meet our deadlines, or demand a re-order but risk missing our deadlines (which would have resulted in missing our deadline to ship our products to REI). 

Which would you have chosen, and why?