Guided Makers Rachel Battarbee (left) and Myranda Caputo (right).
a chat with Rachel Battarbee
Rachel, your accent says England. Where are you from?
Yes, I’m from England, Manchester to be precise. It’s a large city in the northwest of England.
Manchester has a rich history around textiles … Was your family involved in the industry?
The city is notable for many things, textiles being one of them. Manchester’s textile industry dates back to the turn of the 19th century when textile manufacturing, during the Industrial Revolution, took off. My grandparents were Syrian immigrants, and my grandfather became a successful cotton merchant in the city.
When we spoke, you mentioned choosing Coventry University in Coventry, England. What major did you choose?
Yes, I studied an interesting course titled European Business and Technology, which focused on engineering management and leadership. It taught me how to manage engineers and engineering projects by understanding timeline management, reading technical drawings, studying manufacturing processes, and so much more. While I haven’t focused my career on engineering, the lessons I learned have transferred well into any product development environment … In its development, any item essentially follows the same basic process: concept, design, prototype, test, final specification and production. Depending on the product, timing and complexities vary.
In addition, I also studied French, which allowed for a fun year in the south of France!
This course of study sounds very practical, especially the engineering. What did it teach you that has stayed with you?
Well, I must say the French did not stay with me!
The course was super practical and I have applied its learnings throughout my career. I really enjoy process and timeline management—looking to find ways to streamline processes to create efficiencies. Anyone who has worked with me in the past also knows that I’m a stickler for a timeline and ensuring we’re all working together towards the common goal.
You chose apparel for your first job out of college … Tell us about working on the supply side of the business for a company producing men’s underwear.
Yes, I did end up in the apparel industry immediately out of college. I learned the ropes on the supply side of the business, working with large UK brands and delivering product to their specifications. I got a great grounding in the process and the introduction to textiles.
You then went to work at Marks & Spencer. Still on the supply side?
No, when I moved to Marks & Spencer, I became the customer to the supplier. Back then, Marks & Spencer focused on all private label apparel so when the seasonal product line was determined, we worked as a team with the suppliers to ensure on-time delivery of the product we needed. I was in the lingerie group so now I have broad experience across both men’s and women’s underwear!
Eventually, you and your husband moved to the States … the New Hampshire coast where you got a great job in apparel development with Timberland. What exactly is apparel development?
Yes, we moved to the US almost 23 years ago!
I joined Timberland as a men’s product apparel developer. It was a great brand to work with and I learned a lot there. In a nutshell, apparel product development is delivering the right product, at the right time, to the right specification at the right price. To get there, a team moves through several steps to create the product—design, materials, specification build, sampling, fitting, costing and approvals.
Then you moved to Maine and went to work with L.L.Bean. What did your job entail?
I started in men’s apparel development but quickly moved on to the project for the Signature line. I was the development and sourcing manager for the entire men’s and women’s line. The team was awesome, and we were charged to create a line to meet business long term goals. It was hard work but the experience was great. We needed to define and build the entire business from process, calendar, a supplier strategy and more. I worked closely with the design lead and merchandising lead. It was an ‘all hands-on deck’ effort that gained me big-picture experience.
At this point, how would you define your expertise?
Having worked on the supply side, line planning, development and sourcing, I would define my expertise as a big-picture thinker, supported with experience across all disciplines and product types.
When you left L.L.Bean, people began asking you to help them … Did they have apparel products they wanted your help developing?
Correct, after leaving L.L.Bean, I had several folks reach out asking how to go about developing product—apparel, toys, etc. After a number of these conversations in a short space of time, I realized there was a local market for my expertise, so that’s when I decided to set up my own product development consultancy.
How was this going?
It was going great. I had a number of clients—small startups, some growing apparel businesses and also was working directly with the VF Corporation on some larger projects.
And then Myranda, whose expertise is on technical side of product development, reached out to you via LinkedIn …
a chat with Myranda Caputo
Myranda, you grew up in Williams Township PA, not far from Philadelphia. Did you spend time in the city?
Unfortunately, not really. It was more of a place to go for school field trips.
What or who sparked your interest in sewing?
I chose it as a 4-H project in our community club and just got hooked.
What did you enjoy most about sewing?
I enjoyed the creation of something. You knew what you needed but got to choose how everything came together and modify some of the details.
In high school, you continued sewing. Where did you learn pattern making?
It was all through 4-H, with my leader.
Sounds like a good base in apparel construction. Is this the technical aspect rather than the design aspect of apparel management?
Apparel construction definitely focuses on the technical aspect of apparel development. But well beyond the construction, I focus on the fit and creating a second pattern that will become the actual 3D garment.
Which college did you attend?
Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences.
You set an interesting and productive goal for yourself each summer. Tell us about that and a couple of your experiences.
While in college I set a goal of having an internship each summer within the apparel industry. I spent one summer at A&H Swimwear learning the ins and outs of swimwear construction and fit. Another year I worked for Flapdoodles, a children's wear company with great novelty clothing for boys and girls. Much of it was garment dyed, which means that we dyed the clothing after sewing it together.
Any advice that has stayed with you?
Oh man, lots of advice! I have definitely learned a lot of things that I use every day in development and encouragement to persevere in an industry that will push people to their limits. Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice, which isn’t always easy, came from my Uncle Joe when I was selling a house… “You cannot view what you are doing as personal. This is business and you need to do what is best for the business.”
How did your first job out of college help you?
My first job was with Heidi Harper, a professor I had in college. She taught me much of what I needed to know in order to be a successful pattern maker and grader. I was able to take the skills she taught me and relay them into my first job with the Apparel Preproduction Source. Here I focused mostly on pattern revisions, grading and marker making. We did do some pattern making for new styles but not much.
Your resume is very impressive: Hanes Corp; Dick’s Sporting Goods, which introduced you to active apparel; and finally, L.L.Bean, which moved you to Maine.
- Hanes for active apparel.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods for hunting and fishing, swimming, biking and baseball.
- L.L.Bean for men’s and kid’s apparel.
Had you spent time in Maine prior to your move in 2014?
My dad frequently brought my sister and I up to Maine for vacations. I remember coming to Portland, Acadia, the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport and visiting Mackworth Island in Falmouth.
What was your job at L.L.Bean?
During my time at L.L.Bean, I did technical development for men’s and kid’s apparel. I managed two individuals and enjoyed working with them to expand their skill set.
What does the technical side of product development include?
The technical side of product development includes:
- Fit direction and execution based on fabrics and body shapes.
- Construction including understanding any trims such as stabilizers to improve the construction or function of the garment.
- Stitching design details.
- All the sizes.
- Pattern making.
- Grading—making all the sizes.
- Marker making.
Had you been thinking about teaming up with someone on the product development side?
I was continually seeking ways to expand my business. In doing so, I reached out to other independent individuals who could potentially use my services. I found Rachel via LinkedIn.
about Guided Makers
Combining Myranda's technical skills with Rachel’s product development knowledge, they launched Guided Makers in 2019.
To help us understand this process for a startup … If someone has an apparel product, or line of products, they would like to develop, manufacture and take to market, what is their first step with Guided Makers?
Rachel: The first step is to connect with us by completing our contact form at guidedmakers.com. We’ll then schedule a 30-minute complimentary meeting to discuss their product and brand plans.
This meeting allows us to understand where they are with their product development and business planning.
We believe in responsible development. We want our clients to succeed. This is only possible with a plan and research. The planning is key. It identifies a target market, consumer, product focus and a unique selling proposition.
If a client isn’t ready, we can provide the tools and guidance for them to get there. This ensures focused development which will, in our experience, be more efficient and cost effective.
What do you wish to learn from this initial meeting?
Myranda: If the client is ready, we will also begin to discuss their product and its end use/functional needs.
We’ll also learn their level of understanding about apparel development and if this is a product we can assist with. From there, we can advise on timing and cost estimates.
Assuming you can help them launch their product:
Highlighting some of Guided Makers' work through the product development process with tech pack, materials, trims and design.
(Photo courtesy Guided Makers.)
Rachel, what are the next steps involving product development?
Next, we’ll dive deeper into product and begin the development process.
Design will be first in order to identify key styles, product details, any specific functional needs and also begin to determine fit and fabrics for their target market/consumer. Once all these items come together, we can build a specification to allow us to begin prototyping—allowing the team to prove the concept and ensure that the fit and function of the garment/materials are as required for end use. Outside of the garment, these initial prototypes will help us understand garment costing and ensure the garment is built right for its target market. From here we continue to finesse the details.
Myranda, what are the next steps involving technical development?
I will work with them to understand how they intend the garments to fit and the overall direction of their product. Our process gives the client a tangible method of relaying what they want their product to be. Once they have selected their fabrics, trim, patterns, and tech packs are created, we are able to work with the factory, or sample maker, to create a first-fit sample. Once samples are completed, we are able to fit the garment either in person, or remotely with a video fit.
The first fit is by far the most exciting … this is when the client is able to see their product come to life!
For those who would like to launch a product, are there some essential things for them to consider?
Rachel: Don’t skip the planning. I mentioned it earlier, that launching a product line can be expensive. There are not only product development costs but also sales costs, website, marketing, business admin and more.
Understanding the big picture is critical to success prior to developing any products. You almost have to think backwards.
Myranda: COST! The financial investment in apparel development is included in the retail price. Development includes many things, but ultimately the cost associated with a garment is the cost to manufacture and purchase the production components.
Do you have a range of clients?
Myranda: We have a wide range of clients from individuals starting, or exploring one idea, clients looking to expand an existing line and grow to the next level. We also work with large established brands who want an extension of their team for everything from development to assistance with creating tools, which will give the consumer fit consistency, or provide their team with more efficient tools.
You’ve both worked very hard to establish Guided Makers—I personally know two of your clients who you’ve helped immensely. How are things going?
Myranda: Overall things are good. As a new business with a partnership and employees, we are definitely learning a lot more than we could ever have imagined… Everything from marketing to B2B, payroll, client management, and so much more. The growth potential is beyond our wildest dreams, which brings its own flood of thoughts!
What is your goal for your clients?
Myranda: To collaborate with them and their teams to provide the services needed to build the products as efficiently as possible.
Rachel, when we spoke, you said, “I’m going to help clients deliver their product to market on time, the way it should be done.” That must give your clients great confidence. And for you, how does helping people achieve their goals, and often their dreams, make you feel?
We strive to build confidence with our clients from the outset. Confidence that they can be successful and confidence in our skills and services. It’s important to build trust early on so we can successfully steer and guide them through the process.
It’s so great working with a client to launch their line. Startups have such a sense of excitement and drive for success.
Outside of the development we do, when working with large brands on strategic services, it’s awesome to see them roll out a new strategy that you’ve worked on. Knowing your work is impacting millions of people’s lives—sometimes globally—is an accomplishment I feel proud of.
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