I get lots of emails from people, some who I've done a bit of work for, others that I've never worked with, asking me to recommend a factory. The truth is, there's so much that goes into selecting a factory that it's not possible to just give out a factory name that you can confidently recommend to anyone. There's so many things that you need to know before starting to look at factories, the most important ones being how much you want to pay (please don't talk to a factory without knowing your target cost price (knowing but not telling them), it will not end well!), how many items you will make and garment specifics (tech packs). From there, you can start to approach + shortlist potential manufacturing partners. There's not usually one perfect option, especially if you're a small business, so it's then a case of deciding what you're willing to negotiate on, it might be the level of detail, price, number of colours, etc. Personality + the relationship you build also plays a crucial part in the success of the partnership. This is why, when clients work with me for manufacturing + sourcing help I give information about the pros + cons of factories I talk about, rather than my personal preference. People have different ways of working + some types of communication work best for some, but not others.
To explain what I mean further, I'm sharing some real life examples with you. For the privacy of the people/labels involved, I've changed their names, but the situations are actual events that I've witnessed during my time in the industry. These show how although a supplier may be great for one person, they might not be for others.
A few years back I worked at the head office of a Womenswear retailer. As a buyer, one of my jobs was to organise the manufacture of our labels, which included card hangtags with our branding + barcodes + woven labels with the size on. The company had been working for the same supplier for years + I'd been dealing with them for 3. We built up a great relationship + even though ours was a fairly small brand, I got super fast help, great quality + competitive pricing. They were happy to do me favours at short notice + do all sampling for free. On the personal side, even though we never met in person, we got to know each other really well, with the supplier even sharing amazing photos of Chinese New Year + other events they attended with their family. All sounds great, right? Someone worth recommending? Well, when I left the company, my replacement Karen worked very differently to me. Karen didn't make the time for niceties + didn't take a collaborative approach (which for me, was one of the best things about this particular supplier). She made demands, she didn't take the time to understand what the factory capabilities were, or what the staff did exactly. This approach had done really well for her at other brands, where the suppliers expected blunt, direct information, but this didn't suit the label supplier. I still keep in touch with colleagues at this company + unfortunately, after a few label related disasters (yes, they really exist. Especially when the black label dye runs on white shirts), the companies parted ways. Karen then found a new label supplier that suited her style of business + has been much happier with their performance.
When I was working with a high end designer we were struggling to find a new manufacturer at short notice, after the one we had been using closed down. Fortunately (or so it seemed) my boss was friends with a lot of people at other labels, who were happy to share information with her (very rare in the fashion industry, but they had been friends for 20+ years). They recommended a factory to us, that had been doing really well for them + had been manufacturing similar products to us. We immediately ordered a few styles from them + development was going well, but then after the final order was confirmed things really slowed down. Their communication became bad + the timeline was way behind. How could a factory that did so well for one company be bad for another? In this instance, it came down to order size. The other label was ordering lots of styles at 1000+, whereas we only had a few styles + ordered around 300 units. We hadn't built enough of a relationship with the factory to become a priority + our small orders made us insignificant compared to other customers.
This can happen a lot with small labels in particular + you have to work extra hard to build the relationship + show the factory you are serious. If you're able to do this, the factory can see that there's potential for more orders + will spend the time on you + your products. If you're not putting in effort, or not giving information the factory needs, they won't take you seriously + therefore won't make you a priority, which can lead to poor quality + delays.
Coincidentally, I have several clients using the same factory at the moment. Surprising really, as the clients had already selected a factory before they worked with me + given how many suppliers there are in the world, it's amazing they all chose the same one! One client, let's call her Caroline, is getting amazing results from this factory. After a lot of backwards + forwards at the start to iron out all of the details + make sure everyone is on the same page, sampling + production has gone smoothly - the quality has been good + delivery is on time. Meanwhile another client, for this, we will call her Julie, has been waiting months for samples. Julie was excited to get started + didn't take the time to outline her expectations from the beginning, so since I've been working with her we've had to go back + look at things like acceptable quality + delivery timelines. Because Caroline worked these things out at the start, the factory knew what they needed to do + when to do it. Meanwhile they were confused about what Julie wanted + when she needed it, so other clients got ahead of her in the production queue. This can often happen if you're unclear about your deadlines; factories will prioritise clients who have a clear delivery date + are following up on samples. If you have a relaxed approach, you would be waiting a long time for samples.
Factory sourcing is something that a lot of customers get stuck on. If you'd like to learn more about how I can help, you're welcome to book a free enquiry call with me. You can book a 'free 15min enquiry call' via the link below + I'll phone you at your preferred time. This will be an opportunity for you to see if any of my services would help you move forward with your business, see if we're a good fit + also ask any questions that you have...
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