How the Heck Do I get this Made?

Turning a sketch into reality.

Key Takeaways

  1. Assessing the manufacturing decisions made by comparable lines in the marketplace is a good place for brand creators to begin their search.
  2. Reviewing labor costs while not overlooking ethical considerations is crucial in determining which factory to work with in order for brands to remain competitive in today’s climate. 
  3. Brand creators should explore new technologies to streamline the production of their garments, paying particular attention to advancements in cost reduction and flexibility.

Independent fashion designers and entrepreneurs interested in launching their clothing labels must find trustworthy manufacturers to create their products. While it’s necessary to understand the nuances of the fashion supply chain to better run your business, it’s equally imperative that every component within that process is reliable. Arguably, one of the most critical units to your brand’s success is the producer of your product. First time designers are inundated with a myriad of options on how to create their wares which can be overwhelming and confusing. To find the best direction for their financial resources, brand creators must weigh the pros and cons of manufacturing clothing versus dropshipping, deciding between producers available domestically or overseas, and ultimately choosing one that can skillfully produce their goods.

Launching a fashion brand can be intimidating and expensive. Having a general sense of how brands can prepare for and obtain contracts with manufacturers is recommended. First, brand creators must decide between the production of unique clothing items or purchasing ready-made items from an established clothing supplier. Dropshipping is one of the easier routes to establishing a brand without designing your clothing. Entrepreneurs can simply purchase clothing from garment suppliers that align with their brand image, but the profit margins are slim at best. For designers and brand creators that are passionate about creating their designs, the process is more intricate but profit margins can be comparatively larger. Manufacturing your clothing can be beneficial for young brands as they establish their presence in the marketplace. Brand creators can produce unique items, solidify their identity, and have greater control over branding and marketing.

Once a brand is ready to bring its vision to life, it should first create samples of its garments intended for production. Brands that do not plan to occupy the haute couture space should look into finding manufacturers to cut, sew, and print their wares since doing all of this labor in house may prove to be cost-ineffective and time-consuming. Finding a reputable manufacturer to accurately reproduce samples may be one of the most crucial parts of the process. Word of mouth recommendations, visiting trade shows, or enlisting the help of a procurement officer to go into business with the right factory is recommended. If these options aren’t available to budget-minded brand creators, shortlisting several factories and requesting that they produce samples to evaluate their quality and turn around time is essential.

To find a reputable clothing manufacturer, it is important to stay informed about the fashion ecosystem. In an industry with options for every customer, heritage brands have used the same textile suppliers and artisans for decades. It’s safe to say that these facilities are known for their production of quality products and expert craftsmanship. For young independent brands that may not be able to afford to work with these manufacturers, understanding the variables that lead to a higher manufacturing cost may help them determine what factors they’re willing to compromise on to fulfill their point of view. For example, brands that are interested in the best leather craftsmen used by brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chloe, and Chanel may be limited to working with a select number of manufacturers in Ubrique, Spain leading to higher production costs. If a brand produces a lower-priced product, then they may have no qualms about working with a less expensive manufacturer in the developing world or sourcing less expensive materials. By finding comp brands that produce products in your price range, a trail to potential manufacturers for your brand emerges. Factories that are familiar with your competitor’s product, should be able to produce your garments. Specialty items such as athletic wear or bathing suits are best produced in factories that already have experience with this type of apparel. Concerns about the cost for a startup brand may necessitate that some brands consider manufacturers overseas in places such as China, although this will lead to longer lead times for their products. Brands that have a strong commitment to sustainability or upholding ethical standards, maybe more steadfast in having their wares produced domestically. These choices will all inevitably be dictated by cost, brand concept, and lead times.

Working with a creditable clothing manufacturer is a crucial step within an efficient fashion supply chain. The manufacturer can produce items on both a scale and speed that brands would be unable to produce in house. Inevitably, there are some common oversights that young brands may make when first attempting to work with a factory such as high start-up costs, or bulk orders that may not sell. It may seem obvious, but not all clothing manufacturers can make all types of clothing. Brand creators must verify the capabilities of the factory by comparing samples or getting a rock-solid referral from industry veterans. Pricing this prototype is also important, as manufacturers often have sales representatives that can help answer important questions like what is the minimum on orders? Do they have credit terms? Can this manufacturer scale up for large orders? Although these questions may seem like far off problems for a burgeoning clothing line, a brand’s inability to fulfill a large order for a retailer can hurt its reputation and even terminate a relationship with a retailer.

When considering cost, one must also think of ethical concerns. Labor costs that are appreciably lower than competitors, may be too good to be true. If a brand wishes to have its manufacturers align with its ethical and sustainable standards it’s good for brands to familiarize themselves with certifications to look out for. Brand creators can check for accreditation from organizations such as the Fair Labor Association which is a nonprofit organization that monitors factories around the world to ensure that there “shall be no use of forced labor, including prison labor, indentured labor, bonded labor or other forms of forced labor,” at any of the factories worldwide leading to a level of transparency and trust for consumers. Similarly, green factories are recognized by organizations such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Bluesign, and Cradle to Cradle.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted yet another issue that fashion brands must now be cognizant of. Brands that relied on all of their manufacturing to be done overseas in China have had to put up with unprecedented delays in lead time due to factory closures. The complex supply chain is now seen as a “tenable risk”, according to the Business of Fashion. Turning to platforms that automate the process of creating clothing is a cogent solution for navigating the complexities of manufacturing. CALA’s preset infrastructure gives it an advantage when navigating the global manufacturing network in comparison to the traditional route taken by brands contacting manufacturers directly. The app’s pricing algorithm is designed to find the best fit taking into account factors aside from costs, such as speed and production run. CALA bids out orders to producers in its network and gives designers real-time landed costs ensuring that production is executed efficiently. CALA has experienced exponential growth during the era of COVID-19 due to its ability to customize garment production to the needs of its clients. It’s launched 20 new direct- to- consumer launches in the last few months. With no signs of slowing down, it’s apparent that utilizing the app’s metrics is advantageous for all types of designers. In today’s unpredictable market, brand creators need to remain open to new methods and technologies to get a leg up within the industry.