Podcast Ep. 18: 5 Things You Must Do After Choosing Your Clothing Manufacturer
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This is the last week we’re going to talk about clothing manufacturing, and while I know, manufacturing isn’t necessarily the most glamorous topic I want to make sure you’re armed for success so that you not only know how to be an ideal client to potential production partners, but you also know how to protect yourself before signing any contracts. Today’s topic is 5 things you must do after choosing your clothing manufacturer.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
For the past few weeks of the podcast, we’ve talked a lot about your supply chain — especially when it comes to fabric and manufacturing. This is the last week we’re going to talk about clothing manufacturing, and while I know, manufacturing isn’t necessarily the most glamorous topic I want to make sure you’re armed for success so that you not only know how to be an ideal client to potential production partners, but you also know how to protect yourself before signing any contracts.
So, if that sounds good to everyone, let’s get started – today’s topic is 5 things you must do after choosing your clothing manufacturer.
Before we get into the five things, I will start with this preface: the fact of the matter is, when you’re a new brand and you haven’t “proven yourself” yet, established factories can see you as a “small player.” And as I talked about a little bit last week, it may feel like you need them more than they need you. The trick is to focus on building relationships, asking the right questions, giving the right answers, and showing a willingness to adapt.
So before you do choose a production partner to work with, and when you’re still contacting factories to see if it’s the right fit, I want you to be prepared with some questions you should know how to answer. Go ahead and get out a notebook or Google doc (or you can just wait and go back through the replay so you can press pause) but these are the questions that a potential production partner will likely ask you — and you’ll want to be prepared with solid and knowledgeable answers:
- The first question is: How long have you been in business? This is one way for a factory to separate the startups from the established brands. If you are just starting out and this will be your first production run, don’t let this question discourage you. If you’re prepared with educated answers for the other questions, then you’ll be able to show the manufacturer that you’re not a typical startup — you’re a prepared startup.
- The second question is What is the product? You’ll want to be prepared with a 1-2 sentence description of your production or collection of products that is succinct and descriptive in a way that provides information to the manufacturer. So for example, instead of saying “I’m making activewear” it would be much more effective to say, “I’m creating an activewear brand of two racerback tank tops, a pair of leggings and a pair of bike shorts — all are made from the same jersey knit fabric with a weight of 10 oz.”
- The next question is What is your sales volume? This question is hard to answer as a startup if you haven’t sold anything yet, but let’s say you’re preparing for a crowdfunding or pre-sales campaign and you know you have a certain goal amount you’re wanting to raise which is based on the production of 250 pieces. You can tell the manufacturer you’re projecting an initial production run of 250-500 pieces.
- The next question is What is your lead time? The manufacturer is trying to figure out if you have realistic expectations for your timeline. They also need to know if your lead times will fit with their production calendar and the clients they already have on their production line. If you know your launch is already planned for a certain date, then you can tell them that and ask if that timing works with their schedule. Obviously if it’s September and you tell them you’re launching tomorrow and want to go into production next week, then that’s not going to work. So make sure to provide a window that shows realistic expectations and flexibility.
- The next question you want to be prepared to answer is Do you have samples? If you watched last week’s live show, then this will be an easy question! You can say, yes I have finished samples, patterns and spec sheets for each design.
- And the last question is Are there any special services you need? This could be something like screenprinting or embroidery or a heat transfer machine for inside care labels — if there’s anything unique or special about the needs for your garments then you’ll want to tell them so that you know if you need to seek out a third party for a certain aspect of the garment construction process.
In general, by asking these questions, the factory manager is trying to find out:
- If they can serve you and have the equipment needed for your product
- How familiar you are with production issues
- How much time they’re going to have to invest in educating you (ideally they won’t have to do much)
- How willing are you to listen to advice
- What kind of potential you have for long-term success
- What will the work flow be like – all at once or steady over time?
- Will you be a regular customer
- Do you have a realistic timeline
- Have you organized and planned
It can feel intimidating to go into these meetings, already worried about appearing like a novice or sending red flags from the beginning, but I promise you — just like anything in life that’s new or unfamiliar — the more you prepare and educate yourself, the more confident you’ll be and that will have a lasting impact on the factory manager. The good news is that, in this industry, it’s actually easy to set yourself apart from everyone else with a little preparation because so few people are educating themselves like you are.
Okay, so those are some questions you should be prepared to answer but you’ll also want to go into the meeting with some smart, well researched questions to ask the factory. Remember, you’re trying to decide if it’s a mutually good fit — you’re not desperate, there are other production partners out there, so asking these questions will help you get a better idea of if it’s a well-suited partnership.
Okay, so, QUESTIONS YOU NEED TO ASK A POTENTIAL CUT AND SEW MANUFACTURER
- The first one is How long have you been in business? This was also on the list of questions they may ask you, but you want to know if they’re a manufacturer that’s been in the game for a long time or if they’re also just starting out. It’s not to say the startup factory is a red flag, it could potentially be a partnership you help each other grow into, but you’ll want to know how seasoned the factory is.
- What services can you provide? This is when it’s helpful to know if they offer any of the specialty services you may need (if any) OR if they do product development from scratch and you don’t need to get your patterns and samples done elsewhere first. (if you’re confused about what I’m talking about, make sure to go back and watch the replay from last week’s live show.)
- What are your quality control procedures? Quality control (or QC) is what happens after your garments are sewn and finished and before they’re shipped to you, your fulfillment center or your customers — typically there should be one person or one department that inspects every single garment for consistency, flaws or defects before it’s packaged up. A good quality control person is imperative to the success of the production run.
- What is your production capacity? This is a great question because it shows you’re planning to have long term growth and thus be a longer term client.
- Do you have insurance? You’re looking for ‘work stoppage’ insurance – in the case that the employees in your factory go on strike, or the building is hit by a hurricane, or some other disaster that would halt production.
- Can I tour the facility? If a factory manager tells you you can’t visit or come into the factory, then I would look elsewhere.
There are some common reasons that factories don’t like working with startups or new designers and I’m not telling you this to discourage you, but so you can be aware of what to avoid in the vibe you’re putting out and how you’re approaching the manufacturer.
- One obvious reason is that time is money. If you’re a first timer or newbie factory partners don’t want to have to spend a lot of time educating you.
- Your first production-run is also no guarantee of future work for them.
- Another reason is paranoia. You don’t have to worry about them stealing or selling your ideas/designs. Paranoia, scarcity thinking and fear are going to be major red flags.
- Know-it-all / I’m-the-boss mentality. There’s a fine line between not looking like a newbie and not acting like you know everything. These people are experts and they’ll see right through that. If you don’t understand something, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation.
- Timeliness. Make sure your communication is consistent and reliable — you’re responding to emails or texts promptly (especially once you go into production) and that you’re showing up for meetings on time, etc.
Okay, so let’s say you’ve interviewed a few manufacturers, you’ve had some good meetings and you think YOU’VE FOUND A PRODUCTION PARTNER YOU WANT TO WORK WITH. NOW WHAT?
1.) First, you’ll want to Schedule a “time study.” If your production partner didn’t do your product development (meaning your first samples and patterns) then they’re going to make their own sample of your product so they can determine the price per unit based on time. This will be a major step in determining your cost of goods sold — when they give you this labor cost you’ll be able to combine it with your materials costs and have a better idea of how close you are to your ideal retail price.
2.) So you schedule the time study and then you’ll Send your fabric and materials, as well as the sample and pattern you’ve already had made, to your factory.
3.) When they’re finished with the time study, you’ll schedule a meeting (in person or via FaceTime or Zoom) to discuss sewing and production costs, payment policies, scheduling, and any questions or concerns. I recommend recording this meeting (ask for permission) or taking frivolous notes because you’re going to get a ton of information.
4.) Make sure you go over any problems that were found in the time study (for example, a part of the product that slows things up), how they can fix it, and any other suggestions.
5.) Ask for an explanation of pricing and for practical tips on lowering the cost. If you’ve done your research in finding the right production partner, then you don’t need to worry about anyone trying to take advantage of you in price. They want you to be successful and to help you get the cost down as much as possible. In the long-run, it’s better for them.
It’s also important to know that Not only is the time study and new sample a chance to figure out pricing, but it’s also the first time you will get to see what kind of work the factory puts out. When you get the sample in your hands you’ll want to inspect it very closely and make sure it looks exactly as you would want the final product to look. This is not the time to make consolations or settle.
Alright, so those are the five things you must do after choosing a clothing manufacturer — 1.) schedule a time study, 2.) send your fabric, materials, samples, patterns and spec sheets to your factory, 3.) schedule a meeting to go over the time study sample, 4.) determine any construction problems and suggested solutions, and 5.) ask for explanation of pricing and opportunity to lower the labor cost.
The free resource I’m going to share with you this week is my spec sheet template. As I’ve mentioned, one of the three things you need in addition to your sample and pattern, is a completed spec sheet. So you can download that template from the description below and you’ll know exactly what you need to include on your spec sheet.
Thanks everyone for listening, for continuing to put in the time, to educate yourself and to set yourself up for success — you should be really proud of the time you’re committing to starting and building your brand.