DIY Technical Design Section 10: Sourcing and Manufacturing
HOW TO FIND MANUFACTURING FOR YOUR APPAREL BRAND
In order to produce your apparel product or accessory, you will need to source the materials that a factory will then use to manufacture your goods. Finding a factory can be a daunting task, but by following a few simple tips you can be well on your way to finding a factory that’s a perfect fit for your brand.
WHY SO SECRETIVE?
Have you been looking for a factory to produce your goods only to realize there is hardly any information out there to help you on your way? Companies are incredibly protective of the manufacturers that they work with. Here are the top 3 reasons why apparel companies won’t share what factories they work with:
Competition - Factories have a limited number of man hours, space, and projects that they can take on. Most companies will not want to share their factory information so that they can have more of that factories time and resources. If you are the largest company at that factory with the biggest program (and making them the most money) you have more leverage over the factory. A competing company could come in and take away that power.
Conditions - While transparency has become more important in recent years, it hasn’t totally lifted the veil of what factories a company is working with. A company may be hesitant to share factory information because the working conditions are not up to regulation.
Competitive Edge - If Company A has found a factory that can source them a unique fabric (or other item) for a great price, they won’t want to share that information as their competition, Company B, could easily source the same fabric from that factory and compete against them on the market. Especially if Company B has a larger following or better marketing. Most companies will be looking to source similar fabrics based on market trends for that season. Company A is keeping the information private as a competitive edge over Company B.
Along with a myriad of other reasons, companies tend to be pretty secretive about who they work with. Unfortunately, that means a little more grunt work is required on your end. However, I’m excited to announce that I’ve created a tool for you that can make the process much easier.
THE ULTIMATE FASHION RESOURCE DIRECTORY
I’ve dreamt of being able to provide this for a very long time and I’ve gone back and forth about how it should work, if it should be free or paid, and what exactly it would look like. Well, I’m ecstatic to say that the waiting is over and it’s finally here.
The Ultimate Fashion Resource Directory now lives exclusively on Points of Measure. It launches today with fashion resources including manufacturing, fabric suppliers, agents, and so much more! This directory is 100% free and accessible to all. I’ve curated a list of my favorite companies and hidden gems! It is a live page on my website that will be consistently updated with new research and I’ll even be accepting recommendations from fashion professionals, like you.
You might ask, “why are you offering all of this very secretive information for free?” “What’s the catch?” There’s no catch. If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I love to take risks and do things differently. Sure, it would be awesome to make some money off of it, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to really help fashion startups and brands like yours to succeed. I know when I was starting out I didn’t have a penny to spare (I barely do now) and I thought to myself “What would have helped me the most when I was first starting out?” I think it’s about time that we stop keeping these secrets and instead share them and lift each other up. The factories and manufacturers could sure use more business! And fashion professionals, like you, could really use the help!
So, it’s a win, win in my book. I get to provide you guys with the information you so desperately need, you get to discover amazing new companies that can help you develop your products, and the manufacturers/companies get new business! I really hope that this can just be a jumping off point for more amazing, free, resources for the fashion community.
If you’re not finding what you’re looking for on the directory, you can check out some tips below for researching and choosing your own factory.
How can I find a factory that’s right for me?
Remember that not all factories are created equal. Some may work with you directly, while others may require you to work with them through an agent*. A full service factory can provide you with sourcing (for fabric and trims) services, but smaller factories may only offer assembly. Do some research to ensure that the workers at the factory you choose are experiencing fair working conditions and that the factory has processes in place to make production more sustainable. There are a lot of garment factory disasters that you do not want your products to be associated with. Take the time to make sure your factory is the right fit.
What should I look for in a factory?
High vs. Low Minimums - We’ve talked a bit about minimums already during this series. Minimums refers to the minimum number of units you must produce in order for the factory to work on the project. Make sure that the factories minimum requirements fit within your budget.
Sustainability and Fair Working Conditions - With transparency becoming more popular and new regulations for fair working conditions in place, it’s important to pay attention to the status of the factory in that regard. Does the factories policies align with your brand?
Location - With new import tariffs and/or taxes being implemented in different countries, be aware of where you are importing goods from and to.
Communication - In most cases you will be dealing with some language and cultural barriers when working with a factory. Having some initial phone calls to get a sense of their attitude around communication can be a good way to understand if they are a good factory for you.
Transparency - In some cases, a factory may outsource your project if their workload is too full. Ask if this is a possibility upfront so that you know fully where your product is being produced.
HOW TO FIND A FACTORY
OPTION #1: SEARCH ENGINE
The simplest and most common way to find a factory is to spend some time researching through a search engine like Google. Use specific search terms like these:
“Low minimum leather bag manufacturer in the US”
“High volume denim manufacturer”
“Sustainable ready to wear manufacturing in Vietnam”
I will say that many factories have gotten better at having a website and/or social media presence, but I will admit, it can be hit or miss. Take some time to look through Instagram or Facebook too!
OPTION #2: PLATFORMS
If you are looking for a lower minimum supplier or manufacturer you can check out Etsy where a lot of manufacturers have added a profile too so that more people can find them.
Alibaba has pre-made products, but also some custom manufacturers. What’s great about Alibaba is that they also list the factory information and contact. You can use that info to research the factory and find their website.
Maker’s Row and some other sites have paid search platforms specifically for finding fashion resources, or you can just check out mine for free.
OPTION #3: COMPETITORS
Some great news along with the trend towards transparency is that more and more companies are agreeing to list their factory information on their websites. With transparency becoming more and more desirable, some apparel companies have agreed to list their factory information. Check out this excerpt from Human Rights Watch:
“In 2016, Human Rights Watch joined eight international labor rights groups and global unions advocating for a basic level of transparency in the garment industry. The coalition developed a “Transparency Pledge,” a uniform minimum standard for transparency, drawn from industry good practices. The pledge is a modest starting point for company disclosure. Companies can do far more than what the pledge seeks, for example by publishing information about where they source cotton and other materials from.
The coalition reached out to 72 brands—some leaders on transparency and others that lag behind— to urge them to align their practices with the Transparency Pledge. Seventeen leading global apparel and footwear companies have to date committed to publishing all of the information sought in the pledge.
Each company that does so commits to regularly publish on its website a list of all factories that manufacture its products. The list should specify the full name of all authorized production units and processing facilities; site addresses; parent company information for the production units; type of products made; and a rough indication of the number of workers at each site.
Among the leaders who previously already disclosed supplier factory information and fully committed to the pledge are adidas, C&A, Cotton On Group, Esprit, G-Star RAW, H&M Group, Hanesbrands, Levi’s, Lindex, Nike, and Patagonia. Companies that were going transparent for the first time and committed to the pledge are: ASICS, ASOS, Clarks, New Look, Next, and Pentland Brands.”
An exciting direction for fashion, but furthermore it gives you the opportunity to take a look at the factories that the above brands are using. All it takes is a little digging! Companies like Adidas are listing their factory and manufacturing information directly on their website.
Human Rights watch even included a table of what each company is providing, to make your search a little bit easier.
Ok so what do I need for them to provide me a quote/bid?
You will at the very least need Technical Sketches. Most likely you will need a full Tech Pack to get a quote. Take a look at this full series (if you haven’t already) to get information on how to DIY your Technical Design and develop your first apparel product or accessory!
Here are some questions you should be ready to answer when inquiring with a factory:
How many units will you be producing?
How many styles?
How many colors?
How many sizes?
Do you have a specific date or timeline in mind to launch your products?
…And that’s it! Following this 10 part series will give you everything you need to develop your first product. Be sure to check out The Fashion Resource Directory and Subscribe for more awesome content like this.