How to source effectively.

A barrier many new fashion brands face is how to source their material and find a reputable manufacturer.

It can be a problem knowing where to start when working in the globalised fashion industry with a vast amount of possible suppliers. In this blog post, I aim to help resolve this problem and give you the tools in which to effectively source and produce your range. I will not only give you advice but direct recommendations.

Firstly, what are your requirements?

How can you source successfully if you don’t have your requirements written down?

You need to approach the factory or mill with your specific product requirements, leaving nothing to interpretation. It is your responsibility to educate the factory about your brand. It is your vision and USP: you need them to share that vision.

Never forget that your product is your sales. Without a successful product, you do not have a business. It is therefore essential you find the right producer and leave no question unanswered.

The minimum requirements you need to have decided ahead of finding a manufacturer are:

  • What division you want to sell and what product categories. For example tops only, both jersey and woven.
  • If you require a speciality technique within the manufacturing process? For example silk screen printing.
  • What material do you want to use? List everything on your spec sheets. Ideally, referencing swatches that can be cross sourced.
  • What fabric composition are you want to use?
    • Now is the time to specify if you are a sustainable brand and other specific details such as the product being 100% organic, for example.
  • What colour do you want to dye your fabric too? Reference Pantone swatches.
  • What is the overall look and feel of your collection? Is it luxurious, sporty etc write a short paragraph, sharing precise details.
  • As a brand do you value price or quality. Let them know this preference from the start.
  • State your lead time requirements.
    • Ask what their production time is for your type of product?
  • State the expected quantity you hope to place with them, per SKU, per colour. Set expectations from the start.
  • State your desired payment method and terms.

A tip – When approaching a manufacturer for the first time, go in there with conviction. Tell them that your product is amazing so they share your enthusiasm and want to be your manufacturer. You are selling your passion, your vision to them and as the producers of your product, they need to share your conviction.

Market validation part 1 - Reputation.

How can you find a reputable and reliable manufacturer?

Simple. Market validation. You need to not be afraid to ask as many questions as it takes for you to feel 100% comfortable and confident with the chosen manufacturer. Never accept less as the stakes are high.

Questions you need to ask throughout the discovery phase are:

  • Where are they located? What is there geographic location and how close to a port or airport is it?
    • You need to consider this as it will affect your lead time and your cost price.
  • What are the manufacturers MOQ for your product type? (minimum order quantity)
    • You need to ensure they quote per style, per colour.
  • You need to question scalability. If your 2nd order scales from 1,000 units to 10,000 units can they support this?
    • Find out their capacity limits?
    • Find out how booked up their capacity is for the next year.
  • What is their cost of sampling? How many samples will you get for free?
  • Request to see a breakdown of their fees. Question anything that doesn’t seem right or fair.
  • What is the compliancy or the factory? What standards are they operating to and can they prove it?
  • What is the factories working conditions like? Ask for photos, ask to visit.
    • You need to be completely comfortable that this factory is representing your brand and vice versa. You don’t want bad publicity because you didn’t ask the right questions. 
  • Is there a language barrier?
  • What is their lead time for your product?
  • Logistically, how able are they? This needs to cover labels, carton, packing rules.
    • Do they work with any wholesale accounts?
    • What standards do they follow right now?
  • Have you seen their work? If not request to see 2-3 examples of different brands work.
  • This may seem obvious but ask the manufacturer if they can make your product? Is this product type within their skillset.
    • Check they’re honesty here.
  • Find out if their business values quality or price and does that match your brand’s value?

A final step with finding a reputable manufacturer is word of mouth. Get feedback from colleagues in your industry. Ask them if they have heard of this manufacturer what they think. Be extensive in your search and exhaust all contacts. A secondary check you must complete is to review online reviews. Check forums for the factory’s name, read their Google reviews and don’t be afraid to post in forums and ask the web if anyone has had any experiences with them.

This process should be completed with each and every manufacturer you vet.

When making the final decision it normally comes down to reputation vs price. As your product is your DNA and revenue source, I would recommend reputation every time.

"Part of market validation is being aware of trends within the industry. You need to know which countries are the biggest and most successful within sourcing and what product they specialise in."


Market validation part 2 - Country of origin (COO)

Part of market validation is being aware of trends within the industry. You need to know which countries are the biggest and most successful within sourcing and what product they specialise in. Furthermore, you need to know not only who is the best currently, but also the emerging manufacturers. Likewise, you should be aware of the hot topics of the moment; which market is recovering the best following COVID? Which markets specialise in sustainable sourcing and manufacturing?

COVID threw a spanner in the momentum of fashion growth and stopped production. As around 90% of all textiles are produced in China it’s virtual shutdown sent shock waves around the world. The question that most brands are now asking is what other markets can they move their production too?

The only way to answer these questions is through thorough research. Websites I can recommend are:

Aside from these, you need to actively keep up to date with the industry based on your specific product requirements.

Pre-COVID a McKinsey report published that China was declining due to rising costs and that Bangladesh was rising along with low-cost Myanmar.

Sustainability validation.

Sustainability in fashion starts with the design process. As the designer, you have the vision and the end-user in mind. You choose whether or not it is sustainable.

Aside from the design of the product, sustainability in fashion also requires you to consider the working conditions of those that are involved in the sourcing and manufacturing process. You also need to consider where each component comes from and how far it has travelled. Most importantly how bad is the carbon footprint of the end product?

The final consideration is the end-use. Is it destined for one end user only and then a textiles wasteland or is your brand introducing circular design? Can you incentivise your buyers to recycle each item?

A fact – You will instantly fall into being a sustainable brand if you choose to source and manufacturer locally. Why? Because you will have a reduced carbon footprint and you will be supporting local businesses.

By following the question protocol listed above with each manufacturer, you will be assured you have established that the manufacturer is sustainable in their practice and avoided potential risks.

Finally how to engage manufacturers.

There are 5 methods you can try in finding the right source for your product.

  1. Network and more networks. Ask your existing network for recommendations.
    • Linkedin.
    • Ex-collegues, students.
    • Email a brand whom you love their quality of work and ask them who their manufacturer is. You have nothing to lose.
    • Join forums, closed groups focused on manufacturing
  2. Seek and follow recommendations.
    • Google reviews.
    • Forum reviews.
    • Word of mouth in the industry.
  3. Attend global sourcing trade shows.
    • Premier vision.
    • Texfusion.
    • Fashion SVP.
    • Pulse.
  4. Invest in a manufacturing agent. Let them do the hard work for you, but be prepared to pay fees.
    • Bespocut
    • Elizabeth Stiles, to name a few.
  5. Search online directories focused on manufacturing.
    • Alibaba.
    • Kompass
    • Sqetch
    • eWorldtrade
    • Indiamart
    • Lets make it here
    • Make it British.

Effective sourcing can be a minefield but by setting clear objectives and carrying out thorough research your brand will have the best chance of success. I hope that my advice and recommendations will help you meet the challenge.

If you are looking to launch a fashion brand online and don’t know where to start we can help. Take our step by step 6 module course which will guide you from idea validation to online launch. Find out more here. 

You should also read ...

Leave a comment