Finding the right manufacturer to produce your collection is one of the toughest steps in the entire design process, especially if you are new to the industry.
We spent a significant amount of time finding the right one to work with so we know how tedious this process is. Australia doesn't have a lot of manufacturers to begin with, let alone lingerie manufacturers. So, I began by looking at local swimwear manufacturers as they are the closest thing to lingerie and Australia has a few swimwear producers.
After searching online and making contacts, it became clear that these local manufacturers wouldn’t be able to produce our collection using the sustainable fabrics we had in mind. With nowhere to turn, I seeked support from Edwina, our fabric supplier. She introduced us to Jo, who works for a Chinese manufacturer but is based in Melbourne. Jo and I hit it off from the get-go and I knew right away that she could be someone I can trust and work with in the long term.
I know, however, not everyone is lucky enough to know someone in the industry that could introduce manufacturers to. So, I’ve decided to share the top 5 tips I learnt during my research before I landed on Jo.
Tip #1 Ask for past references
Finding a manufacturer to work with is a lot like finding an employee. By understanding how the manufacturer works with others, it gives you great insights into how they would potentially work with you. So, ask for other businesses they’ve worked with in the past and give them a call. During the call ask genuine questions such as the sampling process and whether or not the communication between the manufacturer and you was clear and transparent.
Tip #2 Negotiate the minimum order
There is always room to move when it comes to negotiation. If you don’t ask, you will never know. We managed to negotiate the minimum order down from 300 to 200, which saved us a lot of cost and inventory space. Due to the economy of scale, as a new business, getting low costs per unit is going to be tough. However, you can try to negotiate the minimum order to save on the capital required to kick things off.
Tip #3 Build trust
This should come as no surprise, especially if you want to work with the manufacturer in the long term. Set up regular calls with them and have clear and transparent expectations. Become friends with them and build a lasting relationship that will benefit you in the long term. Take notes of each conversation and remember any special dates or events they’ve spoken about and bring it up with them the next time to show them that you care.
Tip #4 Set clear expectations
Work with them on a timeline to get the products to you on time and monitor their progress. It’s easier to work backwards from the date you want the products to arrive. This way, it will set deadlines for the rest of the process to occur. For example, with Soy & Spice, we wanted our products to get to us by 30th of June, which means, we need to get the samples before early June, giving us just over 2 months to get things sorted for our samples.
Tip #5 Check if the manufacturer does Cut Trim Make (CTM) or Full Production Package (FPP)
With our first collection, we worked with Melbourne Fashion Labs to create our designs and tech packs and then we found the manufacturer to produce our designs. Our manufacturer will produce our products using CTM as the tech packs are already provided to them and all they have to do is cut the samples, source the trims, including any accessories, like buttons or elastane and make the products. However, there are some manufacturers that do the design and tech packs in house, referred to as FPP. Understandably, it could be difficult to find a FPP manufacturer when you are just starting, hence why many new businesses get the tech packs first and then source the manufacturer. Our manufacturer does both CTM and FPP, so moving forward we will most likely be switching to their FPP service.
This is one of the last steps in the entire design process and is by far the most important. So, take your time to find the right one because it is worth the investment. A great manufacturer can make or break your entire business, so it is important to order samples from the manufacturer first before bulk ordering. In our next article, we will discuss the process of sampling.