Approaching a fashion factory for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re new to the fashion business. Monisola Omotoso examines why often designers’ enquiries remain unanswered.
Finding a fashion factory in the first instance is difficult enough but how do you begin that all-important first conversation, that will hopefully lead to a lengthy union? This can be done in a few ways, such as by email or telephone, or even by setting up a video conference call. Whichever way you choose, firstly you need to get informed about their operation. Secondly, present yourself as someone who is professional and knows what they’re looking for. However, in spite of doing all these things, some business relationships are just not meant to be. The following five reasons should shed some light on why these partnerships fail to make it out of the starting gate.
Problem: It’s the middle of summer and your collection needs to be produced within 3 weeks. A buyer from a renowned store has placed an order at the last minute and your usual fashion factory can’t cope. You have found a factory that manufactures similar product categories and their quality looks good judging by the images on their website. You send them an email explaining your dilemma and even offer to pay a premium considering the order needs a quick turnaround. You never hear back from them.
How factories think: The summer months are one of the busiest times of the year in the fashion calendar. Good fashion factories work to full capacity in order to get their trusted clients work done in time for July deliveries. Even if they had an opening they would still dismiss the enquiry. Prior to embarking on full production, they would need to produce samples of the items to test them out, and this takes time.
Solution: Honesty with your new buying client is the best policy. Their expectations are unrealistic. A better approach would have been to suggest to the buyer that you would need to get back to them after checking with the factory if they can fit this late addition and how soon they can manufacture.
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Problem: You’ve spent weeks searching for the perfect fashion factory. Finding one to produce your artisan handmade belts has been no mean feat. Your contact at a well-known high street establishment has been using a factory in North London and recommends them as they’re a bit quiet at the moment. You’re aware that they mass-produce simple webbing belts but decide to overlook this very important aspect, and send them an email with some images attached.
How factories think: As a factory that produces simple, mass-produced products they would never consider working with a designer who wants to produce artisan, handmade belts. Belt design covers so many markets and they’re well aware that their particular speciality, high street and simple, don’t cover your products, artisan and handmade. Their workers will be trained to add hardware to lengths of pre-cut webbing so would be totally out of their depth and confused by producing something so alien.
Solution: Finding the right factory is no ubiquitous feat as it takes time to find one that ticks all of your boxes. More research needs to be undertaken to ensure that the factory can fulfil your particular needs. Do they have a website with a list of past clients’ work? If they do have a website, take a look and make sure that their processes are similar to yours. Email the factory introducing yourself and attach a list of processes that you require. Ask questions and if they respond, make an appointment to see them. You may also find that one factory can’t perform all of your processes so bear that in mind too.
Lack of Knowledge
Problem: You have just sent the following email to a factory you’d like to work with.
“Hi there, I am a womenswear brand specialising in leisurewear. I’m looking for a manufacturer to make my collection and I wondered if you are free to work with me? What should I do next?”
How factories think: A lack of knowledge is evident by the simplicity of the email. If I was a fashion factory owner my first thought would be, why hasn’t this designer done some research and made an effort to find out what we actually do? Having a design idea translates to just an idea. No other developmental processes have been put in place and these are all necessary requirements before you approach a factory. I can imagine that the last question “what should I do next” would frustrate the factory. It isn’t their responsibility to educate you on the production process.
Solution: It’s really important to show that you have some knowledge of how the industry works if you want to be taken seriously. Go back to the drawing board and educate yourself. Do some research by reading books or blogs. Even if you don’t have all of the information to hand and it’s just an idea, how you communicate is key. You could begin by creating a Spec Sheet.
And while you may be a complete novice, don’t be put off. Explore the new Spec Tool, which will guide you in the development of your designs and enable you to focus on the production of a Specification Sheet. This can then be sent to the factories that you approach and will prove to them how knowledgeable and committed you are.
Small Order Value
Problem: You approach a factory that is renowned for producing very large orders for a well-known chain store. Your initial order is minuscule by comparison but you hope to increase subsequent orders if you sell well.
How factories think: As ‘The Big Boys’ of manufacturing, this factory is used to dealing with very large numbers. They employ hundreds of people who work on specific processes on a couple of styles at a time.
Even if you intend to reach their capacity at some point, at this given time you’re nowhere near.
Solution: Find a factory that deals with smaller quantities, and work your way up to using larger capacity factories.
No Long-Term Vision
Problem: You’re looking for a fashion factory to produce a few samples in order to test some products out. You’re not sure if you will go into production after the samples are made. Though you don’t tell this to the factory, you are unable to give them firm idea of a follow-on production order.
How factories think: Good fashion factories are approached by new designers on a regular basis. They want to make money from them so will usually only consider working with a designer who wants more than a few samples made. Producing samples is very time-consuming, and factories usually make their costs back through the production process. They will be wary of working with start-ups that only ask for samples as they have experience of businesses operating by producing sample runs and never following through with production.
Solution: As a start-up, it’s a good idea to have a middle to long-term vision. If you’re sampling to test an idea or looking to follow up the sample with a small run – it may be best to look for a sample machinist or a small studio and work with them on a small order. In this way, you are not starting out on the back foot, and everyone involved knows where it stands.
By presenting yourself as knowledgeable and business-minded, approaching a factory should be a relatively straightforward task. With some planning and a little bit of research, you should be able to work out whether they can deliver what you want. And in the same way, it’s a good idea to bear in mind that the factory’s main purpose is to make money. So ask yourself, what can I offer them?
Don’t waste time by contacting an artisan fashion factory when your products’ market is mass-production. The things that will excite a factory and make them want to build a relationship with you are your attractive long-term plans and the anticipation of larger order quantities.
Everyone has to start somewhere and even some of the most established brands started small. Think big and make sure your strategy for approaching a factory is evident of this.
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