Here at virtue + vice, I give you a lot of free information to help demystify the world of apparel manufacturing and supply chain. My goal is always to give you the tools you need to bootstrap so you can start your line on your own. But, this article is to help people who are thinking about hiring a freelancer to their team that can help assist them in manufacturing. If handing over your supply chain and not having to worry about the actual making and manufacturing of your product sounds like a dream come true, hiring a manufacturing consultant might be exactly what it is that your brand needs.
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 Do Manufacturing Consultants Do?
A manufacturing consultant is not the same thing as a manufacturing agent.
What Is The Difference Between A Manufacturing Consultant, A Manufacturing Agent, And A Manufacturing Rep?
Shout outs to one of my students for asking this question last week. She totally inspired this blog post, and made me realize that explaining the difference between a manufacturing consultant and a manufacturing agent is exactly the kind of info that new brand founders need.
The inspiration for some of my best blog posts is from students' questions. Because, they let me know exactly what people are struggling with or find confusing.
Think of manufacturing consultants or production consultant as a guide. You hire them to assist you through the process of taking your garment from idea to reality. They can do everything from reviewing your line and giving design and assortment suggestions, to helping you connect with the supply chain partners you need, to basically doing everything for you (but that is super expensive).
Manufacturing Consultants Are Niche
We are not one size fits all. There are consultants that offer full package, consultants that specialize in textiles only, consultants that do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and even some that only specialize in making tags or only sourcing buttons.
When you start talking to manufacturing consultants make sure to ask lots of questions about their network (we also call this a supplier matrix) and what they specialize in.
A manufacturing agent is a person or company that has relationships with manufacturers and suppliers. They basically act as a middle man between you and the factory. Agents will take upcharges anywhere from 5% and I have seen as high as 200%. That means that if they buy a shirt from a factory for $5 they will charge you anywhere between $5.25 - $15.
I know crazy right?
And, this is part of the reason I always tell people that at the very least they should take my free 7-Day Conscious Startup Crash Course and read the blog post on fabric sourcing is so they can sound professional.
I am going to let you in on an industry secret. As agents and consultants, we know when you have no idea what you are doing. When you think you are sending a professional email (and sure that might be tots aprops working in advertising or marketing) - what we see are like 6 red flags that you are in over your head. This means we (excluding me, because I am trying to help you here) are going to upcharge the crap out of you.
You, my friend, are getting the $15 price instead of $5.25.
Many new brands end up failing because their costing comes out so high that they simply can not make money. Don't let that happen to you. Please, please, please, use my free resources so you sound collected and experienced.
Manufacturing Sales Rep
And, the last person who might be helping you get your produce your line is a manufacturing sales rep. A sales rep is an employee or a mill or factory. They are basically the supplier's local representation. So, a factory in India might have offices with sales reps in NY and London.
You can think of sales reps as your suppliers on the ground sales team. Sales reps are great because they allow the supplier to have a presence in different countries and help build better customer relationships through top-notch customer services. Also, a lot of customers (especially people that are new to fashion) find it easier to work with someone that speaks their language and is close enough that they could meet with in person if needed.
At virtue + vice I Am A Little Bit Of Everything
virtue + vice As A Manufacturing Agent + Rep
virtue + vice is full package, which means that we basically do everything for you. You give us a design and we source everything from the fabrics, to the labels, to the trim. You then get 1 final price that includes everything up until shipping.
For some clients, we even help them with shipping and imports in the USA. We hold a bond, and have excellent relationships with freight forwarders (fancy name for companies that help you ship stuff that is usually cheaper than express carriers like DHL, FedEx, and UPS). You can think of us as the go-to management resource that includes everything from design to logistics, and everything in between.
virtue + vice As A Manufacturing Consultant
This would be my 6-month mentorship program - Launch My Conscious Line - idea to sales in 6 months. Where I basically give you all the tools you need, including access to my supply chain, and then teach you how to get everything done yourself by walking you step by step through the process. Basically, I am consulting you on what to do and how to do it.
The pro of working with a manufacturing consultant is that you learn everything and you get some really good advice from professionals. And, personally, I think it's good to know and understand the entire process when you just starting out. You also tend to save a lot more money in the long run by hiring a consultant compared to an agent.
The downside of going with a manufacturing consulting model is it's a lot more work for you. But, again, I think that extra work is worth it in the long run.
How To Hire Help
If you don't work with me, that's ok. Here are some tips on how to hire a fashion consultant to help you get your brand going and make sure their services are a good match with what you need help getting done.
Before You Reach Out, Get Focused
Know exactly what you need help with. Then when you know what you need help with, make sure to find someone that has those specific skills. For example, if you need help promoting your brand on Instagram, I am definitely not your girl. But, if you need help navigating the waters of international supply chain, I got you.
Make sure you are reaching out to the right person for help.
Hire Someone Who Has Done This Before
The amount of "experts" popping up these days is alarming.
Here are 2 recent examples of people that contacted me whoe got burned by a "sustainability consultant" and needed my help moving forward.
There is a girl who has been trying to sell a course that is almost identical to mine and has been caught a few times copying from my website and blog. The problem is before she "became a fashion consultant" she never worked in fashion. So for her to teach how the manufacturing industry works she basically has to steal her content.
I've had my eye on her, it's kind. of weird, but I mostly just feel sorry for her clients. Paying her all this money for advice she is stealing from others.
I know we talk about imposter sysndrom a lot and moving past it. But some people really are imposters.
Fun fact. One of her past students reached out to me asking "can you give me your supplier list". Firstly, the message was wildly inappropriate. While yes I absolutely love helping people, I am not just going to hand over my list of suppliers I built over a decade to a stranger. But, we got to chatting with her and learned she has no idea what fiber contents, fabric weight, or MOQs were - those are the very basics I give away for free right here.
She spent thousands of dollars and was no further along from really where she started.
Don't let that be you. There are lots of other consultants out there just like me who have worked for decades, some even longer than me, in fashion. When you fork over money for mentorship or to be taught, make sure your teacher knows their stuff from real-world experience.
This happened with a different manufacturing agent. It's interesting because the agent had actually reached out to me and asked me for my "manufacturing list".
What is everyone always asking me for my list?
That's top-secret, took a decade to build, and only for me and my clients. I am not just handing that over to anyone.
Anyway, the manufacturing consultant had a very limited supply chain and one that couldn't really handle small MOQs. So basically she convinced this woman to launch her brand making 300 pieces per style.
Big no, no. Huge.
Small brands out there reading this. Unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on ads and marketing, this is way, way, way too much. Start small with only 20 pieces max. Not only does this allow you to protect your capital, but it makes selling out and then making updates and improvements on future orders much easier.
Not only did they make the mistake of ordering way too much. She made the mistake of not really knowing what their customer wanted.
Anyway, last I spoke to that brand it had been three years and they were still trying to sell out of their first season. (they contacted me for help with sales).
Unfortunately, I could not help them because sales work starts at the R&D phase, it starts on day one, not after production.
Their manufacturing consultant leads them astray on so many levels. And again, this was a woman who never worked in fashion. All of her content and "on the ground experience" was based on a 2 week trip to India.
So, protect yourself, and your dream. Don't get scammed by manufacturing consultants - work with someone who has real experience.
Ask For A Reference
There is nothing wrong with asking for a reference. Most consultants will give you at least one.
But, here is the thing. don't be pushy and don't ask for more. You need to understand that it could literally turn into a full-time job for our clients to field your calls about us.
Please be respectful of our client's time. Send 1 email, ask your questions, and say thank you. They don't want to have a phone call with you. Remember, they have a business to run too.
Go With Your Gut
If you feel like something is a good fit, go with it. One of the lessons I wish I had learned earlier on in business is to trust myself and go with it. Listen to your inner intuition, and you will never make a wrong decision.
Do You Want More Content Like This?
I know this post was a little more, hmmm, how should I put this, gossipy, than the content I normally write. But, I want to help you, and I think the best way to do that is for me to share exactly what can go wrong so you can protect yourself from it happening to you.
I mean, who wants to pay $15 for a shirt that costs $5.25 to make, or wants the stress of a garage full of clothes they can't sell, because an "expert" promised you way more success than they could deliver.
Being a successful brand is more than just finding a supply chain partner, it's about looking at your brand holistically and then kind of becoming a fortune teller that can prevent problems from happening. And, IMO the best way to do that is to learn from others mistakes.
The 6 month course is packed with stories like these that are all about sharing where others went wrong so you can avoid those things from happening to you.
Let me know your thoughts!