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How to approach fashion clothing manufacturers and get a reply back

It’s not easy to find fashion clothing manufacturers but getting them to reply to you is a whole new level of challenge, most entrepreneurs are not prepared for.

When they are ready to start working on their idea they struggle to know where to search to find factories. But once they find a few – they think the hard part is done. They send their email enquiries and are dumbfounded when they don’t receive a response.

The main reason for this is the low level of the inquiry itself. To a manufacturer reading it – it contains no value of information and as such the manufacturer faces two choices.
1. Go down the rabbit hole of email exchanges, asking for more information – to find out 5-10 emails down the line there is no business fit.
2. Not to answer at all.

Most choose the latter – why? Good fashion clothing manufacturers receive dozens (and more) of these types of enquiries every single day. Unless they have an assistant or a trusted employee to manage their email inbox, most will answer emails in their own time. Given the long hours they put in at work, answering vague emails that will most likely result in nothing, is not a priority.

So with that being said, I am sure you would agree – they have valid reasons. Therefore your focus must be to write a good enquiry in the first place, in order to get a reply. The onus is on you – the fashion designer and entrepreneur.

How? Let go through it now – How you should approach fashion clothing manufacturers and get them to reply to you.

How to structure your enquiry to fashion clothing manufacturers

The premise of any enquiry is to give basic information in order to receive information, that will help you move forward.

The mistake most designers and fashion entrepreneurs make is to send very vague messages that mean nothing to the reader. Moreover, they leave the reader – the fashion clothing manufacturers in our case, with the impression that they are a novice and the time and effort required to service them, would be a waste of time.

Learn more in the BECOME A FASHION INSIDER Book.

Here are a few such examples taken from real enquiries sent to factories:

“Hi there, I am a designer looking for vegan wallets manufacturer. Are you able to work with me?”

“Dear Sirs, I am a fashion designer and I am looking for a manufacturer to make my collection. Can you call me back to discuss further.”

“Hello, how much would it cost to manufacture a long faux fur coat? Thank you.”

Do you see how the enquiries above do not contain any information that may be of value to fashion clothing manufacturers?

Would you spend time going back and forth asking for more information knowing from experience that such enquiries rarely end up in long-term work?

A good enquiry will provide more information which will hold the readers’ attention. It will immediately provide them with the option to expand the conversation or whether they won’t – due to business-fit. If they say ‘No’, this is okay. It is better to eliminate at the start than to waste everyone’s time (and money).

Here is an example of an enquiry which would appear to be better than the last set…

“Hello, I am Amelie from France and we are a new business company interested in selling leather diaper bags under our brand, preferably made from full-grain leather. I am hoping that we could work together to bring my designs to life, made by your leather artisans. May I know if you are interested and if we may discuss further? I have a few requirements as it is a bag made for mums, such as 100% removable polyester lining, stroller straps etc. I have a few questions, 1. What type of leather do you use and do you have full-grain leather? 2. Where are your leather hides from and is it chrome or vegetable tanned? 3. Are your bags machine or handmade? I have drawings of our bag together with detailed specifications if you are interested in this.”

While it may look better, it is pretty much the same.

How? The designer asks a lot of basic information, which will require time from the manufacturer to answer without any indication of whether there is a business opportunity for them. In this case they would probably choose not to reply and with good reason. Also, the questions raised by the designer, demonstrates their lack of experience. Asking what leather the factory uses shows that the designer doesn’t know how manufacturing works and will require educating before any real work could potentially begin.

Finally, this is a good example of an enquiry which could be sent to a dozen manufacturers:

“Dear Sir/Madam, I am looking for high-quality handcrafted producers for my vegetable-tanned leather items (also looking at vegan leather alternatives). I am based in London and would like to see if we can work together. You can see some items below (images attached) that I have sampled and need further development on. I am looking for a factory that I can produce small quantities with and develop new samples. Can I ask what your sampling and production costs are (roughly) as well as lead times/MOQ?”

To a manufacturer, there is a lot more information here. They have provided visuals also which will allow them to decide if there is potential with this enquiry or not.

So now you know how to structure your enquiry (and how not to) let’s take a look at what makes a good enquiry – one that will have fashion clothing manufacturers reaching for the keyboard.

How to write the right way to fashion clothing manufacturers

To ensure fashion clothing manufacturers not only open and read, but reply to your enquiry you must ensure that your email is:

  1. Brief and concise
  2. Contains answers to the main questions fashion clothing manufacturers want to know: Who, What, Why and When (the ‘How’ is their domain).

These magic set of 4 W’s is the secret recipe to a good enquiry that will surely solicit a response from the majority of the fashion clothing manufacturers you write to.

Let’s break it down.

You get what you ask for! If you ask the right questions, you will get the right information.

1. Who

“Who” is the first thing you need to address whether you write an email or make a phone call. It is your brief introduction. It sets the scene for the rest of the conversation.

Imagine you are at a networking event and you hear someone has a factory that may be of help to you. You would walk up and introduce yourself first – right? The same applies here for this enquiry, regardless of the fact that it is not in-person. The same social rules apply no matter where the conversation takes place – offline or online.

In one brief sentence, say Who you are (your name, what you do, where are you located).

Job done!

2. What

“What” is the most important question here. This is the first place where the reader – the manufacturer you desperately need to find – will decide if they should read more or delete your message.

Your “What” needs to cover the following:

  • What do you want to make? In other words – what is the product for which you are looking for a manufacturer.

Take the time to think and describe your product well – with as much information as you can, so that the reader can create a visual picture of your product.

For example – if you are looking to make a dress, don’t just say “…I am looking to make a dress”. Instead, write “… I am looking to make an evening asymmetrical shoulder, long dress”

Just a few extra words more allow the reader to paint a picture of what you are looking to make.

  • What material you will be using?

This is a crucial piece of information too. It allows the manufacturer to assess if they can work with you – they will need to confirm if they have the right machinery, for your type of material. Not all sewing machines are able to do a great job across all materials.

Finding the right manufacturer means that they need to have the experience and the right machinery. Anything less and you will be paying for a bad or mediocre product that you will most likely struggle to sell.

Further Reading: What Clothing Manufacturers Want Fashion Brands to Know

3. Why

“Why” is where you detail whether you wish develop a sample or head straight into production. Again – it is important to state what you are looking for.

Sampling is an important stage of product development, but it is the least favourite stage for a manufacturer. It requires a lot of time and effort on their part that is not necessarily covered by the cost they will charge you. Small factories use the same workers for manufacturing and sampling. Larger factories have a separate team and area for sampling. Either way, making samples require proper scheduling and resource allocation.

Production is where factories make their money – what they would like to get to as quickly as possible. But that too needs to be planned.

Making this part clear in your initial enquiry helps the reader better understand the opportunity in the context of their business.

4. When

Finally – this talks about the urgency of the request. It may seem insignificant, but this small piece of information can tell an experienced manufacturer how experienced you are.

How? Well, most experienced designers know that anything to do with manufacturing takes time. Allowing plenty of time for sampling or manufacturing is best to avoid disappointments. Those who know that will construct a proper critical path and be able to give a reasonable time frame for their request. Or at least they will request information on how long the factory may take to do XYZ.

Those who are new to the industry will assume that the factory is ready and waiting for them and if by any chance, they have other clients, they will be pushed aside and all effort will be given to their project.

This is not the case! So any enquiries say “I need this yesterday” or “within a week”, “within 10 days” etc. This will leave the manufacturer doubting whether to work with you.

Fashion clothing manufacturers are just like any other business. They make clothes and products for a living and want to work with nice clients that are respectful, professional and who will pay them.

Asking for something “yesterday” can speak of inexperience or your personality. Either way – a manufacturer reading your enquiry at this point will stop and think twice.

So do some research in advance or ask for the manufacturers own suggestion of timing but be open to the notion that when you are new, you are not the priority for that business. Their existing clients, whom they have already built a relationship with, will be first in the queue.

Summary: You get what you ask for.

Nothing I’ve said above is new. It is the type of information that without thinking, you would convey in a person-to-person conversation. It’s just that when it comes to writing an email or enquiring by phone, we forget the basics and make life harder for ourselves.

Follow the structure above and write out a new enquiry.

Dessy’s Top Tips:
– Keep it brief
– Use bullet points to separate the information so it is neat and easy to read.

And above all remember: You get what you ask for! If you ask the right questions, you will get the right information.

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