Once you’ve done your research and narrowed the selection down to 3-4 fashion factories, it’s time to start asking questions. The point of this is to gain as much information about each factory and their set-ups as you can, so approach this as if you were interviewing a potential partner for your company.
Your relationship with your manufacturer is one of the most important relationships your company will have. As such, they need to be responsible, trustworthy and reliable. They will need to produce a well-made product, that’s also competitively priced and delivered when you require it.
Your approach should be friendly with an attitude that says “I am a brilliant company and I’d love to work with you.” Flatter them. However, try not to get too excited until you’ve asked some pertinent questions.
The initial contact with any potential factories should be to determine what kind of manufacturing they do and whether they’re a good fit for your particular needs.
Here’s a short outline of the key questions to ask any fashion factories you are considering to work with, as part of your research process:
1. What is their speciality?
What does the factory make or specialise in producing?
This is an important question to ask, even if you think you know. It is worth reaffirming and letting them describe in their own words what they are best suited for and proud to make.
Often factories will try to give a very broad answer, and your mission will be to narrow this as much as possible. The fear of losing potential business makes many a factory think of themselves as a “Jack of All Trades.” But we all know the old adage: A Jack of all trades is master of none. Make sure you have a good understanding of the main focus of their work.
Ask alternative questions that will identify what their “forte” is. Ask them perhaps to single out things that they do NOT do too. Ideally, you want to know what is it that they are best at manufacturing and people know and recommend them for.
2. Are they taking new customers?
One of your first questions to a potential business partner is whether they’re taking on new customers. Sometimes “No” means that they’re too busy at this particular time, but they may be open to a future relationship.
In this instance, it’s a good idea to stay in touch and update them with progress reports.
3. What additional services do they provide?
In addition to cutting and making your products, will the factory be able to provide any extras?
Some garment factories offer pattern cutting and grading services. Others also offer to make your Spec Packs (also referred to as a Tech Pack). In addition to this, they may also produce samples, source fabrics, and trims as well as packaging.
As a smaller company, it often makes sense to source these things through the manufacturer, as they should be in contact with suppliers and may have better buying power. These price reductions should be passed on to you, meaning you’ll get better prices.
4. Sampling Charges
Before you move to production – be it for an existing product or an initial idea – most brands will have to sample the product in order to approve the make and agree on the price.
The process of sample development and sampling is a laborious one, and costly! Most factories will tell you that the time and effort they spend on sampling is rarely realised and properly expensed. Often, especially with smaller brands and startups, samples either don’t make it to production at all or the orders are small and don’t fully justify the effort and time spent on sample development.
As a result, most factories charge extra for the samples. Some charge a one-off development fee, others charge double the production cost of the product and more and more factories are starting to charge both – a one-off fee and double production cost.
Be clear on how they work, how they charge, how long they take to turn around samples, how they deal with revisions and reiterations of a sample before you start.
Sample development is costly and if you are not clear on the charges, you may not make it to production.
5. What is their minimum order quantity for production (MOQ)?
This is a very important question and one that is multi-faceted.
You’re basically asking them what is the minimum amount of product they will produce for you in a single order. This doesn’t just relate to the number of pieces, however, as you need to ascertain whether this is per style, size, and/or colour.
For example, a factory that produces 400 pieces per order across all colour-ways and sizes, isn’t a huge amount. However, it starts to get more expensive when their minimums are 400 per each style, colour and size!
Imagine if you were producing four different styles of a top with three colour-ways and three sizes in each style. With a minimum order of a whopping 14,400 units that’s a different ballgame entirely.
6. Code of conduct
In light of the poor conditions and use of child labour in some fashion factories, it’s important to check whether the factory is fully compliant. Ask to see a client list as this will give you an idea of the type of clients the factory is employed by.
Does the factory comply with the following:
- Compliance with laws: Factory must be compliant with local laws. Ask for a copy of their No Objection Certificates (NOC) provided by the Labour Department, Fire Department and other necessary certificates from various Government offices.
- Labour: No child labour and no forced labour should be allowed in the factory.
- Working conditions: Occupational health and safety, factory layout, fire safety, and evacuation plan.
While this is important to ask, bear in mind that smaller factories do not have audits and certain regulations in place. Mostly because these cost money and they cannot afford them. Asking questions that will give you an idea of how they operate or better still – visiting the factory in person is the best way to know who you are or will be working with.
7. Types of machinery they have
Will the factory be able to deliver on the types of processes that your product identifies with?
Enquire about the technology level of the prospective supplier by asking about their machines. If your garments or products require any special treatments such as washing or dying or specialist sewing machines. do they have washing machines or dyeing facilities? Perhaps embroidery or printing has to be added to your products after stitching, so inquire about the relevant machines needed for those specifications.
8. Production capacity and scalability
How many machines do the factory have and how many staff members? What is their weekly/monthly capacity?
A good designer or growing brand will also think ahead in anticipation of receiving larger orders in the not too distant future. Will the factory be able to scale up from 400 pieces to 4,000 if your order book warrants it?
It is important to think ahead. And even if the factory you’re talking to is small, finding out what their plans and ambitions are is important. Many brands started working with small factories and together they grew and became large and successful businesses in their own rights.
9. Who else do they work for?
Familiarising yourself with the factory’s clientele will enable you to ascertain the quality of their workmanship and their place in the market. This will help you to understand what to expect from them.
Obtaining references from their other clients in regards to quality and punctual delivery is something you should also consider.
Some factories may be reluctant to tell you who they currently work with, but they should still be able to provide you with a few names that you can call for references. If they refuse to divulge any information of this kind, then it is probably better that you move on and look for alternatives.
10. Payment terms
While there are no mandatory payment terms within the manufacturing industry, there are some “unspoken” rules to which most factories adhere.
When working with new clients, most fashion factories would ask for full payment in advance at the time of placing the order, others will ask for 50/50 – in other words, half paid upon placing the order and the remaining half paid prior to shipment. Usually, these harder payment terms are in place for new clients only and get relaxed as time passes and more orders follow.
Always ask how the factory works with first-time clients and then when repeat orders are placed. Do try to negotiate at this point, but be respectful if they are unwilling to compromise. Usually, their rules are in place for a reason.
11. What are the factories’ quality control procedures?
It should be important to you that the fashion factories you work with have some quality control systems in place. Ask to see some items that they have made in the first instance. Secondly, enquire whether they have employees or external resources to check the product at key stages in its production.
Do the factories have Quality Assurance Certificates? This will prove that they’re reaching certain standards.
Again, be mindful of the fact that many small to medium size fashion factories do not have any formal procedures in place but they should be willing to work to your guidelines and encourage you to clearly define what your acceptance criteria are and will work towards meeting it.
In conclusion, there are many more questions you could ask fashion factories, but these are the most important ones. The first time you work with a factory will be the most challenging. If your relationship develops and you understand each other’s methods, then things will get easier over time.
Pay regular visits, if you can, to inspect that the processes are being executed to your specifications.
Go over your specification sheets with them, as they are your key components.
Try to foster a friendly but professional relationship with the factory, as if things go well and your business progresses you will find yourself spending a lot of time there.
And a final word of advice: After any conversations conducted by telephone, make sure you document the details of the call in an email and send it to all parties involved. People forget what they say when they want to work with someone (this goes for both parties) or change their minds – and either scenario can have disastrous implications later on.
If you are not sure if the factory you are working with is the right one for you and your product, then this article will help you: find the right manufacturer for your product.