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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some insights into the logistics of making apparel, hopefully providing some perspective on how intricate and - frankly slow - the process is, especially for smaller brands.

Creating a new product from scratch requires quite a few steps. Today, let’s talk about those steps and what’s involved in each one.

💭 Ideation

Time to complete: 2-6 weeks

Choosing what to make is a very thoughtful process; it’s not as simple as waking up one day and saying “let’s make shorts!” Instead, it involves brainstorming, market and customer research, feasibility studies, and more. By the end of this process, there’s usually a list of potential products, seasons for which they’re best suited, and approximate timeline for launch. For context, here at Alpine Parrot, we have more than three years’ worth of potential products planned out, but we very carefully pick and choose what to launch and when, based on what’s trending (and, honestly, what I wish I had in my closet right now)!

🎨 Design

Time to complete: 4-8 weeks
Working with a sketchpad and a technical designer, we go from a generic product (e.g. sun hoodies) and develop a few different sketches for designs. We’ll shop those around the team and some loyal customers for feedback, make adjustments, and narrow it down to one or two designs. During this time, we’ll also explore different fabrics, trims, and colors.

✂️ Development

Time to complete: 4-12 weeks

This is one of the biggest chunks of the process, because we need to create prototypes. In the early days of Alpine Parrot, I made all of our prototypes at my sewing machine. I would develop my own patterns, get fabric and trim samples sent to my home, and then cut and sew everything together to see how I felt about them. As we grew, however, we started leaving the prototype-making to the factories (they would have to make prototypes anyway, and I was busy doing other things by that point as well, so it made sense to have me stop making prototypes in general). In general, it takes approximately 3 rounds of prototypes to feel good about the final design and get ready for fit testing and pre-production.

📏 Fit Testing

Time to complete: 2-12 weeks

Now, here’s where Alpine Parrot differs from most brands. Most brands will test their fits on a single fit model and then go straight to production. AP goes an extra step and gets a size set from our factory and then goes around, asking folks to try on our products to get live feedback from the community. We try to test every size on a variety of bodies so that we have the most accurate picture of what changes we need to make in order to serve as many people as possible. We’ve done multiple rounds of fit testing with a single product, which is time-consuming and costly, but we felt it was worth it!

🗒️ Pre-production

Time to complete: 3-4 weeks

Once we’ve approved the size set, the factory will order all the bulk fabric and trims for production - and they’ll send us a few pieces (generally one of each color) so that we can see what we’ve ordered from afar and how it’s all coming together. This is the absolute last opportunity to make any changes (though at this point, changes are VERY expensive and likely to push the timeline out fairly significantly). We don’t do too much iterating at this stage, since we should have things pretty much perfect after Development and Fit Testing.

🧵 Production

Time to complete: 12-20 weeks

Once the factory has all the materials it needs and has set up their sewing lines for our products, production begins! They quickly and efficiently make our products, package them up, and prepare them for shipping.

📦 Shipping

Time to complete: 2-10 weeks

Depending on the location of our factory (we have worked with a few now), we’ll either have the products air or ocean freighted. Air freight is faster but more expensive, while ocean freight is slower but less expensive - it really depends on our timeline and budget.

🎉 Arrival and launch!

Time to complete: 2-6 weeks

Once the finished product arrives at our warehouse, we do a quick review to make sure the product is as expected, and if it passes muster, we prepare it for launch and sale to all of you 🎉

🗣️ Feedback and iteration

Time to complete: 6-12 weeks

As mentioned last week, we fully acknowledge that perfection is a goal but not a destination. We thus rely wholeheartedly on YOUR feedback, so that we can make adjustments to our current product lines. We absolutely take the feedback seriously, and when it makes sense, we’ll change our products (though even then it takes a year to make updates, due to seasonality).

Putting it all together

Added up, the time it takes a new product to go from idea to on the website is somewhere between 31-90 weeks (aka a little more than 7 months to just under two years), which doesn’t include delays, holidays, or unrelated fires that need putting out. To update a product that already exists but needs some improvements, we can bring the production timeline down to six months, but due to the seasonal nature of most of our products, we have to wait up to six months to start production (otherwise we’re sitting on shorts in the middle of September, which is bad for cash flow!). 

Does any of this surprise you? Is there a section in here that you’re interested in learning more about? Let me know!