26 Dec How to Find Garment Factories Anywhere
Now that you learnt to specify your production needs, we should go over some strategies on how to actually find garment factories that match your profile.
Here’s the catch though:
Most factories don’t even have a website nor are they listed in the yellow pages.
They’re notoriously hard to find but they are the most crucial partner for when you start your clothing line.
It’s a daunting task for many young fashion entrepreneurs so I compiled my Top 10 strategies on how to track down garment factories in any city. They also work for tracking down pattern makers, markers and graders, and I use all of them myself.
I’ve specified above why finding the right factory is so important for your success, so be prepared to spend a lot of time on this process. My recommendation is to not rush this process and definitely not to settle for a factory just because you need your product by a specific date. You really want to take the time to get to know each factory, each manager, and what they can do to help you.
Plan to reach out to at least 10-12 factories and to visit at least five to six, but the more people you talk to and the more factories you visit the better you will know what to expect.
1. USE YOUR SUPPLIERS’ REFERENCES
By far my favorite strategy when it comes to finding any resource or partner to work with is asking your suppliers.
Most likely they’ve been in the industry since a long time, often since several generations already. Because they sell to many other companies (read: your competitors), they get to meet a lot of people including factories, contractors, and other suppliers. The bigger your supplier is the more people they will know.
Furthermore, they have an interest in seeing you succeed and because they want to keep selling to you for a long time they will provide you with excellent recommendations and hook you up with the right people.
If I need anything, I’ll call or email the salesperson that’s working with me and ask them for help: I’ll fill them in on the situation and might even show them a couple of samples if, for example, I need help with those items specifically. Once you’ve established a relationship with a supplier, you can ask them almost anything and they’ll go to great lengths to help you out.
One of my most beneficial relationships is with one of my fabric suppliers: they’ve been in business for several generations and because they’re so big they know practically everyone. And everyone knows them too, which has the great advantage of providing you with credibility when you meet factories for the first time and they know the people you’re already working with.
WORD OF WARNING
Your supplier (and factory) relationships are extremely important. When you’re a small brand you’re in the precarious position where your quality, your reputation, and in the end your overall success will largely depend on the goodwill of those large companies.
Thus, I highly recommend you observe the following recommendations:
- Be friendly and respectful at all times, even if you’re upset
- Observe cultural differences. Asian cultures, for example, have a different understanding of respect and doing business
- Observe holidays or your sales person’s birthday and be mindful of traditions (ie. Wish them a Happy Chinese New Year or maybe send a card)
- Spread their name and send them customers. It’ll create goodwill and they’ll be even more happy to help you in the future
- badmouth other people, factories, or suppliers, they might be friends or business partners
- show their products to other suppliers in the same market (their competitors), you wouldn’t want them showing your products around either
- talk bad about your competitor’s quality, they might be buying from the same supplier
- mention prices with other suppliers or customers. You might get a special deal because you’re smaller and if you spread the word, they won’t make exceptions in the future.
2. FIND PERSONAL REFERENCES
An alternative to asking your suppliers might be to ask around in your personal network. Your friends, colleagues, or former teachers from school might know people to work with.
The personal reference you’ll get from leveraging your own network will increase the likelihood that potential partners or factories will be willing to work with you.
This is a great method to get started but once you’ve built a small network within the industry I highly recommend you resort back to asking suppliers and people you work with to make further introductions. They will simply provide you with more targeted and specialized connections than your “circle of friends” will.
3. COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS
The third way to find suppliers is probably the most time consuming but you can dig up a real goldmine. Take a look at your biggest competitors and if they’re listed on the stock market you will find a great deal of information about them online –including their supply chain.
When I got started with my active wear line I researched every bigger company out there, from Lululemon to Nike, from Under Armor to Athleta. To my great surprise I was able to find several of their fabric suppliers as well as a couple factory names here and there.
When I reached out to these companies I learnt that some of them had special departments for “young brands” and they were happy to work with me. The others (mostly the garment factories) for whom I was way too small, were still happy to recommend me other contractors to work with.
4. GO TO TRADESHOWS
Tradeshows are an interesting experience when you’re heading to a big show for the first time. Imagine hundreds of competitors squeezed next to each other competing for everyone’s eyes and attention.
It can be quite overwhelming to look at all of those fabrics, samples, and swatches for several days in a row and you have to be extremely well organized so you don’t forget which company was which when you come back home.
Don’t even try to “memorize” which company you liked or even what you liked about them. Take a notebook, cell phone, pen, and stapler with you and for each booth you visit make some notes, take some pictures of their samples together with their business cards, and staple the card into your book.
Pro tip: If you know how to use Excel, I suggest you enter all of this information into a table. Add filters to make the supplier list sortable by location and by product/service type (ie. Hangtags, cut and sew, fabrics, trims, etc). That way you can simply sort your list later according to what kind of service you’re looking for.
After your trade show, I highly recommend you take the time to send a quick thank you note to suppliers you’d like to with. That way you ensure that they have your contact information and you leave a positive impression.
Pro tip II: The first trade show you should attend is Sourcing at MAGIC in Las Vegas. It is free for designers, company owners, and production managers. You’ll find hundreds (thousands?) of suppliers all ready and willing to tell you about their products and services. Go there, talk to every single person, and let them educate you for free. Plus, you will walk away with countless new factory and supplier leads!
5. CHECK DIRECTORIES / B2B MARKET PLACES
The easiest example of an online directory is Yelp. It catalogues all businesses and provides contact- and other useful information for users. The social aspect of Yelp allows you to leave a review, share photos, etc.
Yelp is targeted at end customers, people like you and me. There are, however, similar catalogues that aim at connecting businesses. If you’ve ever researched something related to production, wholesale, or outsourcing on Google, you might have come across sites like Alibaba or Maker’s Row.
One word of warning before we dive into the list of factories: from my experience there are a lot of users on these B2B platforms who have no fashion- or production experience which means their reviews of factories might lack a reference point to compare it to.
I’ve tried to work with a couple of factories or contractors that I’ve found through one of those directories and who had excellent reviews but they ended up being a complete nightmare to work with. Thus, reviews can be a starting point but don’t let yourself be fooled by them: You should always meet with suppliers and base your opinion on what you see at their factories.
And now, without further a due, here is the list of B2B market places:
US-BASED: MAKER’S ROW
Helps you find US-based factories. It is a paid service starting at $35 per month and occasionally offers free trial periods. The higher-priced $99 per month offer includes concierge service and support when it comes to sourcing and other production related skills. Factories post their services, minimums, and work examples while users can search for factories and book mark, review or rate them. This is the only US service I’ve ever used when I started out. It can be particularly useful in the beginning when you don’t even know where to start and if you don’t live in a “big fashion city” with lots of production opportunities such as LA or NYC.
Alibaba is by far the largest B2B marketplace on the internet and literally your gateway to anything made in Asia while IndiaMart offers you access to suppliers in India. Both of them are a free service and offer a plethora of products and services. As mentioned earlier, producing overseas comes with its own set of challenges so my suggestion is to be mindful in what you want to source from here. Most likely all transactions are done online so I highly recommend having companies ship samples to you before placing ANY ORDER. Personally, I’ve used Alibaba to source trims, hangtags, and shipping materials such as poly bags etc.
UK-BASED: Let’s Make It Here
Let’s Make It Here is a free B2B guide for the UK. The website lets you search for factories and each profile will provide you with details about the factory or supplier, contact information, and what they specialize in. It also provides free resources in its “toolkit”
Sqetch is the European equivalent of Makersrow. It offers a free service as well as two paid services for 25EUR and 99EUR. Similarly to Makersrow the paid services offer customized support and resources.
6. USE SEARCH ENGINES (Google, Yelp etc)
One way to find factories is by simply going on Google or Yelp and checking out who’s in your city. Chances are you’ll find the factories that actually have a “sales” or “marketing” person but that’s only a tiny fraction and typically it’s one that has been founded fairly recently and is run by a younger person or team.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a bad factory. From my experiences, however, production is an experience business. The longer a factory has been around the better they are. That being said, the really well established factories in the US don’t usually need to go out and find customers through cold calling or emailing.
They don’t want to be found easily because (1) they’re not too keen to work with small brands, and (2) there is so much work and usually never enough capacity. Thus, the big, well run factories often don’t have a website nor are they listed on Google (not to mention Yelp).Production is an experience business. The longer they've been around the better they are. Click To Tweet
7. DO SOME FIELD RESEARCH
It’s time to get your hands dirty by doing what I call field research. This method may be a bit more work intensive than others but it’s definitely worth it. Especially if you’re living in one of those cities where production capabilities are scarce!
I’ve discovered several hidden factory gems in San Francisco and elsewhere.
And it’s fun because it secretly makes you feel like a private detective so let’s dive right in:
Let’s start by going on Yelp and looking for anyone who could know about a garment factory. It could be a sewing machine repair shop, marker/grader, cutting service, fabric store, or similar. The list goes on and on and the only limitation really is your creativity.
Create a list of these stores (Excel, anyone?) including their addresses and phone numbers. First go ahead and give each of these stores a call. It is the easiest thing to do from the comfort of your home.
Briefly introduce yourself and mention that you’re launching a fashion company. Ask them whether they happen to know of any factories in the area.
Ask if they’ve delivered their product (fabric etc.) or service (repair, marking and grading, cutting, etc.) to any contractor in the area. Don’t forget to thank them for their time.
If calling doesn’t work, go visit them:
Calling these businesses is one method, but I found that being in store or being a customer to someone yields better results. My favorite place to start are sewing machine repair shops. I usually head over to a local repair shop and pick up a cheap item (or anything I need). During checkout I start a conversation telling them all about how I’m looking for a contractor.
Pick a time when there are not many people in the store and there is no line at the register. Even if the same store told me on the phone that they didn’t know of anyone, I often learnt that they did, they just didn’t make the effort to ask around for a stranger on the phone vs. a paying customer in their store.
8. FACTORY OWNERS USE LINKEDIN!
Believe it or not, there are plenty of factories, factory managers, or any other contractors on LinkedIn. You can shoot them a direct message or connect with them for future opportunities.
I’ve found one of the best pattern makers in San Francisco by entering “pattern maker San Francisco” into LinkedIn’s search function. To my great delight I’ve found over ten different entries.
I checked everybody’s profiles and work experience and made a first selection. Then I looked them up on Google, and ultimately decided to send one of them an email. She called me the next day and we’re still working together.
9. INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS AND “MADE IN…” GROUPS
These associations often have a wide support network and offer services such as consultation, incubators, meet ups, etc. You can find these associations online by looking for them on Google, MeetUp, and Eventbrite.
Many of these associations and networks require a membership fee. It is up to you whether you make this investment or not. They can be very helpful when it comes to networking, finding advice or mentorship, promoting your brand, etc.
10. GARMENT FACTORIES HAVE INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS!
Most recently I’ve discovered a new way to find factories: Instagram. Factories now have profiles and use social media to showcase their skills. Here is an example of a factory I came across recently. Please note that this is just an example. I never worked with them and I know nothing about their skills and quality.
Say what? Instagram as a way to find factories? I know, I didn’t believe it either. However, over the last couple of years numerous factories mostly from India or Bangladesh have approached me through direct messaging. It was interesting to see them be so resourceful and use Instagram as a portfolio of what they can do.
To find them simply start looking for hashtags that a factory would use when promoting its work. Here are a couple of examples when looking for factories in Los Angeles. You can look for #madeinLA #LAgarmentfactory #flatlock (or any other specific stitching) etc.
Just take a look at this screenshot of one garment manufacturer’s IG account:
They use hashtags to be found more easily and they specify what they do. Please note, I did work with this factory and my experience wasn’t good. I do not recommend them.
Instagram may not have been at the top of your mind when it comes to using it to find factories. It is, however, a valid way to add more factories to your list.
One word of warning though:
Even though I present Instagram as a viable option, remember that social media only shows the best, happiest events. You have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. Furthermore, don’t put too much value on how many followers a factory has. Unless you visit a factory and meet the people who run it, you can’t assess their fit.
I repeat: do not get impressed by great reviews or the number of followers they have. You don’t know the people who wrote the reviews and you don’t know their level of expertise. Thus, you should ALWAYS meet suppliers and factories in person and never put all of your styles in one factory.
ARE YOU READY READY TO START YOUR CLOTHING LINE?
Congratulations, you now know how to find factories in any city or country! Let’s get in touch with them and start talking about producing your line. No clue how to start? Thank god I wrote a post about your initial outreach including email and phone templates that you can use.
Good luck and leave me a comment below what’s your biggest challenge when it comes to finding or working with garment factories!