Finding good sustainable fashion suppliers is one of the hardest parts of starting a fashion line. It took me about three months to figure this part of the equation out. With the help of this article, you can research and locate your perfect supplier within a couple hours and a few phone calls. I honestly wish I could find an article about this a year ago, which is why I’m writing it Let’s get started:
Determine Your Ideal Manufacturing Country or Region
There are plenty of manufacturers in every country around the world. When you look at the perks and drawbacks of each company, you’re going to need to look at specific regions or countries.
First, I started my manufacturing search by calling foreign embassies and basically getting nowhere. I heard that Vietnam and Taiwan had some pretty good sustainable clothing production facilities, but could not find any leads. I ended up calling their embassies, as well as the Chinese-American Embassy in San Francisco to look for someone to point me in the right direction.
The problem with this approach is that the Embassies are usually so busy with other issues that they won’t take the time to release any information (especially, to little people like me). Vietnam was able to send me a spreadsheet with names of companies, but most of them were out of business, and I would have had to hire a translator in order just to make a simple phone call. There had to be a better way.
I decided to go American when I realized that it would just make my supply chain a lot easier, and I don’t regret it for a second. Sure, the pricing may be a bit higher, but that just means you are creating a higher-value product that can be sold for more in retail.
Research Manufacturers Online
This part took the absolute longest because I couldn’t find any leads, even in my own country. Most of the decisions of the production products we buy are made by a handful of people. In the industry, information is kept pretty close to the vest.
I literally was about to lose my mind when one day, I was lucky enough to overhear a conversation at the local library. Another woman was asking the librarian about children’s clothing manufacturers. Did. not. even. cross. my. mind. The local library is FULL of online databases with all this information. It was absolutely glorious, how easy it was to find manufacturers both domestic and overseas.
Another great resource is Thomasnet where I ended up finding my manufacturer. They focus more on industrial parts, but there is a pretty substantial directory of clothing manufacturers. Keep in mind, Thomasnet is only in the United States, and some parts of Canada. Wonderful resource. Not all of them are sustainable fashion suppliers, but it’s a start.
Look for Minimum Order Quantities
Next, I had to narrow down my list and spend a couple hours calling different places. I had a list of about 30 places and ended up calling almost all of them. Most were out business, or shut down in a couple months and didn’t want any new customers. A great question to ask on the first phone call is about minimum order quantities.
Many places have a ballpark range of $10,000. Don’t be frightened if you don’t have the money right away. This is time for you to do your research and find the right place for your product. Some places, like Indie Source (which is where I started) have a minimum of 300 garments which could be substantially less with a price point of less than $30 per garment.
If you go overseas and are able to overcome the language barrier, you are greatly increasing your economic potential. Some places in China will produce a small handful of garments for a much lower cost so you don’t have to worry about large order quantities right up front. It’s a little bit more of a gray area for “sustainable,” though which is why I wasn’t into it.
Find Sustainable Fashion Suppliers That Offer Product Development Packages
A great service for start-ups is a product development package that certain manufacturers offer. Not all of them do, which is why you sometimes need the full design CAD models up front for them to take you. I am not a fashion designer. I can sew things, but I have absolutely no experience creating a design from scratch. If you are like me, you will need some help.
Development costs go from anywhere from $1,000 per design to approx $5,000 for a collection. You get full CAD models and real-time samples depending on the service. JUST MAKE SURE that you sign an operating agreement before you send any money. In the operating agreement, it determines that you have FULL OWNERSHIP of the design. Without this, literally, anyone can rip off your design and sell it. I mean, they could do it anyway, but at least you have a legal recourse in case you’ll need it later.
When it comes to sustainable fashion suppliers, there WILL most likely be some unexpected costs when developing these designs. It is imperative that you find a way to establish at least a little start-up capital. If you don’t have it at first, it’s not the end of the world. You can still make it, but that is another post.
I’m planning on doing an entire series of these kinds of posts. If you liked this, let me know in the comments. Subscribe to the email list for more info on sustainable fashion suppliers that you won’t find anywhere else.