So you’ve created your tech pack. Welcome to the next stage in product development known as ‘getting it made.’ OK, that’s not the technical term for it, but it does nicely sum it up. Where do you begin. This can be intimidating when you’re doing this for the first time but not to worry, it gets easier. You’ll grow your curated list of contacts, resources, suppliers, and manufacturers, and you’ll learn along the way. In the industry this combination of resources and vendors is known as your sourcing mix.
Ideally, your manufacturer is driving distance from you, right? Then you can pop over for meetings, inspect things as they come up, and cut down on shipping costs. Well, that sounds great, but it’s not always possible. You may end up hiring a manufacturer overseas, so educate yourself on quotas and tariffs. If you plan on importing your fabric, you may have to pay special taxes. It all plays a part in your decision making. Remember, your business becomes a success when the profits are greater than your costs. If you do end up working with a manufacturer overseas, consider hiring a local agent to supervise the production process. They can be your eyes and ears.
Clothing Manufacturer Research
Next, let’s get into your manufacturing needs. You have pretty much endless options. You can do everything yourself: source all of the components such as fabric, trim, and notions, and then make the garments yourself. Or you can go to the opposite end of the spectrum and hire a full package manufacturer who can go from A to Z for you with just your sketches. And then, of course, there is everything in between!
Often when a designer is first starting out it’s not uncommon to go “in house,” and partner with a designer who is trained in pattern making and sewing. You would source all the components yourself, in this case. But, what if you suddenly get a large order. There is only so much that’s feasible with one or two people doing all the work. Logic dictates that if you anticipate large orders, you would want to go with a manufacturer who can produce large quantities in a timely fashion.
Another option is to go with a cut, make, and trim (CMT) facility, which is exactly what it sounds like. Again, you would source all the components then hire a contractor to cut, sew, and finish the garment. Usually CMT manufacturers have many people working on a single order which leaves the door open if you score a big order.
And then there’s full package manufacturing. It comes down to this, if the cost of your fabric is included in the vendor’s cost, they are likely a full package manufacturer.
Be strategic in your search for a clothing manufacturer. Is there a brand that you love? Check one of their clothing labels and see where the garment is made. It may not list the factory, but it will list the country. A quick Google search may give you what you’re looking for. You could also contact the embassy or trade association of that country and ask for a list of manufacturers.
Contacting Clothing Manufacturers
You’ve narrowed it down and you’re ready to start sending out emails and making calls. Organize yourself with a list of questions you want to get answered and keep track of your research in a spreadsheet. Note things like how much they charge for pattern making and samples. Do they charge per pattern or is it per hour. Do they outsource anything. Find out the minimum number of units you can order. This is key if want to do small runs. It’s possible to locate smaller manufacturers domestically who are willing to do 20 or 30 pieces per style minimum. Full package manufacturing can start upwards of 500 pieces per style.
If you’re having trouble meeting the minimums, consider cutting down on your styles and colorways. You could even get creative and buy a large amount of white fabric and dye it yourself!
Screening Potential Factories
Keep in mind that sometimes manufacturers specialize in one thing or another—whether it’s the type of garment or the fabric itself. Swimwear may require certain sewing equipment, for example. Do your research. If your manufacturer needs to rent special equipment in order to make your garments, you may be footing the bill. Ask questions and be clear. If you’re using a difficult fabric to sew, such as silk, find out how much experience they have working with it.
Take note of the brands they’ve worked with and ask them for references from some of their clients. You are hiring them after all and you want to be confident in your choice. It’s probably a good idea to request a sample of their work, too, to get a sense of their workmanship. They may charge for it, but it’s worth it in the long run. Inquire about turnaround times. Somewhere in the range of 60 to 90 days is pretty common. Keep in mind though that the delivery date will be the date on which your order finished, not the date you or your retailer will have it. You will need to factor in shipping time to meet those deadlines.
The cost of transporting by ship when producing overseas is considerably less than the cost of transporting by air, but it takes longer. Shipping time to Los Angeles is about thirty days from South Asia and seventeen to twenty days from China and Europe. Manufacturing domestically, on the other hand, may reduce your transportation costs and shipping time, which is great because a short lead time can allow for your brand to quickly respond to fashion trends! Also, get the details on your manufacturer’s payment terms. Make sure you know what your unit price does and does not include. Ask about terms and conditions. Get in writing everything you need to know about order quantities, shipment, payment, insurance, quality, and delivery dates.
Visiting a potential factory helps in the screening process. This way you can meet the team and get a feel for how they do business. Note things such as order and tidiness. Are they following good business practices for their employees in terms of safety, compliance, and working conditions. You are entering a business relationship, so it’s important to know if you see eye to eye on things.