How to Choose right clothing vendor

Evaluate your clothing supplier

How to Choose Right Clothing Vendors – 7 Important points you need to evaluate before choosing a clothing supplier

Did you spend countless hours trying to scour the internet to find the right clothing vendors. Are you continuing to kiss many frogs but there is no prince around the corner? Did you find yourself in a high-traffic supplier event and yet you did not find the perfect clothing vendors?

Don’t worry, you are not alone. Many fashion brand owners struggle with this. If find the perfect supplier for your clothing brand was that easy, life would have been extremely beautiful – almost, too good to be true!

In this post, we are going to evaluate 5 critical points that you need to evaluate when you are choosing the right clothing vendor. While these points are not exhaustive and we recommend that you develop your own screening criteria but this post would give you a broad principle upon which you can build your evaluation criteria for clothing suppliers.

Choose Right Clothing Vendors

#1. Product capability

Product capability one is this most obvious thing and yet the most ignored criteria. You are launching a fashion brand in a specific niche and your clothing manufacturer should specialise in the same niche. Most suppliers pretend that they “can” do you product and may even have some pictures to depict in their catalog but it means nothing. Every clothing factory should specialise in only and only ONE specific product type – with the exception of consolidated suppliers like Hula Global, Li & Fung etc. because these suppliers are essentially consolidators. For example, if you look closely, Hula Global is made of a network of 34 factories. The factory that does streetwear does not do women’s dresses – simple.

Unless you are working with a full package supplier that has a porfolio of factories they work with – there is no reason why your clothing manufacturer can claim to be doing multiple product type.

Remember – a product’s aesthetics are the most visible aspect of the design process, and it is ultimately the first thing that your end customer are going to see when they purchase your product. Customers are going to notice how a thing looks before they look at its specifications, how it feels to use, or how well it performs its function. This is frequently the determining element in brand loyalty.

You do not want to give a poor product experience to your customer, specially when you are in the early stage of your brand building. It is always better to work with a domain expert who knows your product well rather than a generic supplier who meets your MOQs or even willing to work for free.

#2. Prior experience and dependability

If your supplier has established that they have the domain expertise specific to your product, it is time for you to dig deep and ask specific questions that can help you to verify what they claim is to be true. We have a separate post on – What questions to ask your manufacturer.

If you have not read that post, I recommend that you go back to that post read those questions and come back to this post.

If you have asked the right questions, you should be able to verify:
#a. Prior experience – Your clothing supplier was able to provide a breakdown of materials involved, the cost of each component and how each different component comes together

#b. Process outline : Your supplier should be able to clearly articulate the steps. If they are figuring things out, they are learning using your brand as an experiment – avoid them!

#c. Dependability : Ask for a breakdown of employees / functions & skill sets that your clothing supplier needs in order to service your order request. Often fashion brand owners avoid asking this question because they fear that if the clothing vendor starts calculating the cost while estimating and they figure out a missing component – they will increase the price. But please think carefully, if your clothing vendor is naive and missed out some costs when they were giving you quotations, don’t you think they will eventually figure out when they actually start production of your clothes. The skill set of their team will eventually determine if that particular supplier is dependable or not.

#3. Cost of goods + cost of service

Cost is probably the most obvious, but did you see that we are putting in third step. It might be a burning question for you but here is the thing – if you are able to decide on a supplier cluster – most prices within a supplier cluster are very much the same. We have a separate post on – What are supplier clusters of clothing brand?

Once you have decided to finalise the supplier cluster, you should now go further and evaluate suppliers in that same cluster.

MOQs are important because you have a specific budget but at the same time, it is important to understand the clear breakdown of cost of goods and cost of service.

Your goods are not going to magically produce by itself. There is going to be fabric sourcing managers for the raw materials, production managers to oversee the production of your brand’s merchandise, quality control managers to evaluate the product that is being produced (because if you ask the production manager, would they ever accept there is a defect in products?) and a coordinator / production merchandiser or account manager to coordinate efforts for all these 3 departments. Add logistics & accounts if you need shipping & import/export.

It is crucial that you benchmark these prices because if your supplier is “missing” charging you any of these services, it is not because they are benign, it is simple that they are not providing these services or have sub-optimal resources.

For example, one of the brands that started working with us at Hula Global, gave us a poor experience they had with their previous supplier because the supplier never charged any separate service fees. Apparently the supplier had 1 person army who was looking at fabrics, shipping, production etc. What eventually happened was that when this supplier shipped goods, they missed out filing a specific form at the customs and the brand ended up paying $5000 USD for a shipment they were importing for $3000 – so much for cost savings!

As a rule of thumb – if your clothing supplier has clearly not listed a service, either they are not charging you and you should not expect anything in that aspect in return or your supplier is a rookie who is figuring things out themselves.

Remember the age old adage – If you are not paying for a product or a service, then you are the product or service.

In case of a rookie supplier not charging you any service fee, they are treating your brand as an experiential learning experience!

At Hula Global we always have a reasonable price for everything that our customers are looking up to while working with us. We even have a variety of checklists to help fashion brand owners evaluate clothing suppliers. We believe that fashion brand owners need have all the right set of information to evaluate clothing suppliers, even if they decide not to work with us. Download the pre-production checklist here.

#4. MOQs

The difference between a good supplier who is a domain expert and a rookie supplier is how they handle the discussion around MOQs. Most suppliers provide you a MOQ because it is easier for you as well as the supplier to screen each other out but this is a very transactional approach. This take it or leave approach is actually bad for both the stakeholders – your potential clothing supplier as well as you.

Each supplier gets several requests and they see MOQs as a way to screen serious buyers from those who are simply browsing. Similarly, for you – as a brand owner, you cannot dig deeper in MOQs for each and every supplier. It is understandable.

However, if you like a particular supplier – dig deeper. Ask why they set a particular number as MOQ. Why 200 pcs and why not 100 pcs or 50 pcs? If you ask these detailed questions, you will see some suppliers are able to provide you with clear visualisation of the challenges. Say may be the MOQ is because of the fabric, some of the MOQ could be in order to control defects or any other reason.

Your clothing supplier should be able to clearly articulate why a specific number is the minimum order quantity (MOQ) and not any other number. More than MOQ, it would be important for you to evaluate your supplier on how they are arriving at a certain calculation of MOQ and what is the logic behind MOQs.

#5. Reliability

Cost and MOQs are frequently correlated but so is time.

When you are scouting for a clothing manufacturer, your focus tends to be MOQs and unit cost but many times you ignore the timeline. Fashion is a time-sensitive business. If you cannot get a supplier who respects the timeline, there is no point getting a supplier who is cheaper or can work on low MOQs.

Manufacturing processes are fairly manual and it is common to see delays. What is important is that your clothing supplier is able to provide you a timeline that includes some buffer for unforeseen delays. If you are working with an experienced garment manufacturer, they will have a structured process to incorporate for these unforseen circumstances.

Check for the supplier’s reviews, ratings and feedback on how they have delivered in the past. Ask difficult questions of how your supplier dealt with a potential delay. If your supplier says they have never had any order delayed, it is a big red flag.

Remember the goal here is to know reliability. Can you count on your supplier even in a difficult period. It is not about knowing that your clothing supplier faced any delays in the past, but more on how your clothing supplier dealt with those delays.

#6. Communication

If you have reached out to your supplier for the first time and they took a long time to respond – it is ok to give them a benefit of doubt because after all you are still not their client yet and if it is a fairly large supplier, they may tend to take some time to respond to new inquiries. Their priority is to service their existing clients and it is a good thing.

But, once they have responded and things are getting materialised and yet your potential supplier continues to respond slow or completely ghosts you – it means they do not have the resources to service your request and it is a big red flag because if you place an order and pay an advance, their frequency of response (or unresponsiveness) won’t change much and now you are down with your hard earned money.

During your initial conversation with a potential supplier, always get a tentative timeline for resolution – TAT (turn-around-time). In case of Hula Global, our TAT is 48 hours. Period.

Even if we are not able to resolve a particular issue, we will still respond within 48 hours and communicate how much time it would actually take for your issue to be resolved and any challenges in resolving the issues.

#7. Certifications

While industry certifications & sustainable practices certifications have been abused a lot lately, many clothing suppliers still carry one or more certifications. These certifications cost the apparel manufacturers a lot of money so they may not transfer you the credits for free (like in case of GOTS or RWS). But if your supplier has these certifications and they are willing to provide you those certifications even at a higher price point or higher quantities – then it is a positive sign that your supplier has already been audited by these industry bodies.

So even if your clothing supplier may have gamed the certifications – aka Greenwashing. Yet it is clear they have some paperwork and good financial situation, overall a positive news for your fashion brand.

Winding Up

Finding the right clothing vendor is the first step towards building a successful fashion brand. Your ability to evaluate a clothing supplier becomes a lot more important if you are just starting up or in the early formative years of your clothing brand.

Your clothing supplier is an extension of your team and having a structured framework to evaluate potential garment suppliers become extremely crucial. You need a supplier who is transparent on what they can do and what they cannot and most importantly they are able to effectively communicate with you.

You need an apparel vendor who is not only able to hand-hold you through the learning curve of starting a fashion brand but also scale with your brand when you’re ready to grow your company’s inventory and distribution channels. We have plenty of resources that can bring you up to speed.

Happy learning and all the best!

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