Rue updates, mistakes, and a new sort of growth
First, Rue Updates
If you bought the Rue pattern, you should have received an email from us letting you know that this pattern had mistakes, and we were going to fix them. You should also be getting an email with an updated, corrected version for you to download.
If you didn’t, all you need to do is go to our shop, log in to your account, and download the pattern from there. If you purchased Rue in a shop, please email us with your name and mailing address so we can send you the corrections.
If you want to know about the nitty gritty – the whats and whys behind the scenes – I’m going to get into that today. But first, for those who have been awaiting the changes, we have a new version addressing your feedback, both in terms of style lines (specifically, the placement of the yoke seam – it has been lowered to sit below the bust) and the fit of the pattern through the upper bodice and sleeve (the sleeve, armscye, and shoulder were redrafted).
Here, Delaney models the version she just made in purple shot cotton.
If you purchased a print version, we will be sending you a new printed copy of the pattern. This may take several weeks, since we need to get them from our printer, but they’ll go out to you automatically when we receive them – no need to do anything.
Second, an apology
I want to be clear: this was our mistake.
No, actually… it was a series of mistakes, and I want to start by taking responsibility for that. I’m really sorry.
As terrible as I feel about it (and we all feel pretty bad about these issues), I want to do more for you than fix the immediate problem and express my regret.
Because regret is a very useful thing, but not all on its own. Regret has to be turned into action.
It’s like when you stay up late to finish sewing, and you find yourself tired and hungry and just when you think you’ve reached the home stretch… you realize you just sewed your sleeve in upside down.
Ok, it’s not exactly like that, but in some ways the thought process is the same. At first, you feel upset, maybe angry with yourself. What a dumb mistake. You should have paid attention, you should have seen it coming.
You grab your seam ripper and start to fix it. But it’s what you do with your feelings about it that make the biggest difference. Do you turn it into a judgment? “This project is cursed,” “I can’t do this right,” or “I hate sewing”?
Or do you look at the circumstances that got you there and fix the real problems? Maybe you don’t sew late at night in the future, or you make sure to always align your notches, or you double check every sleeve. And you become better that way.
Anyway, that’s how I see things. It’s why we always have a post-mortem after we put anything out there, and try to suss out what went well and what didn’t go so well and how we can improve.
We do this constantly, but I have to admit that the post-mortem discussion for Rue was much more somber than most. We knew a lot of things had gone wrong, that we’d made some bad choices and had some serious challenges ahead.
But again, we want to turn that into action, not a bunch of hand wringing. That’s not useful to you.
So today, I want to discuss the pieces we are putting in place (or have already put in place) to face these problems. In other words, this is what we are doing with our regret.
And perhaps this will be helpful to other pattern companies (or any other small business, really) if they face some of these challenges at any point. Because I think this is a question of maturity, of growing up.
Change #1: Overhauling processes
I’m a very process-oriented person. I believe in documentation and checklists and standards and that if you have the right process in place, the right results will follow.
We have fitting checklists, we have technical editing checklists, we have tech packs and measurements that get updated and all the nifty things that are supposed to keep you organized.
The problem is, sometimes having an elaborate process does NOT mean you have the RIGHT process.
In our case, the processes I had in place worked just fine for a couple people. But when the number of people working on our patterns grew (it’s now 6), those processes were no longer sufficient. We adapted them little by little, but clearly there were holes. Gaping holes.
For example, with 6 people participating in creating a pattern, it’s been difficult to track changes. Has the pattern been updated? Why doesn’t it match the spec anymore? Was that a conscious choice or a mistake?
I’m sure you can see how these kinds of issues can lead to bigger problems. For Rue, there were changes going all the way up to the very last minute – and beyond the last minute.
This messy process was error prone, plain and simple. It caused over-corrections that just should not have happened.
We needed help, and we needed experience. More process wasn’t the answer. It had to be the right process. We needed to talk to people who had this problem nailed already.
This brings me to the first step, which is bringing someone with way more experience in managing this kind of process – especially with a team.
We were lucky enough to get in touch with Sabrina, an experienced patternmaker who has worked as a lead technical designer at some of the largest, most well-known apparel companies in the area. Most recently, she’s worked as a senior tech designer and fit lead at Nike. I’m sure I’ll introduce you to her and tell you more in the future as we work together. But I can tell you she’s excited to help a small company like ours to scale things and get better.
So piece number one is designing a better flow, one that works for a team of contributors. We need to have the structure in place to prevent errors in the first place.
Change #2: A better fitting process – with help
Have you ever worked on a team? If so, you’re probably pretty familiar with some of the issues that plague groups of people all working on the same project.
One of those problems is the “kitchen sink” approach to problems, in which a bunch of solutions are thrown out and tried at once. This is a real problem for fittings, because problems tend to be interrelated and they really require a strategic approach.
As a leader, I definitely failed in guiding this process.
So, in addition to the help we’re getting from Sabrina, we’ve also enlisted the help of another experienced patternmaker and fit expert, Claudia. Working with Claudia has been amazing already – she’s been generous in sharing her knowledge, explaining things clearly, easing the team’s workload, and offering her advice on how to achieve the best fit.
ETA: In case my original post was unclear, these two are here to offer guidance and support. We have a full-time patternmaker on staff, who is working closely with them.
Here are some shots I snapped of Claudia guiding a recent fitting.
I’m also going to share more about Claudia later, because her approach is pretty great. She embraces all kinds of technology, including the use of a body scanner, which is pretty darn nifty. But she’s also great at diagnosing, giving a much more solid framework to our fitting process, and the expertise that really drives it.
Change #3: Updating our blocks
The last time we updated our base patterns was a few years ago.
One of the biggest changes since then is that we have changed our fit models.
For those who aren’t familiar, a fit model is a professional who is hired for his or her specific size, usually in the middle of a size range. They try on garments so you can fit on a real person who matches up with the size you’re designing for. They can also move around, sit, and even offer opinions about how things feel.
We started working with our current fit model a couple years ago. Her name is Hilary, and she’s absolutely fantastic, a total pro, and a great match for our sizing (and many RTW companies’, since she does this professionally).
And though she is technically the same size as our previous model, there are definitely differences, ones we need to account for as we do fittings.
In addition to Hilary, we also have a wonderful size 20 model who we do just as many fittings with. But again, although we’ve always used a size 20, there are even more variations in curves with size 20 ladies.
So we are working hard on refining our blocks, with help from our lovely fit experts. The result is more consistency between fittings and a much smoother process.
For Rue, this would have meant fewer fittings and, again, far less room for error. We would have started from a much more secure place.
Change #4: Better understanding of feedback
Here’s another problem, which I’m pretty sure plagues most customer-facing businesses. The problem is understanding and correctly interpreting feedback.
Listening and caring can get you pretty far, but doing that alone doesn’t get you all the information you need, necessarily. If all you do is wait to hear feedback as it comes in, all you can really do is look for patterns and hope that you’re interpreting it correctly. You might get conflicting feedback, you might not hear from everyone, you might not pay attention to the right feedback.
And of course, there are the normal human biases too. Everyone likes to pay more attention to opinions that match their own, that are favorable and self-serving.
The antidote is to get real, structured, clear feedback. It’s to be consistent in collecting it, to find ways of measuring it, and to track it over time.
This is, in my opinion, something that separates a mature company from a ragtag startup. Meg and I are creating a system to solicit direct feedback (as unobtrusively as possible) from everyone who buys a pattern. If you sew a pattern, we want to know what the experience was like.
And we want to track that over time, so we have a constant gauge of how we’re doing and what areas need improvement. This is a project I am very excited about, because this is the heart of it all. This is the information that will let us know if all the other parts are working the way we want them to.
Change #5: Look on the not-so-bright side
There’s one final thing that I’ve been thinking about, which goes a little deeper. It’s my own tendency to be overly optimistic.
It’s a trait common to almost every entrepreneur I know, because you sort of have to have a crazy amount of faith to think you can make it work. But that’s not an excuse.
In many situations, it is a big shortcoming. I tend to believe that things will work out, that if everyone tries hard and has good intentions, that will be enough.
I need to get better at looking at the worst case, at finding the gaps and holes in my own plans, in becoming more skeptical, and recognizing where I (and our team as a whole) need help.
There’s a term used in Japanese manufacturing: “Genchi Genbutsu,” which means “actual place, actual thing.” It means that when you have a problem, you don’t just talk to people about it and accept what they say, you actually “go and see” how the work is being done. I admit, I’ve let people flounder when I should have been observant, and I’ve failed to see when folks on the team needed more help.
This is a straightforward glimpse into my thought process and what I think went wrong and how I want to fix it. I really do want to apologize for the mistakes.
And I want you to know how seriously we take them, too. That’s why we took Rue and revised it over the last few weeks, and that’s why we’re dedicated to turning this into major improvements.
But I don’t want this to be a band-aid, either. I want to continue the conversation by writing more in the coming weeks and months about our processes, our lessons learned, and what we’re working on as we continue going through these changes.
I see this as the next real stage of growth for us… not a growth in people or projects, but a growth in maturity. I hope you’ll follow along, because it’ll be a fascinating journey.