Swimwear Manufacturing - How To Find The Perfect Supplier
Are you ready to start your own swimwear line? But don't know where to start? I am here to help. 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 help.
And, if you are looking for even more guidance check out the 6-month Masterclass that will take your idea from brand to finished product. As part of the course, I even give you a custom list of pre-vetted suppliers that love working with startups.
Welcome To The World Of Never-Ending Summer
Over 50% of the phone calls I field from individuals looking to start conscious brands are for swimwear or athleisure. Which leaves me wondering, why is the world of swimwear so popular?
Who doesn't love a beach trip, or a weekend spent lounging by the pool? There is something seductive and alluring about the world of swimwear. To many, they believe that making vacation clothes will allow them to live the vacation life 24/7.
Spoiler, it won't, but more on that in a second.
Unfortunately, thanks to Insa ads, there are so many swimsuit manufacturers out there marketing their factories to allow you to "Be Your Own Bikini Boss", and influencers jet setting to exotic locations to show off their latest skimpy line. They all make the idea of starting a swim line seem like an easy way to fund a love of travel.
But Be Prepared To Work
Please don't trust the hype. While starting a brand can give you both financial freedom and flexibility with your time, ultimately it is still a lot of hard work. At virtue + vice I work 365 days a year. I am not kidding. Xmas I work, New Years' still on the phone with factories, you get the idea. I am up early in the morning (usually around 7am to talk with my Indian factories), spend my days speaking to clients, and then am up late (usually at least until midnight on the phone with China partners). Yes, my Insta filled with travel photos and yummy foods in exotic locations looks like I'm living the life, but in between those snapshots is a lot of, I am going to stress this again, really hard work
I don't want to scare you away from starting your dream swimwear company. I just want to be realistic, and be prepared to put in the hours to build your brand and make it amazing.
You Can Make Some Serious Cash
Swimwear and athleisure have some of the best margins in the industry. Seriously. I am not going to spoil the costing breakdown of swimwear for you here (I'll save that for another day). But, once you start talking to suppliers and getting initial costings, you will probably be shocked how much that $200 swimsuit actually costs to make.
Swim is probably a close second to "luxury" t-shirts when it comes to the best margins in the fashion industry.
If I Didn't Scare You Away, Then Let's Get Started!
How To Design Your Line
The first thing you need to decide before you start reaching out to swimwear manufacturers is if you want to make custom designs or white label.
1. Custom Swimwear Designs
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. For more help on how to design a line, check out this article on Fashion Design For Beginners.
2. White Labeling
The term white labeling means that you take a product that is already made, and you put your own branding on it. White labeling is extremely popular in the world of swim, and the factories that sell white label are often referred to as wholesale swimwear suppliers or bulk swimwear suppliers.
Here is how white labeling works...
Every season there are really only so many different designs. Factories make patterns for about 40-50 designs. After you choose the styles you like, you then pick out the fabric colors, or available stock prints you want. And the factory makes it for you.
It's basically mixing and matching to make something kind of unique, that isn't really.
The benefit of white labeling is that it is a lot cheaper, and it is also, usually, a lot quicker to get samples, and your production order.
Are White Labels and Private Labels The Same?
No. White label and private label get confused all the time. But, they are not the same. A private label brand is a brand that is sold exclusively at one retailer. So, 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 a variety of retailers.
Got the difference? Don't confuse a factory by for asking for private label, when the term you are looking for is white label.
Swimwear Manufacturers Are Special
Here are 3 reasons why you need a special swimwear manufacturer, and shouldn't trust just anyone with your swimwear line.
1. Swimsuits Need To Use An Overlock Machine
A seam made with an overlock machine has a very distinct look. If you don't know what I am talking about, you can usually find an overlock seam at the bottom hem of most t-shirts, and other knit fabric garments. The stitch looks like a zig-zag of 3 to 4 different threads looping back and forth.
Overlock seams are perfect for knits because it's a type of seam that allows a lot of stretch. Stretch is important in swimwear because swimsuits should be snug and secure yet comfortable and moveable with the body, like a second skin. If you try to sew swim with a regular sewing machine the seams will burst when a person tries to move.
It is also important to keep an eye on the tensions the machines are set to. Tension is how tight the stitches are. If they are too loose or too tight your garment could fall apart or have a wavy effect that looks so sloppy. A professional swimwear manufacturing partner will have the right machines and know-how to use them to create the best product for you.
image credit: Spoonflower blog
2. Expert Pattern Making
Especially when you are starting out, you want to work with a swimwear manufacture that specializes in what it is that you are making. This is important because it will allow you to lean on them, and learn from them. If you aren't an expert yourself, you want to make sure you are working with one.
By choosing a supplier that specializes in only swim, it means they have done these types of styles thousands of times before - so they are really good at it. They can also probably do your tech packs for you instead of having to hire someone else to do them.
Think about it. Would you want to be operated on by a surgeon who had only done a few surgeries in their life, or someone that had done thousands? Obviously thousands. Because, generally, the more people do something, the better at it they become.
3. Trend Tips
Again, if your supplier specializes in swim, then that is what they are doing all day every day. So, they are submerged in the industry. Chances are they are seeing all the newest trends long before you or anyone else. So, create a good relationship with them, and ask them for tips on what is trending.
Now remember, there is a difference between asking for trend forecasting advice and straight up copying.
For example. When I worked in kids apparel, one season I noticed that every factory, mill, and supplier I visited had something with butterflies. So, I told my sales and design teams, and we quickly developed into the trend. We didn't knock off or copy any other brand's styles. We just created our own butterfly products. And, guess what? They were top sellers a year latter when butterflies were starting to become popular.
There is nothing wrong with asking suppliers for trends like colors, cuts, etc - but it is totally unethical to knock other brands off and copy what they are doing exactly.
Help Finding A Swimwear Manufacturing Partner
Now that you understand why it's so important to have a swimwear manufacture that is all about swimwear all the time, we can get into how to find a good one.
The obvious place to start is Google. But, the internet is kind of the wild west when it comes to meeting suppliers. Good SEO (showing up in search terms), and advertising dollars, does not mean a factory is going to produce good quality clothing, or deliver on time; for that matter deliver at all.
Google is a great place to start your research. But, instead of searching for suppliers, I suggest starting your search with brands. Try to find small up and coming brands, then reach out to them 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 a great place to meet suppliers. Generally, if you are going to one of the major trade shows that I will list here, you will be working with someone who is pretty decent.
You will find good suppliers at trade shows for two reasons.
The first is that if they have a bad rep the trade show simply won't let them into the show. The second is, they want to do a good job because if they don't you know where to find them. You don't have to fly 1/2 way across the world, you just have to show up at the trade show to see them and confront them. And, the last thing a supplier wants is a customer having a public meltdown.
Tradeshows specifically for swim:
Swim Show - Miami
"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."
Other trade shows I recommend for general fabric sourcing can be found here in this article about how to find textile suppliers.
Should You Take A Trip To Bali?
Is Bali worth the hype? In my opinion, no. If you are serious about swimwear manufacturing and scaling, Bali isn't the place to do it. And, basically, everything needs to be imported, so raw material costs are high with swimwear manufacturers Bali.
Is Bali fun? Yes.
If you are looking for a vacation and also bikini manufacturers, then Indonesia might be right for you. Or, if you are trying to become an influencer while also trying to start a brand Bali might be a good fit.
I am not trying to throw shade, but this is the kind of reputation swimwear made in Bali has. It can be hard to be taken seriously as a young start-up brand that is making in Bali when every other 20 something year old is doing the exact same thing. There is an industry insider secret, that whenever anyone is approached by a new brand that is made in Bali, the first thought is "Oh, so you come from money, and decided to start a swim line while taking a year off to experience the world." It might not be true in all cases, but that's the rap Bali has gotten.
Another hub for swimwear manufactures Miami. But, again, in my experience, while Miami is a fun tropical place to visit, I have found the best swimwear manufacturers are in NY and LA.
Things To Keep In Mind Once You Find A Supplier
Where you make determines your development and production schedule. In India, we have to be careful during monsoon - basically, everything slows down during that period. In China, there is Chinese New Year, where the country basically stops working for an entire month usually in January or February - and factories will cut off pre-CNY developments and orders as early as October in some cases.
Every country has it's quirks that you need to adapt to - make sure to start planning for them early.
Nylon vs. Polyester
I am not going to get into recycled textiles here. I have covered that extensively before. For more info on recycled swim fabrics - check out this article, which goes super in-depth about all the pros and cons of each kind.
In swim the biggest question you need to ask yourself is - are you going to use polyester or nylon? Poly is going to be cheaper, but nylon tends to be a lot stronger. It's a difficult decision for a new brand. Save some money to invest in things like marketing, sales, etc. Or, go for the best quality possible right out of the gate.
Only you can answer this decision.
Ask For In House Fabrics
Ask your manufacturer if they have any special in house fabrics. Some manufacturers will develop their own custom fabric lines, specially for their clients.
Generally, factories develop their own fabrics to help customers solve a problem. So, if they noticed a lot of 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.
Be Honest About MOQs - Minimum Order Quantity
Be realistic and honest with your factory. If you approach a factory and tell them you will make 100 pieces of a style, and then try to order 10 pieces per style - they are probably going to say no and turn you away. Or, if they agree to do it they are going to upcharge you like crazy eating into all your profit margins.
The very worst-case scenario is that they decline your order and you need to start the whole process of finding a new supplier, developing protos, etc all over again. It's a huge waste of time, money, and resources.
So, please be honest.
There are small suppliers that will work with you, you don't have to lie about your projected orders to try and trick them into working with. When you work with people who really want to work with you, they tend to prioritize you more (instead of leaving your emails and messages on read), and want to do a good job to help grow your business together.
Ask To See Samples
Never order anything without seeing samples first.
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 They Ethical?
What is the factory really like? Are the employees paid fairly? If you can ( I know the pandemic makes this hard), try to visit them and get a feel for the work culture.
Are They 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 the factory scraps to make masks, headbands, or other small accessories?
I hope this helped! If you have any more questions you can set up a free 15-minute consultation here. As always I am happy to help start-ups and fashion designers make their collections a reality in whatever way I can.