Moving Your Apparel Production Stateside

In the past few years, I’ve seen more and more US brands move their manufacturing from overseas to stateside. There are pros and cons to both domestic and non-domestic production, but high shipping costs, longer freight times, and rising tariffs have made moving production to the USA a competitive option for some brands. With any big shift in production logistics, the switch can bring some new challenges. If you are considering moving your production to the States, here are four things to prepare for to make the transition.

Getting your patterns from your current factory

Whether you are moving your production stateside or if you are just switching factories within the same country, this is a critical step in making a smooth transition with as little disruption to your product quality as possible. If you’ve been producing overseas, chances are that you had the factory make your patterns for you. If you don’t have access to your patterns and only the factory has them, you’ll want to get copies of the graded patterns as dxf/rul files. 

Your factory may give them to you if you ask, but not always. If you haven’t paid separately for pattern development, you may not actually own the patterns even though they were made to your specifications. The pattern is what determines the fit and sizing of your product and what keeps each production run consistent. The best-case-scenario is that you are able to get the patterns from your factory. This way you can start production at a new factory and know your resulting product will have the same fit. If you can’t get the patterns from the factory, you’ll have to start over on your development to reverse engineer your styles from your current production samples. (I hate to see brands caught in this scenario especially if they weren’t aware they were in this situation going into it. That’s why I always give my clients all their pattern files so that they have the freedom to get their product made anywhere and have the control over their designs.) Starting over on development is a costly and time-consuming process so make sure you plan for this in your timeline if you need to.

The logistics of US sourcing

If the factory overseas you have been working with is a full service production factory – meaning they have been handling the development, patternmaking, and material sourcing for you – you are going to have to get familiar with all the materials that go into your product. Ideally, you have a list of each of the materials and the supplier information even if your factory had been bringing in the materials for your production orders. When you switch factories, you will most likely be handling those supplier relationships and placing orders yourself. 

Sourcing materials near the production factory is an economical way to save on shipping costs of materials. Since you’ve been producing at a non-domestic factory, the material suppliers are likely in or close to that country. When you move production to the US, importing those same materials may not be the best option anymore. They still might be, but it is worth looking into other vendors that are closer to your new factory or at least warehouse inventory domestically for quicker delivery to your new factory. The availability of certain materials and fibers differs across the globe, too. Different regions and countries have the agriculture or manufacturing to produce certain textiles more easily and cost-effectively than others. You may find that in switching the country of your factory, your material pricing or availability changes. 

Moving factories is a great time to look at what materials and components your products use and see if there is room to simplify. If you haven’t been the one sourcing materials for your brand before, you may not realize how many components there are! When you have to source new vendors for each item, it makes sense to consolidate where you can. Perhaps you can share fabrics between two or more products or swap a custom trim for an in-stock option. Simplifying your sourcing in this way reduces the complexity of getting your material inventory ordered and set up at your new factory.

Finding a factory with the machinery and expertise for your product type

Factories are specialized operations. Not every factory has the same type of equipment and expertise. As you are bringing your production back to the States, you want to find a factory that specializes in your type of product and has all the machines needed to make it. Like sourcing, production capabilities can be regional as well. There are certain constructions (like bonding or, to some extent, even flatlock seaming) that are less common in US factories compared to overseas. 

Sometimes it is not a matter of what can be done, but what is practical at your new factory. Overseas factories are more often vertically integrated than US factories – which means they have more capabilities under one roof. In the US, factories tend to be more separated from other parts of the process and specialized in one thing. For example, overseas, the factory may have been able to print or dye your fabric, cut & sew the garment, embroider a logo, and create and add custom trims all at one location. In the US, you may have to work with a separate vendor for each of these steps. Sometimes even cutting is separate from sewing! This vertical integration for overseas factories or separation of US factories, of course, doesn’t apply to all factories, but it is something to be aware of when looking for a new factory and vendors stateside. 

Regardless of where your current factory is now and where you are moving production to, different factories have different processes. This means that sometimes it makes sense to change the construction of a product for better quality or a lower cost at the new factory. Think of it as another way to simplify and get the best bang for your buck. Changing the construction might mean slight pattern changes to seam allowances or other details, but when the patterns are optimized for production at the new factory, it will lead to a better product. 

The product development process when working with cut & sew factories

Many US factories are cut & sew factories as opposed to many full service or full package factories overseas. If your current factory and new factory are different types, your product development process will look quite different. For full package factories, you’ll send them a tech pack with maybe some example garments, and the factory will source materials, make a pattern, and send you a sample. Your team will review it and send back fit comments of things that need to change. Then the factory will resample and you’ll fit it again. Once the style is approved for production, you’ll place your PO and the factory will order the materials needed and then produce it. 

For cut and sew factories, the development process happens before the factory gets involved. You can work with a development agency or with an independent patternmaker (like myself). You might be sourcing materials yourself or you might hire this out, but either way, you are responsible for procuring the materials and getting them to the factory. The tech pack, while it should be started early in the process, doesn’t need to be finalized until it is sent to the factory. Your patternmaker or agency can probably help you create the tech pack if you don’t have one. You’ll still get a sample made, then fit test it and your patternmaker will make any changes as needed. Once approved, you need to send the pattern, tech pack, sew-by sample, and all the needed materials, trims, and labels to the factory. As the name implies, all a cut & sew factory does is cut and sew. When changing to a new factory, your development process and timeline might need to change as well.

Moving your apparel production from a non-domestic factory to a US based one takes planning, coordination, and sometimes adjustments. If you are planning to make this move in your business, gathering your patterns and tech, knowing what to expect, and being open to change will make the transition a smoother one. You might find that through the process, you get a better understanding of and appreciation for what makes up your product and business! 

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