Let me guess. You have an idea, maybe you've even been thinking about it for years. And, now you are finally ready to pull the trigger and make your dream of starting a clothing company come true. The problem? The world of apparel manufacturing can feel like being transported to a foreign country without access to google translates. The truth is, there are so many ways to get your custom apparel made (so many it can feel overwhelming at times), but today I am going to go over just one of them (that, btw, I highly recommend all start-up clothing brands consider) - cut and sew manufacturers.
But, before we get started - make sure to sign up for the FREE Sourcing Secrets Workshop. Plus, I will be doing a live Q+A at the end to get all your startup questions answered!
The first 2 workshops filled up with over 400 registrants! So, I am doing one last session on September 29th @ 8:00pm et (that's NY time), for everyone that missed out!
If you can give me 1 hour of your time I can teach you the three biggest mistakes startup founders make while sourcing their products, and what you should be doing instead.
What Is A Cut And Sew Manufacturer?
A Quick Definition
Learning all of the vocab of the apparel industry can feel impossible - but, don't worry I am here to help. In this case, cut and sew manufacturing is actually pretty simple and exactly what it sounds like. Cut and sew manufacturing is the process of taking a garment pattern, tracing it onto fabric, cutting the fabric, and then sewing the custom-cut pieces into a garment.
Easier said than done...
When you are looking for cut and sew services here is a hint, try also searching for sewing contractors. These are companies that are basically either their own independent factory or have a network of factories that can help you sew apparel.
But, aren't all clothes made this way?
What Can't A Cut And Sew Manufacturer Help You With?
While cut and sew manufacturers are a great place to start making your custom clothing runs, sadly they can't help you with everything that you might want to make.
If you plan on making seamless knits, full fashion knits, or shoes + accessories, you will need to find someone else that has those special capabilities.
Because a lot of startups don't realize they are making styles that fall into one of the three categories, I am going to quickly go ever them.
Again, these are exactly what they sound like. A garment that does not have any sewn seams. An example would be a sweater that was knit with two needles - like, made the old-fashioned way. But, now there are machines that can do this, and they are much more efficient. And, the technology has progressed so it’s not just sweaters it's things like athletic bras, and yoga pants.
Full Fashion Knits
Full fashion knits are kind of like seamless knits, but they do have some seams. Generally, panels of the pattern are made on the knitting machine. Then, a special machine links the pieces together. Notice, I didn’t say sew here. The linking process is more like using yarn (instead of thread) to loop the panels together.
What is important to remember with seamless and full fashion knits is that we skip the textile phase. The garment comes straight from the yarn. There is no fabric to cut and then sew.
Shoes + Accessories
Shoes and accessories require their own set of different machines. Especially leather products. You need really strong needles and machines to sew through layers of leather. That is why, generally, a regular cut and sew factory is not the place for shoes or accessories.
What Is The Number One Pro Of Using A Cut And Sew Manufacturing Service?
Or, lowish MOQs (minimum order quantities). The problem with seamless and full fashion knits is that the MOQs for these types of designs tend to have extremely high minimums. And high minimums are generally what small startups want to avoid.
With, cut and sew, if you find the right suppliers, you can get super low minimums and make as little as 1 piece of a style.
Full Package vs Nominated Supplier
These are two terms that you will hear thrown around a lot. And, newbies never know what they mean.
Full package means that your clothing manufacturer will do everything for you. They will make your pattern, source your fabric, and even buy the poly bags and boxes to ship in.
Basically they will take care of and source everything that has to do with your product.
A nominated supplier is a supplier that you found yourself. And then, you tell the factory that you want them to buy fabric, or labels + tags, or buttons, or whatever from that person.
A Look Behind The Seams Of How A Cut And Sew Factory Operates
There are four main areas of a cut and sew factory or sample room. Well, there are actually a ton of mini-steps happening in between, but there is a lot of information in this article, so we are going to keep it simple for now.
A production order will go through four zones of a factory they are - fabric inspection, cutting, sewing, and quality assurance.
This is a really important step in the process, that some small sampling rooms tend to skip. What happens in this step is all of your fabric is unrolled and checked for any defects.
Now, the fabric mill should have also checked for any damages before sending the fabric to the factory. But, it is also important to double-check when the factory receives the fabric. Because the mill could have not done a great job inspecting. Or, there could have been damage from the shipping process.
With small sample runs each layer of fabric is cut individually with a giant pair of scissors. But, when you are making hundreds, or even thousands of pieces, the factory will stack the fabric up, and use a chain saw to cut all of the layers. Yes, I said chain saw.
In a small sample room, generally, only one person will sew your entire garment.
But in a larger factory, one person might only be in charge of sewing on the right sleeve, and another person the collar. That is because, to be more efficient, in larger factories, sewers need to be highly specalized. So, they become perfect at one task, by doing it over and over again.
This is another step that is super important. Quality assurance is the final step. This is where the facotry checks the final garments. They look for things like loose yarns, good quality stitching, and even things like a broken sewing needs that might have gotten stuck in the seams.
How To Find + Vet A Cut And Sew Manufacturer That Is Right For Your Brand
My number one tip? Don’t just settle for the first person that will take on your order. I know it can be tempting to just go with the first person who doesn’t say, "sorry your order is too small for us".
Do Yourself A Favor. And, Shop Around.
Get a few quotes, and make sure you are comfortable with the vibe of the person you are working with.
I have said it before, and I will say it again (like the true manufacturing broken record I have become). Working with a supply chain partner isn’t just about hiring someone. It’s hiring someone that is going to be crucial member on your team.
Look At The Current Product Range
The other thing you want to spend a lot of time doing when hiring a cut and sew factory is taking a good look at the current product range. For example, if everything they are making for current clients is in the world of athleisure, then raincoats might not be the best fit.
Ask About The Machines
This goes back to the type of product. Some types of products require special machines. An example of this is swimsuits. Your factory should have something called a flatlock machine. This machine will help keep the seams extra stretchy and prevent them from ripping.
Oh, hey it’s me, borken record, here again. On this blog, I have probably said this 20+ times. But, just in case you are new here, or forgot - always, always, geta reference.
Some Work Might Need To Be Out Sourced
Think things like embroidery, sublimation printing, screen printing, or even making buttonholes. All of this type of work might need to be outsourced to other industry specialists.
Kind of crazy, right? There are people in this industry who have entire (successful) businesses only making buttons holes.
When you start working with a factory, always remember to get clear on what they are doing in house, and what they will be subcontracting out.
And, As Always…
Please let me hear your thoughts in the comments section!