A Simple Guide to Working With Apparel Manufacturers
Apparel manufacturing companies are crucial partners for a designer. Designers know how to create, but not always how to design clothes for manufacturing. Whether it’s working from a set of patterns or collaborating with a designer to dial in timescale and budget, great apparel manufacturers are invaluable. Here’s how to find one, and how to get the best out of one once you do.
Why Work With Apparel Manufacturers in the USA?
Working with apparel manufacturers in the USA means communication is easier. Even if you never meet in person, knowing that you can do so makes a big difference. There’s usually no language barrier, and cultural assumptions are mostly the same across the USA — unlike manufacturers in China, India or South-East Asia, for instance, where opportunities for cultural or linguistic misunderstandings are rife.
American apparel manufacturers can’t compete with overseas manufacturers on cost. So they don’t. Instead, apparel manufacturers in the USA compete on quality, finish, fidelity to your design vision, and quality of collaboration with you as a designer.
If garments are manufactured in the USA, shipping and handling costs are lower without export and import inspections, duties, taxes and fees. Without unexpected delays at national borders, items are likely to show up on time. In the fashion world, timeliness is sometimes important, sometimes critical. Whether you’re opening an e-commerce campaign, a store, or a catwalk show, you need your work to be ready at the agreed-upon time.
A final thought: consumers know that ‘Made in the USA’ means higher labor standards, supporting American jobs, and a certain level of quality — and they like seeing it. 56% of American consumers would pay up to 25% more for American-made fashion; 4% would pay 100% more.
Working With Your Apparel Manufacturer
Working with an experienced apparel manufacturer should be a partnership, with the manufacturer helping you reach your goals. These considerations are intended to make that process work more smoothly.
Introduce Yourself and Your Vision
Every designer and every brand is different; most apparel manufacturers have worked in the past with a client like you, whether you’re a couture designer or you’re prepping a mass-market eCommerce campaign. However, the more your manufacturer understands you, the better they can match your needs, so come prepared to showcase your vision, your brand and your business.
After 15 years in the business, we know how crucial this matching process is. That’s why all our clients have a dedicated team — a project manager, a design & sourcing expert, a master patternmaker, and a seasoned seamstress — to guide them through the process and be their point of contact with the manufacturing process.
What are Your Production Stages?
Not everyone steps into the first meeting with their manufacturer at the same production stage. Maybe you’ve already created your collection in the studio and you need a small run of production based on those garments, or you’re ready to roll out a large run and have your tech pack and requirements ready.
Finding the Right Apparel Manufacturer
This is crucial. The right manufacturer is more than a service provider or contractor; they understand what you’re trying to achieve and have the tools to help you get there. Be prepared to interview clothing manufacturers, asking about minimum order number or quantity, certification, turnaround time and more.
Discuss and Agree to Pricing
For new or up-and-coming designers, there can be a tightrope between negotiating a good price on the one hand, and a good relationship on the other. It’s a good idea to assemble a tech pack — a ‘recipe’ for creating your garment, with crucial pricing information like fabric price per yard (up to 70% of the cost of retail garments can be fabric!). It will also let your manufacturer know what price to offer you because your processes and figures will be transparent.
For more established businesses, it’s more about pursuing and building on those relationships. But you still need a partner that can work with you to achieve your goals.
Stick to Your Budget
Nothing kills a young business faster than poor budgeting. Set a budget that’s realistic, and accept that it’s going to influence what you can do: for instance, a new designer might need to narrow down their first line and reduce initial order numbers for financial reasons. It might even be economic to remove certain design features on some garments!
Ask for a detailed breakdown of pricing from your manufacturer: it may be that there are areas of duplication where you can supply work you’ve already done instead of asking the manufacturer to pay someone to do it. Remember that cost per unit can be an unreliable metric: it changes rapidly as production increases, and is often uncertain before the first sample has been produced.
Clarify the Production Process
Exactly how will your manufacturer produce your garments? You need to know enough about the concrete details of the production process to have your finger on the pulse so that when your manufacturer tells you where they are in the process, you know what that means for you in terms of time.
Adhere to the Timeline
Create a fashion design production timeline, and talk with your garment manufacturer to ensure they can meet it. If it requires additional input from your end, make sure you provide it on time! Hitting milestones on time is how you hit deadlines on time, and with several teams, toolsets and supply chains coming together to create your garments, you want to make the process as organized as possible.
How Long Does it Take to Manufacture Clothes?
A reasonable rule of thumb is that manufacture should take between four and eight weeks. At TEG, our Studio Level Production for smaller production runs is contracted with a four-to-eight-week turnaround time, though we can do rush deliveries in as little as one to four weeks, subject to a rush fee. Development packages for larger orders are contracted with an eight-week turnaround from an agreed-upon start date. Start dates are based on receipt of all designs, fabrics, and trims by the customer, as well as TEG’s current schedule at the time of contracting. Contracts are provided with a one year time period to complete the project.
Apparel Production Timeline
Apparel production timelines vary depending on several factors. One that’s often overlooked is your selling strategy. If you plan to sell wholesale via stores or boutiques, rather than directly to consumers through your own website or store, be prepared for longer lead-in times as you create samples for sales, photoshoots and lookbooks, line sheets and even booths at trade shows — all before you make a single sale.
When you do have vendors and delivery dates across your sales and supply chains figured out, leave yourself some room to move; a cushion of a week or even two weeks between the time something’s due to arrive and the time you need it can save your show, your campaign or your season.
It makes sense to identify the season you’re planning to sell in, and begin production a full year ahead. The main exception to this is smaller runs of garments for new designers or to test markets, which is why we work with longer turnarounds and up to a year’s lead time on large production runs, but can produce smaller quantities in as little as a week.
Looking for Apparel Manufacturers in Los Angeles?
Based in the Arts District of Los Angeles, TEG has been helping designers bring their vision to life for over 15 years. We have an in-house team to complete cuts of up to 50 pieces, with no minimum order. So if you’re exploring having your garments manufactured for the first time, you’re a high-end brand with special quality and handling requirements, or you have a rush order for publicity or up-front inventory for startup sales, we’re ideally placed to work with you.
We also have a network of trusted factories we work with to develop larger cuts for established brands, making runs of up to 500 pieces per style.
Vertically-integrated, offering full-cycle support, and with 15 years of success in the industry, TEG can help you get your brand off the ground or guide your campaign to success.