Clothing Manufacturing: Domestic vs Overseas Suppliers

A common debate from clothing brands - should we source clothing manufacturers locally, or go abroad? In this blog, we discuss the pros and cons of either and where each might be best depending on your brands circumstances.
5 minute read

Understanding The Differences Between Domestic and Overseas Manufacturing

When starting a clothing line, there are a lot of things to consider before moving ahead with brand development. One of those considerations is where you will manufacture your product.

This decision will have a profound impact on how you run the operations within your business.

Everything from lead times, shipping, order processing and logistical management are drastically different from one another when considering whether you should choose local clothing manufacturers, or go overseas.

Local Clothing Manufacturers

There’s no denying that having a brand which uses UK manufactured products adds to the brand's value.

However, a key consideration most brands overlook is how the process of manufacturing will vary between local clothing manufacturers and overseas suppliers.

Clothing Manufacturing in the UK (Process)

  1. Find a supplier: The first step is to find and open dialogue with manufacturers. Explain what you’re looking for and ask questions about how they work, their experience and any considerations you need to make

  1. Sample: Make sure you’re able to see a prototype with that manufacturer before committing to the bulk order. Check the communication, adherence to deadlines, workmanship and overall quality

  1. Source fabrics: Chances are, you would have already needed to do this for the sample but as most clothing manufacturers in the UK work on a CMT basis (cut, make and trim) you will be required to source fabric from fabric mills

  1. Source trims and hardware: You will need to source things like woven labels, swing tickets, custom hardware (zippers, pullers etc) from trim suppliers and send these onto the CMT factory

The manufacturing process itself will vary when using overseas suppliers, but the CMT route has benefits and down-sides for brands, depending on specific requirements.

Below we have broken down some of the pros, and cons of utilising local suppliers

Pros of Local Clothing Manufacturers

  • Accessibility: These suppliers are generally within driving distance, or at least in the same country as where you operate from. Some may allow on-site visits, which allows you to understand the process in more detail
  • Market knowledge: One overlooked aspect of using clothing manufacturers in the UK is their understanding of the market you operate in. This makes communication easier, and minimises the risk of misunderstanding when discussing projects and collections
  • Turnaround time: Whilst the manufacturing process itself might take a similar amount of time as using clothing manufacturers overseas, the shipping time is considerably shorter - you therefore save on turnaround time
  • Easier logistically: You aren’t importing goods through international channels, so the logistics are much easier to manage, especially for startups
  • Added brand value: You can charge more for a locally sourced and produced product
  • Transparent supply chain: Locally sourced fabrics and products are easier to track and ensure ethical practices are being complied too

Cons of Local Clothing Manufacturers

  • Cost: Local suppliers are more expensive than overseas clothing manufacturers, you therefore will experience higher cost prices using UK based manufacturers.
  • Material options: Most suppliers, depending on location will be somewhat limited in terms of fabric availability. The UK is no different; you will often find that most mills import materials from overseas to offer a wider variety of options.
  • Minimums: Some UK based clothing manufacturers may be less accommodating to smaller quantities due to higher operating costs.
  • Limited production capabilities: In comparison to overseas manufacturers, UK based suppliers may be more limited in styles they can work with

Clothing Manufacturers Overseas (Process)

According to Statistica, China dominated the market by exporting more than USD 154 billion in textiles; which was 2.4 x that of the whole of Europe (USD 64 billion)

It therefore begs the question - why do so many brands use overseas clothing manufacturers? The answer might be found in the process

  1. Find a supplier: The first step is to locate a supplier. However, this may be easier said than done. Whilst there are platforms like Alibaba, or Sewport who connect you to manufacturers, you will still need to sample and find the right supplier for your brand. You could also try directories like Clutch

  1. Sample: Similarly to working with local clothing manufacturers, you will always want to sample first and make sure you’re happy with the quality before proceeding with a bulk order

  1. Bulk order: This is where overseas clothing manufacturers differ from local suppliers; they will generally offer full package production, meaning the supplier will source your fabrics, trims, labels and hardware and just charge you a unit fee which includes all elements

  1. Ship the products: Some suppliers offer freight options, whilst others offer FOB (free on board) - it’s important to know the shipping terms of your contract to understand whether you’re responsible for arranging a courier, or if the supplier will handle it.

The Impact on Cost

The general consensus is that manufacturing locally, wherever you are, is more expensive than doing so overseas.

Whilst this argument does have some merit, you might be surprised to learn that this may not always be the case.

The unit price you pay on a product using UK based suppliers will probably be more at face value, however, this will come without the additional cost(s) you would incur with manufacturing overseas. These additional costs being:

  • International freight charges: This can be a higher price if shipped by air, but can still add considerable cost and time if done by sea
  • Import duties and taxes: The current UK tariff (depending on what you’re importing) is 12% duties on top of the consignment value and then 20% VAT on top of all of that; including shipping costs. For example, you ship £1,000 worth of product over and it costs £300 with DHL. Your import duty will be 12% on the £1,300 which equals £156. This brings your total consignment value to £1,456 and then there is 20% VAT added on top - your overall import duties and tax charge is therefore £447.20

Comparison graph by MakeitBritish

That being said, producing garments in the UK warrants a higher RRP - you can therefore charge more for the items and recoup your investment through the margin added on the back end to the end consumers


As discussed at the very beginning of this article, choosing the location of your manufacturing base is quite important in determining how the operation of your business

will run.

Choosing local clothing manufacturers has its benefits, but in most cases, might not be viable for new startups who have a limited budget and understanding of the process.

An alternative method for brands looking to use a UK based firm, whilst still exploring the benefits of overseas clothing manufacturing would be to either use a clothing manufacturer with a UK-based HQ, or to explore a white label service here in the UK.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do I find local clothing manufacturers?

Here is how to find local clothing manufacturers;

  • Networking
  • Trade shows / events
  • Google search
  • Forums
  • Joining communities with other business owners
  • Directories

  1. How do I reach out to a clothing manufacturer?

Reaching out to suppliers is pretty simple - you can follow the below steps

  1. Introduce yourself, your brand and your concept - try to include as much information as possible.
  2. Send through your specifications, designs and artwork as soon as you can
  3. Explain your requirements - units, budget, size split
  4. Discuss timeline - understand the turnaround times

3. How much does it cost to have a clothing line manufactured in the UK?

The true cost of manufacturing a clothing line in the UK will vary on a range of factors, but you can expect to spend anywhere from £5,000 - £25,000 on each collection.

4. What is the best country for clothing manufacturing?

Most countries will have their speciality based on the geographic location and access to raw fabrics, but the most commonly used countries for clothing production are

  • China
  • Turkey
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • UK
  • Latvia
  • Vietnam

  1. Is it expensive to manufacture clothes in the UK?

The cost of manufacturing in the UK is slightly higher than doing so overseas, but the degree of this will depend on the specification itself and whether the fabrics being used are imported, or milled in the UK. This is because, according to Fibre2Fashion, raw materials can make up 60-70% of the raw cost of a product in some cases.

About the author
Anthony Mellor

Anthony Mellor is a fashion entrepreneur, writer and consultant. Anthony writes in-depth articles about topics related to fashion, business and supply chains.

Anthony successfully scaled and exited a D2C fashion brand at the young age of 20. Since then, he's gone onto start and successfully operate two multi-6-figure clothing manufacturing businesses and currently offers up one-to-one constancy to brand owners.

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