Last update 03/01/2020
It is super hard to find a reliable clothing manufacturer, isn’t it?
You are just starting out, your minimums are low, nobody knows who you are and your budget is limited.
Or is it really?
Well, let me tell you that there are many cheap or even free ways to find great reliable clothing manufacturers.
And in today’s post I am going to teach exactly what those cheap or free ways are.
Before I show you how, I would like to:
Stress again the importance of finding great manufacturing partners.
Why? For two fundamental reasons:
First, if your products aren’t well constructed your brand will be destroyed by unhappy customers.
It doesn’t really matter how good your design or marketing plan are.
Second, a fully factored manufacturer can even help you find the right trimmings and fabrics.
They will help you create or correct the pattern, help you finding other manufacturers for other fabrics they might not use.
In a nutshell, they make your life much, much easier.
Before you even start looking, First, ask yourself these questions:
- Where do I want to produce my garments?
- What’s the product?
- What’s my price point?
- CMT or fully factored?
Where do I want to produce my garments?
So where do you want to produce your garments? And Why?
So here’s the thing:
If you are on a tight budget you should try to produce locally.
You will need to visit them often.
You do need to visit them before you start production to see how the factory looks like and how organised they are.
Then you will start with samples and you should visit them again.
If you decide to move into production phase. You should visit them again.
There you go. You haven’t even started selling and you visited them three times already.
And here’s the thing:
You will have to visit them often so you maintain a great friendly relationship with them.
If you are based in Europe and produce in China, that’s already 5000 dollars in flights only.
I guess you agree that’s a lot of money, right?
You could be spending that money in something else.
But here’s the kicker:
When your brand starts to gain traction you can always switch to a manufacturer overseas.
So worry not.
So let’s say you live in Europe:
In the case, everywhere is close enough for you to hop on a plane and visit a factory
Do you live in California or New York?
Then LA and NY garment districts are great options to get you started.
I don’t know of other garment districts in other american cities.
Now, which countries have great manufacturers?
Well, Europe has a ton of great apparel manufacturing countries.
The best are Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.
But not only, Poland is also good, Latvia is gaining momentum as well.
Spain has some good manufacturers too, the city of Ubrique is popular for having great leather ateliers.
Elche in Spain is very famous for shoe production.
France is not the powerhouse it used to be, but it seems some production is coming back home.
And this leads me to the second question.
What’s the product?
Basic question. Fundamental importance.
What do you want to produce?
This is why it is important:
Some countries like Italy, Portugal or Turkey you can pretty much find a manufacturer for everything.
However, every country or even more specifically every country’s region is especially strong in certain products.
Let me explain:
The region or Le Marche in Italy is extremely strong in shoe manufacturing.
Carpi area in Emilia-Romagna is excellent for knits.
In Italy, these areas where you find a high concentration of factories are called Distretti industriali, or industrial districts,
Knowing the Italian industrial districts is golden when you are looking for producers.
North of Portugal is great for knits, shoes (half of the MICAM (the biggest shoe fair in the world) stands are Portuguese), activewear and swimwear.
For shoes the cities of Felgueiras (for men) or S. Joao da Madeira (for woman) have a lot of great shoe ateliers.
Bulgaria for instance is good for swimwear.
Colombia for underwear and loungewear.
India for embroidery.
Ubrique in Spain for leather accessories.
You get the point.
Knowing countries/regions’ strengths before even starting looking for a manufacturer is a must-do.
Do your homework.
Let’s jump into the third question.
What’s the price point?
I know what you are thinking:
Why does the price point matter?
Anybody who knows a bit about clothing recognizes that today you can find great garments made in Asia.
It’s all about manufacturing processes and craftsmanship rather than where they are made.
Believe me when I tell you the following:
It is much easier to find a great manufacturer that will pay more attention to detail in Italy than in Asia
It is up to you, the designer or production manager to make sure you explain exactly all the details.
I literally mean you have to explain every goddamm thing from top-stitching or what type of seam you want for your pieces.
Otherwise be ready to makemany (costly and timely) iterations to your garments and you will end up by being dissatisfied.
I am personally making swimwear shorts in Italy and I have to tell you that I was extremely dissatisfied with the first sample.
Improved Brand Perception
Another important thing about the Made in Label is this:
Customers associate some countries with high quality, for example Italy or France.
And they might not be happy to buy an expensive item that is made in Vietnam or Bangladesh.
These countries are well known for having cheap labour.
This leads me to the fourth and final question…
CMT (Cut, Make and Trim) or Fully factored?
Let me explain:
There are basically two types of apparel manufacturers, fully factored or vertical manufacturers and cut make and trim (CMT) manufacturers.
Fully factored manufacturers have fabrics and trimmings in stock.
If you don’t like what they have in stock they can help you source them, they have good development teams that can help you with pattern alterations and fitting sessions.
CMT factories as the name indicates will make the garment for you providing you suppy them with the fabrics, trims and pattern, some CMT factories might help with you the pattern and fitting too.
But not always.
The choice is yours of course.
I prefer a vertical manufacturer.
First, it’s much better to get your manufacturer to make and grade your patterns.
It can be a nightmare to go back and forth with the manufacturer because the manufacturer’s pattern maker made a mistake with the files you sent them from your pattern maker.
Trust me, I speak of my own experience.
Second, sourcing certain trimmings can get tricky.
For example, studs or hook’n’eyes can’t generally be bought in small quantities.
Vertical factories will help you with that.
Going back to the second questions, depends on your product:
If your products are t-shirts, you are going to be fine with a CMT manufacturer.
The only thing you need to supply is fabric and labels.
So, now that you know where to start. How to find manufacturers?
Step #1 – Ask, ask, ask and Keep Asking
Fashion industry is not as open as other industries.
If you already work in Fashion you understand what I just said.
Funny how you have technology and business books from top-class entrepreneurs as Peter Thiel, Richard Branson or Mark Cuban but you won’t find any book from Tom Ford or Armani explaining you any ins-and-outs of the Fashion industry.
The same applies to apparel manufacturers.
Some great apparel manufacturers do not have a webite.
They already have a lot of clients.
Some manufacturers have confidentiality agreements with their clients so they are extremely hard to find and some even work exclusively for one company.
Network as much as you can, go to meetup.com and try to find fashion related groups, ask people if they know any apparel manufacturers.
Step #2 – Leverage LinkedIn to Your Advantage
As for 2018, LinkedIn has over 400 million members registered and it’s a purely business and professional network.
I am sure you know that.
What you might not know is how useful some LinkedIn groups may turn to be.
I personally find LinkedIn very useful, you can find a lot of fashion groups there.
Head to a relevant Fashion group and Post that you are looking for a manufacturer.
Sooner or later you might get a valid answer.
Don’t get desperate as you might ask for a producer in Italy and have 20 Chinese and Indian guys contacting you.
Stay positive, keep waiting, post again if necessary, find other groups and sooner or later you will get some useful contact.
Besides the groups, a good way to find producers is by visiting their company page if they have one.
On the bottom right corner you will see related companies to that one.
Nice, one contact has suddenly become in six contacts.
Step #3 – Visit the Best Fashion Fabric Trade shows for Inside Information
If you are not visiting Fashion fabric trade shows you are missing out.
Because everybody in the industry is there. The mills ship the fabrics to whom?
You guessed. Clothing Manufacturers.
Of course via a brand that places an order.
Mills know a lot of manufacturers.
I know what you are asking:
“What fabric fair should I visit?”
The biggest and most important fabric trade show you have to go to is Premiere Vision in Paris.
The world’s leading fabric fair.
If that wasn’t enough, at the same time and place, Modamont and Cuir à Paris also take place, where you can find the best trimmings and leathers in the planet.
If you want to be a successful fashionpreneur you can’t skip it.
More about premierevision and other fairs in my other article.
Back to what you should do at PV or other fabric fairs.
When you are browsing fabrics at the stands, talk to the mills and ask them politely if they know any apparel producers for your kind of product.
But, WAIT, be careful:
Don’t ruin everything and ask them that before even agreeing on the fabric samples you want.
If they notice you are not interested in their fabrics or you don’t have a legitimate business plan they will not pass you any contacts.
For me this is the probably best way to find a clothing manufacturer.
Recently at PV they added the section called Manufacturing where some Clothing Manufacturers are there looking for new business.
I browsed around a couple of times. Didn’t see many interesting Producers.
However, it is always worth having a look.
Step #4 – Contact and Visit Chambers of Commerce
Chambers of commerce are sometimes useful resources to help you find a producer.
Check their websites in the country where you are living.
If you can’t find any clear information on the website, pick up the phone and call them, they are normally very friendly.
They will try to help.
Also, if you can, subscribe to their newsletters as sometimes they organise events where you can network and find good contacts.
Don’t miss those events!
Step #5 – Visit Industrial Districts and Manufacturers
As I mentioned above there are certain areas where the concentration of a specific apparel or accessories producers is very high.
I recently went to Florence to visit a leather producer and in the same street I could see at least five other leather accessories producers.
Take some days off.
Visit the garment districts and you will see in person a lot of factories.
Call them and arrange a quick visit meanwhile you are there.
You should have at least one contact before you fly.
So you will know that near that exact address you will find more manufacturers.
Step #6 – Google It
Here’s the bad news:
I don’t think you will find your manufacturing partner with a simple search engine search.
Many apparel manufacturers don’t have a great online presence if any at all
That said, I still recommend you try, you might find something.
Step #7 – Check Online B2B Fashion Marketplaces
In the last years some business to business marketplaces have appeared.
A bit like Alibaba but much smaller and focused on helping find a clothing manufacturer
I have always found that in fashion the best producers are not really in these platforms as they already do a lot of business.
In any case always worth exploring.
Step #8 – Check Fashionpreneur Premium Directories
During these last years I have personally did a lot of research on clothing manufacturers and the Fashion industry in general.
I started two fashion brands and thought of starting two more with different products.
For that reason I decided to create Premium Clothing Manufacturer Directories divided by products and country for a ridiculous low price.
You can buy them here.
I hope this article will help find you the right manufacturing partner(s).
What about you, how have you found your manufacturer?
I would love to hear from you below in the comments and if you need further help I am available for 1-1 consultancy.