Whether you’re handmaking products or want to start a new line of clothes or accessories, finding the right factory for your business is essential for success.
When you start a creative business, one of the last things on your mind is logistics. Your head is too full of colours, designs, mood boards and ideas to spare much room for the less exciting stuff. But, as everyone knows deep down, the boring bits are what keeps a business thriving. And when it comes to clothes, accessories or anything related to fashion, nailing your production process might not be the most glamorous task, but it’s certainly the most vital. Here are the steps to follow to find the right factory for you:
Do you want a factory to simply assemble materials you’ve bought to a pattern you’ve designed, or do you want it to source materials, create a pattern and assemble it all from your sketch? If it’s the former, choose a factory that does CMT (cut-measure-trim), and if it’s the latter, choose FPP (full package production). FPP is inevitably more expensive, but can be the right choice for a designer with little or no garment-making or pattern-cutting skills. CMT tends to work best for designers who already have a line of products and have been making them from their kitchen table.
Getting recommendations from your friends, peers or network is the best way to find a good-quality, reliable factory. the best factories are so highly prized that many designers are loath to share their contacts. Get what you can from them; even knowing the city that they produce in can help you narrow your search, as you might find a district that specialises in what you do. Alternatively, visit dedicated manufacturing websites that can help you filter results. In the UK, Let’s Make It Here is a database of manufacturers that you can search by category, keyword or location, while in the US Maker’s Row can help. Visit local manufacturing trade shows too; the DISC Manufacturers’ Trade Show is held twice a year in London.
After doing your research you will inevitably have a huge list of potential factories to work with all around the world. Unless you have an endless supply of cash, you won’t be able to sample with all of them, so you need to cut your list down. The best production managers suggest you try and keep it as local to you as possible, as this eliminates overseas shipping logistics and customs issues. Also, it means you are closer to the factory and can do first visits, second visits and quality control more easily. For less experienced designers it can also offer peace of mind – being closer to where your product is being made makes you feel more in control of your business. Cost is a factor, of course, and especially in the UK and US, prices are higher because of minimum wages, strict legal requirements and other factors.
Location isn’t the only thing to consider, however. Your perfect factory will have experience of producing the types of clothing and garments you want made, using the materials you want to make them with. Check which areas it specialises in – bags, womenswear etc – and what machinery it has. (The more clued up you are about the procedures needed to make your products, the easier this latter part will be.) You’ll also need to know about minimums: how many products you will have to order to secure a relationship, schedules and pricing.
After you’ve found out all the above, a visit is the next step - and it’s vital you do this. Even if you’ve met the manager at a trade show and seen samples of their work or exchanged a hundred emails, you won’t get a true sense of the place until you step through the door. And your request will be expected; it’s usual for designers to inspect the factories they’ll be working with and the request demonstrates to the manager that you are professional, experienced and you understand the process. On this visit, be sure to discuss prices, schedules and minimums. Ahead of time you should have an understanding of how much you want to pay and how much they’d like to charge, and this is the time to negotiate.