How to Vet Your Production Partner

How to Vet Your Production Partner

Published On: March 6, 2023

Congratulations, you’ve made it through the development process and you have your final samples and production-ready patterns in hand. Good for you! Now, the next thing you need to do (after a deep breath and a well-deserved pat on the back) is to choose your production partner.

The right production partner can make or break your collection’s success. Whether you’re new to the clothing industry or doing research for a new manufacturer, it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the lifecycle of your new collection.

The words “let’s start” means different things to each manufacturer. For some manufacturers it means you must already have your finished production-ready patterns and sew-by samples in hand. For others, they will have the capabilities to take you all the way from ideation to finished bulk production.

There are as many combinations of these services as there are potential partners. In other words, not every manufacturer has the same capabilities. That said, you need to know exactly what services you need before you can figure out the right partner for you.

Here are some of the services to consider when looking for a manufacturer:

  • Development of patterns and final samples
  • Grading and Marking services
  • Fabric sourcing
  • Cutting
  • Bulk Production
  • Packaging & Shipping

Once you’ve determined which services you need, you’re ready to start vetting your possible candidates.

Do a “Reputation” Check. 

Ask potential partners for some prior customers or referrals that you may contact. They should be forthcoming with this information. It’s not always easy to reach these referrals by phone, but give it a try! Also, take a look at their websites, to make sure they’re the real deal. It’s a good way to check the quality of the product as well.

Check reviews on Google, Facebook, and other online resources, including the Better Business Bureau. The BBB might not yield any results, but do not let that concern you. Just because they don’t show up at the BBB doesn’t mean they’re not legit!

You might run across one disgruntled review, but that doesn’t mean your potential manufacturing partner isn’t a good choice. As you know, sometimes people can have unreasonable expectations, and will leave a bad review because of it. There are always two sides to every story, so ASK the manufacturer about the unfavorable review to hear how they addressed the situation.

Now for the Tough Questions!

Once you’ve narrowed down your manufacturer to two or three candidates, arrange a phone or video call with each. Sure, you’re not delving too deep into the initial interview process yet. However, that doesn’t mean that your interview has to be superficial. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions to see whether this manufacturer is a good fit for you.

Ask your candidates questions about what they do and don’t offer. Of course, you may not need all the services provided by your manufacturing partner. The services you need depend on the complexity of your collection, and whether you can handle certain duties yourself. But ask about all the services anyway, then you can make the most informed decision.

This is a great opportunity to check the responsiveness of each company. If it takes weeks to get in touch with them, that probably doesn’t bode well for your future communications with that company.

Here are some good questions to ask to get the ball rolling:

  • Are you taking new customers? Find out about their current production schedule. It might be a deal-breaker if you need to start production now, and they can’t work on your order until five months from now.
  • What services do you provide? This is a critical question, especially for those emerging designers just starting manufacturing. Some manufacturers also do pattern making, grading, fabric sourcing, packaging, and other services (typically fee-based). If you don’t already have materials purchased, you should look into having your manufacturer supply your materials. Because they are a larger company, they can sometimes get a discount. Be aware that they may charge a sourcing fee for this service.
  • Are you scalable? Sure, your first order will be small, but what happens when you grow? Is the manufacturer able to grow with you and fill larger orders?
  • What is your MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity)? It’s important to know whether your minimum order applies to all of your items or just items of a specific size or color. For example, is your minimum order for 500 shirts of all sizes and colors, or 500 black size small shirts? That question is the difference between a 500 MOQ and a 2,000 MOQ. This answer could make it cost-prohibitive to complete your full line with this manufacturer.
  • How’s the pricing? Ask if they can give you a range of pricing for your particular category of garment. Run through your numbers so that you’ll immediately know whether a manufacturer’s bid is feasible. Here’s a simple formula to help you determine your price:
    • (Labor + Materials) x 2 = wholesale price
    • Wholesale price x 2 = retail price (MSRP)

You might want to start vetting bulk manufacturers concurrent with development so you are ready to go when the patterns and samples are finalized. In many cases, this can be the same company.

Location, Location, Location

The next factor you need to consider is location. This can impact both your manufacturer’s perceived communication skills and the cost of your product.

By working with a manufacturer located within your country, you ensure that you’re working approximately the same work hours. Which means no big-time lapse after you ask questions, and you should avoid receiving the answers in the middle of the night.

Plus, it’s easier to answer some difficult questions face-to-face with a nearby manufacturer. When significant manufacturing questions arise, a nearby manufacturing location makes it easier for you to visit and explain. Often, face-to-face interaction helps create better understanding between people and prevents costly confusion in the future.

Your prospective manufacturer should be proud of their facility and invite you out for a tour. If your contact seems hesitant to have you come out or discourages you from coming by, that is a huge red flag. You should immediately pass and move on to the next prospective manufacturer on your list.

As a side note, be sure you make sure they’re in full compliance with local labor laws, and have quality control and standards in place. Again, that isn’t something you want to find out after the fact!

You’ve Made Your Choice!

Once you’ve decided that you want to work with a particular clothing manufacturer, ask them what they need to get started. Read thoroughly and sign any contracts that may be necessary, and be sure to ask any questions you may have. It’s better to have everything clarified at the start, and remember, there are no stupid questions!

One more thing, don’t forget to arrange for a TOP (Top of Production) sample. When the sample arrives, look it over to ensure that it is exactly what you want. Let your manufacturer know right away if something doesn’t look right.

So there you have it. You’re ready to start production; the important next step towards introducing your collection to your customers! If you’d like to discuss the development or production of your collection, we’re here to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to reach out to us at or call us at 800-916-0910. We’ll talk.

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