You have your brand name trademarked, sportswear designs and tech packs in hand and you’re ready to start the process of finding the perfect activewear factory. Where do you start? Google, Alibaba, Made in China? The options are endless and so many factories sound incredible, but which ones are actually any good and which ones should I avoid?
It’s important to choose a sportswear factory that is right for you and your brand. They need to specialise in Performance Activewear but also you need to feel comfortable with the ethics, location, technical ability, service, quantity and costs. It’s vital you get this right, not only to protect your investment but also your brand.
1. FINDING THE WRONG FACTORY
This is the most common mistake sportswear start-ups make. It’s incredibly easy to spend days on search engines and become enticed by factory claims of tiny minimums, great service, low cost, simple processes and the fact they make for leading sports brands. It all sounds too good to be true and it always is.
The fact is, no decent factory advertises that fact they make for leading brands. They never advertise who they work with as they would instantly loose this client and the confidence of the other leading brands they make for.
Factories are sworn under contract not to divulge who they make for and brands definitely don’t want to share with anyone where their products are made.
If you find a supplier on a search engine like Alibaba or Google that claims to make for “XXX” well-known brand and even shows a photograph of the product, take it with the largest pinch of salt ever. Anyone can pull a photo from the internet, stick their factory watermark over the top and claim they made it.
Also, what you see on the internet, may not be what you actually get. Many factories use stock photos of beautiful factories that look very high tech and big, however offer low cost and tiny volumes. How can a factory invest so much in spotless production lines, employ thousands of workers and make top quality product and then charge you low costs with small volumes?
Often, the reality is a small factory that makes low quality product, using market sourced fabrics and components and stock styles with little regard to ethics or quality. If you don’t have the luxury of visiting the factory, then you really need to do your due diligence and perhaps do an audit of the factory via a 3rd party before you start to invest in sampling.
Communication is key to the success of the production too. If you are struggling to communicate clearly and you feel the factory are not listening or taking onboard your points fully, then walk away. Many factories are only interested in getting an order ASAP and provide enough waffle to entice you in, but don’t then deliver what you need. If you have any reservations about the communication, then stop talking immediately.
2. ETHICS – MAKE SURE THEY ARE AUDITED
Great factories are audited and provide copies of these audits. Many of the audits will be on their website but make sure these are genuine. Ask them for proof of the audit, who carried it out and when and then check this with the auditor to make sure the certificate is genuine.
Launching a brand is much more than product with a logo on the chest. Consumers buy into the brands ethics and it’s becoming more and more important that customers understand where their products are produced. You should be proud about where your brand is manufactured and highlight the ethics and show photos without giving the factory details away to your competitors.
Transparency is key here and only when you are 100% confident in the factory can you become 100% transparent about showcasing the factory that makes your sportswear.
3. ACTIVEWEAR SAMPLES
Providing your design and tech packs are accurate and the communication is great, your samples should come out fairly good. The first prototype will always be wrong and look pretty ugly as the colour and trims won’t be accurate, but in terms of fit and function, it should be pretty good.
Chances are, you will need to produce a 2nd prototype sample before the factory get everything perfect. They are human after all, and mistakes happen. You may want to adjust the design slightly or alter the way seams lines are laid up when you see the garment on a model. If you have a good factory, they will expect this and won’t push for an order after the 1st order.
You need to grade the size specification across the different sizes you require, and the factory will produce size sets samples for you to check the fit across the sizes. This way you can guarantee that an XXS or XXL will actually fit correctly.
Before the factory starts the bulk production, they should produce a PPS (Pre production sample) that uses all of the bulk fabrics and components and therefore be 100% perfect. You will need to sign this off BEFORE the factory starts bulk production and if your factory tries to start bulk before they produce a PPS, walk away or insist this is completed.
Development and production take time. It’s a long process that cannot be cut short. If you do find a factory that can produce in weeks rather than months, chances are , they are cutting critical corners that can cost your dearly.
Production will be your biggest investment and its therefore paramount the factory get this right. If corners are cut, it could cost you a second bedroom full of faulty products and a legal battle with the factory to try and reclaim your losses.
This link highlights the normal lead times involved to produce quality sportswear from a reputable factory.
5. QUALITY CONTROL
Your custom activewear is going to be hand made by humans and its therefore very easy for mistakes to happen. Providing you have clear designs, a comprehensive tech pack and clear communications then these mistakes can be mitigated.
You also need to make sure you have not rushed or cut the corners from the normal development and that you have all the samples signed off to approve the fit, function, colour and quality before the factory starts bulk production.
Once you receive your bulk, you should check this against the signed off PP sample and confirm with the factory if you have any issues. If they are a great factory, they will stand by any mistakes they have made and look to rectify these, if they aren’t a great factory chances are your emails and phone calls will be ignored.
6. SHIPPING AND CUSTOMS
Bulk has finished and you need to manage the freight and customs. If you leave this to the factory, then they will send this via the easiest route for them rather than the most cost-effective route for you. Chances are they will also charge you for the service of them managing the shipping too.
It’s important you get prepared for the importation of goods months ahead of when the production actually arrives. You will need to check with your local government and importation departments about any legal obligations or certificates you may need so that when the goods arrive into your designated country, the importation runs smoothly without fines or expensive storage charges.
You may need to pay import tax/duty and its important you understand how much these will be and when they need to be paid and to who.
Shipping cost vary depending on the time of year and the cost of oil. Busy periods are always higher and when the price of fuel is high, this is reflected in the shipping costs. It’s therefore important to work out what the costs might be right from the start of the process so there are no nasty surprises.
Above are 6 simple mistakes that can result in producing poor quality activewear and worse, clothes you cannot actually sell or damage your brand. It’s important you find the right partner, a factory or partner that has the experience to guarantee the development and production runs smoothly.
Quality never costs more. Quality actually saves you more by producing product that you can sell with pride about where it’s produced and cement your customers loyalty when they receive their goods.
If you have read this far and you’re afraid to take the next steps in finding a factor - don’t be. We can walk you through the process and discuss your needs to bring your vision to life.