Clothing Manufacturers For Small Orders
Looking for clothing manufacturers for small orders to help take your fashion brand from idea to made? New brands are often intimidated by the high MOQs - lowest minimum order quantities - that many of the well-known factories demand. So they feel like they are left with only two options – invest heavily in large quantities of inventory or give up.
It might take a little extra work, but I want you to know there are small batch clothing manufacturers out there that are perfect for your small business.
This blog post is going to teach you how to find and work with clothing manufacturers for small businesses in two parts. First, I will teach you best practices for working with small quantity clothing manufacturers; then I will share a few of my favorites.
Here is why the first part is soooo important.
Just because you have the email address, or direct phone number to an amazing factory, that doesn’t mean they will want to work with you. Competition to get into good factories is steep, and making a good first impression is critical.
Think of it this way. It’s like getting a resi to an amazing restaurant, you wait 2 weeks to get to go, then you show up and can’t get in because you didn’t know about the dress code. So, close yet so far. I want factories excited to work with you (not ignoring you), so please don’t skip this first part.
I am here to help you on your clothing business journey, and sometimes that means not just giving you the info you are looking for, but even more!
BUT BEFORE WE GET STARTED...
Have you heard about the super secret document that everyone in the fashion industry uses, but no one is talking about? Probably not. That is because you can't find it on Google or Instagram (believe me, I've tried).
It's a form I have used for over 13 years at every job I have ever had. Literally everyone from brands to fabric suppliers use it, but you can't find it anywhere publicly.
The best part? It can cut your sourcing time in half, and save you tons of money in product development! This is the kind of info consultants charge the big bucks for. And, I'm giving it away for free until the end of the month.
So, get ready to make fashion startup life a whole lot easier, and GRAB YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD OF THE NOT-SO-SECRET SOURCING DOC HERE
In this post, you will learn:
- Why finding a clothing manufacturer with low minimum orders is hard
- 3 things you need to do, to turn a no from a factory into a yes
- The best sourcing trip you can take for your small business
- Online sourcing resources I love to find clothing manufacturers for small orders
- Nontraditional supply chain options perfect for small brands
- 3 things a manufacturer must do before you work with them (I know, it can feel like such a relief when someone finally says yet to you - but you still need to do your due diligence)
- Additional resources to help you even more
WHY ARE FASHION MANUFACTURING MOQs SO HIGH?
First things first . . .
Quick reminder – MOQ means minimum order quantity, or the minimum amount you need to order for a factory to agree to work with you.
The reality is it takes a factory the same amount of effort to source and develop styles for an order of 10 shirts as it does for an order of 10,000.
Sounds crazy, but it's true. Let me explain.
There are nine steps leading up to a style moving to production, and these steps are exactly the same no matter what size the production order is. If you want to learn more about each step, you can check out this article. But to quickly recap it – here are all the things that need to happen.
- Pattern making
- Fit samples
- Fit sample revisions
- Pattern revisions
- Fabric, trim, and component sourcing (sometimes working with up to 10 different supply chain partners to get everything needed to make a garment - from fabric to thread to labels and tags)
- Fabric, trim, and component sampling
- Proto samples/production quality sample (includes ordering sample fabric, trim, etc.)
- Pattern grading
- Ordering all components and organizing shipping and logistics to the factory
A LOT of time, energy, and resources (read money) go into all of this. And again, it’s the same whether a factory is making 10 garments or a million.
So, from just a staying-in-business perspective, some factories need to have high MOQs just to cover the cost of all the development and pre-production work that goes into sampling.
IF IT COSTS SO MUCH TO DEVELOP, HOW ARE FACTORIES ABLE TO TAKE ON SMALL MOQs?
Traditionally, a factory will charge a client about 2x the bulk production rate for sampling, including pattern making, sourcing, and the whole shebang. So if a shirt costs $10 in production, the sample will cost $20.
The factory ends up losing a lot of money. But there is this unspoken deal in the industry that if you sample with someone, you will work with them in production. And in production, the factory will make back the sampling costs, plus a lot in profits.
This is also why factories don’t really like working with startups – there is no guarantee the brand will ever launch, give them a bulk order, and help the factory recoup the money spent on product development.
Now, if a factory is making tiny MOQs, there is no way they can sustain this, so manufacturing partners that help startups with small orders charge a fair rate for the costs of the sampling. So instead of $20, factories might charge $200 or more for the same sample with a low MOQ. And, this way, you can make as little as 10 pieces if you want to – because they aren’t relying on that bulk order to make their money back.
Now, please don’t get any cute ideas and try to lie and say you are going to make big MOQs to get cheap sampling. It’s a great way to burn bridges and get a terrible reputation in the fashion manufacturing world. We all talk, we all know each other, and you don’t want factories to start deleting your emails without even opening them because they know you lied to their friend about big orders that never came last season.
DO THESE 3 THINGS BEFORE YOU START WORKING WITH A SMALL BATCH CLOTHING MANUFACTURER
Now that you understand why finding a low MOQ factory can be difficult, I want to help prepare you to make the best first impression possible. So, before you press send on that email, I need you to do these three things.
Remember low MOQ factories are scarce, and there are more and more people starting brands every day. Some factories even have 3-month waits, before they will even schedule the first meeting with you. So, this means you need to stand out as a professional.
TASK 1 - CREATE A BUDGET
This is the most important thing you can do for the success of your brand. And it is often the most overlooked.
If you don’t have a budget, you can’t get started.
One more time for the people in the back – even if you plan to crowdfund, you still need a budget. Because crowdfunding is unpredictable, you could raise $100 or thousands.
Your budget is what is going to allow you to estimate the number of styles you can afford to make and your MOQ. The point of your budget at this time isn’t to figure everything out to the penny. It’s just to get a general idea. By the end of your first budgeting exercise, you should be able to say, “With the money I have, I can afford to make about x styles in y colors and place a production order of z pieces per style.
Now, a lot of new founders think they need to talk to a factory to figure this out.
In this post about working with fabric suppliers, I break down exactly how to estimate your costs without ever having to contact a supplier.
The bottom line? When you set a budget, you set yourself up for success. I have helped over 200 people start their fashion businesses, and I can tell you this – the ones that have a solid budget are much more likely to succeed than the brands that don’t. Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is, or how much the world needs it if you run out of money.
And knowing your budget looks good to manufacturing partners. Because when you can show them your have taken the time to make a budget, they trust you will make it past sampling and into production (again, production is where clothing manufacturers for small orders will be making most of their profits).
TASK 2: NAIL DOWN YOUR DESIGNS
You need to know what you want to make. And not just a vague idea. Your designs should be nailed down and about 90% finalized before you start talking to custom clothing manufacturers.
That is because the factory you work with will be determined by the designs. There are some clothing manufacturers for small orders that make everything, but most factories are very specialized. They only make one type of product, whether it's woven women's wear, t-shirts, or swimsuits. Some factories will not work with luxury fabrics like silk and satin, while others only do that.
A lot of times, I see new founders thinking they found the perfect supplier.But once they finalize their designs and send them to the factory, the factory says, “Sorry, we don’t do those types of styles.”
(It actually happens way more than you think).
I know, I get it. You’re probably very anxious about finding a factory and checking that off your to-do list. But finalizing your designs will save you time in the long run.
TASK 3: DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT YOUR CLOTHES TO BE MADE
Where in the world do you want to make your product?
Some parts of the world specialize in different types of products. An example of this is with swimwear – there are actually five major hubs of swimwear production, they are – the USA, China, Brazil, Bali, and Italy. If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of deciding where to make your clothing line, you can check out this article.
The reason you want to decide where you want your clothes to be made first is because, domestic and overseas clothing manufacturers opperate very differently. And, you you try to research both at the same time you will probably end up feeling overwhelmed.
THE BIG QUESTION - Domestic Clothing Manufacturers vs. Overseas
Here is my opinion on this great debate.
For startup brands, I recommend getting started close to home for not just one, but three different reasons.
1. Work in person without time zone or communication issues.
I like to call this face time. No, not the video calling thing, but actually spending time with your factory in person.
What over a decade in this industry has taught me is that anything is possible and everything is negotiable. That is, if your supply chain partner likes you. And the best way to get them to like you and build a strong working relationship with you is to spend time with them in person. Sorry, Zoom, the digital stuff will never replace IRL, IMO.
When I worked in fast fashion, I can’t tell you how many times my boss would beg a factory to do something for him, and the factory would refuse. Then I would ask, and they would be like, “sure” (because they liked me).
The other benefit of working with a factory close to home is that you won’t have language barriers. Different countries communicate in different ways and have their own fashion industry lingo. For example, what most of us know as a clothing seam is often called a joint in India.
Speaking the same language makes learning a new fashion language a lot easier.
2. Save on shipping and logistics prices.
Shipping these days is expensive. And if you are shipping fabric swatches, lab dips, strike-offs, samples, and all the product development things halfway across the world, those costs are going to add up quickly.
Even though the production cost in developing countries tends to be much lower than in the West, by the time brands factor in all the development costs and shipping, they aren’t actually saving very much money.
3. No cultural learning curve, holidays, etc.
When you work in a different country for the first year or two, you are going to be constantly surprised.
Random holidays you had no idea existed and even the weather are going to delay your timelines.
One thing most people don’t realize when working in India is how slow things become in the monsoon. Yeah, during the fall, they might be able to crank out your order in a month, but during the rainy season, good luck – another month to two could be added to your calendar.
Once a brand is a few seasons in, their orders are growing, and they’re learning the ins and outs of the garment manufacturing world, then they can start exploring overseas options.
Now, if you want to skip straight to overseas, I suggest hiring someone to help manage your project who knows the lay of the land. I offer private consulting, which you can check out here.
To sum it all up - the reason small businesses often have more luck finding a manufacturer close to home for the small orders is because it is just easier.
Overseas partners often feel like not only are they spending time teaching new brands the ins and outs of getting their garments made, but also have to offer them a crash course in the local culture. It’s just too much free work for them.
For example every time I have a new client working in India for the first time, that first bank transfer is painful. Something as simiple as paying a deposit becomes a days long tutorial (sorry we don’t have Zelle, Venmo, or even Paypal here).
THE ONLY GARMENT SOURCING TRIP YOU SHOULD PLAN
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love trade shows. Here is a list of my favorite textile trade shows.
And, this is why trade shows are so great. They are a one-stop shop for global suppliers who actually want to work with you. So much so, that these suppliers are paying tens of thousands of dollars to travel and participate in the shows.
Back in the day, tradeshow suppliers were mostly focused on big orders. But, times have changed, and that is no longer the case. Some shows even have special fashion startup areas that feature clothing manufacturers for small orders.
And when you attend a trade show, there are also tons of free seminars and talks. So they are a great place to get educated at no cost to you.
If your budget for your brand is going to restrict your ability to travel, going to a trade show is what I would spend those limited dollars on.
Can’t make it to a show live? Most trade shows now have digital components as well. So, you can check out digital showrooms and chat with suppliers on their websites from your home.
ONLINE SOURCING RESOURCES THAT EVERY STARTUP FASHION BRAND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
Speaking of digital sourcing . . .
Here are a few of the most buzzworthy online sourcing resources that every fashion startup founder should know about. Not only do they have deep connections to suppliers, but they also help you stay organized and on top of your communication and orders.
Their promoted partners range from mega suppliers with huge MOQs to clothing manufacturers for small orders that are perfect for startup brands.
But, they do have their downfalls. Fabric sourcing and garment manufacturing are very physical businesses - it’s important to see, feel, and touch the quality. So, be careful and understand the limitations when working online.
“Built to support emerging brands and aspiring fashion designers who struggled to connect with the right clothing manufacturers to launch their businesses.”
“We developed an automated omnichannel sourcing platform and integrated order management tool to help your brand build a digitalized, faster, leaner and more responsible supply chain, all in one place with industry-leading, reliable, responsible and sustainable suppliers across the globe.”
“A global network that brings people, organizations, and innovative ideas together. We make textile sourcing smarter, transparent, and more sustainable.”
(FYI - I DO NOT RECOMMEND MAKERS ROW AFTER 2 BAD EXPERIENCES WITH THE COMPANY AND THEIR CLOTHING MANUFACTURING SERVICES)
THE BEST NON-TRADITIONAL SUPPLY CHAIN HACK TO FIND CLOTHING MANUFACTURERS FOR SMALL ORDERS
Sample rooms and home sewers.
Sample rooms are like mini-factories, with one or two sewing machines. And an alternative to that would be a home sewer, just like it sounds, someone who sews from their home.
Now, the pro is that these apparel manufacturers are more than happy to take on really tiny production orders. The downside is that they might not be able to scale with you, so they are not always a long-term solution.
When I tell founders to try out one of these options, I usually get pushback because they are convinced that if their product is not made in a traditional factory, it will not be professional or high quality.
But this is very false. Independent sewers are some of the best clothing manufacturers for small orders around!
A lot of people (especially women) go out on their own after working in factories for years. They are highly trained and are starting their own mini businesses for the same reason you are starting your own clothing business. The freedom, control of their own paycheck, and all the other perks that come along with being a small business owner.
I would even go as far as to argue that if you are into true women’s empowerment, this is the ONLY option to choose.
3 THINGS A MANUFACTURER NEEDS TO DO BEFORE YOU START WORKING WITH THEM
You know - what you need to do and, how to find a manufacturer for your small business. Now, let’s discuss some things THEY should do before you decide to work with them.
Remember, you are always in control of your supply chain. Yes, finding a supplier that is a good fit is hard. But I hate it when new brands start working with the first person that answers their emails.
You don’t just have to accept the first person that responds to you. Be picky!
Just because your order is small doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have options. Or, that you shouldn't be able to vet your supplier properly. Be choosey.
Before you start working with anyone, make sure to do these three things.
1. TALK TO REFERENCES
If a factory tells you they sign NDAs so they can’t share clients with you, that is a blazing red flag.
Whenever a new supplier gives me this excuse, I respond, “I am sure you must have one client that you have become friends with over the years that would be happy to vouch for you.”
If they don’t, I can’t stress this enough. Don’t work with them.
2. LOOK AT SAMPLES
Most factories have showrooms with samples from past projects that they can show you. This can give you an idea about the type of garments they can make and prove that they can make good quality clothing for your brand.
While clothing manufacturers for small orders might have fewer examples to show than a big factory showroom, they should still have something.
Quick tip. When you look at samples, you are not just looking at the quality, but also the type of garment. If you want to make swimsuits and every sample in the showroom is a t-shirt... Well, this factory might not be the best fit.
3. GIVE PRICING
It is impossible for clothing manufacturers for small orders to give you accurate pricing until they make your sample. They need to see how much fabric the garment consumes (the more fabric, the higher the price) and how long the garment takes to make (the longer it takes to sew, the higher the price).
But what they can do is tell you approximately how much it will cost. Because if your target price is $30 per garment in production and they are quoting $50, you know they won’t be a good fit. So, why waste your time sampling with them?
ADDITIONAL SOURCING RESOURCES
Here are a few more articles to check out for even more help.
- Where to source sustainable fabrics (list includes suppliers)
- Affordable mentorship options
- My favorite hack to launch your brand faster
- Tips for working with fabric suppliers
- Everything you need to know about tech packs
WHAT DID YOU THINK?
What step are you on in finding your perfect clothing manufacturing partner? Let me know in the comments.
Tim steward —
looking for tshirt designers to start with for clothes line but unique style/cut shirts
Riddle Apparel —
Fab keep it support from garments manufacturer