Scaling a Tailor Shop into a Mega Factory — a naive approach

Let’s play a speculation game.

Imagine you’re tasked to scale a tailor shop to provide same-day sewing and pickup of any dress.

How would you do it?

Note: It should support Owambe dresses with the most custom fittings.

It’s a compound problem, made up of some really complex problems people have been solving for decades.

Problems like

  • Supply MGMT
  • Maintenance
  • Employee MGMT
  • Assembly Line Design and MGMT
  • Generic Representation of Garments for sewing
  • Fitting

Should be fun.

Our Goal

The goal is clearly defined. A customer needs to be able to walk into the shop, order a dress made, and get it in 24 hours.

We’re assuming the dress made is for a human being, and not something ridiculous, like a Guinness book of records’ “World largest dress” kind of thing.

To achieve this, we’ll have to consider the following steps in the tailoring process:

  • Customer Experience
  • Planning
  • Material Sourcing
  • Cutting
  • Sewing
  • Ironing
  • Pickup

The Customer Experience

Let’s begin with the customer experience. A customer today, typically walks into a tailor’s shop, describes the clothe they want, gets measured, gets a date for collection and leaves.

If the tailor is energetic, the customer enjoys a home service.

For this problem, any solution that leaves the customer with an experience worse than this, is no good.

Planning

Say I walk into such a shop to sew an Agbada. Typically, I’d explain what I want to my tailor, and they’d show me examples of other Agbada they have sewn, for me to choose from. Then, they’d take my measurement with a tape rule, write it in their notebook, and so on.

Image Source

In our case, for the scale we intend to reach, we can’t have one tailor taking measurements, and then sewing when they’re not encumbered with customers. We could have 10 customers in an hour, and the system has to hold.

Note: An assembly line is a very popular way to scale out tasks like Sewing, and we’ll consider this approach in later sections, so bear that in mind.

So, our customer comes in, and meets a Consultant carrying a tablet PC. The customer describes what they want, and the Consultant uses a tool like Tailornova to design what the customer describes. If you’re a tailor, you’ll want to check that link out, seriously.

With a tool like this, a skilled Consultant can quickly work with the Customer to create a digital representation of the dress, according to the Customer’s body measurements, which are taken with a tape rule.

Materials for each section will have to be picked. Just like is done today, images of previously sewn dresses can be used to provide inspiration.

When the Customer is satisfied with the design for the dress, and materials for each section are picked, the Consultant can send the rendered cutting/sewing plan to the Materials Sourcing department.

Material Sourcing

This is a really hard one.

If the shop decides to have a purchasing division, they’ll still have out-of-stock problems when customers demand clothes made of materials they do not have.

We could ask that customers bring their own materials. Of course, this would be a terrible business plan, because many customers would rather not do that work, but it’d technically solve the sourcing part of the problem.

We could locate the shop in the heart of a major clothe market. This seems like a good way to:

  • Not manage an entire supply chain, which comes with its own challenges
  • Not spend extra money and time on transporting materials from the market
Image Source

Having the shop in a market still comes with its challenges. You’d need to know who has what material in stock, and fast.

  • Do you employ Runners, whose job is to scour the market, to find the materials you need?
  • Do you provide inventory mgmt tools for all your suppliers, so you can easily know who has what?

Whichever you go with, it’ll have to fast and efficient.

From the digital representation, it should be possible to work out the area of each material needed for the dress, and the Design+Materials can move on to the Cutters.

Cutting

With the materials and cutting design provided, a team of cutters can get to work on cutting the materials and labeling them.

Screenshot from Tailornova

Forgive my sparse knowledge of this section. I’m happy to listen to ideas on how this process can be optimized further.

The cutlets and design moves on to Sewing.

Sewing

With the labeled cutlets and design provided by the previous team, a team of tailors can join the cutlets in the right sequence (to be determined).

It’s really hard to know what the right sequence is, and it is important we do, because agnosticism of the final product is very important if the assembly line is to be effective. More investigation is needed in this area.

However, this research, shows some promise by simulating a sewing line making trousers with 40 machines, and 40 operators.

When done, the clothe is sent for Ironing

Ironing

This is a problem that is already being solved by high capacity laundries. A good team of workers can straighten out the output from the Tailors.

The final result can then be packaged, and labeled for the Customer.

Pickup

The customer is informed via Notification when at every point of the process. A progress bar will be very helpful, but a simple (2 of 7 steps) will do if not possible.

If you made it here, you’re either curious about scaling a tailoring business for profit, just generally curious about the subject, or just want to see what this guy has to say about a subject they know little about.

Perhaps, you’ve scaled stuff before, and have insight on how to do parts of this better than I have suggested. Please comment, cos I’m really interested in your thoughts.

If you have thoughts on machines to reduce the need for human workers in this system, I’m also interested in such a subject.

Till I get another thought I absolutely have to share, Cheers to you!

I’ve learned I don’t know anything. I've also learned that people will pay for what I know. Maybe that's why they never pay.

I’ve learned I don’t know anything. I've also learned that people will pay for what I know. Maybe that's why they never pay.