Most small fashion brands and industry newcomers underestimate the production process. Not only do they leave it to the end to find a suitable factory, but often they also don’t know what is the best way to procure their production and what are the manufacturing options. CMT manufacturing or fully factored manufacturing are often two terms everyone should know of, yet remain often unknown or misunderstood. Let’s examine what they mean and how they differ.
According to the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT), in 2016 the number of companies manufacturing apparel in the UK rose to 3,830 – a 10.7% increase over the 2015 figures. This is good news, considering the industry had taken a nose dive since the early 1990s. With a marked increase in the use of overseas factories in the East, many local businesses went into receivership.
Now, however, things are changing for the better with the number of employees in textile and apparel UK manufacturing at its highest level since 2006, at approximately 130,000. One of the main factors driving this increase are the rising costs of overseas production within the Fully Factored arena and the tenacity of the micro-business community in the UK making clothing and textiles. With increased activity in Cut Make and Trim, also known as CMT, operations, in particular, it could be argued that a change is coming.
As a fashion designer, exploring the options in regards to manufacturing, there are many things to consider. Before you even have your samples made, shown them to buyers and received some orders; you will need to make some decisions with respect to how and where you will get your bulk production made. These decisions will be based on a number of things, including the number of units you anticipate will be ordered by buyers and your budget for production.
In the past, some of the key issues that prevented a happy union between designers and manufacturers included the following:
- Larger factories have not been able to accommodate small production runs;
- Smaller orders are not prioritized due to their size;
- Designers’ lack of planning, leading to shorter lead-times which in return pose problems to the factories; and
- Designers have had to learn by trial and error through working with small companies who are under-sourced and under-qualified.
These issues present difficulties which can contribute to uncompetitive pricing structures which, in turn, don’t represent value for money on the shop floor.
CMT manufacturing units work as per the acronym – CUT the fabric, MAKE up the garments and TRIM them with the provided trimmings
The manufacturing industry can be divided into two teams:
1. Cut Make and Trim (CMT) manufacturing:
The Cut Make and Trim (CMT) manufacturing operation is usually chosen by start-up designers as manufacturers are happy to accommodate small production runs. Their minimums per style, and across colours, are usually in the region of 0 to 50 and above units.
The CMT manufacturing option is great for designers who already know how to design and pattern cut. They may be a kitchen table start-up with a design background who source their fabrics from small suppliers and their production method needs to reflect this.
CMT manufacturing units often work with a variety of organisations such as small to medium-sized outlets and designer brands and may even be subcontracted by the Fully Factored (FF) manufacturing operation.
Advantages of CMT Manufacturing:
No design element or raw materials are provided by the CMT manufacturing units, as they work as per the acronym – CUT the fabric, MAKE up the garments and TRIM them with the provided trimmings such as zips, buttons and decorative elements.
Some CMT manufacturing units do occasionally supply basic components such as hangers, bags and boxes.
CMT manufacturing is a great way for startups and new designer brands to get going.
Factories who offer CMT services are usually very accommodating of new designers and will show flexibility where larger enterprises would not.
They specialize in certain areas of design work, whether it be separates, leather goods or suiting. This enables you to source the best operation based on the items they make. Every garment will be made and finished at the factory which makes the designer’s job easier in regards to progress visits.
The workers at the better CMT manufacturing units a have great technical ability, which is extended further through the use of specialist machinery.
Other positive factors include their attention to quality control, with some operations employing an external QC agent. They can produce multiple styled dockets and they’re sensitive to working with high quality, delicate fabrics.
Disadvantages of CMT Manufacturing:
While this method of working is convenient for startups who lack scale and experience, it has some downsides, some of which are:
- They tend to be small manufacturing units, employing less than 30 people and unable to grow at the speed at which successful brands may scale;
- They experience some of the same business problems that new designers face;
- They’re sometimes short on skills and have inexperienced staff;
- They have an unstable client base; and
- Their cash flow is uneven, making it impossible to switch to FF manufacturing if required.
Another distinct advantage of the Fully Factored option is that if mistakes happen, they are swiftly dealt with by the factory and generally, brands don’t get involved.
2. Fully Factored (FF) manufacturing:
The second option for manufacturing is the fully factored manufacturing.
Factories who work with this method of operation will take a purchase order from clients and will then proceed to source, purchase and supply the whole order fully finished. They will then proceed to deliver production to your warehouse, studio or store. Their service can include the following:
- Designing the garments;
- Raw materials sourcing and purchase;
- Making and grading of patterns;
- Prototype sampling;
- Producing fit samples;
- Bulk production; and
- Packing and shipping.
Many medium to larger size brands will have the collections designed in-house and perhaps even have the sample pattern made and then pass on to the factory to provide the rest of the service including producing and delivering the items.
Advantages of Fully Factored manufacturing:
The positive aspects of working with this type of fully factored manufacturing service include having the entire manufacturing dealt with by one company.
Fully factored manufacturing is an attractive option, albeit at first glance more expensive.
While many designers may perceive CMT manufacturing to be cheaper, what they often forget, is to factor in their time running around and trying to source, order, chase delivery of and organise delivery of required raw materials to the manufacturer. This precious time is all saved when working with fully factored manufacturing suppliers. The small increase in margin charged by factories who source and pre-buy on your behalf all raw materials is a small price to pay for the time saved and ease on cashflow brands experience in exchange.
Another distinct advantage enjoyed by brands able to work this way is the fact that if mistakes happen, they are swiftly dealt with by the factory and generally, brands don’t get involved. With CMT manufacturing, mistakes are often hard felt by the client and often covered in terms of costs by them. There is little control over the amount of wastage generated and lesser form of accountability on part of the factory.
Disadvantages of Fully Factored Manufacturing:
- Factories working this way require brands to have bigger orders.
- This is a costly task for the manufacturer. So they will have higher minimums to make-up for the cost.
- They have set rules and working processes. They might not like interruptions and wouldn’t entertain a different style of working if a new designer insists.
Whether you want to develop a new range of accessories or clothing or are hand made products it’s essential to maximize your chances of success by selecting the right manufacturing operation.
As a designer of a creative business, it is very easy it is to get carried away with designs, colours and mood boards. Logistics and the tiresome aspects – such as manufacturing – of running a business are often avoided until the last moment.
However, everyone knows how important it is to address the less exciting bits first in order to create a thriving business. And when it comes to clothes, accessories or anything related to fashion, getting your production process right might not be the most glamorous task, but it’s certainly the most important.
Therefore, it’s of paramount importance to conduct thorough research and ask the right questions to these fashion factories before committing to anything. Talk to other designers who have used the same factories, ask questions and then pay a visit. It will show that you’re serious about your business and interested in the factory set-up.