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How to find suppliers for your fashion brand

If you are thinking about starting a fashion brand then one of the first things you are going to need to do is find a manufacturer. Working with the right suppliers can make or break your business so it is crucial to develop strong relationships from the outset.

If you got here because you typed "how do I find a manufacturer for my clothing brand?" into a search engine, then you are in the right place. This article will give you all the information you need to not only find a supplier, but start a relationship that is set up for success.

Before you start looking for a manufacturer, think about the following:

  • What are you looking to make?

Most factories specialise in one thing. In the case of fashion, factories tend to be split by category as well as fabric type, so it is important to be detailed about what you want to manufacture when you first make contact with a factory.

  • Price point

Work out your target cost price based on the retail price and the profit margin you want to make for each item. By giving target cost prices to the factory early on in the process you and the factory can make an informed decision on whether it is feasible to work together.

  • Country of origin (COO)

Working close to home means that you can develop a close relationship with your manufacturer and make regular visits, but overseas factories tend to be cheaper (but with longer lead times). Weigh up what is most important for your business.

  • Minimum order quantity (MOQ)

How much are you prepared to order at a time? Factory MOQs vary greatly but most start from at least 200pcs. The more technical the product you are trying to produce, the higher the MOQ tends to be.

Where should I look for a factory for my clothing brand?

  1. Get a recommendation from another brand owner

  2. Use Make It British or Let's Make It Here for UK factory recommendations

  3. Search by certification. For example if you are looking for a GOTS certified factory, you can use the database on their website.

  4. Go to at trade fair like Premiere Vision in Paris, Source in London or Canton Fair in China.

  5. Use Common Objective (like the LinkedIn of sustainability). You can use LinkedIn too.

  6. Hire a consultant (like me!) or an agent (someone who connects brands and factories in return for commission).

  7. Simply use a search engine But download the checklist to make sure you get those early conversations right.

How to approach a new factory

  1. Do your research Read reviews and get recommendations or testimonials if you can.

  2. Sell yourself & your business Don’t forget that as a new business you will need to convince the factory that this will be a worthwhile partnership for them.

  3. Set up a face-to-face meeting If you can’t meet face-to-face then have a video call and arrange a factory walkthrough.

  4. Ask questions Make sure there are no surprises later by asking plenty of questions at the start. Ensure that anything agreed in these early meetings is captured in writing too.

  5. Think long term partnership Many businesses make the mistake of speaking to 5 or 6 manufacturers and selecting the cheapest. For better results, focus on developing a relationship with a factory that you trust to make your products to the desired quality and concentrate on building rapport.

What should you ask the factory about?

  • MOQ (minimum order quantity)

Most apparel brands start at around 300u, but some start at 500u or 1000u Some factories will manufacture a smaller quantity than their usual MOQ if you pay a surcharge so it is always worth asking.

Make sure you understand the colour minimums too, for example, 300u might mean one colour only or it might be possible to break it down into 3 colours - 100u per colour.

  • Is the factory CMT (cut, make, trim) or Fully Factored/FPP (full package production)

These terms refer to garment production.

CMT factories only manufacture the end product. All material sourcing (including packaging and trims) needs to be done by you. You will also need to provide patterns, not just the tech pack.

FPP or fully factored factories handle all of production including fabric sourcing and pattern making. A tech pack is enough for them to get started.

  • Lead times

Bear in mind that the sampling lead time (often 2 - 3 weeks) will be shorter than the lead time for bulk production (depending on how much you are producing).

  • Sampling Costs

If you are working with a FFP factory a certain number of samples are included in your unit cost price, but CMT factories will charge for samples. Sampling costs vary but they are usually at least double the unit price for bulk production.

  • Shipment Terms

The most common shipment terms tend to be FOB, DDP or Landed.

FOB (Free on Board) - The price you pay includes shipping to the manufacturer’s local port only. The factory will provide an ‘ex factory’ date which is the date the order will be ready to leave the factory. When the goods are loaded onto the ship they become your responsibility and when they arrive in your local port, you are responsible for delivery of goods to your warehouse or storage facility.

DDP - The price you pay the factory includes shipping to your nearest port and the manufacturer is responsible for customs clearance. You will need to collect the goods from the port and arrange delivery to your warehouse or storage facility.

Landed - The price you pay includes shipping right to your warehouse or storage facility.

  • Payment terms

Payment terms for startup businesses usually require the brand to pay a deposit to the manufacturer when the order is placed, usually 30-50%. The balance is usually paid by the brand when the production is complete but before it ships.

When you have been working with a supplier for a while you might be able to agree longer terms. Large businesses often pay suppliers 30, 60 or even 90 days after shipment, however this is usually contingent on complicated financial credit arrangements which allow the supplier to purchase all the materials they need for the order. Startup businesses are not able to give this security so expect to pay for some of the order up front.

  • Currency

Make sure you know what currency your manufacturer uses as this will make a huge difference to your margin if not calculated correctly. European suppliers (excluding UK) tend to trade in Euros whilst factories in Asia tend to trade in USD.

  • Who else they are working with

This is a good indicator of the level of the quality that a factory produces as well as their capacity. It is also sometimes an indicator of how important your business will be to a factory.

Sometimes brand names can't be disclosed due to confidentiality. At the very least, ask to see samples or photos of previous production that the manufacturer has made.

  • Sustainability credentials and values

First of all, ask the factory about their environmental and social responsibility and see how they respond. It’s great if they have a 3rd party factory audit which means that an independent auditor has reviewed the factory but it is very important to read the audit and raise any concerns about the findings. Having an audit alone is not enough to prove that a factory is ethical.

Similarly, they may be able to produce certifications but you should review these to make sure that they are not expired and that they are relevant to your business. For example, a supplier may produce a GRS certification which means that the materials they use are certified to contain recycled content but this would be irrelevant to your business if you are a brand producing organic cotton t-shirts. In that case, GOTS would be a better certification to look for.

As a minimum, I would look for a factory that mandates:

  1. No forced or bonded labour

  2. No child labour

  3. The right to unionise

  4. Payment above the legal minimum wage (ideally a living wage)

  5. No discrimination

Ensure you visit the factory regularly and raise any concerns.

How to find a manufacturer for your fashion brand



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