What To Look For When Sourcing Baby Clothing Manufacturers

Looking to source baby clothing manufacturers? Here is your step-by-step guide on how to do so (with templates!)
5 minute read

The best ways to source clothing manufacturers without the headache

Trying to start a baby clothing line can seem like an uphill battle from the get-go when it comes to sourcing clothing manufacturers.

The main issue faced by baby clothing brands is that of the number of manufacturers who exist in the textile industry, a small percentage of those accommodate clothing for infants and children and even less specialise in this style of work.

According to Statistica, in 2021, the total number of textile manufacturers in the EU exceeded 143,000. Of those, it is estimated that only 23% of these specialise in manufacturing of children’s clothing and merchandise.

This often means that those starting out are hit with the reality of how hard it is to find reliable and trustworthy clothing suppliers.

The good news? We’ll be breaking down everything you need to know to get your baby clothing line the perfect supplier.

Where to look:

Every route to sourcing clothing manufacturers has it’s pros and cons. Whether it’s using agents, or searching platforms - we’ll break down the best practice for each to help you regardless of which route you choose.

Alibaba - In a nutshell, Alibaba is a wholesale platform designed to help buyers (like brands and businesses) find manufacturers. Their platform extends into multiple industries, with clothing and fashion being one of the largest.

Although they offer manufacturing in other countries and regions, Alibaba works largely with China. According to Statistica, China is the largest exporter of textile goods in the world and in 2020, exported more than $170 billion USD in clothing, merchandise and accessories.

Pros of Alibaba:

  • Ease of use - you don’t require a wholesale account to search suppliers
  • Instant access and direct communication - you can speak to suppliers directly
  • MOQs and prices listed - you know exactly how many units you need to buy and how much that will cost

Cons of Alibaba:

  • Suppliers are out in SouthEast Asia meaning long shipping times and expensive freight costs
  • You only have access to white label (off the shelf) products, most of which are not customisable meaning you’re limited in options and can’t create unique collections
  • Time zone / language barriers become slight issues to overcome

Agents - Manufacturing agents act as a middleman between suppliers and the buyer (i.e. a brand) - they generally have good working relationships with manufacturers and will negotiate on your behalf, and manage the process for you.

Process graphic of working with manufacturing agents

Pros of using Agents:

  • They usually have long-term relationships with children clothing manufacturers which means more reliability and clearer communication
  • They act on scale meaning they have good buying power with manufacturers - this could lead to more competitive price points with such agents
  • They manage the whole process - this allows you to focus resources on other areas of the business

Cons of using Agents:

  • You never directly communicate with the supplier - this means you are reliant on that agent continuing to work with you / very little stability in the supply chain
  • Agents generally add a commission fee on top of the unit price which means you might end up paying more per unit with agents
  • Some agents may only specialise in a particular style of manufacturing - e.g. baby clothing manufacturing, but may not have the contacts for baby outerwear which means you may have to speak to multiple agents

Direct sourcing - This is the most straightforward - you research and find clothing suppliers directly.

Step-by-step process of sourcing your own clothing manufacturers

Pros of direct sourcing:

  • You get the most competitive price-point per unit
  • You have control of the supply chain
  • The supplier will have a better understanding of the brands concept and ideas behind collections

Cons of direct sourcing:

  • It takes a lot of work to research and find reliable suppliers
  • You’d be responsible in ensuring all garments meet legislative requirements for baby clothing items
  • There are more intricacies in the process of sourcing directly - from design, through to production and shipping / importing (if done overseas)

UK vs Overseas Manufacturing:

The next question you’ll find asking yourself would be whether to tackle the manufacturing of your baby clothing line here in the UK, or overseas.

The right answer will depend heavily on your resources, budget and brand values.

Manufacturing in the UK tends to carry a higher cost price, but also tends to carry higher brand value with businesses who manufacture in the UK charging anywhere from 28 - 37% more than competition who manufacture overseas.

Textile Manufacturing in the UK is estimated to revenue £6.3 billion GBP in 2022, which is around 3.5% that of China’s revenue generated from exporting textiles* - this highlights the large disparity between the volume of producing clothing in the UK, and in China.

* 2022 estimate compared to 2020 data for Chinese export via: Statistica

Source: MakeitBritish

The impact of manufacturing overseas:

The main thing(s) to consider when deciding whether it’s best to stay in the UK, or go overseas is the implications of choosing suppliers in other countries.

Besides the obvious benefits of lower unit prices, lower MOQs, and a wider variety of workmanship / fabric availability, manufacturing overseas does require some more planning

Firstly, you need to ship items internationally and import them into the United Kingdom.

Products which are imported in the UK follow a tariff scheme and the amount of import duties and taxes you pay depends on what you’re importing.

UK Trade - Office of National Statistics showing the rise in cost of importation into the UK since 2013.

Here are some terms you may come across, and their meanings when it comes to importing goods into the UK from overseas:

FOB (Free On Board) - This is where the seller (manufacturer) relinquishes ownership and responsibility of items upon completion of manufacturing. This means the buyer is responsible for shipping, insurance and importing the items.

DDU (Delivery Duties Unpaid) - This is where the seller (manufacturer) will invoice the buyer for the cost of shipping on the terms that this amount does not include the coverage of any associated import duties, or taxes upon arrival in the buyer's country. The buyer is therefore responsible to cover these fees upon acceptance of the goods.

DDP (Delivery Duties Paid) - This is where the seller (manufacturer) will invoice the buyer for the cost of shipping and this will include the cost of import duties and taxes to the buyer’s country. This therefore will be the final amount paid on the goods.

Process - Samples & Bulk Production

What are samples in manufacturing?

Samples are one-off pieces a manufacturer will produce in an attempt to meet the specification outlined in the tech-pack supplied.

There are different types of samples depending on which stage of the manufacturing process you are in

General samples - these are generally the very first samples you will receive. They tend to be in stock fabric, excluding custom trims and labels.

Pre-Production Samples - these are the final version before bulk production. They often include any custom requirements such as pantone matching, trims and labels. This will be the representation of the bulk production order.

Why are samples important?

Samples allow you to assess the service and quality a supplier provides without committing to the bulk order. Essentially, it’s the perfect way for you to trial a manufacturing process and decide whether that baby clothing manufacturer is the perfect fit for your brand.

What should you expect when sampling?

The main consideration you need to make when running sample orders with clothing suppliers is the cost.

Manufacturers have to source fabrics, create and cut patterns, as well as add branding and finishing to items and the cost of doing so has to be divided by the single unit.

This often means that the cost of sampling can be quite a bit more than the unit price in the bulk.

Tech-pack / specification example by White2Label

Bulk Production - Considerations, Expectations and Process

Every baby clothing manufacturer will have their own process for bulk production. Some will take a couple of weeks, others will take a couple of months. It’s best to use the below template when enquiring with manufacturers to find out how they work;

“Hey {Company Name},

I am enquiring about manufacturing for my baby clothing line, {Brand Name}

We’re emailing as we did some research and found you to be a trustworthy supplier and would love to understand a little more about your process to assess the viability of us using your services.

I, therefore, have some brief questions below;

  1. What is your MOQ?
  2. What is your sample and then bulk production turnaround time?
  3. What shipping methods do you use for the bulk order?
  4. What are your requirements for tech packs, designs, and concepts?

Thanks very much!

Regards,

{Brand Name}

Minimum Order Quantities - MOQs:

What are MOQs - MOQs are the minimum order quantities a supplier would need to manufacture a set product. This dictates the point at which setting up that production line becomes profitable for that supplier.

Every manufacturer will have their own MOQ depending on their setup, process, and operational capacity.

What do you need to consider before discussing MOQs:

It can be hard to estimate just how much stock you’d need when launching your baby clothing line.

That being said, you might have to consider the option of purchasing a little bit more stock than you think you need in order to meet a manufacturing MOQ

The general MOQ for suppliers can be at least 500 + units, but the actual minimum will depend on the design, specifications and requirements.

A smart way of running collections is to use what we call the binding technique - this essentially means using the same base fabric across multiple styles to drive your cost price down and decrease the risk of having higher MOQs due to the supplier not wanting to stock excess fabric.

Negotiating MOQs:

An important note is that just because a supplier has a set MOQ, this doesn't mean they won’t negotiate for the right project.

Our binding technique could also help in potentially lowering your MOQs as the supplier could use the same roll of fabric across multiple styles

In addition to the above, you could also try the following to lower your MOQ;

  1. Offer to pay a higher unit price in exchange for lower minimums
  2. Explore off-the-shelf or white label options
  3. Ask if the supplier has any excess stock which can be used in replacement of ordering in for the specific project
  4. Be honest - explain that you’re a first-time buyer and pitch your concept. Many suppliers will buy into your brand and support you in the long-term business

Legislation - What you need to know about the legal requirements of producing baby clothing

Manufacturing, in general, comes with legal requirements, but manufacturing products designed for babies and young children always has tighter, more regulated laws which need to be abided by for the safety of the consumer.

In this section, we will break down the legislation on producing baby clothing in the United Kingdom.

The General Product Safety Regulations, 2005

In short, there is a general obligation by the brand and its manufacturers to ensure that the products being sold are safe. The specific requirements to meet these obligations depend on what exactly is being sold - i.e. a motorbike helmet must uphold a certain level of safety to the wearer and be fit for purpose. It should also include instructions on when replacements are needed.

Luckily, baby clothing is a little bit more straightforward and can be paraphrased to include the following;

  • The items cannot be flammable, or where they might be they must include specific safety warning instructions on the care label
  • All trims (including little buttons and accessories) must be firmly attached to the garments to avoid choking hazards
  • Articles being constructed in a way to lessen the risk of strangulation
  • Lastly and most importantly, hazardous chemicals and materials are avoided at all costs throughout the manufacturing process.

In summary, it’s always best to be safe when it comes to producing baby clothing and consulting with your manufacturer is the best way to ensure the items meet the legislative requirements set out by the Country of import.

Summary:

Sourcing baby clothing manufacturers for your brand can seem like an uphill task, but with the right direction, this can be a rewarding experience as you can find a manufacturer who you can build a long-lasting working relationship with for collections to come.

instagram