Meet The Mentor – Filson Technical Designer Terry Olson

At Seattle Fashion Incubator we make every effort to find the best of the best to coach and mentor our members. Terry Olson, a Technical Designer at Filson, is no exception. We took a moment to sit down with Terry to talk about some of the common mistakes she sees new designers make when they’re getting ready to work with a factory.

Terry Olson Technical Designer Filson

Terry on the Filson factor floor in Seattle. Image Credit:

SFI – What is the biggest challenge new designers face when getting ready to go to a factory?

TO – Often I am contacted by designers after they taken significant actions on their product in addition to outlaying lots of time and money. They want to see if I can help them and salvage their line from failure. Sometimes I can and sometimes I cannot. But every time I am contacted in those situations, I wish they had met with an independent developer/pattern maker before they started. If it is just for a consultation or actual development work, they would have saved time, trouble and their projects.

SFI – What would you advise a new designer do to save themselves time and money before talking to a factory?

TO – If a designer is starting from a drawing/idea, he or she will need to consult somebody right away. My advice is to consult an independent developer/pattern maker and not go to a factory or big business. When you find your developer, be sure to check on them, get references and a work history. A good developer knows that their job is to get your product ready to present to a factory for production. And if they do not get you ready for production they don’t get paid. A factory gets paid when you layout a ton of money for fabric and production. If you do not go into production they do not get paid. They will keep pushing you to go ahead even if there are issues with your product.

SFI – Why is it so important to find someone accustomed to working with factories?

TO – The developer will look at your product. Usually they will make a first draft production (emphasis on production) pattern, do a tech pack and maybe sew a sample. In the tech pack they will specify what construction methods you want. They will help you tell your vendor that you want felled seams, cover stitch etc. You may not know what those are but your developer will and they are crucial to proper construction. With a good tech pack and sample you can then go to factories and explore pricing and choose a factory you like.

SFI – Does the designer’s concept need to be perfect before working with a developer?

TO – If your design has big problems, your developer will tell you so. If you had a factory do the initial work for you, they would probably not tell you if there were problems. They would very likely keep charging you, claiming they could fix it and you would not know any better. An independent developer will tell you what is wrong, suggest changes and frankly tell you what you may want to reconsider. A factory will not. Even if they can see the writing on the wall that your project will fail after production or in the market place, they will not tell you. They want to make their profit by manufacturing for you.

SFI – We’re sure that you probably have a ton of stories you could tell about the situations we’ve been discussing. Can you share a few? Without naming names of course.

TO – A few examples:

  1. Successful bailout – One of my clients had hired a sample maker to make his first sample. The sample was great but the sample sewer (found on Craig’s list) vanished and the client had a prototype but no pattern or tech pack. He hired me and I made a pattern and techs pack from the sample. I referred him to a factory where he took those items, negotiated a good price and will be on the market this spring.
  2. Advice to reconsider – a client came to me with the desire to start a line of jeans. He brought me some high end jeans he wanted to make something similar to. I made a pattern but when I went over the pattern with him and started asking where he was getting fabric, zippers etc he had no clue. He had an idea about a super embellished pocket to make the product stand out. When we started to go over the details of embroidery and I advised him that placing something so expensive and detailed on a part of the garment that would bear stress and not be protected, he realized he was not ready to proceed.
  3. Too little too late – I also advised a designer recently who had taken his idea to a big company for pattern making and development. The pattern was horrible! I saw sew outs and could see that the company had not advised him properly on what kind of fabric to use (they used fabric from a mill they had a relationship with) and gave him a sew out that had major differences from his design. But by the time we met he had already spent a large amount of money on the project. He is in a tough spot – he needs to start over (with a developer) or continue to hope this big factory will pull through. A small investment and consultation before proceeding would have saved him thousands of dollars.

SFI – Terry, thank you so much for this great insight, and for being a mentor for SFI members.


Author: Steven Matsumoto

Steven Paul Matsumoto is the founder of Seattle Fashion Incubator, and an active member of the Seattle business community. Currently Mr. Matsumoto sits on Advisory Boards for the University of Washington Fashion Certificate Program, and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle.

Share This Post On