Top Tips to Consider When Working With Offshore Manufacturers

We are so excited to feature a guest blog post from our friends over at Source My Garment! They specialize in responsible garment manufacturing offshore and we know that many of you have been interested in offshore production. Check out their tips below!

From learning how to walk to starting your own clothing line, everyone is constantly striving to learn new skills and achieve their goals. It can be daunting and overwhelming when embarking on a new journey, yet the possibilities are exciting.  
Here are our top 5 tips on what you need in order to be ‘Production Ready’ with offshore garment manufacturers:
1.   Start with a budget, and estimate a target cost - just like any other business!
One of the most frequently asked questions by designers is how much it will cost to make their product. So many variables go into calculating the cost of a product, of even a simple t-shirt: fabric quality, fibre, quantity, colours, styles, duty rate, speed of delivery, supply and demand, sewing efficiencies, embellishments, trims, and the list goes on.  Asking for the price of a t-shirt is like asking for the price of a car. Very specific information needs to be given in order for the factory to provide an estimate, before samples are sewn to give you a firmer product price. So you need to have a budget in place before you begin. You can figure out this budget estimate by working backwards from your retail or selling price. For example if you anticipate selling your product for $100, then you can work backwards from that price to determine what your target cost of goods + labor should be for you to make a profit. Remember, you get what you pay for. Think about the economies of scale if you are working on minimums. Working on minimum quantities won’t give you a competitive advantage on price.  The lower the quantity the higher the price. It is not unreasonable to expect your opening order to start anywhere from $15K to $50K. Setting a budget and target cost is crucial.
 
2.    Be proactive and design two to three shipments or seasons ahead
Although manufacturing garments offshore may seem lengthy, before you know it you may need to ship in new products. The fashion industry is extremely fast-paced yet product development takes time, so we recommend you design at least two or three seasons ahead. Once your product is shipped to your door, the process is taken up in a whirlwind - marketing, sales, shipping, business planning, and customer service. Before you know it, you may be out of stock, but you would have needed to place the order well in advance.
 
3.     Give yourself enough time to work through the manufacturing and design process
 Product development includes: creating first samples, tech packs, creating patterns, consumer feedback, shopping the market and much more. This all takes time. Once the factory receives your production package; they requires time to source the fabrics, trims, labels, packaging, establish production requirements and create a counter sample for you as you work through approvals and establish final costs. This can take anywhere from 6 - 8 weeks and you have not even started production. Manufacturing products that are made from knit fabrics take an average of 60 - 90 days and wovens take approximately 120 - 160 days. Everything is made from scratch to maintain control. Although this may seem to be a long process, it will only be an issue if there is a lack of planning. It is not uncommon to take 9 to 12 months starting from design and product development and then working with the factory to manufacture your product. Give yourself ample time to work through the process. Good things take time.
 
4.  Our golden rule: offering less styles is more
Consumers are given too many choices and are 10 times less likely to buy products when faced with multiple options. Additionally, factories working on minimums and more often than not, are working at 30% efficiency. So designers need to ask themselves, how many styles do I start with? We suggest that you start with no more than six styles. Diane von Furstenberg, more commonly known as DVF, first entered the fashion industry in 1970 with the classic wrap dress and by 1976, DVF had sold over a million of her signature dress. Eileen Fisher, Club Monaco, Ralph Lauren and many more started with less than six styles. Take a page from their book and master less than six styles to start. Bonus tip: only using one fabric structure and no more than two colors, saves you both time and money.
     
5. Have a clear and organized production package to send to the garment factory.
What do you need to send? Here is a checklist!
1. Prototype - A prototype sample is the first sample developed by the designer. Prototypes can be sewn by a seamstress who typically works with a pattern maker.  It addresses fit, function, and styling. Prototype samples should be labelled with any comments and your company name. Note anything that is not exactly as it is on your tech pack. Your prototype must be as close as possible to what you want shipped to you. Fit should also be as you would like. The sampling and production team will use this as a guide to counter sample what you want.
2. Patterns - Give the factory patterns for every style. Working with a pattern makers will help you save both time and money.
3. Fabric Direction + Swatches - Fabric cost is the most substantial factor in the total cost of making a garment offshore. Since the biggest cost of your product is material, the more you understand your material the stronger your design will be, and the easier it will be to convey your requirements to the factory. A minimum fabric swatch of 10” by 10” for quality will be required. The factory references and checks the weight of the swatch in GSM (gram/square m). This way, they can get an accurate idea of what hand feel you are looking for. Hand feel comments are important to note so they can apply washes if required.
4. Trim, Label + Packaging Direction - Give quality standards for trims, embellishments, labels, packaging and tags.Some companies cut up samples of trims, print qualities etc., or shop consignment stores and pick up qualities for reference.
5. Tech Packs - Tech packs must be clear and concise. This will help you in the long run! Visit http://sourcemygarment.com/blog-posts/tech-packs to learn more.
6. Line Sheets - Provide the factory with a line sheet that showcases all the styles, size range, fabric details and colorways that you are planning to produce. This will help the production team work through your requirements. This will also help you :)
At the end of the day, to successfully work with manufacturers offshore is all about building relationships and understanding one another. It is critical to take the time to get to know the managers of the factories that you are working with and get a sense of their working style so you can be sure to create a positive work relationship. By being organized, planning well in advance, and establishing long term relationships you are sure to grow your business.  
At Source My Garment, we ensure fair trade practices and ensure both our clients and the factory have an effective go-between to help facilitate the manufacturing process. It is truly a labour of love!
So you now have the tools to start manufacturing apparel with factories offshore. What are you waiting for?
Now it’s YOUR turn. Did I miss anything? Do you have a question about manufacturing offshore that we didn’t cover? Just leave a comment below and let us know!

Thanks for reading!! We will be guest blogging for Source my Garment soon too! Be sure to check it out!