How do you build strong relationships with clothing manufacturers, and find the right ones for your business? Take a look at HANAI Clothing, a Hawaiian-inspired active-lifestyle brand. Founder Erick Espiritu named his clothing line after the Hawaiian word 'hanai,' (ha na ee) which means to adopt or to nourish. Espiritu says his clothing brand incorporates this concept by encouraging others to adopt an active lifestyle. Getting a manufacturer to help convey that message into HANAI's clothing line did not start out smoothly. Through these lessons learned, Espiritu shares his thoughts on how to find, evaluate and work with clothing manufacturers.
1. Communicate Your Vision
When Espiritu first sought out manufacturers to produce his clothing line, he ran into trouble. Creating a working prototype, or finding someone who can do it for you, is typically the first step in the manufacturing process for any product. Espiritu found out early on that communication is key. He says that one main challenge he ran into was in trying to communicate his ideas to the manufacturers, only to receive “a product that was completely wrong."
Hanai Clothing's target market is active men and women between the ages of 24-38 who love Hawaiian culture—that's a very specific market. Espiritu explains that initially, the quality did not come out the way he expected, or the design would not be what he originally had provided. “I found that communication is a huge factor," says Espiritu. Clear communication on what you want will make the product easier to manufacture. Espiritu confesses that he needs improvement in this area and is constantly working on enhancing his communication skills.
Pro Tip: In order to get as close to your vision as possible, Epsiritu suggests to be clear when communicating with manufacturers, have a solid plan of what you want and be as specific as possible in your designs. Once your timeline and objectives are confirmed set up regular check ins to ensure your product development is on track.
2. Narrow the Search
Searching through hundreds of listings for clothing manufacturers can be intimidating. Espiritu suggests narrowing down your search by looking for a clothing manufacturer by specialty. By working with a specialist, you get the best product every time. Working with a manufacturer that tries to do everything can result in only mediocre products. Espiritu says he'd rather work with several clothing manufacturers that can provide a quality product every time. If you are just starting out, try online directories like Makers Row or the ABLS Clothing Manufacturer Directory to find reputable clothing manufacturers.
Pro Tip: Another way to find the right manufacturer is through referrals from other clothing companies. You may be surprised how much help they are willing to offer fellow entrepreneurs. Espiritu says that building a long-term relationships with great manufacturers and end relationships with horrible ones is key to having a successful clothing business.
3. Make Contact
Once you narrow down the list of potential suppliers, it's time to make contact. “I tend to reach out to clothing manufactures through email first," says Espiritu. He prefers this method because emails provide a paper trail. Also, “by emailing a manufacturer, I can see how fast they respond, how interested they are and how well their communication is."Once you have selected the manufacturer(s), protect your design by having them sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). This will provide a level of legal protection with the manufacturer.
Pro Tip: As with any new business, Espiritu says to be patient and do not expect everything to come out perfectly on the first try. Staring a business will involve many trials and errors and it's best to take each step slowly in order to make sure all your ducks are in a row.
4. Get a Quote
After you have refined your list of prospects, it is time to send your sample to the factory and have them provide a quote for your project. If you have sent the sample to more than one factory, make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. Does the quote include the same quantities and quality of fabric? If you are using a factory overseas, does the quote include shipping, duties, customs fees, etc.?
Pro Tip: Don't be shy about negotiating—the manufacturer expects it. Also, Espiritu advises, “ask for the manufacturer's' minimum order amounts and the price breaks that the manufacturer has when ordering more." If you don't ask, you won't get it.
Starting a clothing line can be stressful, frustrating and time-consuming. However, it gets easier and less intimidating as you become more experienced. Stay positive and focus on the end goal. When your product arrives and it's exactly what you wanted, it's worth all the effort.