Starting any business can be an uphill battle, no matter your industry. But breaking into the apparel industry certainly has its own unique set of obstacles to overcome. Clothing is one of the most popular markets in e-commerce today. 13 of the top 20 direct-to-consumer brands are fashion industry companies. With long-standing fashion brands and flash-in-the-pan fads to compete with, a new clothing company has much to consider. If you want to launch your apparel line, ensuring your products stand out in this crowded industry is essential.
One of the most critical aspects of finding success in custom or volume apparel is partnering with the right manufacturer. Whether you’re looking to design the latest fashion trend or launch a line of long-lasting and comfortable uniform wear, the right manufacturer will be vital to your operation.
New to the Apparel Industry? Start With the Basics
Before searching for a clothing manufacturer, you must understand what you need. One of the most common misconceptions people new to the clothing industry have is the belief that every manufacturer can do everything they need. While some companies, often called full package manufacturers, can handle every step of the process, from design to launch, not every manufacturer offers every service. Some may specialize in design and sourcing materials, while others only focus on production.
To help you find a suitable clothing manufacturing partner for your needs, it helps to have some essential tasks already completed, including:
- Brand goals and general information about the products you want to produce
- A rough estimate of your total budget
- An idea of the capabilities you need from your partner, i.e., full-package vs. cut, make and trim services
- How much of each product do you need to produce
- An ideal time frame for the launch
- A tech pack that includes sketches, construction details, measurement specs, and ideal materials
- If possible, a product sample of your designs on hand (some manufacturers may be able to help you make these)
How to Search for a Clothing Manufacturer
Now that you’ve spent time making sure you understand your company’s manufacturing needs and created a solid business plan, it’s time to start looking for a partner. The first and most obvious place to look is, of course, the internet or colleagues.
Thousands of apparel manufacturers are listed online. While you can use a search engine to look for options, a few online directories list manufacturers and suppliers in one place. Some are free, whereas others require monthly subscription fees. How quickly you need to find a partner will likely determine how much time you have to search and whether or not it’s worth paying a fee to have faster access to manufacturer information.
Social media is another avenue to find a clothing manufacturer, as even large B2B businesses become savvier to evolving customer expectations. Hashtags and keywords can simplify the search, and you may find user experiences or reviews to help you decide.
The last and most traditional way to find a manufacturer is by attending a relevant trade show. While it will likely require you to travel and incur the extra costs accompanying it, going to a trade show has benefits.
Firstly, you’ll meet representatives from each factory in person rather than over the phone or via email. You can discuss your requirements and goals and ask questions about their product development process. Some factors include fees, logistics, piece minimums, and payment terms. Being able to go over these questions with multiple manufacturers means you’ll have a better idea of who will be the best fit for your brand. Often, it takes less time than you can manage to schedule a time to talk to manufacturers via the internet.
Vetting a Potential Manufacturing Partner
Whether you find a clothing manufacturer online or meet them at a trade show, you’ll want to vet them thoroughly. No matter how smooth their sales pitch is, your success will rely heavily on ensuring your manufacturing partner meets your needs and expectations. Before you sign any contracts, here are our top five tips to help you check out each potential partner.
- Conduct Your Research
You should be doing more than just a basic check for bad online reviews. Thoroughly examine their website, checking for bad English, mismatched or missing addresses, or dead phone numbers. It also helps to try and find if they make products similar to what you’re looking to have manufactured. After all, if you’re looking to debut a new line of scrubs, a company specializing in making jeans might not be a great fit.
- Check Their Audit Reports & Certifications
Some manufacturers may be able to provide you with onsite audit reports they’ve had to conduct for current clients. Check to see if these are available; if so, make sure the information matches what you already know about the company. Some less scrupulous manufacturers are known to “borrow” reports and pass them off as their own.
Another question is whether the company has industry-recognized certifications, like OEKO-TEX, B Corp, BCI, or GOTS. Each certification has significance, primarily if your brand focuses on sustainable fashion, using recycled material, or the like.
- Request References
You should always ask a clothing manufacturer if they can provide references from current or former clients. While confidentiality agreements may mean it isn’t possible, it never hurts to ask.
- Get an Inspection
An in-person inspection is hard to beat in giving you peace of mind about a company’s business practices. If you can’t travel to a manufacturer’s factory that you’re interested in, you can hire a third-party agency to do it for you.
Agencies like Intertek or SGS send an inspector on-location to check the business license, certifications, and compliance with proper regulations. Then, they will send you a report with photos identifying any concerns. The inspector’s job is to remain neutral and not provide any recommendations within the report, leaving you to decide.
- Payment Terms
Ensuring a company has clear payment terms is the best way to protect yourself from any possible scammers. You should never pay for the entirety of a job until it is complete and you are satisfied with the final product before releasing it for delivery. A deposit is sometimes requested but should never be 100% of the agreed-upon cost.
Many companies will allow Letters of Credit (LC), but not all will due to the additional costs associated with them. Even reputable manufacturers may be leery of accepting an LC; however, you may be able to negotiate a 50/50 split of costs. A scammer will never, under any circumstances, accept an LC and often ask for a deposit of 100%.
Clothing Manufacturing in the US
While an estimated 95% of clothing worn in the US was made domestically during the 1960s, issues like recessions and free trade deals led to that number dropping to just 3% in the early 2000s. There has been a resurgence in interest in made-in-USA apparel recently. With over 100,000 textile mills still in operation in the country today, fashion industry companies have many options if they are trying to keep in line with Made in America trends.
At Dominisii, we have experienced an increased interest in made-in-USA apparel, which has led to our plans for a vertical manufacturing location in Texas, which is currently underway. Also, besides continuing to produce in the USA, we have well-established long-term relationships in 17 different countries to meet the needs of our customers.
Whether you’re looking to launch a new clothing brand or your current manufacturing partner isn’t meeting your expectations, Dominisii is here to help. We are far more than just a manufacturer. You can utilize our industry knowledge on a consultant basis for guidance on projects in any area, from our design and merchandise expertise to product development from concept to finished product. Or, simplify your processes and let us handle your entire project from the design process to launch.