Finding the right clothing manufacturers to start a clothing line can be a make-it-or-break-it decision for the future of your apparel brand business. For those who have never sought out clothing manufacturing companies, there are many resources available to help guide you on your way to finding the right manufacturer for you. In this post, you’ll get an overview of the best ways to find the perfect clothing manufacturer for your next project, as well as get access to our free clothing manufacturers directory and our premium clothing manufacturers directory to help you get started launching your clothing business.
Note: Just want to access the clothing manufacturers directory? Click here to go straight to our premium Clothing Manufacturer Directory.
What are Clothing Manufacturers?
A clothing manufacturer is a business that creates and produces clothing, such as t-shirts, dresses, leggings, socks, and more. For example, Alibaba is a marketplace where clothing manufacturers connect with clothing retailers or entrepreneurs to provide apparel for their businesses.
A clothing manufacturer is a B2B business as they typically sell to other retailers at wholesale prices. A clothing retailer sells directly to the consumer who buys individual items from them, making them a B2C business.
What to Look For In Clothing Manufacturers
1. They can make custom clothing
While not all clothing retailers seek custom clothing manufacturers, the ability to find clothing manufacturers who will follow your custom designs can be highly valuable if you’re looking to create a clothing store that stands out. Overseas clothing manufacturers will be able to create custom clothing for you at a more afforable price, however, domestic clothing manufacturers might have higher quality standards. If you’re selling clothing for under $50, you might choose an overseas clothing manufacturer to sell unique clothing with good margins. If you have an in-house designer, you can work closely with a custom clothing manufacturer to create one-of-a-kind clothing for your own clothing brand.
2. They know what the best-selling trends are
If you’re looking to sell popular designs and styles instead of creating custom clothing, choosing a clothing manufacturer who knows the trends will be crucial. When contacting domestic clothing manufacturers or overseas clothing manufacturers, ask them what their top three best-selling products are. However, also ask them how long it has been the best-seller for. For example, some clothing might’ve been popular for a long time, which means that other brands in the apparel industry are selling similar items too. As a result, the number of people you can sell to might be limited. If you’re an expert in the clothing industry and know the trending products in the niche, you’ll be able to ask for specific items based on their popularity.
3. They can ship you samples
Clothing manufacturers who can send you samples of their products will allow you determine the quality of the items you receive. Keep in mind, that samples typically aren’t free. If they’re willing to send you a sample without a minimum order quantity, you’ll be able to do your research to find the best clothing manufacturers with ease. Keep in mind that while samples are important, they can also cause delays in your overall shipping time due to back and forth conversations with the supplier, particularly with overseas clothing manufacturers. Shipping times for manufacturers in the USA are typically faster but more expensive. However, it’s better to know exactly what you’re getting instead of being surprised upon delivery. Getting a sample will allow you to know what sort of modifications need to be made.
4. Their clothing is made in your country’s sizing
Many people who order from overseas clothing manufacturers typically notice that the clothing isn’t in American sizing. This can be a huge disappointment, particularly for brands who sell plus size clothing. Requesting that clothing is made in your country’s sizing can prevent a lot of issues if you don’t plan on using domestic clothing manufacturers. Every country has a different size chart. If you sell clothing in the UK, you’ll need to share a size chart that’ll likely be different from USA clothing manufacturers. When contacting a clothing manufacturer, always share the size chart of your country in your early conversations to prevent mistakes.
5. They offer reasonable pricing
A cheap clothing manufacturer isn’t necessarily a good one. Overseas clothing manufacturers will typically offer the lowest prices for clothing. You can find manufacturers in the USA who offer good and reasonable prices that still allow you to have good margins, though. A clothing business needs to be profitable. So, a balance of good pricing and good quality will need to be met to ensure you not only sell through your inventory but you do so profitably.
6. They have worked with established brands
Finding a clothing supplier who has worked with top brands can be tough. However, if you sell clothing items online, you want to make sure that you’ve partnered with the right manufacturer. Ask the manufacturer for a list of some of the brands they’ve worked with to determine if you recognize any of the names. You can then look up some of those brands online, read reviews about their clothing, and check how many social media followers they have to determine their popularity. Clothing stores who do this will likely know very quickly if an apparel manufacturer is worth partnering with or not.
7. They’re willing to negotiate minimum orders
Most clothing manufacturers are not dropshipping businesses so they’ll have a minimum order quantity in order to sell pre made clothing items to you. A minimum order quantity might discourage you as you’ll need to pay an upfront cost for the items. However, this is an industry standard for wholesale goods. While you can’t negotiate minimum order quantities too low, there may be some room for negotiation if you’re buying multiple styles from the same clothing business. A low minimum order quantity can help save your business some money when making bulk purchases.
8. They respond quickly to your inquiries
Great clothing manufacturers will respond to your emails quickly or even offer live chat. A clothing business journey is all about relationship building. If you’re partnering with a manufacturer in the clothing industry, this partnership may last for years to come. How quickly they respond to you can tell you a lot about how they treat their customers. Being able to communicate quickly with a manufacturer can help you greatly as you work with them over the coming weeks.
9. They have bandwidth
Make a list the shipping times, availability, and time frames provided as you find clothing manufacturers to work with. Sometimes, you find manufacturers who offer a great selection of items but have waiting periods that last over a month. Domestic manufacturers typically have fast shipping times but high shipping fees. Overseas clothing manufacturers typically have slow shipping times but low shipping fees. So planning months ahead will be crucial as you work through your list of potential clothing manufacturers.
Domestic vs. Overseas Clothing Manufacturers
A classic question when looking for suppliers if you plan to manufacture or wholesale is whether you want to source domestically or from overseas. Overseas can refer to any location overseas but since the readership of this site is mostly North American, when we refer to overseas suppliers, we are referring to clothing manufacturers in countries like India, China, and Taiwan.
You likely already know that it’s almost always cheaper to source your products overseas but there’s a lot more to that decision than just the upfront investment and cost per unit.
Both domestic and overseas sourcing have their advantages, as well as disadvantages, which has previously been discussed in our Alibaba Review blog post, The Ultimate Guide to Safely Sourcing Your Products from Alibaba and in this informative article by the Sourcify founder and overseas sourcing expert, How to Source Products from Chinese Manufacturers.
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages below:
DOMESTIC (USA) CLOTHING MANUFACTURING COMPANIES ADVANTAGES
1. Typically higher manufacturing quality
When you find clothing manufacturers in the USA, they typically provide higher quality clothing. Domestic manufacturers have a different set of standards than overseas manufacturers. There are higher labour standards and regulations that manufacturers in the USA need to follow. While the cost of goods also goes up, the quality of clothing does too.
2. Typically higher regulations
Regulations in the USA for the fashion industry include California Proposition 65, which requires a domestic manufacturer with over 10 employees to name chemicals used in clothing factories that cause cancer or infertility. The clothing market also need to follow the Flammable Fabrics Act, which has a set of standards regarding flammable clothing. Labels also need to be included on clothing.
3. Easy and efficient communication
The right clothing manufacturer will typically respond to inquiries quickly and efficiently. As your clothing sells, you might be communicating with your garment manufacturers more often. A reputable manufacturer in the USA will typically have live chat for fast communication when you need it.
4. Similar time zones and holiday schedule
Finding clothing manufacturers locally offers the benefit of having the same time zone and holiday schedule. You’ll be able to speak with them during your work hours. Overseas manufacturers often take a break around end of January or early February, whereas in North America the holiday break is end of December early January.
5. Marketability and brandability of North American-made goods
People associate locally-made goods with high quality products. Clothing brands with American made products are often seen as a good clothing company with a reputable fashion designer. Made in USA is a brilliant way to market your fashion brand. People love supporting local businesses.
6. Faster shipping times
Manufacturers in the USA typically ship products within a week or two, allowing you to sell so much clothing at a fast rate.
7. No import duties or tariffs
When the supply chain is based in the USA, you won’t need to pay import duties or tariffs on your clothing products saving your business money in the long-term.
8. Intellectual property right protection
When manufacturing overseas, knockoffs are bound to happen. When you use clothing manufacturing services in North America, your clothing is protected by intellectual property rights. Clothing manufacturers in the USA can’t reproduce your clothing for other sellers.
DOMESTIC (USA) CLOTHING MANUFACTURING COMPANIES DISADVANTAGES
1. Higher manufacturing costs
As the living wage, regulations, and financial cost of manufacturing in North America is higher, USA manufacturing costs more for small businesses in the fashion industry.
2. Typically smaller choice of potential factories
You can inspect factories easily if manufacturing locally, however, the number of factories who will be able to work with you will be far less than if you were to go overseas. You’ll still be able to find manufacturers who do screen printing and create custom clothing your fashion designers design, though.
3. Smaller product choice (many items are exclusively made overseas these days)
Production capacity is typically smaller for local manufacturers. You’ll have fewer clothing designs to choose from. Most manufacturers in the supply chain will have a limited selection and will require a significant investment to produce clothing quickly for you.
OVERSEAS MANUFACTURING COMPANIES ADVANTAGES
1. Lower manufacturing costs
If you do your own research, you’ll find many sew manufacturing companies with low costs and a better profit margin overseas. The living wage of employees is much lower overseas allowing manufacturers to offer better pricing to North American businesses.
2. A greater number of manufacturers/factories to choose from
Overseas, you’ll find numerous clothing manufacturer pros who work with startup brands in fashion. The best clothing manufacturers tend to be overseas due to the vast competition there. Plus, most brands you know do their manufacturing in China or India. You’re bound to find the right clothing manufacturer at the right price if you do your due diligence as you research clothing factories overseas.
3. Well established directories like Alibaba have made it easy to find potential suppliers
On Alibaba, you can find a growing number of manufacturers. You can also review ratings, product reviews, and so much more to help you determine which suppliers to work with and which high quality products to sell.
OVERSEAS MANUFACTURING COMPANIES DISADVANTAGES
1. Lower perceived quality from customers
Startup brands who choose to manufacture clothing overseas might be surprised at issues over clothing quality from customers. From incorrect clothing sizes to printing quality, there are various ways that quality can be impacted when working with overseas suppliers.
2. Typically lower manufacturing and labor standards
Different countries have different sets of laws. In China, the regulations around clothing items is a lot more laid back. The production capacity is also typically higher due to longer work days and weeks for employees.
3. Import clearance and customs brokers to deal with
Small businesses might need to pay import fees, tariffs, or other international fees for working with an overseas supply chain.
4. Potential language and communication barriers
While many overseas manufacturers are becoming more fluent in English, there can still be the occasional communication hurdle to jump over. You also may have delayed responses due to time zone differences. There can also be differences in how you negotiate with someone in a different country.
5. More costly to visit and verify the manufacturer
Most of your research will be via a search engine when learning about a manufacturer overseas. It can be expensive to travel overseas to tour a manufacturer’s facilities to ensure quality clothing.
6. Longer shipping times
Due to the overseas location, shipping takes longer when ordering samples from China or India. Plus, due to the large number of businesses manufacturing overseas, production times usually take a bit longer too. Paying a higher fee could allow you to receive products quickly but it may mean lower profit margins.
Where to Look for Clothing Manufacturers
Now that you have a better idea of the pros and cons of finding manufacturing partners domestically and abroad, you can begin your search. There are a few great places to start that can put you on the right track to finding your perfect apparel manufacturing partner.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular:
Note: Interested in starting your own clothing line but not sure how to take the first steps? Check out our video webinar on How to Start a Clothing Line from Scratch.
Directories & B2B Marketplaces
Directories can be your best bet for casting a wide net. Some of the larger directories can contain hundreds or thousands of potential manufacturers/factories for your next project.
While there are a lot of manufacture directories online, many of them are low-quality or outdated. However, there are several legitimate directories that are have done a great job of consolidating manufacturer profiles.
ONLINE DOMESTIC CLOTHING DIRECTORIES
- Makers Row (USA Based/Paid)
- Free A Better Lemonade Stand Clothing Manufacturer Directory (USA Based/Free)
- A Better Lemonade Stand Clothing Manufacturer Directory (USA Based/Paid)
- Let’s Make It Here (UK Based/Free)
- Sqetch (Europe/Free & Paid)
ONLINE OVERSEAS CLOTHING DIRECTORIES
WORLDWIDE CLOTHING DIRECTORIES
- Kompass (Worldwide/Free)
As you probably can imagine, searching Google is a great way to find clothing manufacturing companies if you’re willing to dig deep and work hard to find them.
The most important thing to keep in mind when searching Google is that it’s not easy to find them. Factories and manufacturers notoriously do a poor job of keeping their websites updated and optimized for modern times. That means that most of the factory websites are very outdated and aren’t optimized for Google searches.
What this all boils down to is that fact that you’ll have to dig deep. Really deep. It’s not unusual to have to parse 20-30 pages on Google before finding what you’re looking for. So don’t give up.
Make sure you also try a variety of search terms. You might just be searching for “t-shirt manufacturer” but you may need to be less specific and search for keywords like “apparel manufacturer” too.
You can find clothing manufacturers on social media platforms like Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and more. Those who are active in the ecommerce community might get reached out to by overseas suppliers looking to find new customers. If you post in a popular Facebook group that you’re looking for a clothing manufacturer, you might get a few comments from clothing suppliers who are looking for more business.
You can also search for people based on job titles or industry on LinkedIn. If you search “clothing manufacturers” on LinkedIn, you’ll be able to find various companies. Then, you can search through the employees list at the company to find someone who can help connect you to their services.
Tradeshows are a goldmine for finding, vetting and getting to know potential manufacturing partners and there’s no lack of tradeshows in the clothing and apparel niche.
Many of these tradeshows can help you meet with clothing factory and printer representatives and they can also be a great place to source fabrics. Here are a few popular clothing production tradeshows to get you started:
Bonus: Looking for more events? Click here for free access to a list of 80+ international clothing and apparel manufacturing and sourcing tradeshows.
Local Fashion Schools & Incubators
Another great place to find manufacturers for your clothing and apparel brand is by calling or visiting a local fashion school or fashion and apparel incubator. These institutions are rich sources for vetted manufacturers since these schools and incubators tend to have good relationships with many manufacturers and make use of them regularly.
In the event that a potential manufacturer shares that they don’t have bandwidth or the capability to work with you, consider asking them for a referral to a clothing manufacturer who can.
The fact that they are in this industry likely means they have some good friends and contacts they can likely share with you to help you get closer to finding your perfect clothing manufacturing partner.
Short-List Your Options
After doing your initial factory research, you’ll likely have a large list of potential factories to work with. At this step, you’ll likely want to narrow down your list to just a handful, so that you can start getting some samples made of your final product from a select few.
To begin narrowing down your list, a good strategy is to start with the factories in closest proximity to you. Working with factories close to you can potentially cut down on shipping costs.
Close proximity to your potential factory also means it will also be cheaper and easier to conduct factory visits for quality control.
You’ll also want to narrow down your list based on the amount of experience your potential factories have with the exact product you’re producing and the materials you’re using.
Visit the Clothing Manufacturer or Factory
If you’re serious about producing a great product and brand, you’ll likely want to visit your selected factory before a full production run. Even after dozens, maybe hundreds of emails and phone calls, there’s really no substitute for actually meeting and greeting the people that will make your dream become a reality and take a tour of the factory floor.
Premium Clothing Manufacturer Directory
We’ve created a directory of clothing manufacturers based in the USA. All of the clothing manufacturers on this list are leading clothing production companies in the industry and with all the verified manufacturers in this directory, there is a clothing manufacturer to suit any job.
With factories that specialize in activewear, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, kid’s clothing, t-shirts, embroidery, lingerie and more, there are plenty of options and a variety of companies to choose from so you can find the right one that suits your needs.
The Clothing Manufacturer Directory can be the first and best step you take to creating your own clothing line, so have a look at the top clothing manufacturers in the industry and get started creating with industry experts. For a free preview of this directory and a sample of what it has to offer, check out our Free Clothing Manufacturers Directory here.
Choosing the right manufacturing partner for your business is a critical decision, not to be taken lightly or made quickly. This partner is an important piece of the puzzle for your business. Choosing a poor partner could mean production delays, unnecessary expenses, or even potentially a poorly made (or unsellable) product.
When reviewing manufacturers, always ask for references, carefully inspect previous product quality, and when you can, visit the factory floor to get a better sense of the company and the way they work.
Since your manufacturer is a partner and an extension of your brand, it’s important to take your time selecting the final candidate. Make sure you narrow your list of qualified manufacturing partners down to several and spend enough time vetting each of them to be sure of your ultimate decision.