Block Print Jacket And Shirt - A Look Behind The Seams
Published: June 30, 2022Updated: October 30, 202215 min read
Let’s take a look behind the seams into the world of Jaipur block print clothing. Today I am to show you, exactly how I created this women's block print jacket and a block printed men's shirt for my clothing line, Terracotta City.
But, before we get started.
Have you heard about the super secret document that everyone in the fashion industry uses, but no one is talking about? Probably not. That is because you can't find it on Google or TikTok (believe me, I've tried).
It's a form I have used for over 13 years at every job I have ever had. Literally everyone from brands to fabric suppliers use it, but you can't find it anywhere publicly.
The best part?It can cut your sourcing time in half, and save you tons of money in product development! This is the kind of info consultants charge the big bucks for. And, I'm giving it away for free until the end of the month.
3 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START SOURCING
The biggest mistake I see startup brands make is they start with a supply chain long before they are ready. Before you can even think about reaching out to a supplier, you need to answer a few questions first.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many brand founders slide into my inbox and DM’s and tell me if I could just share with them my list of suppliers, it would help them start their brand. But then I start asking them some very basic questions, which they have trouble answering. And very quickly, they realize they haven’t done the groundwork. They are putting the cart ahead of the horse. Or, in this case, the cart before the bull (that’s a little reference to bull carts in India).
Seriously, asking yourself these three questions is so important that I considered making it my entire home page - just this, and nothing else.
And by the way. If you’re a customer reading this and not a small brand, these three questions are equally as important to you when making conscious shopping decisions.
QUESTION ONE: WHAT'S THE POINT?
The first thing you need to ask yourself is, what is your goal? What is the problem you are trying to solve? Why do you need to make this garment and put it out to the world? This will help inform your budget and every decision you make in your process.
Or if you're a customer, ask yourself why do I need to buy it?
For example, my goal with my company virtue + vice is to teach people how clothing is made. I want you to understand how much work, labor, and thought goes into making the garments you wear. Work that you probably would never think twice about.
I whole heartedly believe that if you understand just how many hands touch your clothes, you will have a greater appreciation for them.
So with this first collection, I want to teach you about two things: block printing and white label manufacturing.
I want to teach you about block printing because I think it is a magical craft that is slowly dying. What I find amazing is that in some niches, block printing is becoming super popular, which I love. But even with its rising popularity, there are still more artisans than work orders.
And, because of that, many of these artists and traditions in India and other countries in the world are becoming extinct. Simply, because there simply isn’t enough demand so younger generations are not being trained in the craft. My goal is to help promote these industries by incorporating block printing into my clothing line and blog posts like this one. And, by educating small startup brands on how they can work with these artisans too.
The second thing I want to educate people on is white label manufacturing. White label manufacturing is when you take a product that already exists at a factory (you take it exactly as it is, or sometimes you make a few minor changes to it) and then stick your label on it.
Most new startup brands don’t want to use white label products because they think they need something totally unique to launch their line. But spoiler alert, nothing in fashion is new. And most customers will not realize that they are purchasing a white label product if you create your product thoughtfully.
Using these block print jackets and shirts from my clothing line as an example, I’m going to show you how you can save development costs using white label products. And can then pass those savings onto the customer.
QUESTION 2: WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
I got an email the other day from a startup brand saying they would like to order a total of 40,000 units split between about 30 different styles. Now, this is something I wouldn’t think twice about coming from one of the fast fashion brands I used to work with. In that context, this would actually be a small test order. But, for a small startup brand, this is massive.
If we do the math, 40,000 pieces with an average price of $50 (the startup brand was making some pretty luxury stuff) comes out to a total cost of $2 million. And that’s just for production. That doesn’t include any of the development costs, which can really add up.
When I asked the startup brand if they had $2 million in the bank to fund this project, well, I think you know what the answer was. They were hoping it would cost them about $150,000.
Now, this is a very extreme example. But it’s part of a trend I see with small brands.
Most people don’t realize just how much it costs to develop, source, and produce a garment.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my students say in class, “Wow, I thought this brand was just ripping me off, but it really does cost this much to make!”
That is why before you start anything, you need to know exactly what your budget is.
This way you can make strategic decisions to stay within those financial confines. If you don’t set a budget before you get started, you’ll start spending. Keep spending. And, either run out of money or go into debt.
And shoppers, this budget thing applies to you too!
It drives my fiancé crazy when we go shopping because this is what I do when I get into a store. I take everything that I want into the dressing room (we’re talking about like 50 items of clothing). And, he always get's this super panicked look on his face like, mumbling something like we can't buy all this stuff.
And, we never do.
Because, before I go into a store, I always set a secret budget for myself on the max I am going to spend (I don't share this with Will because sometimes I like to watch him sweat). Then when I am shopping, I don’t even look at prices.
But that’s not to say I’m not price-conscious, remember, and I do have a plan.
The first thing I do is try everything on and I sort it into three piles: absolutely not, maybe, and I need this.
Then I get rid of all the absolutely nots and also the maybes because, let’s be honest, maybe is probably going to get worn once and then sit in the back of my closet.
When I shop, I want to shop for things that I really, really want and need. So then I try on all of the I need to have them’s one more time, and I order them from the ones I like the most to the ones I like the least.
Lastly, I look at the prices and how much is this going to cost me. And then I start making decisions.
FYI, my design and product development process is very similar to this system too.
Whether you are manufacturing or simply shopping, the reality of life for most of us is that we can’t have everything we want.
But when we have a budget, we can make decisions that will make us the most happy within those parameters if we develop or shop strategically.
Now, shopper, while I would love for you to buy my hand block print jackets and block print men’s shirts, I don’t want you to buy them if you don’t think that you’re going to wear them and really love them, or if they are out of your budget right now.
That is why I do not offer payment plans for clothing items. I think that if you’re going to buy something, you should save up, make sure you really want it. And then buy it. Don't be tricked with four-month payment plans into buying something that maybe you don’t really need or want.
But, I am rambling now, the issue of payment plans is for another day.
QUESTION 3: WHAT DO YOU WANT?
The last thing you need to ask yourself is, what do you want?
For my line, I decided to start with block print jackets and block print cotton shirts because they are super multifaceted.
After a lifetime of capsule collections and being around some of the top stylists in the world, I believe that jackets are one of the most versatile and reusable garments for women. You can match a jacket with almost any outfit in your already existing closet, meaning you’re going to wear it the most.
And that’s what I want for the clothing I make. I want you to wear the shiz out of it.
The styles I made are quilted jackets.
And, I choose to make them out of quilted cotton. Because it's important to me to use natural fibers whenever I can. The jackets kind of feel like you are wearing a 100% cotton kantha quilt, but made for on the go - so, super cozy. And, while these jackets are warm enough for summer nights - again, they are made out of cotton so they are by no means winter jacket status.
As an added bonus I thought, how can I make this design even better? Then thought, I'll make this jacket reversible! So, no instead of 1 print, you get two looks for the price of one kantha jacket.
For men, I chose to do a long-sleeve button-down shirt based on my fiancé and what he wears.
He gets so much use out of these button-down shirts because they truly are (not to sound cliché) the perfect day to night garment for men. He’ll wear a button-down shirt to get coffee in the morning, all the way through the day, then to get a fancy dinner with me. They are easy to wear, easy to clean, and go with just about any bottom or shoe.
WHY I CHOSE TO HIGHLIGHT HANDMADE BLOCK PRINTS FOR MY FIRST TERRACOTTA CITY COLLECTION
This goes back to question one: why am I even doing this?
And when I dig into that question, I realize that while I love showing how garments are made, I want to go beyond that. Because these artists and crafts are not isolated things - they are tied to communities and cultures. And along with sharing the manufacturing of these garments, I want to share about the cultures behind them.
I once visited a small textile village in China that was so remote, I couldn’t even find it on Google Maps.
When I got to the town, I started noticing Hello Kitty and My Little Pony prints all over the place. And not just on kids' stuff. The prints were on adult stuff too. I saw it on T-shirts, curtains, and tablecloths. It was even on those little hand coverings that people make to protect their hands in the cold on motorcycles.
It was one of my first times traveling to a village that was a true manufacturing village, meaning fashion production is all that really happened there. And all I could think was, why is this town so obsessed with Hello Kitty and My Little Pony?
I went ahead and snapped tons of photos for Instagram of all of my Hello Kitty and Pony sightings.
But then I got to the factory and realized the product they were working on was Hello Kitty and My Little Pony.
And everything suddenly made sense.
They were using the damaged, leftover, and deadstock fabrics for their own use. Instead of wasting or sending it to a landfill, they were using the scraps for all of their homeware and apparel needs.
And well, I felt kind of dumb when I realized that.
I thought this was just a community obsessed with two kids’ shows. But what I realized was that this was a community obsessed with not letting anything go to waste even if that meant using silly kids’ prints for everyday items.
This is what I love most about textiles. Sure, I love dissecting them, figuring out how they were made, and all of the engineering behind that.
But I also love how, if you pay attention, textiles can teach you so much about a culture and its values.
BLOCK PRINT CULTURE
To bring it all back - block print textiles are deeply connected to Jaipur's history and culture.
Block prints aren’t just made in Jaipur, they are part of Jaipur.
At almost every restaurant you go to, you will find block-printed tablecloths, napkins, or placemats. You’ll find the people of Jaipur wearing block printed clothing, both Western and traditional. You’ll even notice decorations on the walls that were made using block print motifs.
Jaipur is not just a place where block prints get made, it’s a place where block prints live and are celebrated every day.
And that’s why I chose block prints to start with for Drop 1.
A LOOK BEHIND THE SEAMS OF BLOCK PRINT MANUFACTURING
In case you’re wondering what block prints are, they’re basically what they sound like. Prints that are made out of wooden blocks.
Block printing is one of the most labor-intensive print methods around. But I think that’s why I love it so much.
The process goes like this.
First, a designer creates a print design. These designs generally require anywhere from one to five different colors. Then, artisans carve each color of the design into its own block. So, if the print has three colors, there are three blocks.
Next, they lay out the fabric on super, super, long tables. And the blocks are hand stamped one at a time to create the print.
Because machines are not used and people are doing the work, that means less energy is wasted.
Also, these types of jobs create work for communities that are struggling to find jobs.
And, as a bonus, of course, everyone I partner with is paying their people a fair wage and providing them with a safe and friendly working space.
Block print workshops are generally on farms in very remote areas, mostly located in Bagru.
BAGRU VS JAIPUR
You can think of Jaipur as the main city and Bagru as the suburbs or country. Part of the magic of learning about block printing is leaving the chaos of Jaipur city and entering the remote farmland of Bagru.
The stark contrast makes it so much more powerful.
Whenever I have someone visiting me in India and we are in Jaipur, I always make it a point to take them to Bagru. I think it’s important for people to see the different sides of India. Often, when people think of India, they think of large cities like Delhi and Jaipur. But there’s so much more to it if you just take a car ride a little out of your way.
While the cities are chaotic, overwhelming, and often too much for newbie tourists, you will find peace and tranquility in the villages. And these villages are where most of the work for block printing happens.
But, how did Bagru end up becoming a hub for block prints?
BLOCK PRINT HISTORY
Block printing dates back to the 12th century in India, making it over 2,000 years old. But this ancient art form is much older than that. Block printing came to India from China.
I think it’s super interesting to note how different cultures blended so many years ago to create such iconic trends in current culture.
While block printing is a dying art, we can thank the Chippa community for helping to keep it alive. The Chippas mostly reside in the village of Bagru right outside of Jaipur. And in this area, you can find generations of block print artisans continuing their craft.
Traditional, Natural Dyes – but Limited Colors
Originally, block prints were made out of natural dyes made from things like indigo and plants, and even black colors made from fermented iron (basically a metal kombucha).
But, modern fashion customers want more colors that aren't available in the natural dye spectrum, so block printers now use synthetic dyes. Thankfully, consumers have been pushing for more natural products. So now in Bagru, you can find more and more artisans going back to the old ways and using natural plant dyes which are better for the environment and the people doing the work.
HOW I DESIGNED THE BLOCK PRINT JACKET AND BLOCK PRING SHIRT
FABRIC: DEADSTOCK VS CUSTOM PRINTS
When deciding what type of block print fabric to use, there are ultimately two paths you can go down:
You can design your own print, have your own blocks created, and have custom fabric printed for you.
Or, you can use dead stock.
There are pros and cons that come with each option. For example, if you are using your own custom prints, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than using deadstock. But, a pro would be that you have your own unique prints that nobody else has.
Now, if you know me, you know I wear many hats. I have my consultancy business where I help establish brands. I have my mentorship programs where I help brands who are just starting out. And, I have a few personal side projects that keep me in the retail game. So I decided to use deadstock fabric. This was the right choice for me because it took the pressure off me to design new prints. It was also cheaper than designing my own print because I could skip the entire fabric product development process, allowing me to pass those savings onto my customer.
The deadstock fabrics I focused on are paisleys and floral prints because they are the most traditional Jaipur patterns, and really show off a bit of the local textile culture.
In terms of garment design, I also had two paths I could go down.
I could design my own custom fits. If you’re curious to learn how I would’ve gone about that, you can enroll in Launch My Conscious Line where I teach a six-hour lesson about this.
Or, I could go with the other, more simpler option and use patterns that the factory already has.
Now, sometimes you might not like exactly what the factory has on hand, so you can make some small changes. And that’s exactly what I did here. For the men’s shirt, it was basically perfect. But for the women’s quilted cotton jacket, I wanted to make it more of a crop style than what the factory had. And, I wanted to remove the pockets because they were just kind of awkward.
Again, by choosing to use patterns the factory had, I saved a ton of money in the development process. Again, money that I plan to pass on to the customer.
So, just how much money did this save?!
By using deadstock fabrics and available patterns, I saved around $400-$500 on these block prints and garment styles. And when you’re making small, exclusive runs the way I am (think under 30 pieces per style. That saves almost $10 per garment at cost, which in retail math becomes a savings of $40 per garment for the consumer.
Yes, that’s a huge difference in price for the customer!
Hey, small brands out there, if you are reading this, the lesson to take away here…
More small businesses should choose white label!
It saves you time and money. And, you can create a great product and give your customer an even better price.
Nervous that if you do white label and available stock fabrics everyone will have the same product as you? Don’t be. Here’s why
I remember this math problem from middle school. It went something like this. Pretend you’re at an ice cream party and there are five flavors of ice cream. Five different toppings. Three sauces. And, four different spoons to eat it with. How many different combinations can you come up with?
The answer to this problem is 300.
And, in the case of factories - they usually have at least 50 different fabrics and at least 40 different patterns for you to choose from, so that's like 2000 different combinations.
The chances of another brand having exactly what you have are slim to none.
Thanks to not needing to wait for fabric to be designed and printed or for patterns to be made and fit sessions to be done, I was able to shave off about a month in my development time. Instead, we went straight into using the deadstock fabric and the slightly altered patterns at the factory to make my first protos.
Because I was basically using what already existed, everything came out perfect on the first shot (saving me even more in costs I would have had to pay to resample to get it right). So we went into the production run right away.
Again, I’m doing super small, super-exclusive limited runs of only 30 pieces. So production was pretty quick because the order was small and took about one month.
I was hoping to have my samples in hand and be able to do a photoshoot in Goa. But sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned it, and this was one of those times.
So my next thought was to have a photoshoot in New York City. I arranged everything and was ready to go and the morning of the shoot, I got a call from my photographer telling me that he had COVID.
Sometimes in fashion startup life, nothing goes right. But, that’s okay. You just have to keep pushing through it.
So me and my fiancé Will did a DIY photoshoot in the backyard. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and iPhones today are pretty damn good.
AND, THAT'S HOW I DID IT!
Drop 1 of Terracota City, done!
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Next month, I am going to have a new blog post and new product for you that I am sure you’re going to love.
All Terracotta City garments are available for purchase. But remember once they are gone, they are gone. I’m only making a few pieces of each style.