The word manufacture means to make by hand, but long ago it lost that connotation, meaning now to create many goods as part of a large-scale operation. In the beauty and apparel industry, the manufacturing of products must be timed to coincide with specific seasons and created to appeal to the appropriate target market.
Timing is an important element in the manufacturing of any beauty product, including apparel. Within each year, there are seasons that demand different types of clothes and cosmetics. In the winter, warm clothing is necessary and, due to dry skin conditions caused by heaters and cold weather, people also tend to buy more moisturizers, lip balm, and other health-related cosmetics. In the summer, lightweight clothes and swimsuits are needed and sunscreens are required. Besides the temperature changes, colors are seasonal as well. Dark colors and deep jewel tones are popular for fall and winter, while in the spring and summer customers prefer lighter and sheer shades.
In the apparel-manufacturing world, the two main seasons are fall and spring. Clothing for fall is usually sold in stores beginning in July, although the actual fall season is quite some time away. Spring styles begin to be sold in stores as early as late December to coincide with a rush of holiday shoppers. The design and manufacturing of these items are done far in advance, often beginning a full calendar year before the projected date of sale. But fashion is a constantly changing market and manufacturing firms must maintain enough flexibility to keep up with consumer demand. A garment that is the wrong color or comes to market even just days too late can be completely unsalable.
Each garment sold in a retail store has a vast history behind it. First, the raw materials to make it are gathered: cotton, linen, wool, silk, polyester, nylon, acrylic, and rayon are commonly used textile fibers. The fibers are converted to yarns in a mill, going through a variety of processes that include carding, combing, bleaching, dyeing, crimping, stuffing, straightening, or any number of steps to create the desired look and feel in the finished yarn. Yarns are then sent to another plant to be woven into fabric. Looms of all kinds exist to facilitate various types of special weaves from a plain 1×1 weave to satin to jacquard, dobby, brocade, matelasse, and other specialty and pictorial weaves. Yarns can also be knit to achieve a fabric with natural stretch and a soft drape. The newly woven fabric is still considered unfinished and is known as greige or gray goods. Greige goods can then be bleached, dyed, printed, embossed, flocked, calendered, embroidered, pleated, or just starched with sizing before being sold to an apparel manufacturer to be made into clothing.
Apparel manufacturers have many fabric choices available to them in any given season, but there is always the option for custom orders. Most manufacturers work from a variety of sources including textile, trim, and notions vendors and companies that specialize in custom work. The goal of the manufacturer is to keep the cost of goods, that is, the price of the materials and labor that goes into each garment, in line with the intended price level of the garment, which is anywhere from budget (inexpensive) to designer (costly). Another challenge faced by manufacturers is not only to deliver a product on time, but to fabricate that product exactly to the desired quality and price point.
Manufacturers usually have a workforce of sewing operators and finishers inhouse. They primarily work assembly-line style with individual operators responsible for a single step in the construction process. This allows for fast-paced and reasonably accurate work as each operator becomes an expert on his or her step in the process. For higher-end garments such as designer lines and men’s fine suits, one sewing operator might be responsible for the entire garment from start to finish. Men’s fine suits are some of the most labor-intensive items of clothing made. Men’s shirts, however, are some of the least, due to standardized sizing of cuffs, collars, pockets, and sleeves. This allows for the mass production of these standard components and streamlines the process. Most women and children’s wear, as well as men’s sportswear, active wear, and intimate apparel, is created using the piecework system. Items such as children’s sleepwear are tightly regulated and must be treated with a flame retardant. Strict rules also govern, for example, the use and type of closures on newborn and infant apparel as well as sizing. Manufacturers working in the children’s clothing industry must be aware of the regulations surrounding their products.
Contractors are used for specialized work like creative endeavors such as beading and embroidery and more industrial needs such as pleating, covering buttons, and making belts. Contractors allow for manufacturers to utilize these more specialized services without employing a full-time employee that might not have work every day. The end result is a finished garment that is ready to be shipped to a retail outlet for purchase by the consumer.
In the cosmetics industry, the manufacturing process is more like that of a plant that makes food or drugs. Compounds are tested to ensure safety and quality.
The raw materials needed for cosmetics will vary widely depending on what kind of item is being made. Ingredients for lotion, lipstick, eye shadow, and concealer are all very different but have similar purposes. A base is the foundation for the product—in liquid, solid, gel, or powder form. For purely cosmetic items, the next most important factor is the pigment. Pigments are highly concentrated and closely monitored by government agencies to ensure that they are made from nontoxic, hypoallergenic ingredients. Some coloring agents that create a frosted look can make a lipstick very hard. Using real crushed pearl or mica gives a high-quality shimmering appearance to lipsticks and eye shadows, but these have to be handled carefully, as these ingredients are fragile and can be destroyed in the manufacturing process. Additives such as fragrance, flavoring agents, moisturizers, conditioners, and the like can also be included in the product. Often, these are considered a selling point, for example, making a lipstick longer wearing or with a moisturizing capability. In lotions, vitamins and specialty ingredients like collagen, green tea, shea butter, silk protein, and the like are what create market appeal.
Batches of each product can be made from small or sample scales up to quantities large enough to serve a multinational market. Many cosmetic manufacturers are also responding to a trend that demands smaller batches with higher quality made with organic and eco-friendly ingredients. With an ever-changing market, manufacturers of both fashion and cosmetics have to keep up with customer demand or risk losing their edge.