What if I introduce you to a factory and after a 2 hour factory tour and meeting you leave with more questions than answers? Or, worse, the factory does not follow up as promised and you are back to square one. What does it take to meet a factory and sign a production contract within three days?
It takes tech packs, purchase order and a downpayment. My best advice is to have these three things locked and loaded before you approach a factory. If you have these three things then you can proceed quickly.
I have been taking clients to factories for the last 10 years and have seen the same scene played out over and over like a good ole' spaghetti western movie. Both sides want to do business but there are too many unknowns for either side to seal the deal. I know what they need to say 'yes' and I offer knowledge and services to get you to that yes-point. My passion is talking about how to start a clothing line producing overseas.
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His best tip is to use Ship Station to manage your shipping within the USA. Ship Station is free if you integrate it with Shopify. Ship Station works with Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, Manual orders and Shopify. Very cool solution to perhaps the most unfun part of how to start a clothing line producing overseas.
He recommends Printful for easy print-on-demand drop shipping and fulfillment warehouse services. He tells us about buying postage stamps from Print Stamps. He recommends buying shipping supplies like boxes, poly-bags and labels from https://www.uline.com. Finally he introduces a free accounting software called WaveApps.
To me, OnlyGeo is a true fashionista and approaches starting a clothing brand from an artist point of view. He talks a lot about brand identity and reputation as important. I agree. He makes an interesting point that it's ok to have a brand that has no story and just let the designs speak for themselves.
He shares an insider trick to tell your buyers that delivery will take two to three weeks and get pre-orders before you actually start production. This only works if the production lead time is less than 2 weeks. It's all about managing the relationship with your manufacturer.
He recommends using BigCartel which is an alternative to Shopify. BigCartel offers easy online stores for artists & makers. They make it simple to build a unique online store, sell your work, and run a creative business.
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20 Steps to Produce Garments in Vietnam
Design / SketchAs soon as you get an idea in your head it's time to get it on to paper to communicate the idea with technical designers so they can make a sample. If you can design or sketch yourself then hire someone. If have a physical sample then a photo can be used in lieu of the design / sketch as long as there aren't any modifications.
Pattern Design (Measurements for size M)You need the measurements for at least one size, usually size M. If you have a physical sample then you can measure directly and get the data. If you don't have a physical sample then you need to make your best guess based on technical analysis. These measurements will be used to make the first sample.
Merchandising (Choose Fabric, Trim and Accessories)This is a huge step. Choosing fabric can take months. It's easy to go buy a garment that has the fabric you like but finding a supplier than can copy that fabric is tough because it's hard to know the exact composition just by looking at it. Same is true for trims and accessories. Buttons, zippers, poly bags are not readily available at your local hardware store. You gotta get to Brooklyn, I mean Asia, where the factories are and visit their showrooms to get the real scoop.
Create tech packTech packs are your tickets for the space shuttle. If your tech packs are done well and complete then the factory can quote price and make a counter sample. They are not easy to do and can cost as much as $2,000 if done well.
Calculate priceThe factory will do this for you based on your tech pack or physical sample. I recommend you have a target price in mind and be prepared to defend it. Most likely the factory price will come in high and you will be on your back foot. Have your bill of materials in front of you when you start breaking down the price.
Development SamplePrice is good, now it's time for the 1st sample or development sample. I recommend you let the factory use available fabric so they don't have to go out and buy all the actual fabric and actual trims. The 1st sample is just to demonstrate their ability and make sure what they make is what you want. The goal is to get it right by the second iteration.
Production Pattern (Fabric yield)Once the 1st sample is approved then the factory will grade up and down to the smallest and largest size to sew a full size set with actual fabric and trims. Once they have all the measurements they will create the patterns and markers to calculate the fabric yield. Fabric yield is important because it can affect the price. The target is 92% or higher which means 8% of the fabric is wasted.
GradingThe first sample is usually size M. What about XS, S, L and XL? Do you simply add or subtract a few millimeters to each measurement? In fact each measurement must be modified differently due to the name of garment construction. Trained garment technicians follow guidelines they learned in school and based on their experience. The end result is that the "fit" for each size is perfect. This step must be done by the factory.
Marker MakingThe marker is a long rectangular shape of brown paper with pattern lines drawn all over it. They lay this sheet of paper, the marker, on top of layers of fabric. Then the cutting team uses expensive, razor sharp fabric cutters to cut panels out from the fabric stack and the knives cut through the fabric as if the fabric was butter.
Buy and inspect fabricBefore any cutting is done the fabric needs to be purchased, produced and delivered which can take tow to three weeks. Most fabric in Vietnam is produced in China. If the Chinese textile mill has the fabric available then they can send it within 24 hours. If the fabric needs to be made from scratch, then they must buy the yarn, spin or weave it and then dye and finish it. Once the fabric is paid for, they will ship it by air, sea or by truck which can take 4 to 6 days from China to Vietnam. Once the fabric arrives in Vietnam the factory must check at least 20% which can take half a day. The last step before cutting is called relaxing the fabric. This allows the fabric to return to its natural dimensions.
Buy and inspect trimTrims are the things that stay on the garment when you put it on like buttons, zippers and care labels. If you can except generic trends then the factory can easily choose for you. If you have specific requirements you either nominate the trim suppliers or work face-to-face with the factories to pick and choose the trims based on what they have available. Once you have chosen your trends you need to supply detailed information like the engravings on buttons, the colors of the zippers and that text on the care labels.
Buy and inspect accessories
Accessories get thrown away when you put the garment on. They are things like hangtags, poly bags, silica gel bags and cardboard inserts. If you can except generic accessories the factory will be able to easily recommend options. If have specific requirements then either nominate the supplier or work closely with a factory to get the accessories exactly the way you want them. Before you approve the preproduction sample so they can start production make sure you inspect all trims and accessories.
Spreadingspreading the fabric out on the cutting tables can be done by hand or machine. If the fabric is a solid color then all you have to do is line up the edges. If the fabric has stripes then you need to line up the stripes which is difficult. The links of the fabric that is spreadout depends on the total quantity and the fabric yield that is calculated by the pattern and marker software like Gerber.
CuttingCutting happens after the fabric is relaxed back to its natural dimensions and it's laid out on the cutting table. They cut the fabric into panels. For example, a t-shirt can be broken down into four panels: front panel, back panel, left sleeve panel and the right sleeve panel. The panels are bundled together and moved to the sewing lines. It's important to keep all the panels from the same dye lot together. Any variation in dye color is bad.
Sorting/BundlingThen the bundles are organized so that all the size large panels stick together and get to the sewing line in synch. Same with the size xs, s, m, l, xl and xxl. If you mix a size large front panel with a size medium back panel then you are screwed.
Sewing/AssemblingThe sewing lines are set up according to an order of operations. Different seams require different machines and some seams need to be sewn before the others. The factory will manage this but you should be there to watch the end result as they garments come off the line.
InspectionInspection and quality control is a must. First step is to create your quality control check list that should derive from your tech pack. Have multiple copies of your checklist to check as many garments as possible. If there are problems then document the details of the problem and bring it to the attention of the factory owner immediately. I recommend you use the acceptable quality limit method to determine how many pieces you should check.
Pressing/ FinishingJust because the garments are coming off the line well does not mean the job is done. The garments need to be presentable at the point of sell. Loose threads need to be removed. The garments need to be ironed and folded properly. They need to be place in polybags and carton boxes neatly.
Final InspectionThe final inspection can include checking garments but by this time, if there are significant problems, it's too late. The final inspection should focus on making sure all the agreed upon quantities are present and that the packing is done well to look good at the point of sell and make it through the voyage from Vietnam to your store.
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1. Which styles do you want to manufacture first?
2. Do you have tech packs?
3. Do you have any special factory requirements?
4. Have you produced before? If yes, then in what country?
5. What quantity per style per color do you order?
6. Does your company have a website?
7. Do you want to work with an agent or directly with the factory?
8. Do you plan to visit Vietnam?
Fashion Start-up Consultant
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Author and Dad