INTERVIEW WITH JIN + YANG
Today, we’ll be talking to production designer extraordinaire Jin, of @jinandyangny. Jin has years of experience turning great ideas into the incredible products you buy in stores. She has worked for many different brands and product categories such as apparel, accessories, and home goods, and visited factories around the world. Despite the many challenges this job presents, she always makes sure a perfect product is the outcome.
Jin’s newest enterprise is starting her own business! It’s small now but in only two months she has brought her concept to life, from an idea to a physical product and orders.
We’ll be talking to her about how she did it, and what’s next for Jin + Yang, as well as learning more about the production process.
PART 1: PRODUCTION DESIGN/PRODUC DEVELOPMENT AS A CAREER
How did you get into production design?
You know, I was originally going to go into medicine, at the beginning. Seriously medicine! And then, the first semester was an eye opener. I was like “no, this is me being sentenced to school for like eight to ten years. I don't think this is for me, I don't have the passion” I had to figure out what to do because I didn't want to go home. I took classes in law and international business. International business is what stuck with me, I think because of my background. I’m Asian, but I grew up in Puerto Rico, a tropical island in a different culture, and now I live in New York. I just loved the whole idea of globalization. It's a big world but at the same time, small and that’s so interesting. I loved the intricacy of doing business with different countries. That comes with a whole lot of baggage where culture comes into play. You know you don't want to offend the other party, and vice versa. I was very fascinated by that. I still didn’t know if I wanted to go into a banking job or hedge fund, or what exactly I wanted to do.
So, it was my last semester in college and I was desperate because in junior year I went to study abroad in China and when I came back senior year I felt like I had missed out on networking opportunities and was back to square one.
At that time I was working retail for a major jeans company in Westchester County near my college. All the big wigs and CEOs lived in that area and would come into the store, especially during the Christmas season. All the people from the corporate world would come into our store to buy personally and use their company discount. So I was shamelessly chatting with them and asking them for internships.
We had just gotten in some brand new underwear, and we had a display. One day, this man came in and started examining the underwear closely. I'm like “Oh my god, we have a pervert here!”, but I politely greeted him and asked if he needed help. I said “Oh we just got this, you know” he says ”Yeah I know, they're mine.” Then I really thought he was a creep! But he continued, “My company made these”. We chatted more, I learned about his company and asked if he needed interns, but he just said no. He ended up buying something, and was walking away when I said “oh yeah I speak English, Spanish and Chinese!” and he literally did a 180 turn around and gave me his business card. He said “email me” and that's how I got into the fashion world.
Was it difficult because you didn't have that background in fashion yet?
I think that's the whole purpose of being an intern! I was kind of lucky that they placed me on the production side, because it was all business. It was very analytical and I was able to organize things.
After the internship, they kept me and they transferred me to another office because someone was going on maternity leave and she needed help. She was doing product development, but they didn't care. They said “you’re already an intern here, you might as well learn” And that's how I learned more about the design aspect. I guess I got lucky in that sense, that I got floated around a little bit. I picked up more. I ended up working there for three years!
How did your business background help you in your production career?
I think it was especially useful in the sense of dealing with the actual people, not just in the technical or financial aspects. Especially in China, they appreciate establishing a relationship, versus having one big order. It’s important to build those long term business relationships.
What is the day to day like in a production job?
Basically, from the moment that the orders are placed until the goods arrive at the destination, you're in charge and responsible for the timeline. It's all very computer-based now. You would keep a master chart, called a Time and Action Chart. That's how you make sure that you're on time.
Some companies have their own sourcing team, but in production you also might source factories/manufacturers, and that does involve traveling. So, in the normal scenario, and in most traveling where you verify factories, you make negotiations face to face.
In the office, it's just checking emails, and then checking the Time and Action, or the WIP (Work In Progress) report, kind of like our real time center.
Even the logistics part has been put into my lap. Logistics is literally the transportation of the goods from point A to point B. That's where you're going to take in consideration the client’s delivery date. Deadlines are very important. If the goods are late, you could lose the order or face penalties. Each customer has different stipulations, but there's always a consequence when you miss the deadline.
There’s also lots of business meetings!
I loved the intricacy of doing business with different countries. That comes with a whole lot of baggage where culture comes into play. You know you don't want to offend the other party, and vice versa. I was very fascinated by that.
What is PLM? How does it help products come to life?
It's a necessary evil. It is a computer program that tracks everything precisely as a product is made. It builds the whole tech pack for you. A tech pack, or technical package is kind of like the guidelines of construction and timeline for a product. Many people work together on it. A print designer would contribute the artwork for the prints and graphics. A technical designer would enter specifications and materials. The factory will also use it and it updates as the product is made. Anyone who has access can just pull from the system, the cloud or whatever, and get all the tech packs.
And you have to be very careful of mistakes, right?
Yeah triple check everything, but, for pre-production it’s more lenient. For production, you want to make sure everything is right before you send the order or proceed to mass production. Once you send the order and the tech pack, they're waiting at the factory. You want to be as precise as possible, because you may make a mistake or forget something and someone else may not catch it either.
What do you do when a product comes back with a mistake?
That's why you get pre production samples, because that's a sample that they're going to use as a guide to follow once they go to mass production. So, when you receive a pre-production sample and think there needs to be a change and you know it doesn't look right, that's where you make comments to fix the problem.
What is minimum order quantity? Why is it a hurdle to overcome for some orders/businesses?
Minimum order quantity or MOQ is exactly like how it sounds - it is the minimum qty or pieces that you need that the manufacturer will accept as an order. That's a major factor when placing orders or choosing the right factory because if you’re a small business, you can't just randomly order quantity and not every factory will accept your order. You have to check their minimum orders.
You often have to travel as well. How is that rewarding/challenging? What do you typically do on a trip to the factory/supplier?
At my previous job, we used to go to China or India seven, eight times, a year. That was a killer. Now, at my current company we do twice a year but stay longer.
One thing I would do is verify a factory, going to their physical place, and making sure that it's not a ghost business. Currently right now where we are in the pandemic traveling is not feasible so it's extra risky.
Does every store own its own factory?! How does that work?
No, not usually. For instance, the first company I worked for makes white label intimate apparel for a lot of different brands, sold under the brand’s name. That involves a licensing agreement between the two businesses.
And they also sell to many major retailers under different brand names, any big store they can think of in the US. Anything intimate apparel, they had their hands on.
There's a lot of companies like that in New York that do white label. Even if a brand produces their own mainline products, all the smaller products like intimates, and accessories are produced by other companies.
How do you go about sourcing materials?
That's the fun part! To choose a material, I would work with a technical designer, and look at options to determine what will work with the design. If one doesn’t work, you'll have other types of materials available depending on where you are sourcing. You should get swatches of what’s available; usually the factory will provide a swatch book with small samples and corresponding numbers and codes.
Cost is a big factor. Sometimes you might want a material, but the final selling price of the product is too low, so you have to make decisions and modify. You either find a cheaper alternative or you start stripping away the extras. For instance, with a bag you might remove metal hardware here or there, or even decrease the overall size. For apparel it’s sometimes little things like decreasing the fold over in a hem or removing piping. Construction is costly because that's extra labor. Anywhere you can have one piece instead of two saves money.
What skills would you say you have learned from being in production design?
I have more attention to detail! I learned a lot such as making sure things are dyed to match. The main body could be microfiber, the cotton field and gusset lining is cotton, and then like the trim is a spandex lace. You have to be sure they all come out the same color, but microfiber takes the colors very differently versus cotton. I had to go to a dark room and inspect them under different lighting. I have so much more appreciation for color and detail!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in production?
It's helpful to have a design background or to have some kind of knowledge in what you are producing. For example at my current company they tried to hire someone to help me. But this person did not know anything about fashion. He came from a tech manufacturing background. He was highly experienced in technical terms, but it just didn't work out because he just didn’t understand any concept of fashion, or working from that world.
PART 2: PRODUCTION DESIGN/PRODUC DEVELOPMENT AS AN INDEPENDENT VENTURE
What inspired you to start this new venture?
This whole small business started, because my friend gifted me a BTS pin and then I saw that all these small online shops have their own cool items, like bags with clear panels to show off pin collections. I said “oh that's cool for the concert but for me as a 30 plus year old woman going to work, I would want something more refined.” I didn’t see anything like that. I knew I had the resources, and the know-how so I thought “I’ll try and make for myself.”
I really like the message that BTS sends to the fans and to the world. Yeah, I feel like when you go into business, it’s important to know what you’re doing. Instead of randomly making a product, and just slapping a design on, I wanted something authentic. And I think that was important to me by first researching and knowing more about the group. As much as I could, of course.
What is your process from an initial idea to a developed concept, how much research do you do?
Well first of all I checked to see if there was anything similar to what I had in mind. I knew I wanted a reversible bag and I found one, but it was like a canvas. I didn't want a Canvas bag because it was kind of weekend-ish, you know? Not very professional if I want to use it in an office setting. So, I decided to make it in vegan leather, or PU leather. That was my first design.
I was thoroughly inspired by this music video, “We are Bulletproof: the Eternal”. It was a very emotional song, you know, it was just like a very connected song. That was my inspiration for the colors and graphics.
Do you have advice on finding suppliers and making that initial connection?
A lot of suppliers are online and you can search, and at the same time they find you. The moment that you start posting a hashtag for something like, jewelry, bags, business, etc, voila they DM or email you. They might send you their website and info to look over, and then you do your due diligence.
A safer bet is working with a trading company at first. They would have English-speaking employees, and all the paperwork to export. It would be more costly but saves a lot of headache for the inexperienced, but then not everyone has the luxury of going to China and to source themselves.
I think that's the next best thing. Especially now so many small sellers are doing it this way. There's a lot of small shops owned by young people in their late teens, early 20s doing this. It’s just amazing, because at that age I didn't know what I was doing!
There’s always a risk in doing business! Trust but verify. Honestly, I feel like Google, just like Google, a lot! Most of the factories do a factory introduction on their website. They show a picture or video of their exterior and production line. So, type their address into Google! Does it match up to what they are telling you? Even something as basic as that like not many people do. Whatever info you get just say, “Great. I'm gonna verify this.”
How do you decide on a manufacturer? Did you get samples/quotes from several different manufacturers?
I already had contacts in China, from my previous dealings, so that helped. I had three factories quote me and went with the most economical. I only got one sample of each design.
How long does it take to get a sample made?
Mine took a week and a half, it was supposed to be a week but there were complications and I saw errors on the initial sample. They had to revise my charm twice. It was flat, and I didn't like it. It is stuffed now.
They sent photos to me via email. They usually send you like pictures before shipping. For this reason, you can catch the little things that need fixing. For the mini crossbody I’m also making a change to the side gusset. I want to lower the printed icon.
You funded your first bags almost entirely from preorders. How did you do it?
I paid for the sample myself. I then took a pre-order based on that. With the money I raised from the pre-order I was able to fund production. I am rewarding the pre orders with a small gift, which I revealed after preorders closed.
You’ve given us a lot of advice, it will be so helpful for readers who are just getting started. If anyone needs further help getting their products made, do you do consulting?
Definitely! I’m available to help with sourcing, product development, and even production or any other production needs. You can reach me at email@example.com or DM me on Instagram, @jinandyangny