Finding the right factory for your fashion brand is kind of like dating. There are a lot of good ones out there – and a fair share of bad ones too – and it takes time to find someone that is the perfect fit for you. So after multiple first dates meeting different factories, how do you know you’ve found “the one”?
On a basic level, you’ll need to make sure the factory has the machinery and expertise to produce your product. Factories run on efficiency and scale and they do that by becoming really good at one type of product or working with a certain type of material. When you meet with a new factory, ask them what they specialize in. You have the best chances for quality craftsmanship if they are used to sewing your kind of product all day every day.
The best way to know if a factory has the right specialization for your brand is to show them the tech packs for your products. The tech packs should list each seam and stitch type required to sew it together. I always include ASTM stitch and seam codes in my tech packs which then also correspond to different machine types for easy cross-referencing. A physical sample of your product or, if nothing else, a list of the seams and stitches needed can also work to check if the factory has the required tools.
Beyond the machinery, you’ll know you’ve found the right factory when your values are in alignment with theirs. If made in the USA, being sustainable, or producing ethically and paying fair wages is important to you, make sure those things are important to your factory as well. Like in dating, you want to find a partner that shares the same values and is excited about building the same type of future with you.
Not only do your big picture values need to be aligned with your factory, but the practical business side needs to be as well. You want the relationship to be beneficial to both you and them and the numbers need to work out favorably on both sides. One way you’ll see this play out is in pricing and MOQs (minimum order quantities). For some factories it isn’t financially feasible to do low minimums or, in order for it to be so, they’d have to charge prices that aren’t financially feasible for you. A factory that is the right fit for you will have pricing and MOQs that work for your business model and theirs. When both sides are benefiting, the relationship will last longer.
You also want to find a factory that communicates well. Good communication is the basis of any good relationship whether business or personal. Does your communication style and expectations match with theirs? Are they willing to let you into their world to tour the factory and are you willing to be open about your brand and team (or lack thereof if you are a solo entrepreneur)? You’ll know you’ve found a good fit for you when you can be honest about where you are coming from and both feel informed and understood.
Part of good communication is being open to each other’s suggestions and feedback. Are you willing to listen to suggestions your factory might have about how to create the best product in the smoothest way? Is the factory willing to give you that kind of feedback and advice? I’m not talking about them giving you free consulting, but rather their openness and honesty about potential or actual issues and ways to improve the product or process. Again, you both should be working towards making a great product. And, with any goal, it takes teamwork and communication to make that happen.
Finally, you’ll know you’ve found a factory that is the right fit for your brand when they are willing to make a commitment in writing. If they quote pricing, timelines, or make promises over the phone, but aren’t willing to confirm those commitments in a written email, contract, or purchase order, that is a big red flag. No one likes to be in a relationship where the other person makes promises they don’t keep. I’m not saying to be paranoid and distrustful of your factory. In fact, I think that can lead to a toxic relationship. What I am saying is that as part of good communication, you both need to be willing to make official commitments and keep them. This creates accountability, trust, and openness between you.
Like with dating, finding the right factory for your brand means having each other’s best interest at heart but still knowing where to set boundaries. Finding a factory is one of the hardest parts of running a fashion brand, and it often takes meeting many and trying a few before you find the one. Remember, too, just because a particular factory isn’t right for you doesn’t necessarily make them a bad factory. They may be perfect for someone else; they just aren’t the one for you.