Making your product. Home or away? – Red Dragon Flagmakers
Sewing a Union Jack Flag

Making your product. Home or away?

So you want your design made into product?

  • Who do you turn to for help?
    • Making a prototype
    • Who pays for what
    • What does sampling mean
    • IP (intellectual property)

  • Have your product made in the UK or abroad?
    • Pros and cons
    • Expense
    • Brand value

  • Terminology
    • CMT – cut, make and trim
    • MOQs – minimum order quantities – the quantity of goods you as the client would be expected to order to achieve the quoted price. Even though the unit production price may be low, consider the additional costs of shipping, packaging, warehousing, pick and pack etc in volumes.
    • FOB - (Free On Board) is a term in international commercial law specifying at what point respective obligations, costs, and risk involved in the delivery of goods shift from the seller to the buyer. Under the Incoterms 2010 standard published by the International Chamber of Commerce, FOB is only used in non-containerized sea freight or inland waterway transport. FOB terms do not define transfer of ownership of the goods.
    • QC – quality control

CMT – what does it mean?

The three options

  • Finished product sourcing:an intermediary gives the order to a factory (or splits it into several factories) under FOB terms.
    • This is what numerous trading companies based in Hong Kong do and importers often wonder what value these middlemen add to the buying process.
  • In-house production:a factory gets an order and makes the goods in its workshop.
    • Most buyers expect this to happen when they ‘buy direct from the manufacturer’. But, quite often, it is NOT what happens (see below).
  • CMT purchasing:the supplier keeps the development of new styles and the materials under his control, and outsources the labour-intensive jobs (cut, make/sew, trim / final QC, and pack).
    • How often does it happen? It is difficult to estimate, but a best guestimate is that at least 25% of garment production is managed under CMT terms in China.

Why have your goods produced ex UK?

I’ll simplify the steps of the production of a batch of garments to illustrate how easy it is to spend more time and money than is necessarily needed when you choose to have your products made ex UK.

  • Before proceeding with any sampling it is worth noting that your intellectual property rights are not realistically valid outside of the UK (or the country where you are domiciled). So if you choose to go abroad to have your product made, don’t be surprised if the designs are copied and made for other clients. From personal experience, if the product is a great idea, the workshop will want to share the good news and optimise on the success of the product – and CMT it to others. At the end of the day, dollar is king – and dollar is the currency for CMT worldwide.
  • Samples are made to match the customer’s design – you can tweak as much as you want but time is money and unless you are in partnership with your CMT supplier it’s a good idea to have as much of the leg work done before you ask for sampling to be done.
  • CMT suppliers expect to be paid by the hour, the day, the product or the process – work out what works best for you and depending on what stage you’re at with your product research and development, negotiate a way forward to keep everyone happy – sounds simple but if you don’t lay the ground rules, animosity may creep in and you’ll end up with very little for your efforts. Respect your CMT supplier.
  • When you do have a sample made, try it, test it, scrutinise its durability, aesthetics, the accessory detail YOURSELF. Don’t expect your CMT supplier to do this for you – its your product, not theirs. Its your business and product to promote, NOT theirs. The CMT supplier is providing you with a service.
  • Don’t over engineer or be too pedantic about your product either – respect the experience of the CMT supplier and made adjustments to your product with production costs and viability in mind. The more changes you make, the more the sampling will cost.
    • The patterns designed in the sampling phase are usually used for consumption calculations and pricing – the client must expect to pay for sampling and the cost of materials.
  • The fabrics, accessories, and packing elements are purchased
    • At the client’s expense
  • The fabric is cut and then bundled by style, size and colour (that’s the CUT).
  • The different sewing steps are performed in a workshop (that’s the MAKE).
  • The finished products are trimmed, checked one last time, and packed for shipment (that’s the TRIM).

And the benefits of making in the UK?

As the client, you are able to keep a first-hand keen eye on development and purchasing in person, ensuring that

  • patterns and samples - critical for getting orders are done correctly rather than going back and forward, wasting time, energy and money – a small sampling room with a few good technicians within driving or a train journey distance is all you need.
  • purchasing materials - the consumption is calculated with patterns, and buying the fabric is the most important expense.

Cutting can be outsourced or to cut costs, you can do this yourself. 

  • Cutting requires space - a large room, some specialized equipment, and a few experienced technicians. The benefits of keeping cutting in-house (ie. YOU do it) can be huge when you’re starting out. 
  • Fabrics and accessories can be controlled as soon as they are received, and before it is cut. In my experience, when products are made abroad rather than in house (or locally), there is perhaps less integrity and
    • When the “cut” job is done by the CMT suppliers, there is more of a margin of error than when you do it yourself, after all wastage is your expense not that of the CMT supplier
    • The unused fabric can be kept aside (the leftover of fabric is sometimes the main source of profit on an order, and of course the unused fabric is never declared by the workshop when cutting it subcontracted). 

The last two activities are always subcontracted under CMT

  • The “Make” (i.e. sewing) job.
  • Operating a workshop is a recurring cost for a fixed capacity. Outsourcing this activity means your production capacity has no limit and sending a sample to several workshops is enough to find ‘the cheapest needle’.
  • It is worth investing in QC the ‘make’ step to avoid quality disasters.
  • The ‘trim’ job, usually including final QC and packing. If an external workshop sews the garments, it should also trim the threads, pack the goods, and repair the workmanship defects.

What are the risks having products made abroad?

The main downside of this supply-chain structure is that the workshop is the weakest element of the network. It has to bid a low price to get business, so it needs to rush production to make a small profit.  In China 99% of garment factories work to the same format, so lower costs are only achieved with unskilled labour, long hours and minimal QC.

It is commonly acknowledged that whilst having products made abroad might be a cheap option, it is usual to expect a 20% margin on damaged or unsaleable / unusable goods which in my experience is something to avoid and costs more in reputation, paying for addition QC before shipment to the consumer.

Where do most QC problems come from?

From the workshop job (either because of a poor attention to quality, or because of a poor communication of the buyer’s requirements).

Where do last-minute delays come from?

From the workshop (because of bad planning, of an order rushed for another customer, and/or of re-work due to poor quality)

The sewing workshop should be at the centre of the supply chain.

Make your products in the UK.

Jo Ashburner-Farr

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