Whether you want to be the next big fashion entrepreneur, or you simply want to sell everyday clothing items online, finding the right manufacturer is critical to your success.
The clothing industry is extremely competitive and dominated by major brands with big budgets, celebrity endorsements, and decades of experience.
However, the rise of ecommerce and boutique clothing lines has seen many aspiring fashion entrepreneurs find success online - and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
If you’re reading this, your clothing business idea is probably already well developed. You have a niche in mind and, perhaps, some clothing designs, or ideas for the clothing items you’d like to sell.
But you’re not quite sure where to start - or who to trust - to get your clothing manufactured.
Unfortunately, this is the roadblock that causes many aspiring entrepreneurs to give up. There are several reasons for this:
I want to assure you that finding a clothing manufacturer doesn’t have to be difficult or scary. In fact, I’ll share some great clothing manufacturers with you in this article.
I understand why this part of your business journey can seem daunting, but let me guide you through the process of finding quality clothing manufacturers so that you can take your ideas and make them your reality.
The first thing you should ask yourself when launching a clothing business is: Do I really need a clothing manufacturer? If you’re simply wanting to sell clothing items online, then you may be better off starting with dropshipping and sourcing products from a clothing supplier. That way you don’t have to worry about the production side of things as you can choose pre-made clothing items from a catalog. You also don’t have to buy a whole lot of stock that might not sell. It can save you a lot of time, money, and unnecessary risk.
For example, if you’re planning to sell blank t-shirts, there’s not much point in trying to reinvent the wheel when there are a lot of suppliers already stocking every kind of blank t-shirt under the sun.
However, if you have a unique idea for a new range of clothing, or you’re a fashion designer wanting to launch your own brand, then you will need to work directly with a manufacturer.
There are pros and cons of working with a clothing manufacturer.
BONUS: Learn more about the pros and cons of manufacturing in our Beginner's Guide to Finding Private Label Manufacturers
If you’re getting started on your clothing business journey, there are a few things to consider before you choose a clothing manufacturer.
This might seem like an obvious question, but it’s an important one. Not all clothing manufacturers are capable of producing all types of clothing. For example, outdoors or exercise clothing often requires special materials, such as lycra or waterproof fabrics. You need to be sure that the manufacturer you choose is able to make the clothing products that you want. Even better, you should try and use a manufacturer that specializes in making the clothing that you want. If you’re starting a clothing business that sells stylish swimwear, then you would do well to work with a manufacturer that has a lot of experience with swimwear.
You need to decide whether you’re going to work with local manufacturers in your country or area, or overseas manufacturers. Typically, this means choosing between manufacturers in the United States and Europe or manufacturers in Asia (typically China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, and Bangladesh). It’s quite rare to find economically-viable clothing manufacturers in smaller countries, but if being locally-made is important to you, you might be able to make it work.
There are a lot of benefits to working with domestic clothing manufacturers. Firstly, it’s much easier to meet with the manufacturers, inspect their factories, and discuss your specific needs without a language barrier. There are more stringent labour regulations and better working conditions. Consumers are becoming more conscious of these things and being “locally made” can be a powerful selling point. You’ll also have the benefit of faster shipping times, which keeps customers happy. The quality also tends to be higher.
However, all of this comes at a financial cost. It typically costs more to use domestic manufacturers, although you will also have grounds to charge more for your clothing items.
The main benefit of using overseas manufacturers is cost. They are almost always a lot cheaper, which is why so much clothing is made in China. However, this is typically because labour standards and working conditions are unregulated, which is something you need to keep in mind.
It’s also more difficult for you to visit and inspect factories. And while overseas manufacturers can produce quality clothing, this relies on you choosing a reputable manufacturer.
Shipping times are also much longer when the products are being sent internationally. However, if you’re buying your clothing items in bulk and shipping them yourself, this isn’t a major issue.
The other benefit is that you can often have a greater range of options with overseas manufacturers - fabrics, styles etc - and they’re more inclined to bend over backwards to do business with you.
When you’re working with a clothing manufacturer, you need to know what their minimum order quantity is. That means that minimum number of items you need to purchase in a single order. The MOQ could range from 200 to 2000 items, or even more. It’s very rare for manufacturers to not have an MOQ. This is important for you to know because if you start working with a manufacturer and go to place your first order, and they tell you that you need to buy 1500 units of the swimsuit you want to manufacture, you might not be able to afford it. Also, it’s not a good idea to buy 2000 clothing items if you’re not sure you can sell them all. That way, you’re left with excess stock that’s difficult to move.
In short, make sure the MOQ is manageable for you before you start working with a clothing manufacturer.
Try before you buy. There’s a reason there are changing rooms in clothing stores and that’s because people want to know what they’re getting before they commit to buying it. The same goes for your manufacturer. If you’re getting a manufacturer to produce clothing items for your business, you want to make sure that you can get samples before committing to a large order. This is important because if something’s not quite right, you can make adjustments until it is. Imagine getting an order of hundreds of jackets that you’ve designed, only to find that they don’t quite fit right or they’ve used the wrong kind of button.
The easiest way to do this is by bringing it up in your communication early on. Most manufacturers will be more than happy provide samples, usually for a modest fee, but it’s up to you to get them to commit to it from the beginning.
In the excitement and rush of bringing your clothing business to life, it can be easy to overlook basic due diligence. All it takes is one or two lines in an email to ask the manufacturer if they have any additional fees you should know about, and what their shipping costs and times are.
This is really important information that can help you decide whether you work with that manufacturer or not, so make sure you address it early on.
BONUS: Check out our guide to communicating with manufacturers and suppliers (including email scripts you can use!)
This is something you might not think about until business is booming. When you’re just getting started with your clothing line, you’re probably focussed on getting your first order and making sales. But what happens if business goes better than expected, and your clothing sells out quickly? Can you rely on your manufacturer to produce your clothing quickly and at a greater capacity moving forward? This is why you should ask your supplier about their production capacity. Make sure they have the ability to notch it up if needed. Also ask about turnaround time or lead time, meaning how long it takes the manufacturer to fulfill your order. You don’t want to have to wait weeks or months for an order, missing out on potential customers and sales in the process.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can ask a manufacturer in an email and take their word on. However, you can do your own research by reading reviews of the manufacturer online, visiting the factory (if possible), and ordering samples. Remember that the quality of your garments determines your reputation, so you want to be sure that your manufacturer produces clothing to a high standard. You will be better off paying a slightly higher price for higher quality goods than risking your reputation just to save a few dollars.
This is one of the best ways to test the reliability of a manufacturer. Ask them what other brands they’ve produced clothing for. Then look at the websites for those brands. Are they successful? What’s their customer feedback like?. Contact the owners of those brands and ask them how they’ve found working with the manufacturer. Have they had any issues? Are they happy with the quality? There’s nothing like real-world testimonials to provide you with the peace of mind to proceed with a manufacturer. Or they might sound warning bells that will help you to decide to go with a different manufacturer.
It’s relatively easy to find clothing manufacturers online. The tricky part is knowing which ones are reliable and which aren’t.
Here are a few tried and true ways to find clothing manufacturers.
Trade shows (also known as trade fairs) are exhibitions where manufacturers showcase their products and services. It’s a great way to meet manufacturers in person so you can discuss your specific needs. The same goes for industry meetups. You can’t beat talking with a manufacturer face-to-face. It helps to build trust and confidence and establishes a more personal business relationship.
The SaleHoo Wholesale Directory has more than 8,000 low-cost suppliers and 1.6 million products and brands. There are more than 200 clothing suppliers all around the world. The best thing about SaleHoo’s supplier directory is that all of the manufacturers have been verified by SaleHoo staff, so you know they are trustworthy. It just takes one click to see all of the manufacturer’s contact information, including phone number, email, and physical address, as well as details such as their trustworthy score, product range and quality, and customer service information.
You can find manufacturers on popular, China-based online marketplaces such as Alibaba and AliExpress. Manufacturers often sell directly via these platforms so if you come across a listing that’s similar to the clothing product that you want to make, you can try contacting the seller and asking if they are a manufacturer. You have the added benefit of being able to read reviews and contact previous customers. However, you do need to be wary of scams and you should still undertake due diligence using the guidelines above.
BONUS: Learn more about how to find reliable manufacturers in China
Pineapple Clothing is a US-based clothing supplier and manufacturer of women’s and children’s apparel, known for its unique prints and designs intended for everyday use and for special occasions. While they sell direct to consumer, they also supply and manufacture clothing for retail stores.
Find more great clothing manufacturers in SaleHoo’s supplier directory
Good Clothing Company, based in the US, provides both small batch and large scale manufacturing services for independent designers and established brands. The company prides itself on using environmentally sustainable production practices and paying its workers fairly for their skilled labor. They provide a simple online form to make an enquiry about manufacturing with them.
Apparel Production Incorporated is a distinguished and highly experienced garment manufacturer in New York. Established in 1949, the company has always been committed to producing superior garments at the most reasonable prices with the help of its domestic and international manufacturing networks. The company has worked with high-end fashion labels.
Indie Source is full-service clothing development and manufacturing consultancy, based in Los Angeles. It provides fashion designers and clothing businesses with a personalized, in-house product development team which includes a dedicated project manager and experienced sourcing specialists, patternmakers, and sample makers.
Portland Garment Factory is a full-service creative design and fabrication studio, based in Portland, Oregon. They provide concept, design, and manufacturing services, specializing in more creative, designer clothing. The zero-waste studio is committed to upending the traditional factory model, through ethical labor practices and environmental sustainability.
Billoomi Fashion is an India-based private label clothing manufacturer of ready-to-wear woven and knitted garments for men, women, and children. The company has clients around the world and is equipped to handle any volume and any type of clothing manufacturing, which suggests that production capacity won’t be an issue.
Dewhirst design, develop and manufacture a wide range of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing. The company was established in 1880, so it has more than a century of experience. Dewhirst has manufacturing capabilities in several countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Given the locations of some of its factories, Dewhirst takes care to uphold ethical values in terms of workplace conditions, health and safety, sustainability.
Now that you know what to look for in a clothing manufacturer, where to find them, and have a few options to get your started, you should be in a good position to get your clothing business underway.
While it’s a highly competitive market, there are still plenty of opportunities to capitalize on new trends and creative ideas and build a sustainable online business. If you’ve got great ideas and a drive to bring them to life, there’s no reason why you can’t create a successful clothing line.
So what do you think? Have you had any experience sourcing clothing manufacturers? What are the common obstacles have you faced?
I hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any questions or any other tips for working with clothing manufacturers, please leave a comment below.