Introduction to the clothing manufacturing business:
So, you’re here because you want to start a clothing brand and are looking for high quality clothing manufacturers? The good news is you’re in the right place. We’ve created this page to serve as a benchmark for you and your brand; to breakdown everything from sourcing the best clothing manufacturers for startups through to the financial commitment you will need to make to get your brand going.
This guide aims to help you answer some of the questions you may have about starting your brand from the unique perspective of one of the leading clothing manufacturers . We’ve seen hundreds of brands succeed and equally, if not more fail– we’ve spotted trends and commonalities between those who fall on either end of this spectrum.
Before we start, there's some buzzwords you're going to be hearing a lot when approaching suppliers, so below is a breakdown of the most common and the meaning;
- MOQ - Minimum Order Quantity
- CMT - Cut, Make and Trim
- CNY - Chinese New Year
- Ex-Factory - The date a production order will likely leave a factory
- FOB - Free On Board
- DDU - Delivery Duties Unpaid
- DDP - Delivery Duties Paid
- CPU - Cost Per Unit
- Grade - The difference in measurements between garment sizes
- Lead Time - Estimated production period
- Tolerance - An agreed degree of variance between specification and finished items
- BOM - Bill of Materials
- PO - Purchase Order
- QC - Quality Control
- QA- Quality Assurance
- AQL- Accepted Quality Level
- PPS- Pre-Production Samples
- FFM - Full Factored Manufacturer
the clothing industry
2.1 The Market Size
There’s a lot of industries that are slowly becoming obsolete. Some failed to innovate, and others just slowly faded out as newer technologies came in to replace what once was a thriving sector supplying millions of jobs and was worth billions of pounds.
However, the clothing industry is not one of those sectors. This begs the question – just how large is the clothing industry? Well, it’s a good thing you asked!
Globally, the worldwide fashion retail market was valued at 300 billion dollars in 2020 and this is expected to rise to 360 billion dollars by 2025. As you can see, it certainly isn’t a small sector, nor is it one that’s on the decline. The clothing industry growth continued to thrive even during the global pandemic, where e-commerce sales hit an all-time high.
Starting a clothing brand in 2021 is all about ensuring you’re aware of this market size, it’s potential growth and equally, it’s competitive nature. You need to ensure you’re at the top of your game – sourcing only the best clothing industry suppliers, forecasting up-and-coming fashion trends and producing high quality and unique garments which appeal to your niche within the sector. Regardless of whether you’re operating in the retail clothing sector, or e-commerce; these elements should quickly become staples of your business or like some of the outdated industries we discussed earlier, your brand will also become obsolete.
2.1 The Market Size
As with most sectors, the fashion industry can be sub-divided into different areas. Where we stand, owning a manufacturing business, we’re heavily involved in the product development sector, but this does cross over into design and involves levels of merchandising and marketing.
Each layer can then be further sub-divided; for example, fast fashion brands will often search for wholesale custom clothing manufacturers because in using these items, it allows them to bring collections to market much faster than going down the full-scale OEM route. Whereas contemporary fashion brands may be on the search for the best clothing manufacturers to accommodate their higher-end approach. Both of these fall into the sector of textile design and production.
The main sectors within the clothing industry are;
1. Textile design and production
5. Customer Service and delivery
Although we’d love to go on about the details and the intricacies of each element, we have created a more in-depth blog which will explain more here.
2.3 The Market Size
One of the first things you should be considering when starting a clothing brand is what style of items you wish to sell. The apparel industry is one that offers great freedom of choice when it comes to deciding what to sell. There is pretty much a niche market for everything – from high-end, luxury fashion branding, through to sustainably sourced garments and everything in between.
The clothing industry growth has directly resulted in a spotlight on brands ensuring they maintain a transparent, ethical and sustainable supply chain with increasing pressures from end-consumers who are educating themselves on sustainable fashion manufacturing and looking for brands who adopt the key philosophies of this approach. It is worth noting that this should always be incorporated into your brand… ensuring you’re working with ethical clothing industry suppliers.
The main product types within the clothing industry are;
2. Sportswear and athleisure
4. Formal wear – such as suits, dresses and office attire
3.1 The different methods of manufacturing clothes
You’re likely on our website because you’re looking for high quality custom clothing manufacturers. The reality is that these are hard to come by – the most successful suppliers tend to impose MOQs (minimum order quantities) that are outside the scope of what most brands can reach for. The unfortunate reality is that it’s easier and more profitable for those custom clothing manufacturers to please a small amount of high value clients then it is to open their services to smaller businesses.
The good news however is that this opens up a gap in the market which we’ve aimed to plug since 2018. Whilst looking for custom apparel manufacturers is one route to go down for your brand when starting out, it certainly isn’t the only option and that’s where we come in.
Alternative options do exist and this comes in the form of white label clothing manufacturing. There are many benefits to white labelling.
3.2 OEM Clothing Manufacturing
OEM Clothing Manufacturing stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer and essentially means that this supplier can create custom products based on your specification. This would usually include the following;
1. Fabric composition, colours and weight
3. Custom panelling and construction
4. Trims, hardware and brand finishing
5. More flexibility in branding applications
OEM clothing manufacturers can essentially do it all. They can turn your vision into a marketable and saleable product. This process isn’t easy though. Beyond finding a suitable supplier, you then need to convey your concept across in the form of a tech-pack and ensure they understand every element of your product development process. Below is an example of how a tech-pack would look. Credit: techpack.co
Some of the best custom clothing manufacturers partner with companies like us – it allows us to provide lower MOQs and more competitive price points than you as a small brand going direct to the suppliers. This is because, as a business that produces for hundreds of brands every year, we have accumulated a strong working relationship with our suppliers as well as having good negotiation and buying power; all of which are things you must build up and maintain over years’ of working with the same manufacturers.
4. White Label Manufacturing
We briefly touched on this earlier when discussing different types of manufacturing, but white labelling deserves its own section because it is heavily overlooked.
What is white label clothing?
White labelling involves taking a pre-manufactured blank item and branding it with your company’s logos, name and finishing it in a way that ensures it looks like it’s your brands’ bespoke pieces.
The common misconception with white label products is that they are all low quality, cheap and don’t stand the test of time and whilst elements of this are true, provided you find an appropriate clothing manufacturer, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Our white label catalogue service allows you to access the highest quality white label items on the market, with the most popular application methods of branding. All of this is offered in-house, under one roof – allowing for maximum efficiency and ultimate control of your supply chain. Further to this, it’s all done in the UK.
4. White Label Manufacturing Vs Private Label Manufacturing (OEM)
The ultimate debate – which is better and why?
The short answer is that both have their place in clothing manufacturing and serve different purposes.
White Label Manufacturing:
- Speed to market. Pre-made items are faster to brand and usually held in the UK, or country of purchase meaning no long waits for sampling, production and shipping.
- Lower MOQs – you can increase your collection under a set budget. In some cases, you can even print-on-demand.
- Less hassle – the items at their core are tried and tested. You don’t have to create size charts, or patterns. Nor do you have to go through rounds of sampling perfecting the items core fundamentals
- Limited design freedom – you’re set to the specific products’ fit, feel and fabric. Often limiting your ability to personalise the item at its core.
- It’s not unique- following on from the above, the product isn’t unique to your brand and fundamentally, remains a silhouette which is already on the market (and likely used by many other companies)
- Relying on someone else’s supply chain – if there’s no stock, you can’t sell items. Although the benefit is low MQOs and speed to market, this becomes non-existent if you’re working with a clothing manufacturer who can’t supply in the first place.
Private Label Manufacturing
- Complete design freedom – you’re able to create a set of products that is custom to your brand. You can fine-tune every element.
- Economies of scale – the scalability with a custom clothing supplier supersedes that of a white label one. As you increase quantities, your cost price will decrease and you will start to see more value for money
- You manage your own supply – you can buy as many, or as little (MOQ dependent) units as you require. However, proper planning and forecasting is required here to ensure this is done correctly.
- Headache – approaching custom clothing manufacturers is hard. Finding reliable ones who can fulfil on promises, alongside those who have good communication, and everything in between is both a time-consuming and costly process.
- Turnaround time – the average concept to market period for an OEM route is anywhere from 3-9 months once factoring in sampling and shipping. This affects your ability to bring products to market, as well as restocking.
- Higher MOQs – you will often need to reach for higher MOQs to have the ability to pursue this route. It’s not uncommon for some suppliers to only quote units in the thousands, but here at White2Label; we can go as low as 100pcs per style and colour.
The Steps to Launching a Successful Clothing Brand
We get an interesting insight into successful brands’ because we’re one of the leading clothing manufacturers in the UK – we see the Founder's mentality, their attention to detail, willingness to be flexible within the design and product development aspect. We then see how this all articulates through to their marketing and execution.
Let’s be clear; nothing is more important than your product. You can have the best marketing and sales channels in the world but if your product doesn’t deliver, then you will fall at the wayside.
5.1 Researching and forecasting
One of the most important and overlooked element of any business is doing thorough research. Many Founders who we come across (who evidently end up not doing so well) seem to be in a rush, haven’t tested their concept and are creating pieces off of no more than their own assumption of what the market wants and needs.
Unfortunately, this does not slide in the fashion sector. Remember that statistic about its value and level of growth? Whilst this is great, it also means the market is heavily saturated. This does not mean you can’t succeed; it just means you need to be cautious and meticulous in your approach.
Whilst we do think that sometimes you should just take an item to market to really develop real market research, this can be costly and time-consuming.
The best route would be through sourcing an appropriate clothing manufacturer who can assist with items at a low MOQ and fast turnaround time.
Simply searching a readymade garment business plan won’t work either – this element should not be rushed. Remember to take all feedback as constructive; some people may just be to the point and remember, you’re not always right.
5.2 Studying Opportunities and Niches within the Industry
Closely tied into the above, you need to find your niche. A niche market is a segment of a larger market that can be defined by its own unique needs, preferences or identity that differentiates them from the larger sector.
A great example would be Gymshark, who at the time of launch appealed to the (now not so) niche market of weightlifters who wanted aesthetically pleasing items opposed to the generic oversized bodybuilder style of wear. Whilst they’d now be seen as more of a mass-market, hypergrowth business; they certainly didn’t start that way.
5.3 Learning About the Garment Manufacturing Industry
It’s crucial that you develop a good collection of products from the get-go. It’s therefore imperative that you find clothing manufacturers for small businesses to help you when you’re starting out. Don’t get caught in the belief that because you’re a small business, you cannot afford good quality – whilst you may be limited, you can certainly find an appropriate clothing factory who can help propel your brand.
There are many elements to consider here, so we’ve left some blogs below which delve a little deeper into each segment of learning about the garment manufacturing industry;
5.4 Selection of Product Range
When starting a clothing brand in the UK, you’re eventually going to run into the question of, how many products is the right amount to launch with? Too many and you risk overstocking, restricting cash flow and potentially hindering the company’s growth and ability to diversify its collections. Conversely, buy too little and this could lead to a high bounce rate on your site, a low number of conversions/ average cart value; all of which could also hinder your growth.
Stocking more items also has indirect cost implications. Of course, the stock itself costs more but then you may have storage, handling, picking, and logistical costs associated with both moving the stock to storage, as well as out for orders.
So, what is the ideal amount of stock to buy on your first launch?
It’s hard to judge this and is entirely dependent on every individual brands’ situation. The only thing we would say is, follow the below business principle.
1. If you think you’re going to spend £5,000 on stock, double it.
2. If you think it’s going to take 6 months to launch, double it.
3. If you think you’re going to generate £15,000 in sales, half it.
4If after two years you’re still in business, you’re onto something.
The idea behind this is you get comfortable with managing your own expectations. Ideally, you should try to purchase as much as you’re comfortable purchasing… more stock on your site serves many benefits like;
- Increased social proof – you look more established.
- Higher average cart value.
- Higher overall conversions.
- Improved on-site SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
- Potential to capture more data – what consumers like, click on, and buy will help you with purchasing in the future
All the above is dependent on which clothing factory you use. Using white label products will allow you to purchase more, faster, and cheaper so you may be able to diversify your product offering at a faster rate than going for private label products.
6. Finding the right place for your Clothing Factory
The aged debate – is it better to manufacture closer to home, or go overseas? Similarly, to a lot of these points, it really depends on your brand, specification, and end-goal. Finding clothing manufacturers in the UK definitely has its perks, but it also has its downfalls.
Finding clothing manufacturers for small businesses tends to be easier when looking overseas – clothing manufacturers tend to be more accommodating to lower MOQs and happy to help with more complicated designs. They also mainly work on Full-Production-Package (FPP) , meaning they will source the raw materials and add all branding, trims, and hardware to the items all under one unit cost. On the contrary, clothing manufacturers in the UK tend to operate on a Cut, Make and Trim (CMT) basis, often leaving you to source raw materials, all trims and hardware and then ship them to the supplier, as well as brand the items in an alternative facility after construction… to cut a long story short, it is more hassle.
However, starting a clothing brand in the UK can be easy when approaching a businesses like ours who can handle all the elements of mass production, essentially meaning we can offer a FPP service here in our UK based clothing manufacturers with elements even being done in-house.
6.2 Estimating the garment production required for your brand
The hurdles don’t end once you find a suitable custom manufacturing company. You now need to estimate how many units you need to purchase and plan how many weeks you need to cover.
This section doesn’t just apply to brands who are selling thousands of units a month. Even if you’re ordering a low MOQ with a white label clothing manufacturer, you will still need to plan when you will need to restock and how much you will need to spend to either restock those items or produce new styles to keep your customers excited for future drops. Clothing manufacturers who offer split payment methods like us will help alleviate any issues you may face from a cash flow perspective by allowing you to split payments across a set term- i.e. reducing the initial investment required for your brand.
6.3 Trend Forecasting
In order to estimate the garment production requirement, you need to be able to effectively predict the trends your brand will experience. The very first time you launch, you will likely over or under buy certain items in terms of sizes or even styles all together. However, that launch will give you valuable CRM (customer relationship management) data that will allow you to properly forecast exactly what you’ll require for future collections.
Beyond raw sales, you will see what your most viewed items are, the most added to cart and which items people often buy together; it goes without saying that this data is invaluable in fine-tuning your brands’ buying moving forward.
6.4 How much will you need to invest to get started?
We get asked this question a lot by different brands. The truth is you should only invest whatever you feel comfortable. Investing more than you can afford will cause you to make rash decisions to maximise short term capital gain and potentially diminish the long-term vision.
If you choose to go down the white label clothing route, an initial investment of around £5,000 will allow you to get a very diverse initial collection. If you’re invested into going down the private label clothing route, then you’ll likely need around x3 that amount to get the same level of diversification due to the higher MOQs. Just a note, this doesn’t mean you cannot launch with less money – people do all the time and that’s fine. This is more of an ideal scenario.
Finding clothing manufacturers for small businesses will help you leverage your investment to capitalise on the number of styles you can produce. In terms of UK based clothing manufacturers, we offer the lowest MOQ by far with our catalogue service .
Alongside the overall investment, you will also need to establish your target CPU (cost per unit) as well as RRP (recommended retail price point) to ensure you’re operating a profitable business whilst offering value for money. We stand by you get what you pay for and in this market. Read our blog “Buy Cheap, Pay Twice – the number one rule tip for starting your own fashion brand”.
6.5 Raising Investment for your brand
Do you need investment to launch a clothing brand? Do you need a lot of money to source the best clothing manufacturers? Or do you need investment to meet the MOQs of the private label manufacturers in the UK?
No, you don’t but it certainly does help. The brands who we’ve seen gain investment have been able to scale faster, often securing more competitive CPUs from different clothing manufacturers in the USA and other countries. They’re able to steer away from white label products and source custom manufacturing clothing which allows them to produce unique pieces for their brand which can be used in creative forms of marketing to differentiate themselves from the competition.
To raise investment, you will need to steer clear of a generic readymade garment business plan. This will be scrutinised by investors and it will serve many benefits. We go into depth about different forms of investment raising for your brand, the pros and cons in our blog “What is the best way to fund a clothing brand” - NEEDS LINK
7.1 The Challenges of Sourcing Clothing Manufacturers
"If sourcing clothing suppliers were easy then we would be out of work."
The harsh reality is that it’s extremely difficult to find trustworthy and reliable custom clothing manufacturers who have good communication. The manufacturing business is one clouded by those who overpromise and under deliver. Those who are interested in transactional relationships only, instead of building long-lasting relationships with brand owners.
The main challenge you’ll face is that most clothing manufacturers don’t really have an online presence and those that do tend to look very outdated, poorly designed and fail to instill trust. These aren't the characteristics you'd like to associate to a company who you'll be sending thousands of pounds to and will ultimately be in charge of supplying the fundamental asset to your business.
In addition to the lack of online presence, you’ll also face more challenges, such as;
- Language barriers- leading to miscommunication which can cost you a lot of money
- Poor communication – a general lack of updates, or explanation about the process
- Failure to meet deadlines – general sample and production deadlines seem to go out the window
- Time differences – working with overseas suppliers (especially in Southeast Asia) means you get a very small window during the UK hours to discuss, as they’re around 8 hours ahead
- Lack of consistency – you’ll often find a lack of consistency between sampling and/ or re-orders as so many elements are outsourced, and minimal control of the main supply chain is in-house.
- Lack of buying power – as a startup, you have no buying power. The supplier doesn’t know you, so you may not have as much attention paid to your order as a loyal, long-lasting client will.
The good news is that, as one of the leading clothing manufacturers in London, we were established based on experiencing all these elements first-hand and aim to tackle each one. The truth is, we’ve been in your shoes and we know exactly what it’s like to have a vision and falling at the first hurdle.
7.2 The Scope of Clothing Manufacturing in the near future
The days of having to fly out to find overseas clothing suppliers is long gone. Nowadays, you can source local clothing manufacturers in London, just as easy as you can find distribution channels in the clothing industry.
We foresee the clothing industry growing and expanding as newer technologies come into play which level the playing field for brands across the board. We’re a strong believer that a larger budget doesn’t always mean better quality – you can find high quality custom clothing manufacturers all over the world and whilst a larger budget does help in terms of improving options and scale, it isn’t imperative.
What’s important to remember is that the way you approach clothing manufacturers is very important. Just as you will search for the right partner to help you grow and scale as a brand, the best suppliers will properly vet which clients they take on and first impressions are very important.