Where can I find clothing manufacturers?
Updated: Oct 12
If you are working out how to begin a clothing line for yourself then will need to be thinking about a number of different elements to launch your fashion brand. You need to design your first apparel collection. You need to find suppliers to make your clothes. You need to make an e-commerce fashion website. You need to think about marketing your fashion brand and any other channels for selling your clothing.
If you are looking to start your own fashion brand then you will probably be looking for clothing manufacturers, or suppliers for clothes. In this blog I will try to explain your options for apparel manufacturing.
To start your search, you need to know what product you are looking to produce. Most apparel factories specialise in making apparel for specific areas of fashion. You can find factories that specialise in kidswear, menswear, or womenswear. You can find factories that deal in specialist product types like activewear, sportswear, outerwear, knitwear, or denim. You can find manufacturers that specialise in high-end haute couture fashion, high-volume mass-market fashion, small quantity apparel manufacturing, or sustainable manufacturing. In general, you should be wary of any factory that claims to be able to make everything, manufacturing garments takes specialist equipment and skills. It is important that you know the target consumer for your clothing brand and what type of clothing you are going to be making.
There are many ways of finding clothing manufacturers. You can use a search engine like Google but be aware that not all factories have an up-to-date website. You can use online directories like Alibaba and Sqetch. You can try online communities like Shopify Entrepreneurs. Or you can search on social media business sites like Linkedin.
When contacting a garment factory to find out pricing, they will need to know about your product. You will need a tech pack explaining all the garment details and you will need to know what fabric will be used to make it. The factory can then break down the garment into its elements to work out how much it will cost and how long it will take to make. There will normally be a charge from the factory to make a sample. Sometimes this cost will be given back to you when you place a bulk production order with the factory. A first sample will mainly show the fit of the garment. The factory will be concentrating on making the pattern at this stage. First samples often come incorrect fabric, colour, or have the right details. You may need more than one sample to get the fit and look correct. Usually, before production you will receive a PP sample (pre-production sample) with correct fabrics and details that you can check before the production starts. This means that fabrics and trims have all been ordered and produced so the factory will have incurred the full costs ready for your production. It is important to remember that fabric mills need to make your fabrics, generally, it’s hard to find fabric stock ready-made in the correct colour so it’s going to need to be custom produced for your collection. The same goes for trims like buttons, zips and labels, especially if you want these to feature your brand mark.
As a fashion designer with nearly 20 years of fashion industry experience, I have been involved with all elements of fashion design and building a fashion brand. If you are looking for help with the design side and tech packs you can check out my website here.
There are many garment suppliers ready to make your clothing for you but how do you know who you can trust and what should you be looking for in a clothes supplier?
There will be many factory sourcing companies in your country offering to source manufacturers for your clothing brand. These companies do not own any factories but will have a list of partner factories to make your clothing. Sourcing companies can take a lot of the stress out of finding garment manufacturers. The main issue with factory sourcing companies based in places like the UK is that you will not know anything about the factories that are being used and you will have no direct contact with the factory. It is important that you find out who is making your clothing so that you can check their certifications. You need to know that the factory you are using is compliant with standards and regulations. This is even more important than ever if you are concerned about Fair Trade and environmental issues. It’s also a guarantee of the standard of product that you will receive. There are some great UK sourcing companies but there are also many with a business model where they target fashion start-ups and their only aim is to make one collection and bleed as much cash out as they can before moving on to the next business start-up. They are looking for factories that will make the product as cheap as possible to hide their huge mark-up on manufacturing costs before passing them on to you. They also control the flow of information so you never really know if there are issues. You could easily be left with a collection of poor-quality samples, a massive pile of unsellable stock, or even worse a stock cupboard full of returns from disappointed customers.
The best way to avoid this happening is to make sure to do your research on any companies that are claiming to be able to make your clothing for you. First, check their reviews on Google, not on the company’s flashy website, it’s really easy and cheap to make a good-looking website. If you can’t find any reviews take that as a first warning. Every business in the UK should have at least a Google Business page with customer reviews, if they don’t this may well be because they don’t want people to leave reviews. Have a look at who they claim to be making clothes for and check the quality of clothing those brands are making. It may even be worth trying to get in touch with the brands to ask them about how they got on dealing with the clothing supplier. You can be sure that anyone that’s had a bad experience will be more than happy to share that info with you.
At my company J Mitchell Design I don’t deal with any manufacturing myself. I pass you onto the right manufacturer only if I have the right company that I trust. I have great contacts from my 20 years of industry experience and I have a close network of industry professionals that I can call upon. If I can’t help with your particular product, I will give you advice on how to find the right clothing supplier for your specific needs, including apparel sourcing experts based out in the regions where the factories are located. Having an independent factory contact that can oversee and communicate in local dialect with the garment factory at the source is extremely beneficial. They will have a wealth of knowledge that you may not have as a start-up and can fix any problems quickly. Their service is normally free for your brand as they take a finder’s fee commission directly from the manufacturer. They will happily supply you with the garment factories' industry certificates. It’s in their own interest to steer clear of rogue manufacturers that would harm their reputation as a sourcing expert.
If you have the time to do your research or you are able to get a reliable recommendation, then you can go directly to manufacturers yourself. By cutting out the middleman you will get the best prices if you are a good negotiator and better control of your manufacturing. You will need to have a good understanding of garment construction to deal with the questions that come up. If you have a good designer they will normally be able to help in that area.
To find the right manufacturer you need to know your MOQs (Minimum Order Quantities). MOQ’s are quoted per style i.e. 50 printed hoodies made in 1 colour, 1 fabric, 1 design, in a range of sizes. The MOQ you require is hugely important to work out what clothing manufacturer is right for you. If you want to make less than 50 pieces of a style, then your MOQ’s are very low. Most clothing factories will not be able to work with MOQs below 100 pieces per style but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have many options.
The most popular option for a start-up fashion brand with low risk is to use a print-on-demand service like Big Cartel or TeeMill. You use their tools to produce a website where you upload your designs and let them deal with printing and shipping. You don’t need to worry about MOQs and get a small percentage of any sales that you make. This is a good way to get your brand started on a low budget but don’t expect your own labels in the clothing. You will also be limited to the type of product that you can sell. You just need to focus on graphic designs and promoting your brand to make sales. Teemill has a great blog section with tips and advice on how to do this.
You also have the option to buy in blank products from a company like Continental Clothing or American Apparel. You can then take the blank garments to a local printer or embroiderer to add your logo or design, you can stitch in your own label, add a swing ticket and then sell them on your own website. This gives you full control of your brand, allowing you to manage your pricing and marketing. You also have the option to sell your clothes on to retail in small boutiques.
To start a professional apparel brand where you can fully customise all elements of your clothing, you need to be looking at MOQs of at least 100 pieces per style, per colour depending on the product type. If you can hit these MOQs then you start to get some options for factories that can make clothing to meet your specifications. You will still be limited in some areas and may find that prices are still quite high per garment but it’s worthwhile taking the hit on your margins if you don’t want the risk of being left with too much unsold stock when launching a brand. You may be able to find some small factories, or sample houses that can help with MOQs of below 100 but be prepared for even higher prices per unit and you will probably need to arrange all the logistics of shipping in all the clothing elements like the fabrics and trims.
If you can hit MOQs of 250-300 then your options will start opening up. You should be able to make most garments from sportswear to technical activewear. Below these figures, you may struggle to find decent performance clothing suppliers. These figures are still considered low amounts by professional factories but they may be willing to meet your MOQs if you are placing a number of garments with them.
Over 500 MOQs you will get some great prices per style but you will have a lot of stock to sell so you better be sure that you can sell it!
MOQs over 1000 or 2000 and you are playing with the big guys. These are the types of numbers that large clothing brands will be producing. You will be able to make demands and negotiate your prices.
To start your clothing business, make sure to do your research and check all your options. Making a rash decision and choosing the easiest route may give you instant relief but can easily land you in a world of problems.
If you need any more advice I offer free consultation through my freelance fashion company J Mitchell Design. You can drop me an email at email@example.com. You can also comment here and I will get back to you.