Sourcing in India is exciting - there are so many beautiful handmade, high-quality options for startup fashion brands to choose from. And, because India has a rich history in the cottage industries movement, with the help of the government many small mom and pop suppliers have been able to survive and stay open. That's good news for a startup company because these tiny family-owned units generally love to take on new brands with super small MOQs. But, sourcing in India can have its downsides. India is wild and chaotic (compared to the ease and simplicity of manufacturing systems in countries like China), getting your barrings can be difficult and takes some brands years to figure out. Because of that, you might want to consider working with an India sourcing agent like me. But, if you want to DIY it - here is what you need to know to navigate India's apparel landscape.
A Few Tips
Before we get started here are a few good rules and tips to make your India entry strategy as smooth as possible.
Never Meet People In Facebook Groups - Use Trade Shows Instead
If you have been following the blog for a while, you most definitely have probably heard me give this advice before. And, I keep repeating it because it is really good advice. You are a busy person that is learning a lot, so, I don't want you to forget.
There are not a lot of certainties in life. But I can promise you this, if you meet a supplier in a Facebook group you are most likely going to get ripped off.
That is because the good suppliers have customers coming to them, and are not spending time spamming internet groups.
So how do you become one of those people that actively seek out suppliers? And, doesn't have to rely on internet spam? Easy. Go. to tradeshows. Tradeshows are industry events where pre-vetted (read, you can trust them) suppliers from all over the world come to do business. Here is a list of a few of my favorites.
Always Get References - But, Boundaries, People!
Once you find a supplier that feels like a good fit - always get a reference. If they give you some story about how their clients are private, and this and that, simply say "I am sure you must have some showroom samples to show me". If they don't, move on.
For the most part, I have stopped giving out my clients contact info to use as reference. Potential brands got way too aggressive with them. (One even tried to demand an hour-long phone call - not from me, from my client!) So, being on the manufacturing end, I totally get why factories don't want to share their client details. It's not their client's job to field your calls.
But, at the very least they should be able to share a few products they have made. And, prove they are capable of making the type of product you need before any money changes hands for services and you start doing business together.
Geographical Location Is Important
Like, probably the most important part of sourcing India products. And, for the rest of this blog article, I am going to talk mostly about geographic-based sourcing.
The idea of geographic-based sourcing is not unique to India. Every country has different manufacturing hubs. For example here in the USA, LA is great at churning out athleisure. Miami has some top-of-the-line swim factories (also, FYI, lots of cosmetics factories). And, NY specilises in more high-end designs. Now, that is not to say you could not make swim in NY, or couture in LA. But, to make your life easier, you might want to start your supplier search by looking in the right area first.
There are even entire countries that are known for specific things. Like Romania and Turkey are great for handmade laces (yes I purposely left out France and Italy there).
A lot of times when startups speak to me about their sourcing frustrations I realize that they are trying to make the wrong product in the wrong place. Once they are able to learn the where, their sourcing efforts become easier, and their supply chain is able to quickly fall into place.
markets and ultra-low MOQs
Delhi is kind of like the China of India. What do I mean by that? Well, you can find almost anything in the market. If you have manufactured in China, you are probably familiar with their markets. Sham Shui Po in HK is an example of one of these markets.
Basically, all of the leftover fabrics, trims, and anything a factory isn't using or able to sell goes to the markets to be sold as available stock. In China, these markets are all over the place, and highly organized. And, to be frank, no one in the world is able to do this quite as well as China.
But the markets in Delhi are the closest thing you can get in India. These markets are the perfect place for small brands to start out. You can buy available fabrics that are ready to use. Or, you can buy greige fabrics and then have your supplier print or dye them for you. If they don't have the fabric you need, sometimes they can direct you to one of their friends down the road. Or, even better, they can contact the factory they originally got the fabric from on your behalf and get more for you.
Hey, small startsup's are you listening?
Markets are your low MOQ loophole. One of my favorite spots is the vintage sari guy. First, the prints and fabrics are amazing. And, you know no other brands out there are going to have the same thing as you because they are true vintage and basically one of a kind at this point.
the NYC of India
While Bangalore is technically knowns as the San Francisco of India (lots and lots of tech here) IMO I think of Bengaluru as the apparel manufacturing equivalent to NYC.
What do I mean by that? It's expensive.
The reality is that things in NYC, and Bangalore, cost more because the cost of living in these cities is higher. But, one of the things you need to think about when choosing a geographic location to work in, is do you want to be there?
Personally, I hate Delhi. Yea, I said what I said. The pollution is unbearable, every time I go I get some sort of lung infection. And, don't even get me started on the traffic. Driving a few miles can take hours - this is not an exaggeration. And, if I am going to get really really honest, it is one of the most unsafe places for women.
But, I love Bangaluru. It just has a good vibe. And, is very western (btw, when people say a city is "western" it's ex-pat code for "safe for women"). There is also a great nightlife scene. As someone from the west, Bengaluru is an easier cultural transition than Delhi.
So, yeah, it might be worth it for you and your brand to pay that big city premium. And then have an easier time getting your feet wet in India sourcing at the beginning.
And, to answer the questions I am sure you might be thinking right now - is it worth it? Yes. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. I have found some really, high-quality (think like luxury fashion groups in Europe use them) suppliers in Bangalore.
I have mentioned it before and I'll say it again, I love Ahmedabad. The food, the people (read, how safe it is for women to wander the streets in the middle of the night), did I mention the food. FYI, Gujarti food is different than any other type of Indian food, and to understand what I am saying you just have to try it. Anyway, while I don't do a ton of work in Ahmedabad, I will make any excuse possible to go for a little weekend getaway.
While Ahmedabad is known as one of the places that Gandhi spent a majority of his life, (Gandhi is often pictured at a spinning wheel, and known for his work in the hand weaving community) there isn't much actual weaving going on. There is however an amazing textile museum, the Calico Museum. You need to buy tickets for literally months in advance. So, make sure to book it early.
But while it's not the destination for handweaving (more on that in a second) - my absolute favorite fabric store in the world is in Ahmedabad. All-natural plant-based dyes, hand-loomed fabrics, and reasonable prices - this is where I take people to really fall in love with Indian textiles. Sorry, not sorry - I reserve this contact only for people that come and experience India with me.
But there are also lot of other handicraft goods. Ahmedabad while not a manufacturing hub, has lots a really special artistan shops that have items you can't find anywhere else in India.
Kutch is a village in Gujarat a few hours away from Ahmedabad (depending on traffic). It is famous for its artisan clusters. You can think of artisan clusters like local artisan networks. And, omg some of the fabrics that these artisans make are amazing.
My advice, book the trip, wander around, you'll find people everywhere making amazing things.
more artisan weaving
Maheshwar is another artisan cluster in Madhya Pradesh. The region is infamous for being quite dangerous for women. But there are many NGOs in the area that are doing good work to help empower women with high-paying artisan jobs, coupled with education to help protect women.
The fabrics are beautiful. But, the pricing is errr, "not competitive" (competitive pricing is industry code for "we want it cheaper") so, be prepared to pay a lot more than some other areas of the country.
So, is it worth the soucring trip? I think so.
Jaipur is rich in block printing culture. It is also one of my favorite cities and it is no coincidence that I do a majority of my business there, and it has become my second home in India. The city aligns with everything I want (minus the pollution that is getting worse every year).
First off, the city is picturesque - just google it. And secondly they are very environmentally conscious. In Jaipur it is almost impossible to dye polyester (in general, poly uses much more environmentally damaging dyes than fibers like rayon or cotton). To my knowlege, there are only two palcse to dye polyester in Jaipur, and they are technically just right outside the city.
Suppliers in the area are dedicated to using natural fabrics, and natural dyes. They want to preserve their city and not have it turn into the toxic place that Delhi has become.
One of the things people come to Jaipur for is block printing. Block printing is a method of carving wooden blocks and then using the carvings to stamp fabrics with the patterns. The process is great because it uses less electricity and water than conventional printing, and also creates lots of jobs in the process.
My advice, if you were thinking about trying to work in Bangalore because it's a very liveable city, also consider checking out Jaipur.
Tamil Nadu Area
Most of the knitting mills in India are in the south. So, if you are trying to source t-shirts or athleisure, you might want to start your search in the south, specifically Tamil Nadu and the surrounding areas.
Up north, for example in Jaipur, you find more factories that primairly focus on wovens.
Auroville: The City of Dawn
Auroville is a unique place - "Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity."
While they say "There is no money, no government, no religion, no skyscrapers or expressways, no newspapers with headlines of war, poverty, and genocide. Built for 50,000 people, Auroville today has only about 2,500 permanent residents and roughly 5,000 visitors—self-selected exiles from more than 100 countries." - you will find businesses just outside the city like Faborg - who creates vegan wool out of plants.
Another place to check out for all thing eco manufacutring (and is always an amazing vacation destination) is Pondicherry.
This Isn't The End-All India Sourcing List
There are lots of other areas and regions that specialize in making different things. But, for now, I think this list is good to get you started and to help you understand that India sourcing, and "Made in India" is not a blanket statement. Made in India is unique to the different parts of the country.
Are you thinking about product sourcing in India? Let me hear your comments below!