The Difference Between Full Service and Cut & Sew Factories

When it comes to getting your apparel products made, finding the right factory is key. There are many different types of factories that specialize in different fabrics, products, price points, and size of brands they serve. But, overall, factories fall into two main categories – full service and cut & sew factories. Let’s look at the difference between the two and the pros and cons of each for your brand. 

Full service (also known as full package) factories are what the name implies – they offer a full range of services to create products from start to finish. They offer everything from fabric and trim sourcing, label and hang tags, patterns and product development, grading and marking, samples, production, and even packing and shipping. They have large internal teams and have connections to outside vendors to help you source the materials you need. 

Cut & sew (sometimes called CMT or Cut, Make, Trim) factories are sewing contractors that you hire just to cut & sew your products. All they do is make your samples and bulk production. Sometimes they also can make and print markers and/or pack and ship your products, but you’ll want to ask about this. With a cut & sew factory, you’re responsible for sourcing and purchasing all the materials and getting them to the factory on time. You also need to do your own product development or hire a patternmaker like myself to do it for you. 

What to provide to a full service or cut & sew factory

When starting to work with a full service factory, you’ll need to provide a sketch or reference samples of your design as well as your target price point. Some factories may prefer you provide a tech pack or at least target specs as well, though some can help you create that document. 

To work with a cut & sew factory, you’ll need to send them a finished tech pack, the approved and graded pattern, and a sew-by sample for construction reference. You also need to provide them with all the fabrics, trims, labels, interfacing, etc. to make your product. The factory usually only provides the thread. 

The process of working with a full service or cut & sew factory

The process working with a full service factory starts with going over your design. Once you’ve communicated your vision, the factory will source fabric options and send you swatches for review. Once a fabric is chosen, they will make up the first sample. You’ll fit the sample and send back any comments and changes you want. Once you’ve approved a sample, you’ll place your production order with the factory and they handle ordering all the necessary materials.

The process working with a cut & sew factory starts with you sending your tech pack, pattern, sew-by sample, and some sample yardage. You’ll pay them to make a pre-production sample so you can approve the sewing quality and so they can provide an accurate production cost. Once the sample is approved and a cost is decided on, you’ll place your production order with the factory as well as place orders with each of your suppliers for the materials needed for the order. 

Pros and cons of a full service factory

The pros of working with a full service factory is that everything is in one place. You don’t have to follow up with multiple vendors or keep track of when fabric and labels arrive. You won’t have to spend as much time project managing development and production because you’ll often have an account manager at the factory who is your point of contact. Another plus of working with a full service factory is that they have supplier connections you may not. 

Working with a full service factory has its downsides, though, too. You don’t have as much control over product development as you’ve essentially outsourced all your development and production to the factory. Depending on the size of the factory and your relationship with them, you won’t be communicating directly with the experts doing the patternmaking or sewing for your designs. This extra level of complexity when communicating sample changes can lead to misunderstandings and incorrect samples. Also, since the factory is doing the sourcing and development for you, they may not provide you with the supplier information or a copy of your patterns. You need to make sure that you are paying separately for sourcing and development and confirm that they will provide you with supplier info and pattern files once the project is done. 

Pros and cons of a cut & sew factory

The biggest pro of working with a cut & sew factory versus a full service factory is that you have complete control over your product development. You can either hire internally to do your development or hire a patternmaker that you like to work with. You can also have more control over your contacts, too, as they are your connections and not the factory’s. You’ll always own the rights and have copies of your patterns, too. Working with a cut & sew factory, you are able to build your own team of employees and contractors that best fit your business. 

The con of working with a cut & sew factory is that you have to do more of the project management. It is your job to do the sourcing, place orders, follow up on timelines, and coordinate all the pieces needed for your production order. If you don’t want to do it all by yourself, it’s your job to hire a sourcing agent, project manager, patternmaker, samplemaker, or whoever else you need. 

Both full service and cut & sew factories have their benefits and their drawbacks. Either one will help you get your apparel products made, but you have to decide which route best fits your business and brings the strengths you need. 

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