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how to manage the clothing product development and production process

clothing production

Product development process

When you have selected a few suppliers (not only one, as explained further down in this article) it’s time to put them to the test. Keep reading, and find out how to manage the clothing product development and production process:

Step #1: Design drafting, material selection and product specifications
Chinese manufacturers are entirely accustomed to producing items according to buyer specifications. While some suppliers offer design services, they will certainly not help someone design a new collection based on a random inquiry on their Alibaba website.
Before you even bother to contact manufacturers, you need to get your specifications in order. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Design drafts
  2. Design elements (e.g. collar)
  3. Dimensions
  4. Fabric type (e.g. 96% cotton and 4% spandex)
  5. Fabric weight (e.g. 120 gsm)
  6. Printing or embroidery (e.g. screenprint)
  7. Pantone colors
  8. Buttons (design, material)
  9. Seams
  10. Textile label (design files and dimensions
  11. Compliance requirements (e.g. AZO-free colors)

You may also complement a product specification with physical product samples, in case you intend to replicate a certain color, material or design elements of an existing product. However, certain components, such as buttons, are better left open until you know what the supplier has to offer.

In case you fail to provide sufficient product specifications, you are very likely to receive items of very poor quality. Misunderstandings occur easier than you could possibly imagine, and there’s no universal definition of what “good quality” is. Nothing should be left out of your product specification.

Step #2: Sample development
This is when it get’s interesting, but act with caution. First of all, it’s way too early to make a final supplier selection at this stage. Instead, you shall select at least three or four suppliers that produce clothing samples simultaneously.

In my experience, roughly 50% of the suppliers fail to manufacture satisfying samples. They might lack the precision to get the seams straight, provide low quality material or prove that they don’t really care that much about following your design requirements.

Samples take time to develop, and often require a few revisions. All the sudden three months have passed by. If you’ve made a final supplier selection too early, you might need to start all over again. That’s why it’s critical to keep several supplier options at hand at this stage. Thereby, you can simply ditch supplier failing to produce satisfying samples, and move on with those that succeed. Yes, it costs a bit extra to buy samples from four suppliers, rather than only one. But, considering the time and money you’ll save, it’s well worth it.

Step #3: Compliance testing
Previous compliance means that a supplier can prove that they’re able to ensure compliance. While that is a key qualification requirement, it’s not a guarantee for future compliance. Thus, you shall submit material samples for compliance testing, before mass production begins.

But, this is also when it gets really complicated. Fabrics are purchased from subcontractors, and suppliers rarely keep them in stock. The fabric samples that are available during sample production may not be available by the time you place your order. Even if the fabric used for mass production is visually identical, it may come another batch (thus it may contain other chemicals) or from a completely different subcontractor.

In a worst case scenario, this means that you could end up with clothing made of non-compliant fabrics, even though the pre-production fabrics passed compliance testing. However, despite this risk, pre-production fabric testing is critical. One way to minimize the risk further is to have fabric samples compliance tested as soon as the batch used for your items arrives in the supplier warehouse, but before mass production begins. That way you can at least avoid a situation where you are left with an entire batch of non-compliant apparel. Sounds complicated? Not so much, if

you follow the process below:

  1. Select fabrics and confirm applicable substance regulations
  2. Ask your supplier if the fabric used for mass production originates from the same batch and/or from the same subcontractor
  3. Collect and submit pre-production reference fabric samples to the test laboratory
  4. Supplier begins mass production and order fabrics from one or more subcontractors
  5. Collect and submit batch sample reference fabrics to the test laboratory
  6. If compliant: approve production

As one material, and sometimes color, requires a separate compliance test, costs increase if you use many different fabrics and colors. If you’re on a small budget, try to limit the number of different fabrics used in your apparel.

Step #4: Sales contract
Before you pay the deposit and production begins, a Sales Agreement shall be signed by the Clothing manufacturer. The main purpose of the Sales contract is not to get prepared for future disputes, but to prevent them.

First of all, it shall prevent misunderstandings. Thus, it shall include product specifications, design drafts, material specifications and color samples. You may also attach physical samples, for the supplier to sign and stamp.

However, these specifications may be useless unless you put pressure on the supplier to actually comply. This is can only be achieved if you make the supplier understand that you will verify compliance, and that you have a bargaining chip at hand, in case they wouldn’t.

In order to verify compliance, you need to follow up with Quality Inspection. I’ll get back to that in a bit. The payment is also critical. If you pay a supplier 100% in advance, they no longer have an incentive to remake or repair defective items, in case the Quality inspection would fail. This is why the final balance payment shall be withheld until the quality is verified.

Step #5: Quality control
Manufacturing is not a science. Quality issues are certain to occur, to a varying degree. They can’t be completely eliminated, but they can be managed and reduced to a degree that they don’t affect the viability of your business.

Forget about returning defective items to China. Low cost manufacturing is cheap for a reason. Instead, you must verify that your clothing reaches your quality requirements before it’s packed and shipped. Thus, a Quality Inspection shall be executed in the manufacturer’s facility, after production – but before shipment.

There are a number of defects that may occur when manufacturing clothing. Below follows a list of defects I’ve stumbled upon:

  • Poor seams (e.g. not straight, loose threads)
  • Discoloration
  • Skewed embroidery
  • Incorrect dimensions
  • Loose buttons and zippers
  • Dust and dirt

However, certain quality issues cannot be detected during a single factory inspection. For example, poor quality fabrics may lose fitting, only after a few washes. This is why extensive sample testing, and actual usage, is critical, before production begins. Feel free to contact us, if you have further questions about finding reliable and compliant Clothing manufacturers in China.

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