A challenge for designers and anyone starting a small fashion business, is finding a good, reliable manufacturer that can offer you the skills and support to help scale up their business.
Finding these factories can be difficult, particularly if for ethical or practical reasons you only want to produce in the UK. Make sure that you use any friends, contacts or professional networks, and scour the web to identify the best candidates.
Once you have done your research and compiled a list of manufacturers, it is important to assess their suitability to be part of your network of suppliers. This best way to do this is by visiting their premises and seeing how they work.
When you visit a potential manufacturer, it isn’t just to assess the physical conditions and their manufacturing procedures, it’s also to get an idea of how organised they are. Look to see if all the trims for the factory’s dockets are kept clearly labelled in one place. Are the working areas clear of clutter and is their paperwork neatly arranged?
Finding a manufacturer: your 10-point checklist
1. What other designers do they work for and do those designers have the same quality and pricing strategy as you?
2. What type of products and/or materials do they manufacture?
3. Do they have all the machinery you require?
4. Is the factory willing and able to make your quantities by your deadlines?
5. Are the factory’s health and safety, ethical and housekeeping working practices compatible with your business?
6. Can they achieve the quality that your customers expect, within the price that you can afford to pay?
7. Are the premises easy to get to? Will you be able to pop in if there is a problem?
8. Is the owner/manager the sort of person you can create a business relationship with?
9. Have you discussed, and do you understand, the factory’s payment terms? You are unlikely to get credit terms straight away, but if you stick to your part of the bargain and pay promptly then they may offer you credit in the future.
10. Now that you have compiled a list of potential manufacturers, you have to match the factory to the orders. If your collection is multi-category and includes, for example, jersey, denim and lightweight dresses, then your choice of manufacturer will be determined by their technical capabilities. If, when you visited them, they were making tailored woven jackets, are they going to be able to successfully make chiffon dresses?
Avoid being totally reliable on any one supplier in case they let you down – try to source an alternative as a back-up.
Find out more about how to source and manage your sampling and production effectively at our next GETTING IT MADE workshop on March 25th or enrol on our online GETTING IT MADE course. Joining our Business Club gives you access to our FREE Suppliers Directory which includes UK manufacturers or you can buy it here.
By Alison Lewy MBE