At a Glance:
The relationship between product developers and manufacturers is a complicated one; requiring constant communication and involvement from both parties. Designers and developers hope for accurate samples and appropriate quotes, while suppliers hope for clear expectations on what each product should look like and how both sides plan to band together. The obvious solution, of course, is creating and sharing professional, detailed tech packs.
When it comes to factory communication, sharing tech packs is what your brand needs to maintain a precise production cycle. When building tech packs using Backbone’s dynamic, cloud-based system, you can create templates to reuse later and send tech packs directly to factories, your team, or anyone else in minutes. The speed and accuracy in which development teams can organize and share flexible tech packs ensure final products arrive as envisioned with no room for interpretation.
Why is Factory Communication Important?
For fashion and apparel brands, communicating with factories directly correlates to successful product development. Especially if you are operating a fashion startup, factory collaboration is often the foundation of early-phase organizations. Factories should be given comprehensive instructions on all manufacturing needs to reduce sampling rounds and cut costs during production.
As mentioned, the best way to communicate with your factories is with a well-organized tech pack. You might be wondering, “why?” It’s because tech packs contain all product specifications needed to construct new styles, including flat sketches, construction details, colorways, measurements, fabric materials, component renderings, BOMs, and more. Essentially, tech packs serve as the blueprint for supplier information containing the dynamic data needed to create new products. Tech packs help reduce user error and mistakes made by your factory that could lead to production delays and lost revenue.
As product development becomes more advanced, tech packs are the bridge between fashion brands and their factories to seamlessly communicate changes and each step required to construct new products. In this blog, we will continue to highlight the role tech packs play in factory communication with tips to improve product messaging and correspondence.
Related Article: What is a Tech Pack? Tips & Tricks
How Do Tech Packs Improve Factory Communication?
Tech packs smooth the transition from concept to creation in numerous ways, so to help you out, we’ve narrowed it down to five.
1. Communicate design details: If your factory uses a trim piece that is not explicitly listed, you can refer to the original tech pack, check the specs associated with your design, and request changes if needed. If all materials on your tech pack are concise, then it is easy for the factory to confirm all instructions or approvals (which automatically update throughout Backbone’s entire system).
2. Receive accurate production estimates: With a complete tech pack, factories can assess production costs with accurate precision. Fabric and other design materials may take up the brunt of the cost, so your factory will help you determine what you can spend on stitching, packaging materials, and so on. Style complexity and MOQ also play a significant role in production costs. The less stitching or materials required, the more affordable the product is. Conversely, the larger the order, the lower your cost is per item.
3. Make production a team effort: A tech pack reaches the hands of almost every different role in your supply chain, meaning everyone works together to create and produce new garments. If a designer doesn’t know the measurements of a sweatshirt and estimates its length in the tech pack, the individual who creates the pattern can access and update the tech pack with the accurate measurements. In Backbone, these changes are updated instantly in real-time for your entire team to see.
4. Limit errors: Tech packs are the main reference point if issues arise during manufacturing and production. It’s easy to cast blame, but accurate tech packs leave no room for debate. Especially if you are working with overseas suppliers and product specifics are lost due to the language barrier, you can still resolve any misunderstandings. If your tech pack is thorough and details are presented neatly, you’ll have less to explain over email.
5. Identify inconsistencies: At some point, part of your design will get stuck in one of the product development stages. It can be the result of a difficult silhouette or a pair of pants with an exorbitant amount of stitching and trim. Regardless, if one stage is slowed, it will delay the rest of your development cycle, and communication can get muddy. Without a tech pack in place, it would be incredibly difficult to pinpoint where things are falling behind and communicate exactly where teams need help. With an agile tech pack, designers and product developers can identify bottlenecks and easily work with others to find a solution.
Related Article: Tech Packs: Static Data vs Dynamic Data
Finding The Right Factory
Before you find the right factory and pass along a completed tech pack, there are a few other steps to complete first. Hopefully, you have already chosen a name for your fashion business, registered your brand, and purchased a domain name. After that, it is time to research designs, patterns, and technical information needed to create products. Decide what type of clothing you want to make and ask yourself the following questions to find, negotiate, and work with potential factories:
- What will the price point be?
- Who is our target audience?
- What will our categories include? (Tops, bottoms, outerwear, activewear, etc.)
- Will we be making knit goods or woven goods?
- Do we want to prioritize factory sustainability, location, or labor practices?
Your factory will take these concepts and turn them into mass-produced items, so building a meaningful relationship and clearly stating your needs is vital. Whether you are a fashion startup or a household name in the industry, there are plenty of factories willing to work with growing brands.
There are a few ways for your brand to find a quality factory. For example, you can conduct a simple Google search of, “clothing manufacturers of knit t-shirts.” You can also explore a digital marketplace on websites such as Alibaba to connect with suppliers and find goods or services. Both of these methods will yield the results to validate your production needs and find the perfect fit for your brand.
Securing the right factory starts with asking for recommendations from fellow designers or fashion industry contacts. Textile suppliers are often the perfect referral as they typically work closely with their factories. You can also attend manufacturing trade shows, hire global trade data companies, or source government trading agencies.
Fashion shows allow for direct, face-to-face contact to help you choose a suitable partner, and trade companies have a vast database of supplier names from all across the globe. The trade agencies can introduce you to potential suppliers or provide a list of contractors that can lead you in the right direction.
The selection process isn’t about contacting one factory and calling it a day — instead, reach out to three or four factories so you have backup options. Ask factories for work samples or take part in a factory visit to determine your needs. Ask for a quote based on your MOQ to determine if the price point and production schedule are within your budget. Consider quality control standards and ask for proof of ISO certification for legitimacy, and finally, request a few factory samples to see if their work meets your company’s standard.
Remember, when searching for the right factory, consider the services they offer. If you have a confident design and dynamic tech packs in hand, then a Cut, Make, Trim (CMT) producer is a wise choice. This factory type is most suitable for established brands who prefer majority control over their design and packaging process. For newer companies with less experience communicating with factories, a Full Production Package (FPP) provides resources for every product creation stage, including designing styles or patterns, sourcing fabrics, and manufacturing the final garments.
How Do You Contact Factories?
Once you decide on a factory, the next step is to initiate the communication and begin the process of translating your concept into a working product. First impressions carry a lot of weight, and what you say in your initial email will determine how factories agree to support you. Details like the description of your products and the questions you pose to them will dictate the expectations of the relationship.
Continual collaboration between the manufacturer and your design teams is paramount to success. Keeping track of communication is a necessity, but organizing it properly is equally important. Digging through a flood of emails or spreadsheets is inefficient, time-consuming, and increases the chance of misplacing important information. It is harder for designers to share updates in real-time, collaborate on new sketches, or organize each product version in one central location.
Once again, when creating tech packs and managing conversations, Backbone PLM acts as a single source of truth for design teams and manufacturers to communicate and keep product development on track.
Related Article: Tech Pack Creation: Illustrator & Excel
How Do You Work with Factories?
Working with clothing manufacturers means working with the ‘extended company’ concept. That concept consists of integrating business strategies with every player in your product development lifecycle. From client to supplier, the extended company takes into account the entire supply chain from beginning to end.
Clear communication with factories establishes mutual support that strengthens the company and ensures your fashion brand remains competitive. That includes scheduling routine check-ins with factories at key stages of the production cycle. When communicating back and forth, consider time zone differences, holidays in the factory location, and production schedules or timelines with other organizations. Staying atop these details can help ease your working relationship with factories to keep production from falling behind.
If you have suppliers that offer quality products, competitive prices, and effective service, you are on the right track to see considerable growth over time. When working alongside clothing manufacturers, automating as many processes as possible will also improve product management and increase productivity. Automating billing, payments, distribution, or logistics is a good place to start.
Understanding the stages of product development will allow you to frame communications with your supplier during the manufacturing process. Let’s explore these various phases to help you set reasonable expectations.
In the fashion and apparel industry, patterns are garment templates that are traced onto fabrics before being cut out and assembled. Factories will start production on your items by creating the patterns for each part of the garment and each intended size. The data in your tech pack will guide this process from the start.
Translating the clothing design into a range of patterns is a crucial step. Because human proportions change with size, patterns cannot be scaled up or down from a basic template. Two decades ago, pattern making was a highly skilled profession, and despite innovations in computer programming, larger design sizes are still difficult to adjust for every figure.
Whether the pattern is drawn on paper or programmed as a set of computer instructions, the size of the design determines how each layer of fabric is cut into pieces and joined to make a garment. For the most expensive articles of clothing, fabric cutting is done by computer-guided knives or high-intensity lasers that cut through multiple layers of fabric at once.
Cut & Sew
The next stage of production involves the assembly of your garment. For example, garment stitching and button placement are taken from your tech pack and incorporated into the physical product.
In this step, technological innovation, including the development of computer-guided machinery, has contributed to automating the garment assembly process. Nevertheless, the cut and sew phase remains a labor-intensive process for the greater industry. This puts immense pressure on clothing manufacturers to seek low-wage environments for the location of their factories, resulting in issues of industrial safety and worker exploitation.
The fashion industry in New York City was dominated by sweatshops located on the Lower East Side until the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 led to greater unionization and regulation of the industry in the United States. In the late 20th century, China emerged as the world’s largest producer of clothing because of its low labor costs and highly disciplined workforce.
As your brand selects factories to work with, the cut and sew stage will help balance your decision-making between finding affordable production and working with suppliers that align with your brand’s values.
Fully-assembled garments go through various processes known as ‘finishing.’ These include the addition of decorative elements like embroidery or beading, buttons and buttonholes, hooks, snaps, or zippers, hems, cuffs, brand-name labels, and other legally required labels specifying fiber content, laundry instructions, and country of manufacture.
Finishing departments are responsible for removing stains, fixing open seams, and making last-minute repairs. Once the product appears in perfect condition, the last step is pressing. Once the final garments are deemed ‘finished,’ they are pressed to remove wrinkles and enhance the overall look before being packed for shipment.
Tech packs help factories put the finishing touches on products exactly as designers envisioned. Whether you’re fixing popped seams or adding the last few buttons, these are the small details that set a brand apart from the competition. A detailed tech pack organizes these final few steps to ensure they are done right and done on time.
Related Article: Mitigating Supply Chain Risks
Factory Communication 101
As previously discussed, when reaching out to a new factory with the intent to build a positive relationship, the approach you take correlates to your success. The initial communication lays the groundwork for how the factory will view you as a prospective client and sets an expectation for all communication moving forward. If the manufacturer does not believe you have the understanding to be an affluent client for them, they could take advantage of you or reject you as a client. Most fashion brands enter the space with great intentions but lack the knowledge or understanding of the business side of the industry to navigate it professionally.
The initial email you send to a factory should provide a full understanding of the production timeline, what category you are developing, and what your finished product should look like. Present your project in a way that delivers and extracts information at the same time to prevent any confusion and keep the process moving.
With that said, let’s look at an example of an initial correspondence with a factory:
I hope all is well. I would like to introduce you to XYZ, a men’s contemporary brand concentrating on knit tops and bottoms. I am looking for a vertical knitwear manufacturer specializing in tops and bottoms that can deliver finished goods. We are looking to develop a collection for Spring 2023 and will need samples by July 15.
Before we start, I have some questions that I was hoping you could answer. What are your MOQs per style, per color? We are looking for smaller run goods (300-pcs), so please advise if this is something you can accommodate. We can run multiple colorways to help boost the units; however, we would like to start as efficiently as possible. Additionally, can you please advise the monthly capacity of the factory so our team can gauge our ability to scale?
I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss your lead times, as well. If we are looking to have samples by July, when would you like to receive tech packs to begin developing samples? Let’s also discuss the sampling process and the costs associated. Typically, we look to pay 2x FOB for final approved samples, so I want to be sure that is acceptable. Just so we are on the same page, we require a proto sample and usually go directly to the salesmen sample. Please let us know if you need any additional information. Thank you for your time, and we hope to work with you soon.
Related Article: Fashion Startups: Acquiring Customers and Marketing Your Brand
Tech Pack Sharing with Backbone
Backbone PLM takes a dynamic approach to tech pack creation compared to traditional fashion PLM. Product and component libraries are the heart of the Backbone system and the central source of truth needed to create tech packs, line sheets, BOMs, and much more within minutes. We’ve thoughtfully built popular product development features into the system, making Backbone a user-friendly platform for daily design and development tasks.
If you’re ready to build your brand with Backbone and explore a better way to communicate with factories, discover our collection of case studies, blogs, and free resources to learn more.
Want to try Backbone for free? Click the button below to schedule a demo today!