Updated: Aug 30, 2022
So you want to add baseball caps or hats to your brand's product offer? Caps are a great way to add variety to your product line and also are a great seller, totaling USD 17.49 Billion in revenue in the US in 2021. By comparison, t-shirt sales in the US in 2021 were US$38.7 Billion. Given the crowdedness of the t-shirt industry, we find it surprising that cap sales are nearly 50% of t-shirts. As a one-size-fits-most (OSFM) product they can be easier to sell and stock and are a great addition to many growing brands' product lines.
But you first have to find a good cap supplier. Here are a few tips to help you in that process.
Where to Find a Cap or Hat Manufacturer
We like to encourage brands to work with ethical or sustainable manufacturers. There are a number of networks that help brands find ethical manufacturers such as Common Objective, Thr3efold, or ethical sourcing services like To The Market. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of baseball caps available from suppliers in these networks. Caps are often seen as sports apparel items and generally come from big factories in China and Vietnam where it is hard to verify ethical or sustainable practices.
You can try sourcing at big trade shows. Magic is the largest for fashion but may be limited for caps. Outdoor Retailer has a sourcing section that includes cap suppliers. If your brand focuses on a particular sports activity (baseball, fishing, surfing, cycling, etc), try trade shows for that particular industry.
Finally doing some online searching can generate good results. Just Googling can give you some interesting leads. You also can try through big sourcing platforms like Alibaba or IndiaMART, but if you're sourcing through these networks make sure to vet them thoroughly for ethical practices using the advice below.
Quality Caps and Hats
Many customers tell us that they struggled with their last manufacturer because of quality issues. Caps are very sensitive in terms of sizing; a small change will make them fit very differently. Cap wearers often have a particular style that they like, and they go back to it time and again. If your supplier's sizing and cap shape fluctuate, you will end up with customer complaints.
Likewise, not all cap construction is the same. When you hold a cap in your hands, you can feel the difference between a well-made cap and a poorly made one. A few things to look for to verify quality construction are stabilization tap along the bottom edge behind the sweatband, top stitching along the seam where the visor connects, quality of the back closure snaps or fasteners, and consistency of shape, fit, and symmetry. Ask for samples from your supplier before starting a relationship.
Decorations can also cause common quality issues. Look for crooked or poorly affixed embellishments, embroidery with poor finishing, or other graphic design mistakes such as misspellings in logos. Although you'll probably need to pay setup fees, ask the manufacturer for a sample before confirming a large order.
Visit the Cap Factory
Caps are quite different from garment cutting and sewing. To make them consistently, the manufacturer needs special sewing machines, attachments, and presses. If you can, go visit the factory and find out if they really specialize in caps.
Social Compliance, Sustainability, and Quality Control Certifications
Certifications don't guarantee a high-quality supplier, but they do go a long way in showing the manufacturer's commitment to quality, sustainability, and ethical practices. There are many types of certifications (you can read our previous blog about this subject here). Look for certifications that can give you peace of mind about issues you care deeply about such as WFTO for the ethical treatment of workers, OEKO-tex for sustainable fabrics, and ISO-9001 for quality. We find that a factory with a certification in one area probably is overall more professional and capable in many areas.
Many of our customers come to us because they experienced poor communication with their previous suppliers. Customers have complained about previous manufacturers not sharing the status of orders, not giving prompt replies to e-mails, giving only vague replies that don't address the issue at hand, or overall lack of transparency about timeline and pricing.
Your supplier should be able to give you an upfront, clear, and concise quote for your caps and updates on your order as it is being processed. If you're developing a new style that the supplier hasn't made before, they should be able to estimate the cost before sampling and then give you a firm quote after sampling.
Make sure the manufacturer has the communication capacity to be clear, concise, and work through your concerns. A phone call is worth a hundred e-mails, so ask them to get on a Zoom or Skype call with you.
Before starting a manufacturing relationship, ask about your supplier's current turn-around times. Post-pandemic there are a lot of logistics backlogs and cap manufacturers have definitely been affected. We've heard from some customers that popular styles can be on backorder for over a year. Make sure the style you want will be available on the timeline you need. Recognize that the more customization you want, the longer the lead time will need to be. The fastest way to get custom caps is to buy in-stock blanks in your own market and get them embroidered locally. However, this can result in limited color, decoration, and labeling options. If you want a custom color or print, it might have to be dyed and printed before sewing the cap. This will usually result in needing to source the cap from overseas and potentially longer production times and shipping times.
Minimum Order Quantities
Ask about the manufacturer's minimum order quantity (MOQ) for your designs. We have seen cap MOQs vary from 1 piece (often for in-stock blanks) to up to 600+ per style. While MOQs can vary widely from one manufacturer to another, if you're a startup you may have limited working capital and need to make your decisions based on a style and supplier that is available in lower quantities. As you can afford bigger purchases, prices can come down dramatically with larger orders. Be prepared that as you add customization (custom fabric colors, labeling, branding on snaps, tape, buttons, etc.), the minimum order quantities will increase.
Custom Labeling Options
Many early-stage brands choose to source from trusted, large-cap companies like Richardson or Yupoong and just add their custom logo through embroidery or patches. Depending on your order quantity, this can limit your ability to add custom branded labeling. As a growing brand, you want to get your brand name out there as much as possible and not cause confusion when people see other brand names on the labels. Ask your supplier about their MOQs for custom labeling and other branding options like your name on the interior taping, the top button, snaps, fasteners, or buckles.
Caps are surprisingly tricky to make and involve a lot of stitching work. The difference between a cheap, poor-quality cap and a high-quality one is very noticeable, so don't just go searching for the lowest price. It is now common to see high-quality, ethical, or sustainable brands retail their caps for $30 or more. Also, if you're buying a small batch of 12-50 custom embroidered caps in the US, it's not uncommon to see prices around $25 each. When you go directly to a manufacturer you can expect lower prices, but you will also need to be ready for longer lead times as they will likely be made from scratch rather than pulled from stock for embroidery as many wholesalers do. We've seen factory pricing for 50-100pcs anywhere from $2-$12. Just remember you often get what you pay for and you should be able to expect a clear, upfront estimate or quote.
At Purnaa, we specialize in Fair Trade, fully-printed custom caps. We can receive your artwork, print, cut, sew and dispatch orders in two weeks with MOQs of 12 for our dealers. We'd love to help your brand grow through high-quality caps. Click here to start a conversation today.
Read more about our custom cap manufacturing services in these previous blogs