5 Ways to Work With Your Apparel Manufacturer to Get Faster Lead Times
Manufacturing apparel and accessories takes a surprising amount of time. When we think of clothing manufacturing we tend to think of cutting and sewing, but those tasks take up a surprisingly small part of the total time to go from design idea to delivery. Productions times can vary widely based on many factors. If you're struggling to manage lead times and manufacturing timelines with your production partner, we give 5 ways below to smooth things out.
1. Ask lots of questions early in the process about how your design choices will affect the timeline - Designing, sampling and prototyping, sustainable sourcing, and ethical sewing production all take time and the work you put in upfront can make things faster on the back end. Some materials take longer to source and some design elements will require extra production steps that might need to be outsourced. A bit of planning and understanding of what part of developing and producing the product will affect the critical path (the longest sequence of tasks that must be completed to complete a project) can go a long way. You might find that a minor design tweak, fabric change, or removal of an embellishment can drastically speed up your lead time.
2. Be ready to give quick replies and decisions to keep things moving - If you have a great design idea but haven't made that type of product before, it's going to be a lot of back and forth with your pattern-maker and samplers to get it dialed in. And, if you're sourcing a new material it takes time to send swatches to fabric mills and order sample fabrics. A lot of great product ideas get bogged down in this stage with many revisions, material changes, and slow communication back and forth with various suppliers or service providers.
When Purnaa works with customers on a new product, our development timelines usually look as follows...
Confirming Design Ideas (1 week - 1 Month)
Whether you submit photos or a detailed tech pack, your manufacturer will probably have questions about your design to understand the steps and components necessary to construct your product. The more information you give them the faster they get to work! To create a tech pack, check out this link for a comprehensive guide! Because you may be working with your supplier across large time-zone differences it may be hard to schedule a phone call and you’ll need to be very prompt with e-mail replies when they ask questions in the development process. A slow reply can cost multiple work days when compounded with a 12-hour time difference.
Making Patterns and Sewing Samples (1 week to 1 month)
During this step, your manufacturers will begin sampling your product and sourcing your materials. A pattern maker can usually complete a pattern in a day and then the sample sewer can usually sew the first test in a day. However, you often need to wait in line for your product to be assigned to the sampling team. Then there is usually at least one round of revisions with both people. Again, these revisions require communication from the manufacturer to the customer, and quick responses will keep things moving. Each revision may need to put the product back into the waiting line to get back to the pattern maker or sampler, so try to thoroughly review the test sample and give as much of your feedback as you can in one review.
Sourcing Material (1-3 months) - The other part of development is sourcing, which can take very different amounts of time. If you ask them to find something they haven’t sourced before, it often requires sending them a swatch so they can understand exactly what you want, then they send that swatch to other fabric mills to get it matched, who in turn send back more swatches for approval. This is a time-consuming process with a lot of shipping. Again, being ready to quickly give a thumbs up or down can keep the process moving.
Confirming an Order (1-2 weeks) – Many suppliers will ask you to submit an official purchase order and make an advance payment to confirm an order. They usually will not start gathering materials for your order until both your PO and advanced payment are confirmed. POs need to be detailed enough for them to calculate how much material is needed for the order according to size and color. We find that many brands lose precious days in their timeline confirming an order with late payments or difficulty getting all the required details together for their POs. If you can be disciplined in this step, your manufacturer can get started faster.
3. Choose Materials Your Supplier Already Works With - Many manufacturers specialize in and keep stock of a few main fabrics. Often, they can provide a color card for in-stock fabrics. Most fabric mills ask for 30-45 days to make a new batch of fabric and then there is additional time required to ship it to your sewing manufacturer. If you can worthe k with material your manufacturer already they can often get started cutting and sewing much more quickly.
4. Get to know your manufacturer’s busy and slow seasons and holidays – Many manufacturers have distinct busy and slow seasons, and they may have holidays that are quite different from your country. Some factories’ products are geared more toward cold or warm weather and this can mean that they are much busier in certain seasons than others. Submitting your order in their off-season can mean faster lead times. Also, many countries have big holidays that can pose challenges to lead times because they don’t match with holidays in their customer’s markets. There is Chinese New Year when factories close for 3-4 weeks around the end of January or Diwali in South Asia in late October or early November. Many of these holidays are not on the same dates each year, so ask ahead of time so you can plan for when your manufacturer might be closed.
5. Ask about Different Shipping Options and Splitting Shipments for Big Orders – While shipping by sea is definitely the cheapest, you can save weeks by shipping by air. The time required for sea shipping varies widely depending on the country of origin and destination though if shipping from Asia to North America you generally need 45-90 days for sea shipping. The big variance in time is caused by distance, but also the need for road freight to get to a port and port clearing time in different countries. Air shipping usually takes about 2 weeks, but is usually double or triple the cost. If you’re ordering in large quantities and want to control the budget, but need your products quickly, you could ask about splitting a shipment, sending some of the first products by air and the rest later by sea. If you’re in a big rush, you might even split air shipments, shipping smaller batches as products get produced.
With production runs being so time-sensitive, it's important for you to find a manufacturer who will be a true partner and advocate. At Purnaa, we see that our success is linked to the success of the brands we serve and the people we employ. Our team is dedicated to guiding you through our manufacturing process, presenting strategic options at each step, establishing efficiency in production, and ensuring that both you and your customers will be delighted with the products you receive. As a member of the WFTO and the Freedom Business Alliance, your production run will also contr