Swimwear Manufacturing - How To Find The Perfect Supplier
Published: November 19, 2020Updated: January 27, 202311 min read10 Comments
Are you ready to start your own swimwear line but don't how to find swimwear manufacturers to actually get it made? Don't worry, I'm here to help you learn how to find the perfect swimwear manufacturing partner for your brand.
A manufacturer of swimwear is highly specialized, requires certain machines, and is not something that just any factory can do. I think that because swimwear normally takes such a tiny bit of fabric, people think – how hard could it be? The short answer is that it could be a disaster if you don’t work with the right people. For example, there are pattern makers who specialize in swim only, fabrics suppliers that exclusively make some of the best performing swimwear fabrics in the world, and factories that only produce bikinis.
You are going to need to find the perfect supplier for your swimwear brand. And if you plan on launching a swimwear brand and have never designed before, you can’t just rely on your manufacturing partner – you need to know a few things yourself too. While virtue + vice offers full package swimwear manufacturing services, I wanted to make this DIY manufacturing swimwear guide for anyone looking for a little free professional assistance. Let’s find what’s right for your supply chain.
But, before we get started.
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 TikTok (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.
Before you start reaching out to swimwear manufacturers, you first need to decide if you want to make custom designs or use white labeling. Your gut reaction is probably – Melanie, you told me I need to stand out from everyone else. Of course I need my own custom designs!But you know what? Maybe you don’t. Stick with me here.
Custom Swimwear Manufacturing
In the world of swimwear manufacturing, swimwear custom designs are just what they sound like. You create your own unique designs and the factory helps you to bring them to life. The pro of designing your own custom line from scratch is that the designs are totally yours, and you know no one else is making them. A con is that it can be expensive. You are going to have to pay for patterns, sampling, pattern revisions, more sampling, grading, markers, and more. Those costs add up quickly and will eat into your bottom line. For more help on designing a line, check out this Fashion Design For Beginners article.
The alternative to custom designs is the process of white labeling. With this design process, you take a product that is already made and put your own branding on it. It’s kind of like building custom Air Jordans. You start with the same base and then customize them in limited ways to your style.
The factories selling white labeling are often referred to as wholesale or bulk swimwear suppliers. Every season there are only so many different designs. So, factories make patterns for about 40-50 of the season's most popular ones. After choosing the designs you like from their library, you can pick out the fabric colors or available stock prints you want. Basically, you can mix and match different design elements to make something that isn’t totally unique, but also kind of is. And the factory makes it for you.
White Label Pros
The benefit of white labeling is that it is a lot cheaper; you don’t have all the development costs you incur with creating custom designs - like CADS, tech packs, pattern + sample development, and more. It’s also usually a lot quicker to get samples and your production order. So if you are trying to launch asap, it might be a better option for you. Also, think about this – if there are 50 designs and 50 types of fabrics to choose from – that means that there are 2,500 different swimsuit options that can be created. The chance of another brand having your exact combination is slim.
Don't Get These Two Terms Confused
Warning: Private labels and white labels are not the same. New founders often get them confused and then get frustrated when they can’t get what they are looking for. A private label brand is a brand that is sold exclusively at one retailer. For example, Aqua is a private label brand that is owned and sold exclusively by Bloomingdales. White labels take available styles from a factory, re-brand them, and then sell them either directly to consumers or to a variety of retailers. That’s the term you are looking for.
HOW TO FIND THE PERFECT SWIMWEAR MANUFACTURING PARTNER
Now that you understand why it's so important to have a swimwear manufacturer that is all about swimwear all the time, let’s get into how to find a good one.
The obvious place to start your search is Google. But good SEO (search engine optimization; showing up in search terms) and advertising dollars does not mean a factory will produce good quality clothing or deliver on time / at all. The internet is kind of the Wild West when it comes to meeting suppliers.
However, Google is a great place to start your research. Try to find small, up-and-coming brands. Then, reach out and ask if they would mind sharing their suppliers. A lot of brands will say no. But a few will say yes, and they will be great resources for pre-vetted swimwear and clothing manufacturers.
Trade shows are another great place to meet suppliers. You don't have to fly halfway across the world, you just have to show up at the trade show to see them. Suppliers at trade shows generally have a good reputation and are showing up and working to keep that public image. Here is just one example of a trade show specifically for swim:
"Held every July, SwimShow is the largest of its kind in the world and attracts more than 7,500 buyers, swimsuit manufacturers, designers, corporate personnel, press, bloggers, influencers, fashion consultants, stylists, VIP’s and other fashion industry leaders from over 60 countries across the globe to showcase brands and create business opportunities."
THE FIRST QUESTION YOU SHOULD ASK A SWIMSUIT MANUFACTURING PARTNER
Can you please give me the names of 3 brands you work with? You want to hear from real live customers that this factory is good.
If the factory tries to hide behind NDAs - that is a red flag. Any good factory that has been in business for a while will have clients that are more than willing to say “yea, we work with them, and they are great.” For example, right here on my website, I have an entire page of happy past students.
If someone can’t tell you anyone that they work with, then it’s best to find someone else to help you make your quality swimwear products.
In my experience, there are 5 major countries brands go to make their swimwear lines. And, each country has its own set of pros and cons depending on what it is the brand is making. In no particular order, they are Bali, the USA (specifically NYC, LA, and Miami), Italy, Brazil, and China.
Bali swim wear can be a lot of hype. It is basically where influencers start their brands, so they have an excuse to travel there.
There are some solid swimwear manufacturers there. But, the country definitely is not the swimwear hub social media makes it out to be.
Is Bali fun? Yes. And, if you are looking for a vacation alongside your search for bikini manufacturers, then Indonesia might be the right fit for you.
But, if you are serious about swimwear manufacturing and scaling, Bali isn't the place for you because everything needs to be imported. Raw material costs are high with these swimwear manufacturers.
New York City
You can get anything from a winter jacket to couture lingerie made in NYC. Midtown Manhattan used to house NYC’s garment district. But in recent times, with rising rents, more and more factories have moved their locations to places like Jersey City and Brooklyn.
When speaking with factories in NYC, make sure they are specialized in knits, have machines that can do stretch seams (interlock machine), and are comfortable with experience in the swim category.
LA is known for knitwear manufacturing, specifically in athleisure and swim.
And added benefit of manufacturing in LA is that there are tons of knit mills (the places that make the fabrics), and dye and prints houses (the places where color gets added to the fabrics).
If you care about reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible, and having all your supply chain partners in one place - LA is where it’s at.
Miami as a manufacturing hub is a recent development, but it has quickly become a strong competitor to the other major cities. In the past three years, specifically, the fashion scene in Miami has been growing. Luxury brands are now investing more of their budgets in Miami stores than in NYC. And with the flow of high fashion dollars, more and more manufacturers are popping up. Miami so far has been specifically focused on warm weather wardrobes – swim, athleisure, and silk dresses and caftans. A big part of this specialization is thanks to Miami Swim week mentioned above. I think in the next 10 years, Miami and Florida manufacturing will outpace NYC. You heard it here first.
Italy has a long history of swimwear manufacturing. Historians believe that the bikini may have actually been invented during the Roman empire. Italy is also where Carvico is based. If you have not heard of Carvico, they are one of the top suppliers of recycled yarns (the other two most famous suppliers are Econyl and Repreve, as mentioned earlier). If you want a super lux product – I’m talking like having your product sold at The Four Seasons gift shop or in stores like Intermix - you might want to think about setting up your supply chain in Italy.
Most of the fabrics in Brazil come from China. But where Brazil exceeds is in design and garment manufacturing. Brazil is where swimsuit trends are born. So, if you want your swimwear collection to be on the cutting edge and ahead of all the trends, then you might want to work with a supply chain partner in Brazil who can give you a few hot tips on what’s going to be popular next.
China is basically where brands go when they outgrow their supplier in Bali.
Most of the swim fabrics in Bali (with the exception of a few) come from China. Because of transport issues and added costs, what usually happens is, after a few years, brands just move their entire supply chain to China. This can cut down on logistical headaches since the fabric is coming from there anyway. And, typically China's prices tend to be the lowest.
WHEN PICKING A COUNTRY TO MAKE IN - REMEMBER THIS
Local Holidays: Note local holidays when choosing a manufacturer or manufacturing hub. Where you make it in the world determines your development and production schedule. In India, we have to be careful during the monsoon season as business typically will slow down. In China, there is Chinese New Year, where the country basically stops working for an entire month. Factories will cut off pre-CNY developments and orders as early as October in some cases. Every country and city has their quirks that you need to adapt to - make sure to start planning for them early.
Quick Tip - Domestic Fabric Production:
Having fabrics produced domestically can help create a more stable supply chain. In today's supply chain, we are seeing most delays happening in the export, import, and transportation of goods. So if you can eliminate international shipping, you can reduce that risk. There are 3 main locations where most of the country’s clothes get made - NYC, LA, and Miami. But there are also tons of mills that are using Repreve and Econyl yarns to create swim fabrics in North Carolina.
OTHER QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR SUPPLIER
Do You Have In-House Fabrics?
Ask your manufacturer if they have any special in-house fabrics. Some manufacturers will develop their own custom fabric lines specifically for their clients. Generally, factories develop their own fabrics to help customers solve a problem. So, if they noticed many customers were having trouble with colorfastness, they might have a special colorfast fabric. Or they might have super stretch fabric for extra comfort. If you have noticed a problem in the industry, chances are they already know about it and are working on a solution.
What Are Your MOQ’S?
BTW, MOQ stands for minimum order quantity.
And, more importantly, as a customer, you want to respect these MOQs.
I see so many brands following this bad advice from internet “fashion gurus.” That tell them to just agree to whatever order quantity the factory says they need and then negotiate it lower once it’s time for production.
I promise if you do this, it will be a disaster. The factory will either dump you or jack up your prices.
It’s not good advice to follow.
Just like dating, you don’t want to start your relationship off with a lie. If a factory MOQ is too high for you right now, that’s ok; maybe you can work with them in the future. And for now, I am sure you will be able to find someone who is a better fit.
Can I See Some Samples?
Never order anything without seeing samples first. You want to see anything they have made in the past for other clients or anything in their showroom. Good factories will have clients that are happy to chat with you. And a showroom full of samples for you to look through. Ask to see your own samples. I repeat, never commit to a bulk order until you see samples you like. That means fabric, fit, color, tags, labels, everything is perfect. Always go through the full product development SOP.
Are You Ethical?
Are the employees paid fairly? If you can, try to visit and get a feel for the work culture. Look for the general vibe of the space. Listen to your gut. Walk around, hang out, and get a feel for what a day in the factory is like. Are the workers relaxed, joking, feel like they can openly communicate with management? Or are they scared to look up from their sewing machines? No factory is going to tell you, “Yeah, we treat our employees like garbage.” Everyone says they are ethical and equitable even when they aren’t. The only way to figure out if they are telling the truth is to go and see for yourself.
Are You Sustainable?
Other than using recycled plastic swimwear fabrics, what else do they do that is sustainable? Do they use clean energy? Do they filter and recycle water? What do they do with the textile scraps? Are they upcycled in some way? Go deeper than just the fabric. For example, can you get tags made of recycled paper or use factory scraps to make masks, headbands, or other small accessories?
When searching for the best swimwear manufacturing partner out there, it really comes to you and your brand's needs. How you want to design, where you want to make your products, and even how much of each design you want to produce are all personal questions - and there are no right or wrong answers.
That is why you should know exactly what you want before you start looking for and reaching out to swimwear manufacturing partners.
Not sure you know exactly what you want or need? For more help figuring that part out, you can check out the 7-Day Fashion Startup Crash Course. In 15 minutes a day, you can solidify your brand idea, and make sure you are ready to make the best first impression possible with a supplier.