How To Work With Overseas FactoriesJan 25, 2022
How To Work With Overseas Factories
I'm a big fan of producing products in the country where we each live. However, there are many reasons to produce in other countries from your home country or produce overseas-which can be challenging for many different reasons. So how do we work with overseas factories?
Below, I outline some core tips to keep in mind when working with overseas factories. It's important to point out that there are many other things to keep in mind when working with overseas factories, but these basics are a great place to start. Keep reading for all of the information. A big consideration to keep in mind is that if you're working with an overseas factory, you should really have a firm understanding of PD, production, and commercial garment manufacturing to make your work as easy as possible.
Hire An Agent
An agent is sort of like a go between for you and your factory. Many times they are local to the area, understand the local customs, culture, and language while speaking on your behalf to the factory team. Think of them like your eyes on the ground.
My wholesale coach had to get an agent simply because the factory that she was working with didn't want to do business with a woman! Another issue all together but an agent can not only be your voice, but your face when needed.
If this is the first time you're doing international production, I highly recommend working with an agent until you have your bearings and a great relationship with your overseas factory team. Because this relationship requires so much trust and communication, the agent is a great resource because this is what they are trained to do.
You can find agents through industry trade magazines, word of mouth, or searching on line for one. Choosing the correct one is very important so don't take hiring an agent or agency of agents lightly. Use a selection criteria that makes sense for your brand, because the wrong agent, can be disastrous to your brand.
Agents get paid in various ways. Sometimes it's a commission of the total project amount, sometimes it's a base pay + commission, sometimes it's base pay only. You'll have to consider all of this when choosing to ensure that it works for your brand.
Hire A Quality Assurance Person/Team
While the agent helps you manage the relationship with your factory team, the quality assurance or QA person/team is going to be your eyes with ensuring your quality standards are maintained. The factory will have their own in house QA, but considering you may not know their work yet, it's best to have someone who has your interest first, and not their own.
You can find a QA team, in similar ways you found your agent. Be sure to outline what your standards are, give them a perfect, approved sample so they know what your standards look like, and include how you want your goods packaged so they can see what those standards are too.
Wether your factory team is domestic or international, you should be visiting them while your goods are on the production line. If this is the first time you're working with your factory, this is vitally important.
Even with an agent and a QA person/team, you should still visit the factory. The more involved you are with your commercial garment manufacturing, the better you can control your production and thus the outcome of your products.
Proper communication, including the use of pictures throughout the process will help to decrease any issues along the way. Set up a scheduled weekly time to touch base and discuss any observations, issues, or ways to prevent problems. If calling isn't possible, then try video meetings or emails on that same regular schedule to discuss the nuances of your products. The more products you have with them, the more this becomes critical.
Again, the more involved you are with the process, the more likely you will prevent problems.
If you and your team don't speak the same language, or there are language barriers, read my last post to help How To Overcome Language Barriers In Your Fashion Team .
Ensure your Product Development Is Strong
Before you start any of the above tasks, make sure that your product development is sound, free from any unresolved issues, a perfect sample and a perfect pattern. Because there are so many obstacles to working overseas, the better your product is going into the project with the overseas factory, the more likely you are to start things off on a good note.
If your product isn't properly developed, then you are not ready to pass it off to the factory. Regardless if it's a domestic factory or an international factory.
If you need help with your PD then be sure to check out my program, Nic Hyl Fashion University, where I can show you how to solve your problems with PD & Production in as little as 30 days.
In this day and age, I'd be remiss if I didn't speak about supply chain issues that are effecting the globe in all industries-particularly ones that fashion brands rely on to produce and deliver our goods.
Pay attention to local news in the country you're manufacturing in. Weather, politics, economics, and labor force issues in your factories country can effect you more than you know. Being aware won't prevent these problems that are out of your control, but the sooner you know that problems are brewing on the ground, the sooner you'll be able to start brainstorming a solution.
Keeping supply chain issues in mind, plan your production with plenty of time. Due to the pandemic, staffing may be low in the factory, the freight forwarder, couriers, and many of the industries that we rely on to package and ship our goods. Their staffing issues, can effect you as well.
Communicate what your deadlines are, pad them so that if/when delays happen you have a chance of still being on track, and can possibly get your goods on time.
In this day and age we can't talk about overseas factories without discussing our responsibility to ensure that our products are being made in an environment where the factory workers are safe, paid a living wage, waste material is being disposed of properly, and the products are made in a way that doesn't impact or harm the workers or the environment.
As the customer, you absolutely have a right and responsibility to ask these questions and ensure that the factory is doing their part by not only paying attention to these measures but implementing them in their business model.
At some of my previous, corporate fashion jobs, it would take us 6-12 months to approve and onboard a new factory before we agreed to work with them. We had to make sure they weren't violating child labor laws, wage laws and many other things that if they were in violation of, we the brand would face harsh public scrutiny.
The more we, the customers ask for and demand these things, the more factories will start to do them.
Do you have a question about working with domestic or international factories? Email me now at [email protected] to set up a time for us to talk to see if you're a good fit for my Nic Hyl Fashion University program.
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