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Bill of Materials 101

What’s a BOM, anyway?

When your company is in the business of producing and selling apparel, accessories or home goods, one of the most important things to document is the Bill of Materials (abbreviated as BOM) for each product.  A BOM is where you track how much you need of each fabric, button, label, trim, etc. to make one finished product – and what role each material plays in that product. 

The key elements of a Bill of Materials are as follows:

  • Every material that is required to create the product, inclusive of all product colorways
  • The relevant variant (color, size, finish, etc.) of each material which corresponds to each product colorway
  • For each material on the product, key data from the vendor such as the article number, price, country of origin, content or lead time
  • The projected consumption of each material to make one unit of the product
  • The placement or use of each material on the product
  • Any specific handling instructions for each material – like which side should serve as the face versus the back, or whether it must be cut directionally due to a nap or a printed motif

Who’s responsible for the BOM?

Most typically, BOMs are managed by a brand’s internal team, with collaboration from the agent or manufacturing partners.  Some brands rely more heavily on their external partners to manage all the sourcing and costing of the raw materials and place their production orders on a finished-goods basis.  Even in these cases, however, best practice is for the brand to require a comprehensive BOM from their partner.   Treat your BOMs like you would any other intellectual property.

How is the BOM used?

One of the first steps in product development is the ordering of the raw materials – whether for prototyping or for bulk production.  A BOM at this stage serves as a checklist for issuing purchase orders to the relevant mills and suppliers.  Track accurate consumption for each component in the BOM, so you can then calculate your total needs for the number of units you’re ordering at any given time.

As sampling or production kicks off, the primary role of the BOM is to instruct the product manufacturers which pattern pieces are made up of which materials, how each material must be handled, where to place particular trims, etc.  You want to present this data in a clear, consistent, and complete manner so that your manufacturer won’t make erroneous assumptions or revert back with questions.  The key is to forestall mistakes, for one, but also to minimize back-and-forth communication, which can be extremely time-consuming – especially when collaborating with partners in different time zones.

As you wrap up production, the BOM serves as a system of record to be leveraged by multiple cross-functional partners.  Your quality assurance team will reference the BOM to evaluate the finished goods for compliance with the material specifications.  Your customs broker will determine the correct HTS code to file when importing your product based in part on its materialization, which they can glean from the BOM.  And your sales, marketing, and eCommerce teams can refer to the BOM as they prepare selling stories and product spec pages to take to markets and/or publish to your website.

Why do I need a BOM?

Good BOM documentation enables your team to make informed decisions that support your business goals.  A significant portion of a product’s costs stem from the component materials that comprise it – and without tracking the consumption and price of these components, you won’t be able to perform a cost benefit analysis.  Is that custom, injection-molded zipper pull worth it, or would a generic substitute serve your customers just as well and increase your margin?

Moreover, as post-Covid consumer delays have made clear, the global supply chain can break down for any number of reasons: stay-at-home orders, adverse weather conditions, shipping container distribution issues, etc.  To ensure your brand’s resilience in the face of headwinds, you need the latitude to pivot between multiple supply chains.  Owning clear and consistent data on your raw materials enables you to run efficient counter-sourcing exercises with other mills and vendors.

How do I create a Bill of Materials?

Typically the BOM forms one section of your larger tech pack.  Many brands start out by using Adobe Illustrator and Excel to create their tech packs since the majority of the data is either entirely visual or else well suited to a table format.  Your BOM falls in the latter category – you’ll want to set up a standard layout, with columns for each attribute you wish to include. Aim to make your formatting as consistent as possible from one tech pack to the next, as this will help your manufacturing partners find the data they need.  Below is an example of an Excel BOM for reference: 

One of the main motivations for implementing a dedicated product development tool is that it makes BOM management a lot easier than Excel.  Product Developers love the ability to query their Component Library to populate each BOM, rather than consulting a static spreadsheet somewhere and copying/pasting.  The seamless flow of your Component images is also a huge benefit – especially for manufacturing partners whose native languages differ from your own.  And you can leverage Backbone’s BOM Templates to pull related Components (like label sets or complementary packaging) into a BOM all at once.  

Backbone BOMs are built on dynamic data – changes you make to a Component Record will flow seamlessly out to each BOM that uses the Component.  This saves loads of time with reconciliation across records and uplevels your data integrity.  And, when it comes time to review your raw material needs across a season or collection, Backbone’s dynamic data enables you to pull a comprehensive utilization report in just a few clicks.  You can use this information to negotiate bulk discounts, evaluate the strongest and weakest links in your supply chain, and much more.  Here’s a look at a Backbone Bill of Materials:


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