Clothing manufacturing is an extremely large and diverse industry making it incredibly difficult to navigate for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs. Most information available on the internet is either too specific or not specific enough. So we thought we would make researching a little easier. We have composed a comprehensive guide on all things relating to clothing manufacturers.
Why is it important? If you plan on developing or growing a successful clothing business then you will need to know. Who is the best clothing manufacturer for you, how to find them and most importantly how to work with them. So let’s dive in.
Difference Between White Label Distributors & Clothing Manufacturers?
You may think this is a slightly ‘off topic” way to start this guide. However we think it’s absolutely foundational that everybody understands the difference from the outset.
According to Sellbery white label products are produced by one company, that other retailers rebrand and sell under their own trademark. For example, a brand buys wholesale blank t-shirts from a company. They replace the brand labels with their own, add screen printing and then sell to customers as their own.
In contrast, most custom apparel companies work directly with brands and fashion designers to produce unique custom clothing. These brands will then sell their own collections as private label or direct to customers.
So now that we have settled that. If you are looking for a garment manufacturer, you are looking to make your own unique clothing line from scratch.
Types of Clothing Manufacturers
Understanding the different types of apparel manufacturers will help narrow down your search criteria. As result it may help you to find the perfect match. So let’s take a birds eye-view and see how clothing factories are categorized by their specialization for apparel production.
Original Design Manufacturer or can be more commonly referred to as a private label clothing manufacturer. ODM or private label manufacturers design their own clothing ranges and offer their collections for sale.
Big retailers, boutique stores and small brands will select from catalogues of ready made garments. In some cases, ODM manufacturers will rebrand the labeling to their customers requirements.
ODM manufacturers are an efficient solution for time poor businesses. They take away most of the heavy lifting in regards to creativity, design and product development.
The biggest downside to ODM manufacturers is there is little to no flexibility. You can not customize the design, fabric or sizing leaving little room for creativity or that unique personal touch. Other brands will also have access to your same designs.
Original Equipment Manufacturers are the Taj Mahal of all manufacturers working with clothing. They offer complete customization with design, sizing, fabric selection, printing, embroidery amongst a plethora of other limitless options. They are one of most common types of clothing manufacturers but often only produce within a small niche.
However, there is a catch. OEM manufacturers usually have high MOQ’s of 1000 pieces or more. OEM is by far the most complex of all manufacturers. There is an infinite number of variables to each garment.
Understandably OEM manufacturers want to ensure they maximize production floor efficiency. The only way to do this is to produce lots of the same style of garment.
There are rare exceptions to these unwritten rules. Yoke Apparel Manufacturing is a prime example of one of these hidden gems. They offer high quality OEM customized services but with MOQ’s starting at 50 pieces.
OEM manufacturers offer fully comprehensive customized services. They have design and development teams to help walk you through each step of the process. You can create original and unique fashion designs that many other brands will not have access too.
Almost all OEM manufacturers have large MOQ’s that are out of reach to startups and smaller brands. More customization means more options and more work. Fully designing your range from scratch through to production does take a lot more time than buying off the shelf.
CMT stands for cut, make, trim or cut and sew. This means the manufacturer is provided fabric from the customer. The manufacturer’s only responsibilities in CMT is to cut the fabric, make the garment and provide the trims.
Some customers already have established relationships with fabric suppliers. They may prefer a more hands on approach to fabric selection to ensure quality or uniqueness to their pieces.
The customers can choose exactly what fabric they want and manage the quality. Manufacturers love working with CMT customers because it reduces the number of steps in the manufacturing process.
It may not always be the most economical way to buy fabric. Manufacturers usually can buy fabric in their own countries at cheaper prices. Sending fabric to different countries will also incur import/export costs.
Low MOQ Clothing Manufacturer
Startups and smaller clothing brands have never had as much opportunity to launch or grow their brands as they do now. In the past this has been due to the lack of clothing manufacturers offering low MOQ (minimum order quantities).
Low MOQ orders are generally less desirable for clothing manufacturers to produce. This is due to the large volume of planning and organizing for such little work.
In fairness, clothing manufacturers have also been at the liberty of fabric suppliers and accessory suppliers. Many of them also have large MOQ’s. This makes it risky and unprofitable for manufacturers to purchase goods they may never find a customer for.
The are definitely the most sought after our of all the types of clothing manufacturers.
One of the only types of custom clothing manufacturers for startups that offer low minimum order quantities.
OEM clothing manufacturers are still extremely rare to find. You may also find that their prices are higher than what big brand buying power can get.
Garment Manufacturer By Fabric Type
There are manufacturers who only work with specific fabric types. This is usually broken down into 3 groups. Woven, non-woven and knit clothing manufacturers. The can generally make any style of garment within the fabric type.
Garment Manufacturer By Clothing Category
We have complied a few examples of manufacturers by clothing category. We have also thrown in a few extra categories to show you how you could search more specifically. You’ll see why they are relevant, but we will come back to that.
- Kids clothing manufacturers
- Streetwear clothing manufacturers
- Sweatshirt & hoodie manufacturers
- Women’s clothing manufacturers
- Activewear clothing manufacturers
- Athletic clothing manufacturers
- Performance clothing manufacturers
- Eco friendly clothing manufacturers
- Ethical clothing manufacturers
- Recycled clothing manufacturers
- Sustainable clothing manufacturers
Where To Find Clothing Manufacturers
According to Statista most clothing production occurs in countries such as China, India, Turkey, Vietnam, Korea and Pakistan. With the exception of the European Union and the United States. Their figures are counted as export although the garments may not be produced in their countries but through international brand sales.
Of course there are garment manufacturers in most countries so let’s take a look at onshore vs offshore.
Onshore vs Offshore
In the 70’s most clothing manufacturing moved offshore into Asia. Brands figured out they could dramatically increase their profit margins. They could do this whilst injecting large volumes of newly acquired profits into growing their brands through aggressive marketing campaigns.
This also greatly benefitted clothing manufacturers overseas. Nowadays Asia still remains in top position for garment manufacturing and will unlikely be dethroned. They have decades of experience, developing equipment and garment manufacturing techniques. To top it off, they also have the largest and cheapest workforce in the world.
This hasn’t come without its fair share of safety and ethical dilemmas early on. The lack of regulation in developing nations really didn’t help the situation. However with the global spotlight cast onto malpractice the industry has dramatically cleaned itself up. By no means perfect but moving in the right direction.
The most noticeable difference with onshore clothing manufacturers is the cost. Materials and the cost of labour drive prices up making it more difficult for brands to remain competitive and profitable.
Local clothing manufacturers are historically more trustworthy, convenient and communication is easier. So there is still plenty of upside to manufacturing locally. Other than the cost, the other notable downside is that onshore manufacturers are generally very limited in capability and options.
Ethics & Sustainability
As mentioned above, the industry as a whole has seen some dark days. While they may not be fully over. The industry has never been as “clean” as it is today and thats mostly thanks to social awareness.
Consumer buying patterns are rapidly shifting to a more conscious decisions. This is turn is applying pressure on apparel manufacturers to pull its socks up of face closure.
Another way ethical & sustainable practices have been improving is through Sustainable Fashion Certifications – Compliance, Standards and Certifications. These certifications are generally out of reach for small boutiques factories in developing nations due to maintenance and cost. However if you do choose to work with a larger and more established factory. It’s advised to look into their credentials.
We have listed the five most relevant and important to the clothing manufacturing industry.
Sustainability development within the industry has also been moving in leaps and bounds with R&D budgets skyrocketing. There is a race to find the most sustainable fabric materials and production methods. Consumer uptake of sustainable clothing is still slow. Meaning it is still only a niche category however with time it will become more mainstream.
Manufacturing process’s differ between factories. This all depends on what services they offer and their size. For example, smaller factories have a more simplified process’s. While larger factories have a more extensive approach due to the size of order quantities.
So let’s take a look at the 4 main departments of an apparel manufacturer. Please keep in mind that these fields are complete topics in and of themselves. We are merely just giving you an outline of the process.
Design is ground zero for clothing manufacturing and this is where it all begins. According to the Wikipedia definition. “Fashion design is the art of applying design, aesthetics, clothing construction and natural beauty to clothing and its accessories. It is influenced by culture and different trends, and has varied over time and place”.
What you may not know is that an overwhelming majority of all fashion is inspired or modified from existing designs. You could think of it as a collective organism of creativity mutating through time.
A minuscule percentile of clothing is completely original. When an original design is discovered, we observe the formation of a fashion trend. Take the mini skirt for example. You can read all about its history in an article written by V&A.
So whats involved with design?
- Research and identify new trends, fabrics and techniques.
- Sketch or illustrate the design.
- Select fabrics and trims.
- Create tech packs with instructions on how to make the products they design.
- Collaborate with technical designers to ensure development packages are accurate.
To oversimplify the whole process, a tech pack is the produced outcome of design for clothing manufacturing. To learn more, read our compressive guide on what is a tech pack.
The clothing development process is the transition of an abstract design concept into a physical product. Also know as the sampling process. The apparel manufacturer uses a tech pack as an instructional guide on how to purchase for and construct the garment.
Design and development are not always straight forward. Often there is a need for collaborate between the designer, the technical designer, the customer and the clothing manufacturer. Sometimes designs need to have slight alterations made to ensure fit and functionality of the garment. To learn more, read this guide on the sampling process.
The sampling and development department will then construct the sample garment and send to the customer for feedback or final approval. If the sample is approved, the design is now ready for production.
Production is the main functionality of a clothing manufacturer. A large majority of all budget and human resource is allocated to the production department. Therefore the department must run efficiently to avoid delays. Delays can result in significant loss not only in quote variance but also in buyer penalties.
It’s important to know this because once an order is scheduled there is no further opportunity to change your designs.
Let’s take a visual look at the steps involved in the manufacturing process.
Quality Control is the final step in the manufacturing process. It involves thoroughly checking every thread, seam, stitch, embellishment and surface of a garment. Any defect that is identified is separated for repair or replacement. Quality inspections are manually conducted by the manufacturer but can also be supervised by third party inspectors hired by the purchaser.
Some in-house quality control tests performed are:
- Fit testing all sizes
- Seam strength test
- Dry & wet crocking test
- Fatigue test
- Stretch test
Additionally for high fashion or large quantity orders. Buyers can send their garments for scientific testing before the order is approved and shipped out.
Payment, Terms & Conditions
Each company and each buyer will have their own terms and conditions. For small orders you will generally have to work with the manufacturers terms and conditions.
For large contracts, negotiations on terms and conditions between the buyer and the manufacturers. This usually takes place before a contract is agreed upon.
The contract will include details on the following topics:
- Deliverables (detailed description of what you are buying)
- Quality variance, refund and return policy
- Payment and deposit terms.
Generally a manufacturer will take between a 30-50% deposit and the remaining balance will be due before the orders is dispatched.
There are really only two methods of shipping that overseas clothing manufacturers use. By air freight or by sea cargo. Both methods are subject terms of where ownership of the shipment are transferred.
Freight on board or free on board is the most common method of shipping. In simple terms, once the seller hands over the goods to the shipping company. All risk and costs associated with freight are transferred to the buyer.
Cost, insurance & freight is where the manufacturer organizes the shipping and is responsible up until the port of collection.
This is the most expensive mode of shipping however it does come with plenty of benefits. Air freight is the most straight forward and easiest service to use. Its also the fastest with orders being delivered 4-10 days. By air is best suited to orders with a combined weight of less than 500kg.
Shipping by sea can be up to 1 third of the cost. However taxes, duties and port charges can become complicated and expensive. Shipping by sea can take any where from 35-55 days. By sea is best suited to orders with a combined weight of more than 500kg.
This guide is intended for educational purposes on understanding clothing manufacturers and their process’s. We hope the information collated has been useful and informative. If you feel we missed any topics or you have something to add we would love to hear from you.
If you want to learn more about how to start your very own clothing line with no experience than read this guide.
Additionally if you have any questions, please leave a message in the comment section below.
Tags: Clothing Manufacturer