Sourcing 101: Where Do You Begin?

Finding a factory is the first big step to your sourcing process. Before you begin this search, make sure you have an idea of your budget and the kind of capabilities you need your manufacturer to have.

When finding a manufacturer, one common misconception is that every factory can do it all: design, source materials, and production. However, not all factories are one‐stop‐shops and you will likely have to find a design partner, a materials partner, and a production partner. We’ve included a brief definition of each profession to clarify their responsibilities. 

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Design Partner: A technical designer or pattern maker to turn your sketches or ideas into an a pattern or 3D technical drawing.

Materials Partner: A materials partner will be your fabric mill, manufacturer or fabric consultant who will help you find your fabric, leather, trims, hardware, etc. that will make up your product.

Production Partner: This is the person or company that will be doing the actual manufacturing or construction, cut and sew, of your product and bring it to physical, useable form.

Must-Haves Before Messaging

Before you contact a factory, you want to make sure you have certain information about your product and brand goals established. Answer the questions in the article below to get started.

Read This: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Contacting a Factory

Each factory is different in their requirements for production. Some will require you to have your tech pack, patterns or even a full sample before working with them. While others can make those for you in‐house.

Step 1: Figure out where you are in the product development process.

Do you have a tech pack or existing patterns? If not, you’ll need to find a technical designer or pattern‐maker. If you just have sketches or even just an idea in your head, you will need to start off here as well. In this instance, you can search for “technical designer” or “pattern maker” on Maker’s Row. If yes, you do have a tech pack or patterns already, you can research options for production manufacturer.

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Step 2: How to send your information to manufacturing partners

When reaching out to your manufacturing partner, whether it be a technical designer, pattern maker, or full‐production manufacturer, you will need to convey your idea to them. You can either:

  • 1) send your tech pack to them, or
  • 2) create a project on Maker’s Row.

If you don’t have a tech pack, creating a project is another great way to compile your information together in a concise, organized manner. Another option is to just send over a quick product description:

Product Description:

  • • General information about your product (what are you trying to produce)
  • • Images (sketches, samples, similar products)
  • • General timeline
  • • Exact needs (materials, production, sample making, drafting)
  • • Factory requirements (location, can do end‐to‐end development)
  • • Where you are currently in the process and what you need help with
  • • Estimated budget
  • • If you want to create a project, you can head to your dashboard and click onto ‘Projects’. Once on the Projects dashboard, click on ‘Create a New Project’. You can add the same product description information there.

Product images, samples, and other items:

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Be sure to include in your message any images you have of a sketch, existing sample, or even just a similar item to what you are looking to produce. If you are using projects software, it’s really easy to upload files. You can either ‘Drag and Drop’ or simply click on the box to upload. There isn’t a limit to the storage and you can upload as many files as you like.

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Search Keywords and Filtering

Searching on the site is how you will explore the factory options available to you. Before you begin your search, it is important to understand the general category of manufacturer you need.

First Category:

  • • Apparel & Accessories
  • • Furniture & Home Decor

Second Category:

  • • For Apparel & Accessories: Do you need a Cut & Sew /Apparel, Accessory, Handbags, Jewelry manufacturer?
  • • For Furniture & Home Decor: Do you need Wood, Ceramics, Packaging, Plastics, etc?

When conducting this search, you will want to keep your search terms more open‐ ended and broad than specific. Factories come up in search on Maker’s Row based on the “tags” they assign to their profile. As such, many factories just list the general categories they work in. For example, if you are looking to make a children’s tunic, you would not search “children’s tunic” but rather “children’s clothing”, “infant”, or even just “cut and sew” or “apparel manufacturing”. From there, you can look through the profiles and refine by profile description

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How to Message a Factory

Ready to connect with the perfect factory who can take your designs to production? Before you take the leap and reach out to a potential manufacturer, check out these tips to make sure you make the most of your messages on Maker’s Row.

When messaging a factory, brevity and clarity are key! Give a simple introduction to your product and needs and then ask what info they need from you. Make sure to be straightforward when introducing your company and what you’re looking to make, but don’t overload them with information and demands in the first message. Remember that this is a working relationship; the factory is selecting you as a client as much as you are selecting them as a factory.

Step 2. Read This Article: How to Message a Factory

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So how do you make sure you stand out? Understanding what NOT to do is a good place to start. Here are 5 of the most common ‘rookie’ mistakes made when reaching out to potential suppliers: Sharing your life story in the first e‐mail Creating too much work for the supplier Asking for a quote under the supplier’s minimum order requirement Reaching out before you’re ready Being overly concerned with intellectual property

Step 3. Read This Article: 3 Beginner Mistakes When Contacting Manufacturers

Now that we’ve covered do’s and don’ts, let’s get started! Share your project or message a factory directly!

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How to Screen Factories

Each time you go to find a manufacturing partner, you will want to make sure they will be a reliable manufacturing partner for your needs. Before deciding who to work with, you will want to filter through your factory options and make sure they will be the right fit not just for what you are looking to produce, but equally as important, that you can get along with them personally as business partners.

Step 1. Read This Article: Planning Your First Meeting with a Manufacturer

  1. Learn More About Them

To ensure reliability, you will want to get a feel for what it would be like to work with each potential partner. Pay attention to their response time, ask for references, and review samples of their work.

  1. Communication style

You will want to pay attention to how they communicate with you as that is most telling of what they will be like to work with. Determine what personality traits or working styles are most important to you and assess from there.

  • • What is their communication style
  • • How quick do they respond
  1. Always get a line item quote instead of a lump sum

This will help you determine if they are within your allotted budget. In this same vein, ask how their cost structure works if work goes beyond scope, if you decide that there is more work to be done than originally expected, or you want to make changes once you see the final product. You will want to know if there will be extra charges or if these changes will be included in the original quote. This will change factory to factory.

  1. Establish a timeline and deadlines

Make sure there is timing attached to every deliverable. At the same time, remember that factories are people and not machines and things fall behind. Prepare for delays.

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Best Practices for Working with a Factory Partner

Just like relationships with your customers, the relationship you have with your manufacturer can make or break your company.

Step 1. Be Respectful

Having a strong relationship with your manufacturer is not as simple as paying them on time, you must remember that they are people too so treat them as you would treat a friend or co‐worker. Moreover, some designers or brands might view factories as someone who works for them whereas it is really more the reverse. Finding a factory is like a courting process: you have to show your respect them and that you are someone they want to work with.

Step 2. Communication and Organization

When you are reaching out and working with factories, it’s crucial to stay organized! You want to make sure to keep track of who you contact and make a calendar reminding yourself to follow up with them. Factories are busy and you will need to follow up multiple times when you first reach out.

  • • Make a note of when you contact someone and then schedule a follow‐up if you don’t hear back within a couple days: follow‐up 3 times
  • • Schedule 3 reminders on your calendar spaced out by a couple days. If you don’t hear back after 3 follow‐ups, you might want to find a new factory.

If you want to receive this article as a free e-course delivered to your inbox, sign up here. Plus, if you want individualized assistance with sourcing and production from industry experts, take a look at Maker’s Row Labs

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