Fashion buyer’s role is to monitoring the development of a product range targeted at a specific market group and price range. In a small company, buyer may also be involved in the creative and technical areas of developing a product, therefore one criteria to be a buyer is to have product knowledge. The goal of buyer is to deliver consumers a garment with satisfactory in appearance, fit, comfort, quality and price.
Technology is said to be the “foundation of all jobs within the fashion business”. Indeed, technology is extensively used in different processes in the textile pipeline, from fibre to clothing and to consumer. For hundred years, development of fibres and fabrics with specific functions and machineries has been heavily dependent on technology. Digital systems such as CAD are introduced to the design and product development processes. Technology is also essential for communication between retailers, manufacturers and consumers.
This study is to evaluate the performance of fabrics during manufacture and use, processes involved in the creation of a garment, the impact of human measurement on the provision of adequate sizing and how CAD system is applied in the stages of product development and visualization and to analyze how technology influents fashion buyer’s decision on range planning.
Creation of garment
Before production of garment takes place, the stage of design, product development and sourcing should be completed and provided that all the materials have arrived. There are several processes encompassed in the creation of a garment; beginning with spreading and cutting fabrics, sewing, wet processing and finally applying pressing.
Generally before cutting, fabrics including body and interlining, need to be spread and or pre-washed if required, can then be cut into parts and panels, which spreading and cutting can be done by computer-controlled machinery in mass-production and manually for sampling. Spreading is defined as the process of “superimposing lengths of fabrics on a cutting table” by Glock and Kunz (2005, 402), and “fabrics may be spread face up, face down or face to face” for there are directional fabrics such as velvet, corduroy and fake fur, even with one or two-way prints and stripes, depending which direction they are viewed and it is important to be distinguished as this will affect the aesthetics of the finished product.
Applications of interfacing, which is defined by Frings (2008, p164) “is a layer of fabric placed directly under the garment fabric for structuring and support”, may be required in different parts such as waistband and pocket openings of a garment especially tailored, helping to maintain shapes and eliminating damages on fabric from radical stretching. Interfacing is also one example of trimmings, and “use of trimmings varies with each segment of the industry.” (Frings, 2008) Functional trimmings such as elastics and zippers are widely used in sportswear, and decorative trimmings such as embroidery and buttons may be used in children’s wear making the products look more attractive.
Stitches are applied to assembling the parts and panels together into pieces.
According to British Standard 3870-1:1991, stitches are divided into 6 classes.
- Class 100 Chain stitch: Brown and Rice (2001) indicated it is flexible but also unravels easily by pulling one end of the thread, mainly used for making button holes.
- Class 200 Hand stitch: mostly for decorative uses
- Class 300 Lock stitch: widely used in industry with no problem of seam grin, but puckering, however, more secure and good for setting zippers and pockets.
- Class 400 Multi-thread chain stitch: can be combined with Class 500 integrating safety stitches with stretchiness.
- Class 500 Overedge chain stitch: widely used in knitwear industry due to its extensibility
- Class 600 Covering chain stitch: very extensive and strong and used especially for knitted fabrics.
There are variations of stitch types providing different level of functional performance, comfort as well as attractiveness and decision on which types to use is determined by the type of fabric used and purpose of the end product. For example, the combination safety stitch 401.503 is most commonly used for security and neatens the cut edges of both knitted and woven fabrics; hand stitching using thick, colourful threads is very decorative especially for children’s wear. However, sewing faults such as seam puckering and grin, even damages on fabrics may be caused by insufficient use of stitches, thread tensions and machine needles. Moreover, it is mentioned by Chuter (1995, p136) “a mismatch between thread and fabric causes puckers on washing”, especially for products need to undertake wet processing as a finishing, therefore choice of thread has to be careful particularly in a product designed with decorative stitches, because it cannot be mended once the damages are made unless taking out all the seams and start sewing again.
The principle of pressing is defined by Cooklin (1997) that is to remove creases from a garment by application of heat, steam and pressure, in order to create a desired final appearance of a product. Pressing may apply during the process of assembling to open seams, or press a hem. However, condition of pressing varies from different fabrics; for example, cotton and linen fabrics requires a hot iron, and can be pressed on the right and the wrong sides, whereas fabrics made from synthetic fibres require a cool iron or they will melt under too much heat. Process of pressing should be held by experts avoiding damages on products.
From fibres to fabrics
Textile fibres are the basic unit of a garment, contributing to aesthetics, durability, comfort and appearance of a garment. Fibres can be divided into 2 categories, natural and man-made. Natural fibres come from plants consisting of cellulose and animals consisting of protein; cotton, flax, wool and silk are the most commonly used in knitting fabrics. All natural fibres are spun into staple, short fibre yarns (except silk, a filament, long fibre yarn) through specific spinning system accordingly (See Figure 4). Yarns can be twisted into 2 directions: Z for cotton and linen and S for woolen and worsted. It is clarified by Elsasser (2005, p113) that “twist direction does not affect quality in single yarns.”
Man-made fibres, also called manufactured, mentioned by Eberle (2004) can be classified further into cellulosic and synthetics, such as viscose, polyester and nylon, are produced through technology from chemicals (petroleum) and natural sources (wood) that cannot be used in original form, and then into yarns. Elsasser (2005, p14) stated that “Science and technology have allowed people to create fibres to meet specific end-use applications. For example, the nylon used in auto mobile tired is very different from the nylon used in hosiery.” Several man-made fibres are produced to be substitute of particular natural fibres due to economical and environmental factors; for instance, viscose, a manufactured (regenerated) cellulosic fibre made from natural fibres to chemical solution then extruded through spinneret, is also called “artificial silk” (Elsasser, 2005) for its fineness and luster and it is very much less expensive than silk; acrylic, a synthetic fibre, has properties closely resemble those of wool.
Subsequently man-made fibres are spun and twisted into filament yarns by different spinning systems according to fibre type, such as melt spinning, dry spinning, wet spinning (see Figure 5) and many others, which can then be constructed into fabrics and used in wide range of apparels.
The most common methods of forming a fabric are weaving and knitting, however non-woven fabrics are also widely used in textile industry. Woven fabrics are constructed in an interlacing structure with 2 sets of threads, which is firm and strong with the least stretch; three basic weaves are plain (e.g. chiffon), twill (e.g. herringbone and denim) and satin. Whereas knitted fabrics can be made by machine and hand, are formed with an interlocking structure in weftwise or warpwise direction by loops of threads, allowing significant stretch and drape but can easily lose shape; three basic knits are single jersey, rib and purl.
“The structure of a fabric, or how it is fabricated, affects its aesthetic and functional performance.” (Brown and Rice, 2001) As well as the structure, fibres carrying different properties determine the performance of a fabric, and thereby different end uses. Elsasser (2005) suggested properties of a fibre maybe classified as physical, mechanical, chemical and environmental. “Physical properties are properties that can be evaluated with the naked eye or with a microscope” (Elsasser, 2005, p14) including cross section (see Figure 7), covering power, hand, luster and pilling propensity. Abrasion resistance, dimensional stability and resiliency are examples of mechanical properties of that can be determined under textile testing procedures. For example, cotton is soft and comfortable, which can be knitted into a lightweight single jersey fabric making into underwear or a heavyweight denim fabric making into jeans; polyester has a high level of resistance to creases and water, it can be knitted to make sportswear, outerwear.
“Chemical properties of a fibre determine how it will react when it is exposed to the many substances used in production and in cleaning” (Elsasser, 2005, p22) including absorbency and flammability. Environmental properties are the sensitivity of a fibre to climate and insects. “Most authorities agree that the colour or printed design of a fabric is the most important factor in the customer’s decision to purchase apparel of furnishings,” expressed by Elsasser (2005, p172). Brown and Rice (2001, p183) mentioned that “fabrics can be dyed in the fibre, yarn, fabrics, of garment stage” by dyeing and printing. Dyeing is to be processed by soluble colourants penetrating colours to the core of fibres, and printing is adding colours onto fabrics by pigment, insoluble colourants.
There are always some instinctive disadvantages of fibres such as cotton wrinkles very easily; combination of fibres knitted into fabrics is one way of offsetting, at the same time enhancing the fabric with better function and performance. For example, polyester is blended with cotton to provide a certain level of crease resistance to a fabric and improve durability; viscose blending with cotton providing a silky appearance.
“Finishes give textile products properties they do not possess naturally” said Elsasser (2005, p189). Besides blending, weaknesses of fibres maybe overcome by mechanical and chemical finishing processes modifying surface, wearing properties and aftercare. Mechanical finishing includes calendering, raising, cropping and compressive shrinkage, which require machinery to achieve. Chemical finishing includes mothproofing, crease recovery, anti static, flame retardant. Calendering is often applied for a smooth surface if the fabric needs to be printed; moth proofing is most likely to apply on woollen products as a finish.
Consumers become more concerned about the quality of textile products nowadays, quality of a garment can be controlled by inspecting raw materials and finished products; a set of lab tests and inspections are carried out to assure the quality “indicating factors such as fabric and seam strength, colourfastness, shrinkage, and other properties” suggested by Kothari (1999, p7) and there are authorities such as British Standards Institute and International Standards Organization to standardize the levels on test methods, performance and the specification.
“Body type is the fundamental basis of sizing systems. For apparel sizing, body types are classified by body proportions as related to age and gender” indicated by Glock and Kunz (2005, p139), for example toddlers, juniors and women, there are also additional body types classified as petite, tall or plus sizes. It is suggested by Brown and Rice (2001) that age, sex and body types group together into classification generating the sizing system including a size range and there are sizing methods for the majority mass-produced clothing, e.g. size code.
Size code can be expressed in letter (S, M, L) or number forms (10, 12, 14), which represents general body size, however, different numbers or letters are used in a particular garment, for example, in men’s dress shirts, sizes are indicated according to the collar and the sleeve length measurements such as 16-34. According to the British Standard of body measurement, size code of the garment should be indicated clearly on a label and securely attached to where it is easily readable on the garment.
Brown and Rice soon argued it is lack of standardization on apparel sizing and the numerical codes do not necessarily indicate adequate sizes for many female consumers. Glock and Kunz (2005; p141) enlightened that “size alone does not determine garment fit. Fit is how a garment conforms to or differs from the body. Fit is sometimes described as garment ‘cut’. A well-cut garment conforms to the body in a comfortable and flattering manner.” Silhouette of a garment is often determined by anthropometrics, which is a set of measurement of human body establishing the size, shape and proportion of the body in order to provide and improve for better fit, physical comfort and performance of a garment.
Fit is evaluated by Brown and Rice (2005) that can be controlled by five elements: grain, set, line, balance and ease. In order to establishing a good fit, the grain line of fabric needs to be parallel to the length of body; bias may be cut to achieve special effects. A garment with poor set will have wrinkles and folds pinpointing the locations of the fit problem, which the wrinkles caused cannot be eliminated by ironing. Twisted side seams is one example of distortion of the structural lines of the garment where side seams are meant to be hanging down and perpendicular to the floor and this may be caused by poor design or construction. Garments should balance from the front, back or sides and follow the silhouette of the body. Garment containing adequate ease should allow room for ordinary movements such as walking and breathing, and yet it is sometimes a style for a garment to be designed and made with extra fullness.
In addition, stretch fabrics are particularly selected for conforming the exact body silhouette than rigid fabrics and manipulation of body scanning technology is introduced in recent years, obtaining more than a hundred measurements of a body in only few seconds and provided with this data, an absolute fit garment can be produced.
CAD (Computer Aided Design), an interactive computer design system extensively used in the clothing and textiles industry, is often used together with CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture). They can be distinguished by “CAD is generally used to support the creative processes in the design studio and CAM is used in the manufacturing process to control machinery or system (such as grading, lay planning or pattern cutting).” (Gray, 1998, p2) and it is suggested by Aldrich (1992, p84) that it has “an ability to simulate visual impressions”. CAD technology was originally developed for textile industry, and soon introduced into all processes in clothing industry “from apparel and textile design, pattern making, grading, garment production through to merchandising and data management.”(Burke, 2006, p157)
The first stage in the process is often apparel and textile design. Designers uses CAD system in creating fashion illustration by simulating and designing textiles (wovens, knits, prints) and sketching silhouette of garments, presenting visual images of moodboards, colour palettes, fabric swatches, fabric draping, trims, embroidery motifs, stitch structures, scanning and editing images as well as producing higher quality of printouts.
Pattern creation is the next stage in the clothing process. As CAD is a computerized system, it enables technicians “to scan, digitize in or create pattern blocks on screen and redesign pattern pieces where necessary” (Aldrich, 1992, p95), which makes pattern making very much convenience than it was before. Once the basic pattern is digitized into the computer and by inputting a size chart, “grading, or how each pattern shape changes to allow for different sizes, is automatically achieved.” (Aldrich, 1992, p83)
With the digitalized system of pattern developing and grading, a lay plan (also called a marker), which is a cutting template, can then easily be generated of how the patterns should be laid out together “as closely and efficiently as possible” (Eberle, 2004, p145) to maximized usage of the fabric during the manufacturing process. Depending on the width of the fabric and pattern sizes, the lay can be planned into single size or multi-size.
In addition, CAD is also used throughout the supply chain for communication between retailers, suppliers and customers. CAD can be integrated with other information technology systems, generating 2D designs to 3D, carrying out processes excluded in design and manufacturing stage, such as collecting sales orders and controlling stock as well as planning and visualizing shop floor layouts.
Being a fashion buyer, there are some crucial factors of technology which have to be taken into consideration when a new range of products is under development. In term of range, every season retailers have various product categories as ‘fashion’, ‘seasonal’ and ‘staple’ styles, different terminology maybe used in different retailers, such as ‘classic’ or ‘key’ items. Seasonal items are designed in specific themes for weather changes and traditional events including Halloween, Christmas and Easter, usually individual collection is designed for each category. Staple items are usually the basic styles selling in the previous season with more or less the same fitting however minor changes, such as style (from crew neck to V-neck) and colour combos. Fashion items are the unique and trendy items in the collection which only sell for a particular season and buyers are responsible for the selection of the collection including the outlook of items, fabrics used, colourways by forcasting future trends.
Goworek (2001, p20) defined range planning is that “the stage where buyers define the detail of the range that is to be offered to the customer in terms of styling, fabric, design details, suppliers and prices.” In the stage of planning, buyer needs to make decisions on the followings:
- Theme, fabrics, trims, patterns and colours to be used in each style; depending on what season and style the garment is in, different types of fabrics and colours may apply accordingly achieving specific outlooks.
- Size range for individual styles; most of the retailers usually have specific target market groups which the size range is based. However measurements sometimes vary slightly for fashion items.
- Range selection; the styles to be manufactured, the amount and ratio of styles such as tops and bottoms to be included in each category collection; there are usually hundreds of styles designed every season and only 60-70 styles are in final production list.
- Origin of the products; buyer considers the techniques to be used in the garments and decides where to place the bulk orders according to the manufacturers’ capabilities.
- Selling price; price to be sold in the stores
“A product at any level must achieve the correct balance between price, quality, creativity and wearability”, said by Tungate (2004, p226). “Quality of textile and apparel products can prove decisive in the success or failure of companies in the fiercely competitive global market” stated by Kothari (1999, p1). Quality to the consumers means fitness for purpose such as comfort, warmth.
Comfort can be performed by different sectors of a garment: fabrics, and design fitting. Fabric is the main component for comfort, which influences the presentation of a garment at the same time. Inadequately used fabric may result in not selling, for example an evening gown designed to be shiny and drapes well should use satin or silk not twill fabric, as the garment is worn next to skin, twill fabric is not appropriate for its surface is rough and uncomfortable to wear. Being attractively dressed is not the only reason for people to wear clothes; functional properties such as protection and keeping body warm is also a crucial factor and fabric should be appropriately used in apparel, additional finishing can be applied depending on purpose of garment, may be for different events and weathers, for example, a rain coat should have a waxed finish on the fabric surface protecting body from wet.
Therefore, fabric sourcing is an essential process for new development; buyers should have background and update knowledge on fibres and fabrics as there is “continuous development of specialized fibers or fabrics for specific functions” (Kim and Johnson, 2009), as well as the technology in manufacturing. Since buyers may not be an expert on textiles, designer and the fabric technologists usually participate in the stage of fabric sourcing, it is important to distinguish the fibre contents and the constructions of a fabric as it is under British Standard that the fibre content must be clearly and accurately shown on a label stating what the garment was made of as well as the care instructions. Quality of the fabrics is tested by the authorized laboratory such as SGS, ITS ensuring fabrics achieving the standard of certain requirements in order to satisfy consumers.
Brown and Rice (2001, p183) pointed out that “dyeing and printing are merchandising decisions as much as technical decisions because colour is critical to consumers when considering which garment to purchase.” When consumers first walk into shops, the first component appears to them is colour and the patterns of the garment. Buyers should always keep track on the fashion trend and the latest technology of dyeing and printing as well as competitor’s movements before making decisions as wrong decisions made may result in no sales and lose money, it is clearly shown by the failure case study of Marks and Spencer choosing the colour ‘grey’ to be the theme colour of its products. On the other hand, when making decisions, buyers should take into account the cost of the finishings needed to be applied to the fabrics and products, some finishings require special machinery for which not every manufacturer will have and for those who have, will demand a higher price for producing. For example, an additional cost of mercerizing process will be added to manufacturing the cotton fabric. Also, most of the time, fabrics are to be dyed into required colours and the cost of the fabric should include the dyeing cost, however for a product designed with garment dye finishing will cost more as manufacturers do not own a dyeing mill. Labour cost will also includes due to the constructions of the products using complicated machinery such as the cost of sewing in lock stitch will be less than sewing five-thread decorative overlock stitch. Cost can be eliminated in such minor sections to keep the whole production cost down, for one of the duties of buyer is to keep manufacturing cost down in order to make most profit for the company.
Manually prototypes are manufactured with designated materials, colours and prints, then fitted on a model for buyers and designers reviewing if there should be any amendments, and while clothing designers use CAD systems together with other IT systems such as V-stitcher to perform ideas and stimulate designs by editing details, it is a more convenience and less time-consuming way to visual prototypes and change the materials, colourways, print patterns, trims and even the silhouette of a garment in a 2D and 3D computerized system as efficiency is crucial in this fast fashion industry. However, these digital systems are not affordable for every company.
Consumers are concerned about apparel sizing and fit, they tend to purchase garments make them look well dressed and it is indicated by Brown and Rice (2005, p154) that “manufacturers aim to produce apparel that consistently fits their target market because apparel that fits increases sales and customer satisfaction” as well as gaining customer loyalty for they can expect to find a good fit as found before. The size range of garments available in store maybe different between retailers depending on what their target customer is. Moreover, garment measurements also vary between styles according to the perception of fashion, for example, the latest trend for women’s top is oversized, measurement on shoulder of the fashion items will be bigger than a basic crew neck t-shirt.
In order to achieve good fit, 3D body scanner can be applied to collect measurements of a model in the retailer’s target market group and transferring into computer data and collaborating technology of body scanning and V-stitcher, an avatar representing specific target market group is developed in V-stitcher system. Together with CAD system, where patterns are prepared, designers and buyers can review the styles on the avatar by different poses and movement and amend the fitting if necessary. Constructions of a garment can also be demonstrated in this collaboration system by putting specification of stitches and seams onto the prototypes. Nevertheless, it is difficult to examine the suitability use of stitches and seams without an actual finished prototype is produced.
This study illustrated the application of technology in the clothing and apparel industry from fibres to fabrics and to finished products, it is indeed used throughout all stages by designers, buyers and manufactures with digital and manual systems. Fibres and fabrics are being developed continuously, design and product development processes are becoming more and more dependent on the digital technology systems as demonstrated by Lectra, it is very useful to creating all the virtual images of designs, colourways and materials and generating into a collection in a computerized system. Technology is demonstrated as an advancement of this fast fashion industry.
In order to success in the new product development, fashion buyers are responsible for making decisions for a complete collection of styles, based on researching the market for the latest trends, the consumer behaviours, and the most important is the application of technology. Design may be the key factor of a successful product, however, will not succeed without assistance with technology. The key elements of technology that influents fashions buyer’s decision in a new product development will be the technology achieving better fit and better quality to a garment.