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 directory of over 50 factories to help you get started launching your clothing business.
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 I’ve previously discussed in a blog post on the Shopify blog titled How To Find a Manufacturer or Supplier for Your Product Idea.
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages below:
Domestic (USA) Clothing Manufacturing Companies:
- Typically higher manufacturing quality
- Typically higher labor standards
- Easy and efficient communication
- Similar time zones and holiday schedule
- Marketability and brandability of North American made goods
- Faster shipping time and cheaper shipping costs
- No import duties or tariffs
- Intellectual property right protection
- Higher payment security
- Higher manufacturing costs
- Typically smaller choice of potential factories
- Smaller product choice (Many items are only made overseas these days)
Overseas Manufacturing Companies:
- Lower manufacturing costs
- Greater number of manufacturers/factories to choose from
- Well established directories like Alibaba have made it easy to find potential suppliers
- Lower perceived quality from customers
- (Usually) lower manufacturing and labor standards
- Import clearance and customs brokers to deal with
- Language and communication barrier
- Significant timezone difference
- Cultural differences in negotiating and schedules
- More costly to visit and verify manufacturer
- Longer shipping times
- Import tariffs
- Higher shipping costs
- Lower payment security
Where to Look for Clothing Manufacturers
Now that you have a better idea of the pros and cons to finding manufacturing partners domestically and abroad, you can begin your search. There’s 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:
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 manufacture profiles.
Online Domestic Clothing Directories
- Makers Row (USA Based/Paid)
- ABLS Clothing Manufacturer Directory (USA Based/Free)
- 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 your best bet for finding 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 websites for factories 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 be searching for “t-shirt manufacturer” but you might need to be searching for “apparel manufacturer”.
Believe it or not, libraries still exist and they have some excellent resources for finding factories and manufacturers. We talked about directories already, but libraries have exclusive or paid access to some really great directories that can help you with your search. Many of these directories are simply too expensive for an average entrepreneur but free to access through your local library.
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 trade shows can help you meet with clothing factory and printer representatives and to source fabrics. Here’s a few popular clothing production tradeshows to get you started:
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 manufactures and make use of them regularly.
Try giving them a call or emailing them and ask for referrals to local manufacturers that can help you with your project.
As you’re using the methods listed in this post and talking to potential suppliers and manufacturers, you’re very likely to hit a few a bunch of dead ends. Maybe your order will be too small for a potential manufacturer, maybe they can’t do what you need them to do, or maybe they are just too busy to take on new customers. While these may feel like dead ends and set backs, you can still make the most of each of these conversations by asking every person and company you speak with if they know any other factories or manufacturers that they could recommend.
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’s 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 Manufacturer/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.
Free Clothing Manufacturer Directory
I built out a personal directory of clothing manufacturers from the USA. Below, I’ve listed a handful of them. For the full, free directory of 50 clothing manufacturers, check out the 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 to the puzzle of your business. Choosing a poor partner could mean production delays, unnecessary expenses, or even potentially a poorly made (or un-sellable) 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.