Updated: Jan 14
A step by step guide to choosing the right factory to make garments.
Clothing brands put their lives in the hands of sewing contractors everyday. Choosing the wrong manufacturers to do business with has been the kiss of death for many. Late deliveries, over paying, damages and off spec garments can snuff the life out a fashion brand really quick. Although there is no guarantee, here are some tips to help choose a contractor that will deliver on spec and on-time.
In some cases more than one factory must be selected to complete the garment production. For example, if the main sewing factory doesn't have their own cutting or laundry, these contractors will need to be dealt with separately. In most cases though, the main sewing factory will subcontract the cutting, laundry and sometimes even finishing to other contractors. If they offer full package production they will take care of all those steps. If the production isn't full package, individual service providers may need to be found for each step.
People who do not have extensive apparel manufacturing experience should pick factories that offer full package that includes cutting, sewing, laundry and finishing.
Step 1. Where to manufacture?
Cut and sew factories can be found all over the world in major cities and garment centers. For startup brands, it is best to pick local factories. Be ready to visit the manufacturer at least 3 times during the production process. An initial visit of the facilities to make sure it's a viable factory, one visit at the start of production and one towards the last 2 weeks of production. If traveling far is an issue, best choose a factory that is more local.
Factories that make the same type of garments tend to gather. Find the nearest city that has many factories producing the intended garments. For example, someone wanting to make jeans in the USA, Los Angeles would be the best city to pick, if making in China the best city would be Hong Kong, in India Delhi...
It may be worth it to go to boutiques that sell the competition's goods and note the RN on the inside label. The RN is the manufacture registration number with the FTC and must appear on the label of each garment. Then check who the number is registered to. If the competition didn't apply for their own number, the number of the factory they are using will be on the label. Check the RN online database to see the registered maker.
Step 2. Pick factories.
Once the city is decided, a web search should return many factories in that city. Review the websites of each manufacture and give them a call. The main things to ask for are:
1. Confirm they have experience making the intended garment types.
2. Ask what the minimum order quantity is. Be sure to clarify if it's by style, style/color or style/color/size (see step 4).
3. Send them pictures of the intended garments and ask for a price estimate. This will be an educated guess as factories can't tell the exact cost unless they see an actual sample (see step 4 below).
4. Ask them for references of brands they are currently making for and do not hesitate to contact the production managers of those brands to ask them about the factory's delivery and quality.
Step 3. Go visit the factories.
It isn't recommended to skip this step. Actually seeing the facility and talking to the people on the floor is crucial. Some factories have good sales people that tell customers everything they want to hear and embellish things. Seeing first hand what the factory is like will clear up any doubt.
Things to look for and ask:
1. Overall look and feel of the factory
2. How busy does it look?
3. What brands are in production?
4. How do the factory workers seem?
5. It doesn't hurt to talk to a few people, ask them about their job and how they like it
6. How do the machines look? Are they old and dirty or are they newer ones? Not the brand and model of a few of the machines and check later
7. How organized does the place look? Are there pieces of everything everywhere or is everything organized in a neat manner?
8. Look at the goods on the sewing floor, how is the quality?
Step 4. Confirm prices, minimums and lead times.
Ask each factory what their MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity) is for each garment type. Clarify if the MOQ is by style, style/color or style/color/size.
Show them the actual garments to be made (pictures or samples) and ask how much can they make it for. Confirm if the price includes fabric and non-branded trim or is just for CMT (Cut, Make. Trim). If the garments need to be dyed or washed, ask if that is included in the price. Ask if there are any additional charges.
Confirm the production lead time. As how they insure goods are delivered on time. Apparel factories are notorious for being late more often than not. It's the nature of the business with many last minute surprises. How the factory handles being late can make all the difference. When production is late and no one lets the customer know, things tend to get worse.
Ask if they provide TOP samples and if there is an additional charge. Most apparel contractors send TOPs at no additional charge. TOP (Top Of Production) samples are garments pulled out of the sewing line early, quickly washed and finished. The samples are sent to the customer for review of how the actual production is coming out. This process can be a lifesaver in some cases.
Step 5. Place the production order.
After sending in the order, the factory should confirm prices and delivery date for every item. At this point it is best to ask for the production schedule. The schedule will tell when the goods are to be cut, when sewing starts, when sewing is planned to finish, when laundry starts and finishes, when the goods are due in finishing. It's easy to check if the factory is on time with the schedule. On the day the goods are supposed to be out of cutting, a simple phone call or a visit to the factory will confirm that step is on time. Monitor each step in the same manner to insure ontime production.