find clothing manufacturer

How to Find a Clothing Manufacturer: Step-by-Step Guide (with free sourcing sheet)

Finding the perfect clothing manufacturer can be a struggle. There are even fashion brands that have been in the business for YEARS but still haven’t found THE ONE.

The truth is – finding the right manufacturer can make or break your fashion business. Which is why I created this guide to help you, step-by-step, on how to find a clothing manufacturer that ticks all the boxes.

So whether your freelance client asked you to find a new manufacturer, it’s a new task you’re taking over in your fashion job, or you’re starting your own clothing line from scratch, I got you covered.

Let’s dive right in!

Table Of Contents:

Understanding the Basics of Clothing Manufacturing in the Fashion Industry

Clothing manufacturing is a complex process – with multiple steps from idea to finished garment. This is why it’s crucial for fashion freelancers and start-up brand creators to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals.

What Exactly Is Clothing Manufacturing?

In essence, clothing manufacturing is the process of transforming design concepts into tangible garments. It involves a range of steps, from creating patterns and selecting fabrics – to cutting, sewing, quality checks, until delivery. The ultimate goal is to produce clothes that match the intended specifications, meet quality standards, and bring the fashion designer’s creative vision to life. 

Of course, there’s much more that happens in between. And if you’re looking to dive deeper into this topic, my Guide on the Garment Manufacturing Process has you covered!

The Importance of Finding the Right Clothing Manufacturer

Finding clothing manufacturers that fit your needs is one of the most crucial steps in establishing your clothing line, excelling at your fashion job, or making your freelance clients happy. Truth be told – it doesn’t matter how good everyone is in your team, without the right clothing manufacturer, all the hard work can quickly go down the drain. 

And when it comes to apparel manufacturing, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each fashion brand has their unique set of needs that must be met by their chosen manufacturer. Some may require custom clothing manufacturers who can bring their unique designs to life, while others might need established manufacturers with a wide range of capabilities and production capacity to produce large order quantities quickly and for a fraction of the price.

Pro Tip: One of the common pitfalls is selecting the cheapest manufacturer. If budget is your primary concern, that’s totally understandable. But – while it might seem like a cost-saving move upfront, choosing cheap apparel manufacturers can lead to complications in the long run. Investing wisely in a manufacturer that aligns with both your budget and quality standards can save you significant time and money down the road, as it helps you avoid prolonged back-and-forth communication and costly errors during the production process.

How to Find A Clothing Manufacturer: Step-by-Step Guide

1. Consider your requirements

Before anything else, you need to consider YOUR needs. Here are some key points to consider when finding apparel manufacturers.

  • Your brand’s style and identity: Ensure that the manufacturer’s expertise aligns with your brand’s aesthetic and style. Check if they have experience producing similar styles of garments that you are planning on making, if they meet any sustainability requirements, or if their ethos is aligned with yours. A quick way to check this is by going looking at their previous projects and reviews.
  • Product selection: Determine if the manufacturer has the capability to create the specific types of garments you want to produce. Additionally, check if they have worked with fabrics and materials relevant to your designs. You don’t want to be working with a woven shirt manufacturer when you intend to make knit activewear!
  • Location (local or overseas manufacturer): You should also consider whether you want to work with overseas clothing manufacturers or domestic clothing manufacturers. Now, this is not a simple decision as each option has its own pros and cons. For example, local options may offer easier communication and quality checks, though costs can be higher; meanwhile, overseas choices provide cost savings and specialization, but may come with communication challenges and longer lead times.
  • Budget: Determine your budget and seek manufacturers whose pricing aligns with it. Remember that quality often comes with a price, so finding the right balance between cost and quality is crucial.
  • Production capacity and lead times: Assess how much order quantity you’ll need and your timeline. For start-up fashion brands, acknowledge that clothing manufacturers can have their Minimum Order Quantity, or what we call MOQ – the least amount of product quantity a clothing factory requires to accept your order. Additionally, depending on the apparel manufacturer’s capacity and size, they may take more or less time to produce your bulk order.
  • Customization capabilities: Check what type of techniques and capabilities you’ll be requiring. For example, consider if you need to find custom clothing manufacturers who can do embroidery, printing, dyeing, or tasks such as textile sourcing, etc.

Once you’ve completed the pre-production checklist, you’re ready to reach out. Gather all your requirements in a file, ready for forwarding to your potential clothing manufacturers. Make sure to include information about your fashion brand or client, what products you plan to produce, if possible – samples of your designs, and all the details mentioned above. This way, you can quickly send this doc over and narrow down your options based on factors such as location (domestic vs overseas), specialization, pricing structure, minimum order requirements, among other considerations you have listed using my free manufacturer sourcing evaluation sheet.

Here’s a quick example.

Hello, I’m Sarah, the founder of Serene Threads, a sustainable clothing brand focused on ethically produced loungewear. 

Our first clothing line aims to encapsulate comfort and style, featuring three core pieces: (1) Relaxed Fit Joggers, (2) Oversized Crewneck Sweater, and (3) Soft Modal Lounge Tee. We’re looking to begin with an order quantity of 150 units per style, made in 3 sizes (XS, S, M) and custom color fabrics.

We’re currently looking for manufacturers who share our dedication to eco-conscious practices with the ability to deliver high quality garments and can manufacture clothing through ethical practices. Alongside quality and cost considerations, we want to know more about your lead time and cost for production. I’ve attached product samples below for your reference; let us know if these are within your production capabilities and provide us with a rough estimate of the costs.

Thank you for your time and collaboration,


2. Research potential clothing manufacturers

There are several ways to source for a manufacturer, whether that be online or in person.

Consider the following methods:

  • Source online or from websites: You can find clothing manufacturers online with just a click of a button on Google. Additionally, consider using platforms like Alibaba, with countless overseas clothing manufacturers mostly from Asia, or Maker’s Row – that has a lot of domestic clothing manufacturers from the U.S.A. But beware, there are TONS of options in these websites and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Plus, just because they’re listed, doesn’t mean they’re good! Do your own vetting, ask the right questions, and look for red flags.
  • Attend trade shows or networking events: Beyond online platforms, trade shows and networking events are great venues where companies and professionals from the garment industry can directly chat and interact. The great thing about trade shows is that you’ll be able to directly inspect their production capabilities if they have samples on display. And hey, it feels more legit to actually speak to a person.
  • Ask for referrals: If you have colleagues who are already working with reliable apparel manufacturers, don’t hesitate to ask them for referrals. Moreover, joining relevant online forums might open up leads on where to find great clothing manufacturers based on experiences shared by other members. My FAST students are always exchanging factories, suppliers, and resources in our private chat group.

Once you’ve shortlisted a handful of promising candidates, reach out via email or phone number provided on their website, requesting more information about services they offer. Use the draft we created previously to ensure all details and questions concerning your project are answered before you make any commitments.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that different types of garments often require different manufacturing expertise. It’s a good idea to explore various manufacturers for specific clothing items. For example, if you’re focusing on denim jeans, one manufacturer might excel, while another could specialize in activewear. While it’s convenient to have one manufacturer for all items, be mindful that it’s not always the best option.

research manufacturers

3. Evaluate your options (using my FREE manufacturer sourcing evaluation sheet)

So, you’ve done your homework and gathered a list of potential clothing manufacturers. Now comes the critical part – assessing these options to find the perfect fit for your brand. 

Analyze the clothing manufacturer’s capabilities

Collecting all the deets can get overwhelming, that’s why I crafted this Manufacturer Sourcing Evaluation Sheet to keep your search well-organized. I made sure to include crucial aspects to consider, to ensure a comprehensive overview of potential manufacturers. From production capacity and lead times to customization options, costs, capabilities, and communication, this sheet covers it all. Use it as a guide for what questions to ask and track responses from different manufacturers.

Dig into credentials and customer reviews

Don’t stop at just filling in the blanks. Take a proactive approach by verifying the legitimacy of your potential clothing manufacturers. Scrutinize their history, check for any credentials and certifications, customer feedback, references, and reviews. 

Pro Tip: While communicating with these manufacturers, gauge their commitment and expertise by observing how they respond to your technical queries. A manufacturer willing to engage and address your questions promptly is likely to exhibit a high level of professionalism and transparency. If they get squirrely about anything, ghost you, or just aren’t accommodating, those are all red flags. I’ve heard horror stories about bad manufacturers, and if they aren’t super on it during the discussion stages, things are only going to get worse.

Questions to Ask a Clothing Manufacturer

Signing on a new manufacturer requires TONS of research. To make this step easier for you, I’ve whipped up a list of important questions to ask your potential garment manufacturer. x

  1. Production Capacity and Lead Times:
    • What is your production capacity per month?
    • What is the lead time for sample production?
    • What is the lead time for bulk production?
  2. Capabilities and Specialization:
    • What types of products do you specialize in?
    • What customization options do you offer? (e.g., embroidery, printing, dyeing)
    • What types of equipment and technology do you use for garment production?
    • Are there any additional services you offer, such as textile sourcing?
  3. Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) and Pricing:
    • What is your Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ)?
    • How much does it cost to make one sample? 
  4. Quality Control Measures:
    • What quality control processes do you have in place?
    • How do you ensure that the finished products meet our quality standards?
  5. Certifications and References:
    • Do you have any relevant certifications, such as ISO or other industry standards?
    • What are some brands you’ve previously worked with?
    • Can you provide references from previous clients you’ve worked with?
  6. Payment Terms and Contracts:
    • What are your payment terms and methods? 
    • Do you require upfront payments or staggered payments throughout production?
  7. Penalties and Non-Compliance:
    • What happens if the finished products don’t meet the agreed-upon standards?
    • What are the penalties for delays or non-compliance with delivery schedules?
  8. Working Conditions and Sustainability:
    • Can you provide information about the working conditions in your manufacturing facility?
    • How do you ensure ethical and sustainable practices in your production?
    • Are there any initiatives in place to reduce waste and minimize environmental impact? 

P.S. You can also access these questions in the manufacturer sourcing evaluation sheet!

Red Flags to Watch Out For in Clothing Manufacturers

Listen to your gut. If you’re sensing something is off, don’t turn a blind eye as these small things could snowball once you begin collaborating. Here are some red flags to beware of!

  1. Lack of Transparency: If the manufacturer is hesitant to provide clear and detailed information about their company details, processes, pricing, or terms, it could indicate potential issues down the line.
  2. Unrealistic Promises: Manufacturers that promise extremely fast production times or incredibly low prices that seem too good to be true might be cutting corners or not delivering on quality.
  3. Poor Communication: Difficulty in getting timely and clear responses to your inquiries or concerns could indicate communication challenges throughout the production process.
  4. No Clear Quality Control Process: Manufacturers without a well-defined quality control process may lead to inconsistent or subpar products.
  5. Lack of Specialization: Manufacturers that claim to specialize in everything may not excel in any specific area, potentially compromising the quality of your garments.
  6. Overly Pushy Sales Tactics: Manufacturers that pressure you to make quick decisions or rush into contracts may not have your best interests in mind.
  7. Difficulty in Verifying Credentials: Manufacturers that struggle to provide evidence of certifications, licenses, or other credentials may be lacking in professionalism or compliance.
  8. No Physical Address or Facility Visit: Manufacturers that are hesitant to share their physical address or discourage visits to their production facility might be hiding inadequate conditions or non-existent facilities.
  9. Lack of References or Reviews: If the manufacturer can’t provide references or has no reviews from previous clients, it might indicate a lack of experience or a negative reputation.
  10. Negative Online Reviews or Warnings: Consistent negative feedback from other clients or warnings from industry professionals should not be ignored.

Remember that these red flags are indicators and should be considered in context. While one red flag might not necessarily mean you should say goodbye to a manufacturer entirely, multiple red flags or a consistent pattern should not be taken lightly.

red flags for clothing manufacturers

4. Request for garment samples and quotations

Have you ever ordered something online and then gotten an “expectations vs. reality” moment upon receiving it? Well, that can totally happen with garment samples too. 

This is why it’s crucial to ask for samples and quotations. Send over a completed tech pack and request your first proto. This step lets you see and feel the quality firsthand before committing. Think of it as test driving before buying – you’re making sure your designs align with reality which can help your production journey run smoothly. 

At this point, it’s also a great time to ask for more structured quotations upfront. You can ask them directly how much both small-scale (sample creation) and large-scale runs would cost based on various quantities (e.g., 100 units vs 1,000 units). Remember, prices can vary greatly depending on factors such as order quantity. Use this to your advantage, but also don’t order more just because it’s cheaper! Better to pay more for smaller quantities and sell out, than buy too much and have a ton leftover.

5. Visit the garment manufacturing facility (optional)

While not required, I highly recommend visiting your clothing manufacturer’s facility. A physical visit allows you to observe first hand if they follow good practices in the garment industry, directly employ workers, or have any red flags that might affect production quality.

And not only will you be able to see and confirm that the facility *actually* exists, you can also take this opportunity to form a good relationship with your clothing manufacturer.

In case you’re teaming up with overseas manufacturers or working as a remote technical designer or freelance fashion designer, hiring an independent third-party inspector could be an option. They perform audits and give detailed reports about everything from factory conditions to equipment status – providing invaluable insights without needing your physical presence.

Make the most out of your factory visit by ticking of these items on your checklist:

  • Production Workflow: Gain a comprehensive understanding of the clothing manufacturer’s production process, from pattern making to final quality checks. Inquire about their workflow and how they handle different garment types.
  • Quality Control Measures: Ask about their quality control practices, from initial material checks to finished product inspection. Check if they have a dedicated quality control team or process in place.
  • Working Conditions: Observe the factory’s working conditions, including lighting, ventilation, and overall cleanliness. 
  • Equipment and Technology: Evaluate the machinery and technology they use for garment production and see what can be used for your own product development.
  • Sample Products: Request to see samples of their previous work, especially items similar to what you’re planning to produce. 
  • Red Flags: Be attentive to any warning signs, such as inadequate facilities, reluctance to answer questions, or lack of transparency. These could impact the overall quality of your production.

By covering these aspects during your visit, you can make informed decisions about your manufacturer and establish a solid foundation for good collaboration.

5. Negotiate terms & conditions

When you have finally made the decision to move forward with your chosen clothing manufacturer, it’s time to delve into the details of terms and conditions. Consider things such as payment terms, delivery schedules, quality control standards, even penalties for non-compliance.

  • Pricing Negotiations: While snagging a great deal is always on our minds (who doesn’t love saving money?), remember that it’s a delicate balance between cost-effectiveness and maintaining garment quality. A fair price benefits both parties – think of it as investing in your brand’s reputation.
  • Payment Terms: These could be upfront payments before production starts or staggered payments throughout different stages of the manufacturing process. Whatever the choice – it’s crucial to ensure these fit within your business model without causing any cash flow headaches and bottle necks down the line.
  • Delivery Timelines: Having an agreed-upon schedule helps avoid misunderstandings later on. Depending on factors like order size or complexity of designs, set realistic timelines for both you and your manufacturer.
  • Quality Control Measures and Penalties for Non-Compliance: It’s important to assess the quality control procedures implemented at the manufacturing facility, as well as the potential repercussions for failing to meet established standards. While you may have diligently chosen top-notch manufacturers, unexpected challenges can still emerge during the production process. Being equipped to handle such situations can save you a lot of headaches (and $$$!) down the road.

Choosing the Best Clothing Manufacturer

Finding your ideal manufacturer isn’t as simple as your weekly Sunday afternoon grocery run.

And it’s not just plain trial and error – it requires meticulous planning, thoughtful consideration, and a keen eye for detail. Finding a great clothing manufacturer involves careful evaluation and effective communication to align all the puzzle pieces of your clothing brand. 

With the right tools and strategies, you’ll ultimately connect with a manufacturer that not only brings your designs to life but also becomes a valued collaborator in your fashion brand’s journey.

Good luck on the hunt!


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