Made In The USA: Tips for Producing Your Fashion Line Locally

producing your fashion line locally

How many of you are starting or thinking of producing your fashion line locally here in the USA?

Maybe you’ve tried reaching out to manufacturers and no one is taking you seriously. Or even worse, maybe you’ve already been taking advantage of by manufacturers and you’re wondering, “Is there really anyone out there that I can trust?” That’s why we’re going to talk about made in the USA tips for producing your fashion line locally. A lot of designers – both startups and established – I find have no clue what to expect when trying to produce a line in the USA. So, we’re going to dive deep into the pros and cons of producing domestically versus overseas, things that are going to affect your garment cost, a lot of misconceptions regarding capabilities and lead times, as well as how to work with a factory.

Pros of Producing Domestically

Let’s talk about the differences between domestic and overseas factories. There’s a lot of pros to producing here locally.

1. Quality control. You are definitely going to be able to check on your stuff, go visit the factory, oversee things, and fix problems when they come up a lot quicker and faster.

2. Communication. It’s a lot easier to communicate with American manufacturers than it is to communicate with overseas manufacturers. Those of you who have worked with overseas, you would definitely know what I’m talking about – you ask for green, they gave you blue. There is a lot of miscommunication that can go on when you’re working with overseas vendors and a lot can get lost in translation.

3. Small minimums. Most of you I’m sure that are just starting out are thinking about doing smaller minimums. For the most part, you can pretty much do any quantity you want whereas overseas, there are definitely higher minimums.

4. Faster speed to market. It’s obviously a lot easier to get your stuff here. You’re not waiting for weeks for something to come over on a boat.

5. It’s actually greener. In the US, we have a lot more stricter rules when it comes to what materials you can use and how companies can actually dispose of their waste. You’re using less fuel, since it obviously is less fuel to ship something within the continental US than it is to boat something from let’s say Hong Kong to LA. Then of course thinking about all the pollution, there’s obviously a reason why in China they all wear those facemasks because the pollution is definitely a problem.

Cons of Producing Domestically

There’s clearly a lot of reasons why it’s better to produce here in the US, so why is everyone not producing here? And why is it not as easy as it looks? There’s also a lot of cons to producing your fashion line locally as well.

Course cost

Let’s talk about cost for a minute. The cost of your garment is going to be determined by a number of things.

1. The number of pieces that are actually in the garment. If you are doing something that has a front and back, a side and two sleeves, it’s not that many pieces. However when you’re getting into things that have 20, 30, or 40 pattern pieces – that’s definitely going to cost you a lot more.

2. The type of seam and hand finishes that you’re using. If you’re trying to use things like flat lock stitching or French seems, those are going to cost a lot more than something as simple as an over-lock or marrow stitch.  

3. The lining. The more things put inside your garment, the higher the cost is going to be. How intricate is your design? Are you throwing everything in the kitchen sink on top of this thing or is it very simple?

4. The number of sizes that you do. This is why I always recommend to all my clients to try to keep your size range small – like 4-5 sizes max – because you don’t want to end up doing a gazillion sizes. It’s going to end up costing you more money in the end.

5. The quantity. This is how many you’re actually producing at the end of the day because the more that you produce, the cheaper the cost will be.

6. The factory. Sometimes the cost is determined whether or not the factory actually wants to work with you, or whether they actually want to do it. Some factories are going to charge you more if they think you’re a pain in the butt and they really don’t want to work with you, or they think they are going to have to hold your hand the entire time and they’re going to charge you more for it.

7. The minimum wage. Here in the US, we have minimum wage laws that you have to be paid a certain amount and in New York City, I believe it’s $10 to $15 an hour. In other countries though like China and India, they don’t have these types of laws, so people are paid very little. These workers are paid $1 an hour, $2 an hour, $5 a day – that’s how you’re getting things so cheap when you go to places like Forever 21, Zara, and other mass marketplaces. 

8. The amount of time. Therefore, you have to understand we have laws around minimum wage and you have to pay people a certain amount per hour. So if your garment is very complicated and takes a long amount of time to make, the higher the cost is going to be.  

Capabilities and Misconceptions

The second con of producing here in the USA is understanding capabilities. And there’s a lot of misconceptions when it comes to capabilities of what can actually be produced here locally.

1. The machinery. Not all factories have all types of machinery and it’s not available everywhere. Things like a flat lock machine are not very common in New York City, but they’re very common in LA. Thus if you were to make something like active-wear or swim-wear, you’re better off producing something like that in LA than you would be in New York City. There’s other types of products that are not really good to make here, too, so do your research beforehand.

2. The types of products. I get people all the time coming to me telling me that they want to do a T-shirt line, and they want to sell their T-shirts for $20. You cannot produce a T-shirt – meaning making a T-shirt from scratch, you’re picking the fabric, you’re having its sewn – and sell it at retail for $20 and make a profit in the US. It’s impossible! So, if you’re thinking about doing these low-end type lines where you’re selling things for $20 – $60, it’s not happening here in the USA. I tell people all the time, you really can’t produce something in the US for under $80 retail because the actual labor cost is just too high. Things like hand beading, if you’re doing these crazy hand-beaded evening gowns or something – unless you’re selling them for $20,000, you’re not producing that here. Hand beading is so expensive here because it’s very labor-intensive which requires a lot of time, which adds up when you start adding the minimum wage. Therefore, people make these kinds of things in India because it’s so much cheaper and it’s what they’re good at. You have to have an understanding of the type of products that are not good to make here locally.

3. The range of products and services. If you’re making a wide range of products, meaning you’re doing denim and T-shirts and swim-wear and children’s wear or something, that would be pretty ridiculous. You’re not going to be able to find one factory that’s going to be capable of doing all of those products well for you. There might be factories that tell you that they can do all those products, but they probably won’t be able to do them very well. So, you are going to end up working with a lot of different factories whereas overseas, a lot of times you can find one factory that can do everything for you. You have to understand that a lot of the factories here are not vertical, meaning they can’t offer you all of the services that a lot of overseas factories can offer you. Things like being able to do your fabric sourcing, create your tech packs for you, and provide labels and hangtags – a lot of the manufacturers in the US don’t do all of that. A lot of them, especially in New York City, don’t even do their cutting in-house because it takes too much space to have a cutting room or have a cutting area. New York City rent is so high that these manufacturers don’t even want to pay for the space to have it, so they outsource everything and then probably refer you to somebody that can do your cutting, hangtags, labels, and fabric sourcing. We do a lot of fabric sourcing and tech packs for our clients for that very reason because a lot of manufacturers here don’t offer those types of services.

Lead Times

The next misconception is lead times. Everyone thinks that you can produce here faster because you’re not having to wait for a boat and so on and so forth. This is true, but keep in mind most manufacturers in the US are going to quote you a 4-6 week lead time and there’s many reasons for this. One, you’re not their only customer, and two, it just depends when they actually receive all the things that they actually need from you. Most startup designers don’t actually have everything prepared on time and ready to go to give to the manufacturer so that they can actually start their productions. Therefore, you’re going to need more wiggle room to get all that stuff ready. Additionally, keep in mind most of your fabrics are not being produced here locally. There are very few mills still left in the US, so most of your fabrics are still coming from overseas. Thus, you still have to wait a while to actually produce your line here , unless your fabric is in stock or depending how much you are actually ordering to get your fabric. Also understand that when other countries have their holidays – such as Chinese New Year which is typically in February and when all of Europe goes on vacation in August – things get really crazy here in the US. People know they can’t get stuff made from overseas, so they come here and make stuff in America. We used to do it all the time for all the fashion companies that I worked for. So, February and August are the busiest times to get anything produced here in the US and you’re most likely to have a lead time of 8 weeks or longer during that time just because everyone is trying to get stuff all at once. So, you have to kind of keep these things in mind when you’re thinking about producing your fashion line locally often.

Working With A Manufacturer

Now that you have a little bit background on producing your fashion line locally, let’s talk about how to actually work with a manufacturer. There’s a lot of factory etiquette and I feel like most of this is common sense, but common sense isn’t always common. I feel like a lot of you can use a refresher on this, so let’s go over it.

1. Don’t just show up at a factory unannounced. They are a business, so you want to respect their time, call or email ahead of time, and make a proper appointment to meet with someone to go over your project.

2. Do your research. Make sure that you are contacting a factory that’s actually capable of doing the type of products that you design. If not, you’re just wasting their time and they’re not going to be happy about it. So definitely do your research before reaching out to a manufacturer.

3. Have a go-to list of questions to ask. You want to have your questions prepared when you’re meeting with these manufacturers. We have an entire cheat sheet on questions to ask when you’re sourcing your manufacturers along with more tips in our Source, Design, Create online course.

4. Always follow-up. After the meeting is over, make sure you follow-up with them and send them an email. Always thank them for their time – they will definitely appreciate this so much more.

5. View your relationship with this factory as a partnership. They want you to succeed so you are going to come back and keep bringing them more business. So, you want to view it as a partnership, you want to think about it as you know they are helping you as much as you are helping them. Don’t be that crazy person that’s disrespectful and screaming and making all these crazy demands – they will throw you out in a second and not take you seriously.

6. They don’t get paid to teach you. You need to understand that they get paid to make things for you. So, if they find that you don’t understand what you’re talking about – they constantly have to explain things and go over things – they’re going to be very annoyed and they’re not going to want to work with you. I work with a lot of manufacturers that honestly won’t even work with you unless you are client of mine, and that’s the relationship I have with them because they know that if you’re working with me, I’m properly training you and it’s going to save them so much time and headache along the way. There are some manufacturers that just flat out won’t work with you unless you are a Fashion Angel Warrior client and there’s other manufacturers that are just going to turn you away and kind of dismiss you if they think they are going to sit there and hold your hand and teach you along the way. Just keep that in mind and understand that if that’s happened to you, that could be part of the reason why.

7. Most factories don’t need a tech pack right away. You just need to give them a quick sketch, a flat sketch front back side, detail views with some construction call out, some hem and seam finishes, your fabric information, fabric swatches, some specs, and some measurements. They just need basic information to get started, so don’t go crazy making this full-blown tech pack in the beginning and paying someone to do these crazy tech packs for you because half the time things are going to change in the development process. You are going to go through iterations of iterations of different garments by the time you’re done with this whole thing and your whole idea could change. So, there’s no point in spending all this money doing a beautiful tech pack until you’re actually at the end and the garment is perfected and you’re ready to go to production.

8. Don’t ask a factory to sign a non-compete or an NDA. Most factories that I work with will not sign them – they will not take you seriously and will definitely think you are a newbie if you say can you please sign an NDA and a lot of them just won’t do it. It’s impossible for them to protect your stuff – there’s just too many people that come into the factories that see stuff, they have got too many employees working there, they have got designers coming in, checking on their own things, they got people like me, consultants coming in – so that would be impossible for them to actually protect your stuff so that no one would see. Your idea isn’t as good as you think it is or you know it doesn’t need to be protected as much as you think it does, so get over the whole NDA thing and just work with the factory.

9. Don’t try to negotiate a price right off the back. You have no leg to stand on. You haven’t given them any business, you haven’t proven that you’re going to be successful, so it’s really important that you don’t try to go in there with the negotiating type of attitude right off the back and start negotiating price. You want to develop that relationship, again this is a partnership, so you want to develop that relationship with them so that they take you seriously and want to actually work with you. Otherwise, they will just turn you away at the end of the day.

Those are some of my tips for producing your fashion line locally and working with a manufacturer. If you have any additional questions, I also recommend taking our Production Like A Pro online course or working with us 1-on-1 to get my verified list of manufacturers.

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Fashion Consultant Christine Daal

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