MIZUSAWA DOWN MANUFACTURING PROCESS
The first step in the manufacturing process is taken by what we call the “Patterners” in Japanese. In some other countries, they are referred to as Pattern Makers, or Modellists, and their rather heavy responsibility is to take the designer’s original two dimensional drawn images of the product to be made, and give them three dimensional form. This demands not only the considerable technical ability needed to actually make the transition to the 3D form, but also the modeling skills necessary to accurately grasp and give shape to the concept for the garment that the designer wants to convey. When tackling a new design, the pattern maker sits down with the designer to ensure he has a total grasp of the design concept. He looks at it from a very different perspective from the designer, looking at a whole range of practical considerations, from selecting appropriate fabrics and sewing techniques right through to how it will feel on the body, and whether it really will work as sportswear when it is finalized and ready for the market. The approach can vary according to each pattern maker, but ultimately, he has the very significant responsibility of breathing life into the original design ideas and sketches – of transforming designs that begin as mere line drawings into actual three dimensional garments that will comfortably wrap around a living human form.
When the pattern maker has done his job and samples are prepared, the baton is passed to the people who do the cutting. In this stage of production, depending on the characteristics of the fabric, different aspects of the work can be done both by machine and by hand. Generally, as many as 50 layers of cloth are stacked to be cut at one time, which means great care has to be taken to ensure precise alignment. There are numerous other intricate steps requiring great accuracy, including marking lines for subsequent sewing, so while the actual cutting is basically a simple procedure, the preparation to ensure that the sewing and the rest of the manufacturing process is smooth is extremely important. In addition to accuracy, speed is also of the essence, which demands experienced craftsmen and women, some of whom have been practicising their craft for up to 40 years. Despite their minimalist outward appearance, Mizusawa Down garments are extremely complex in their construction, with as many as 250 separate parts making up one garment. This demands very careful numbering and management. All parts for one garment are cut from a single bolt of cloth and then numbered to ensure the integrity of the garment is maintained. Some parts, like the pocket edging and the zippers, have to be made by a separate process, using laser cutting techniques, precision die-cutting and alignment and welding in place. In this way, little by little, the Mizusawa Down image begins to emerge.
The distinguishing feature of Mizusawa Down from the beginning has been its unique, seamless down pack, which is achieved through a thermocompression bonding technique generally referred to as heat welding. Where sewing is necessary, for joining sleeves and the like, seam taping is applied to the back, or inner, side of the sewn seam. Through the combination of these processes, water entry and down feather loss are prevented, resulting in very high levels of waterproofing and heat retention. The down stuffing process is performed by experienced operators using a special injection machine. The down is injected into the garment by depressing a foot pedal, with the quantity shown on a meter. Final, fine adjustment of the amount can then be made by hand. With experience, however, the operators come to “feel” the quantity instinctively and become very fast and accurate. Importantly, this part of the work has to take place in a specially humidity-controlled room, because even if the same specified quantity is injected, down containing moisture occupies a different volume from totally dry down, and can cause serious issues for the garment’s functionality. Ensuring the down’s heat retention is always at the highest possible level entails constant monitoring, and regular adjustment to take account of seasonal humidity variations.
The production line for sewing is divided into three sections. One is for sewing individual parts, and the other two are garment assembly lines. So once the sewing of a down pack, and other individual parts, is completed, they are passed on to the assembly lines, where experienced sewing machinists put them together. Here the work done by individual machinists is quite separate, and as the work is passed from one to another along the line, the down garment gradually takes on a recognizable shape. At the Mizusawa factory, every person involved in this exacting sewing process has passed rigid examinations and obtained the highest certified national qualifications. These sewing assembly lines are also where the number of garments produced is controlled, delivering clean, accurate results, maximizing the speed and numbers of garments produced. The multi-skilled machinists are able to cooperate to vary the order in the line if necessary to ensure a smooth, continuous production process.
When the meticulously created Mizusawa Down garments have passed through the hands of all of these experienced craftsmen, they are ready for inspection. Here they are carefully and thoroughly checked, one by one, for size, stitching quality, location and accuracy of labels and tags and numerous other things. If any irregularity is discovered, a process of feedback to the relevant stage of the production line, and, if necessary, a factory-wide adjustment, is set in motion. In addition to this rigorous physical checklist, there is also an overall evaluation of the appearance and “feel” of the complete product, making sure that it is deemed to have been finished to the exacting standards required to be shipped out to the world bearing the Mizusawa Down name. From beginning to end, the entire production process is overseen at every stage by human eyes to guarantee the highest standards are maintained.
All of the machines in use at the Mizusawa factory have their own manuals for instructions and use. But there is no one machine, with its own manual, for “making Mizusawa Down”. The Maintenance Division, therefore, has had to develop its own set of specialized procedures for keeping the relevant machines running in accordance with the required standards. For instance, the sewing thread in the machines that deliver the unique Mizusawa Down look and “feel”, have to be set to a very precise tension to accommodate the fabric and thread match at each stage of production. More than that, the maintenance crew has taken care to watch over each of the machinists in action throughout the factory, and to customize the machines they use to ensure each individual machinist has what he or she needs to work as efficiently and comfortably as possible. These maintenance specialists don’t play any direct role in the production of the garments, but they play a very large part in ensuring overall manufacturing efficiency.