7 ways to effectively communicate with fashion suppliers.
I have worked in fast pace fast fashion roles since 2011, working with suppliers around the world but mainly focused in these countries; China, Bangladesh and India.
I know first-hand the risks you face if your communication is not effective and I don’t want this to happen to you.
I want you to produce amazing collections that delight your customers and produce repeat orders for your suppliers, and the way to do that is by following these 7 ways to effectively communicate with suppliers.
1. Communication is key!
If you want your suppliers to produce amazing products, that sell out and make your brand a success, then trust me you need to use effective communication from day 1.
Here are my tips on exactly how to achieve this:
- Assuming that English isn’t their first language, choose your words wisely and avoid local dialect.
- Within all communications be fair but also direct and to the point. Make it very clear what you want them to do.
- Don’t be indecisive when communicating with your supplier.
- Always know your order details inside out covering; reference codes etc
- Use the same email template when placing orders and when discussing your critical path. Consistency will help.
- Be honest.
- Pick up the phone and don’t send email after email!
2. Project manage your supplier
A key point to call out straight away is – I am encouraging you to project manage not to micromanage your supplier!
Don’t pester them daily, or ask for the information they have already given you. Be effective in your own communication and project manage your orders through.
Ideally, fix 1 day a week in your diary where you always meet up and discuss your orders both placed orders and development. That way it is fixed, giving you both time to prepare ahead of the meeting coming with discussion points only.
Never forget it’s your fashion brand to manage, don’t rely on others to update you on your orders. Be proactive and see your communication with your suppliers improve.
3. Set clear expectations from the beginning
You should see your suppliers as a team member. They require an onboarding process just like your immediate members of staff.
In this meeting, you should discuss your expectation of their role as your supplier, KPI’s ie what they need to achieve and a measure, along with ways of working.
This is your major opportunity to set clear expectations from the beginning, to ensure effective communication across both parties.
"Never forget it’s your fashion brand to manage, don’t rely on others to update you on your orders. Be proactive and see your communication with your suppliers improve."
4. Put as much thought into rewards as penalties
The fashion industry is known for penalising suppliers, by cancelling orders even though the material has been bought, or reducing units last minute, or even changing the colour last minute based on recent trade which simply isn’t fair.
If you want to keep your manufacturers on your side, be cautious about how much you penalise them seasonally ensuring you make only fair and commercial decisions. This will build respect and strong a solid relationship.
But also you should consider how you can reward them seasonally?
For example, if they deliver 100% of orders on time, you could agree to give them an extra 15% of business next season.
The more you win them over, the more effective your communication will be with your suppliers.
5. Pay them on time
This may sound like an obvious one, but imagine if someone was pushing you for more, or to do better, or to answer your weekly calls, but you haven’t received payment from them … would you be willing to give them your time? Probably not!
Therefore, I strongly encourage you to consistently pay your manufacturers on time to build a solid and trusting relationship, which in return you should see consistent communication with your supplier.
6. Continually work on your relationship
Just like any relationship you shouldn’t take it for granted. You should work hard to appreciate and understand the other party.
A suggestion could be to find out key contacts birthdays or to ask about their family. You could even suggest a weekly hangout where you play games or conduct a fun quiz!
Work hard at this relationship and you should see your communication with your supplier improve.
7. Negotiate a win-win deal
If you wish to be known as a sustainable brand then this point will be even more important for your fashion brand!
A win-win scenario is simply where negotiation is fair on both sides.
Remember that a lot of factory workers in the East are already just getting paid the minimum wage (we hope), so why push and push again to save an extra 10 cent, when you have actually already got a good deal.
I recommend that ahead of a negotiation, you write down your key points and wins but also consider theirs and don’t be afraid to reference these in the negotiation itself to show that you care.
Check out negotiation tips for fashion brands to learn more!
Are you looking to learn more about how to produce your 1st collection?
Then you should definitely read this blog post on how to source effectively, along with the below recommendations as they will teach you everything you need to know as a startup up in the fashion industry!
Do you prefer a more personalised approach to learning? Then you should totally check out our fashion brand launch course, as this comes paired back with 3hrs of 1:2:1 coaching as part of the one-off fee.
If you want to learn more about this then drop me a message here.