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Why it costs more to make less

Person fixing a machine. Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

More pieces of clothing cost less to make, and less pieces cost more. The lower the volume, the higher the price. For example, a single-fabric garment style that costs $15 to make in the USA in bulk production (300+ pieces) for labor only costs $100 to make one sample of. Why does garment manufacturing work this way?

Most anything you make, whether it’s printing a book or making coffee mugs, is cheaper in greater volume. The short answer is set-up and staffing, or overhead. It takes a lot of people and a lot of machines to make a sample. The person cutting the fabric can lay out individual pattern pieces on top of one layer of fabric and cut it out to make one sample. The same cutter can also cut, or ban saw through 50+ layers of the same fabric in roughly the same amount of time. The machine operator or sewist takes time to set up multiple cones of thread on a serger sewing machine and make sure it’s running smoothly. It takes time to put the right feet and needles on the other sewing machines, set up the snap press, make sure the irons or steamers are filled and running correctly, etc. It takes the same amount of time to do the machine set up for one sample as it does for 300 samples. A lot of hourly wages that go into that preparation time.

Another factor when it comes to making clothes is sewing efficiency. When you sew something new for the very first time, you must figure out the best way to put it together, follow the tech pack, cross-check the sew-by sample, and make sure everything is lining up correctly and neatly. When you make the same thing over and over, it gets much faster to sew and then speed and efficiency improves. Greater efficiency equals less time sewing one garment. Less time equals less cost.

One other general point in cost vs volume has to do with where the item is made. Small volume made in the USA will be more expensive than making 1000 pieces of something in Asia or South America due to labor rates. We advise that it's better to start with a small batch of product made in the country you're in as it's easier to manage and it's a better way to test a new idea, so you don't have too much inventory up front or have to manage the logistics of international importing.

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