Have a read as to how I got started and what to consider when looking for a UK manufacturer;
Manufacturing options for start-up’s, where to begin?
Manufacture overseas people would say to me, its far cheaper, the quality is just as good. This may be the case but I just didn’t want to head down that road without exploring all my options…
I read up on it a lot, articles on the state of the UK manufacturing industry, the pro’s & con’s to manufacturing home & away, and how the manufacturing industry has gone into decline from the thriving industry driven nation we used to be, until the 1970’s This is due to a number of reasons, but one of the main being reduced costs overseas. Everyone is looking to reduce costs and get the best margins they can.
There’s no doubt there is a price war when it comes to manufacturing clothes, you only have to look at all the supermarkets doing a wide range of clothes, and there is definitely a price war going on when it comes to school uniforms. Everything is manufactured on such an industrial scale, the cost of shipping is a small price to pay when you consider the unit cost of producing some of these goods, but for start-ups, that isn’t the only thing to consider.
Although a lot of the supermarket clothes are a decent enough quality, there’s no doubt you are only getting what you pay for, and sometimes not even that. And then there’s the ‘designer’ clothes, varying from expensive to extortionate, and yes some of this is also produced overseas, with the same low costs and margins which would make your eyes water. I know its business and people are free to make as much money as possible, and I have no qualms with that, but sometimes it just seems a little one sided.
When researching which option would be best for my maternity clothing business I looked into both, I had absolutely no experience of manufacturing clothing, and wasn’t even sure the right questions to ask. I did a lot of online research, but sometimes you need to actually speak to someone, so I picked up the phone and starting making some calls.
Someone I’d been working with had put me in touch with a buyer/negotiator whose role was to source products from China, including everything from merchandise, to homewares to clothing. We had a meeting and he was a mine of useful information when it came to the process. Once I had my design confirmed I could either get the samples made here in the UK, in all variations required, and take them over to China, or get the samples made at the factory in China. I would meet with his Chinese colleague, visit potential factories, and in short; talk to them about the process, the fabrics, the design, and try to strike up some kind of deal.
This all seemed extremely daunting. With no experience I felt like I could be completely ripped off and left high and dry! Plus, it would be an expensive trip. We talked about unit costs, and even though they were only estimates, I was genuinely surprised at how low they were. The problem was the quantities, they would have to be mass produced, and potentially a minimum of 500 units per item. This also seemed very worrying as it was a new venture. I was confident in the business and the demand, but what if they weren’t quite right, the sizing was slightly off, there was a problem with a zip or a toggle? I would be stuck with a load of useless stock and a huge problem trying to get the situation rectified. To me, as a start-up, it just seemed too risky. I was also worried that the language barrier could be a difficulty.
A fantastic website called Lets Make it Here, had all the information I needed. You can search for manufacturers of; materials, footwear, garments, accessories etc. then drill down into plenty of other variables.
I found 4 potential manufacturers and started making contact. I had a few conversations and many emails discussing fabrics, pattern cutters, finishes, types of zips and all sorts of things (I had no idea about). They all had a great deal of experience, and all could probably have produced the range I wanted. The company I chose to use was FPM (Flame-Pro Manufacturing), based in Birmingham. The contact there was so helpful, which was exactly what I needed as I didn’t have the experience myself. He talked me through the whole process, wasn’t condescending, and seemed to be really genuine. He also offered to help utilising their freelance pattern cutter, sourcing fabrics, packaging etc., and was by far, the most helpful of all, and the person I wanted to work with.
To me, the main factors to be considered were;
- Expertise and experience
- Working relationships
The unit cost to manufacture in the UK was going to be 3 or 4 times more expensive than overseas, but when manufacturing overseas there was also;
- Longer lead times producing samples when overseas shipping was factored in
- The cost of shipping the samples back and forth would be more expensive and timely
- The language barrier and a possibility that things may be lost in translation
When it came down to it, for me, the unit cost of the clothes was the third on my list of priorities to consider. I was working on something completely new, I really wanted to have control over the whole sampling process, and having someone in the same country that I can talk to, see and discuss things with, was by far the most important aspect.
Yes unit cost was going to be more in the UK, but initial outlay for trips to China, sampling, shipping, and the huge amount of stock I was going to have to buy was way riskier.
I can now saw, with absolute confidence, that manufacturing in the UK was the right option for me and my business. Unit cost is a big factor, but for a start-up with limited money and resources, there is so much more at stake.
Below is are some images of the unique range of maternity wear I created that can be worn during and after pregnancy due to the expandable side panel feature.