Geoff Krasnov offers apparel/clothing/garment manufacturing and sourcing news.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I get this question alot. The classic conundrum of not being able to sell a product if you can't show the product. At Style Source, we call them speculation samples, but the bottom line is the need to put sample garments in the hands of sales representatives is real. The fine line between needing them to show to existing customers with an established company and needing them to show to potential customers as a new kid on the block is not going to be addressed here.

Sales samples must represent, to the potential client, a near duplication of what they are to expect production to look like. This means the fabrics, findings, colors, labels, hand, fit and construction must be representative. For custom apparel production utilizing made to order fabrics and trims the challenge becomes how to execute them without making committments to production and without prohibitive costs. Here are some realities we face in this regard.

Custom findings, like dyed to match lace, logoized elastic, made to length dyed to match zippers etc all have minimum order quantities(MOQ's) from the suppliers. As much as they want to believe that an investment in producing pieces of a custom trim item will lead to an eventual bulk order history has taught them that maybe 10% of the time this may be true. Many will simply not sell through their product, others may switch to another supplier, and others may have used the service to "visualize" their concept. Therefor, supplier minimums for custom items are strictly adhered to. This means that if we need to make a set of 5 sales samples in 4 sizes with DTM zippers we must buy 100 zippers per size and will have 380 left over zippers at maybe $1-$1.25 each.

The same holds true for textiles. Sample dyeings for knits require a minimum of at least 75 yards. The dyer will add a surcharge to run a one roll sample. If a trim fabric must be dyed to match add another 50 yards or so to process. Finishing one roll may result in different hand or performance (shrinkage), as setting up equipment to finish a single roll is imprecise and there is no time to "tune"it in. If a special finish is required, the padding machines must be drained and filled with the correct recipe, of which maybe 2% of it will be used. The bulk of the finish must then be drained. Of that 75 yards maybe 10 or 15 yards are needed to make the samples , the rest must be absorbed. If the garment takes a second color or a contrast trim then double the amount of labor and materials and waste.

To sew the samples a sample room must be employed. These highly skilled sewers hand cut and assemble the garments, typically taking three to five times the amount of time it would typically take in production while earning 30-50% higher wages. If specialized folders are needed they must either be made (about $150 each) or borrowed from someone. Thread colors must be matched, which often means having to buy 3 or 5 cones of thread just to sew the samples. If binding must be cut minimum cut charges are incurred (if it cannot be hand cut).

Now add value added options like embroidery, printing, applique, etc. Tape or screen charges are incurred. Setup fees are charged due to the excessive down time to set up, mix colors, match threads, clean up, lost production time, etc. Color matching, artwork approvals, positioning (placement), etc must all be addressed and stipulated.

The responsibility of every facet of all of these processes in the production of a dozen or so garments falls on the manufacturer. Imagine the extra management time spent insuring the garments are flowing and quality is maintained. All of these efforts go into the making of so few garments is it any wonder there is resistance to produce them when there is not an accompanying production order?

Taking an example of a garment that requires a body fabric, trim dyed to match and zippers in three lengths we wind up with a minimum of 380 left over zippers and 100-125 yards of fabric. This alone could add up to $600-$700, and this is the most basic of examples. In the golden oldie days we had sample rooms filled with excess fabrics and colors and trim rooms abounding in all sorts of left over findings to choose from. That was when labor was abundant, the faucets of continuous production were wide open, and the margins were fat. Those days are long gone.

Style Source is always pleased to discuss your specific needs regarding the production of made in USA apparel, custom private label manufacturing or specialized apparel import programs. We strive to keep the conversations open, honest and meaningfull.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Shifting Sourcing Opportunities

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the playing field for custom apparel sourcing changes. In the late 1980's it was all about Puerto Rica (936 legislation) and then the Carribean Basin, with Jamaica and Costa Rica leading the way. Then the tides turned to Mexican maquiladoras, as NAFTA legislation was enacted. Mexico fell out of favor in just 3 years, as Central American countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras offered better infrastructure and less restrictive labor laws. Haiti and the DR had some presence throughout these periods, with Haitis lack of stability being a never ending issue. In 2005 worldwide quotas were dropped, and, suddenly, the world was flat. As China woke up and waved its "full package" capabilities the surge to Asia left a backdraft far stronger than that "giant sucking sound" Ross Perot envisioned. India recognized the urgent need to improve their supply chain, and came on strong a year later. Players like Myanmar, Phillipines and Malaysia saw market share drop as the behemoth countries built infrastructure. Vietnam came late, as final acceptance by the WTO came only several years ago, but has now exceeded India in apparel exports to the USA. Cambodia is also strengthening.

This sourcing shift is now furthered by the declining dollar and the cost of freight. A full container from Macao cost about $2,500 in 2005. That same container today is over $8,000. These dynamics are forcing companies to look much closer at Central and South America once again. Proximity is a much greater strength today than it used to be. Enhanced textile supply is being addressed by the building of textile plants across the region. Full package is a language they are all now speaking.

These transformations are dizzying, but we have an obligation to stay on top of it. Servicing low minimum custom private label apparel customers is what we are best at, and we constantly strive to find resources that will service smaller import clothing requests.