Adventures in overseas manufacturing pt.2

Continuing from my previous entry, all of this mad obsession led me to Alibaba where I browsed through page after page of evening wear manufacturers before getting tired of reading it all. I decided to just post a buyer’s query and wait for factories to email me.

I received a lot of emails from a lot of different factories in different countries. Some of which have their own staff of designers and produce fabulous evening wear. If I were ever interested in that industry, I would be very excited at the things that I have found.


I engaged in a lot of back and forth asking different product questions, mainly asking to see pictures of their own work as many are known to show pictures that their customers have sent them to copy. If you know anything about that, sometimes the copy can vary drastically from the original. Once I found interesting factories, I would ask for their IDs on MSN Messenger or Yahoo Instant Messenger so I can chat with them. It’s usually about 5PM my time when they start their workday, so I’m able to reach them and ask a lot of questions.

One of the factory reps sent me (upon my request) a sample of the most amazing hand embroidery I have ever seen. Not that it’s saying much, I’m not exactly a connoisseur of hand embroidery. I was so amazed that I sent it to Kathleen, because if she liked it, well that was a seal of approval that it really is good embroidery and I’m not being wowed due to my inexperience. It took a while to hear back from that factory so in the meantime, I “spoke with” other factory reps.

One rep, let’s just call him Jack, was quite amusing. I’m only telling this story because I know you can appreciate it. He had various samples of evening dresses, most of which were priced between $80-150 FOB China. I asked how much more would it cost to make it of silk, to which he replied 3-4 times the price.

Excuse me? That makes no sense. I’m sitting at my computer thinking it’s possibly a communication error, yes that must be it. So I send him a picture of a dress that I pulled off the Neiman Marcus website just to test. I said can you give me a quote for this dress. A few minutes later I am told $105. I then asked for the quote with the dress made of silk. I was told $400. The dress was only $380 at neimanmarcus.com. I found that amusing.

It should be noted that a lot of what you find on the internet are enterprising individuals who are in the area, speak and write English well, who know of the factory, who will personally get your goods made in exchange for the markup they are charging. They don’t work for the factory, they work with the factory. Which is fine with me, because I’m really just looking to enhance my personal wardrobe and if I find something to produce (for resale), then I will, but I started off with an obsession with kimono dresses.

So what you have to be careful of is the person looking to make money, but who doesn’t understand squat about apparel and doesn’t care to learn.

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7 comments

  1. I’m just getting into your discussion on overseas manufacturing, and find your information interesting, and what I have heard as well. I have a protege that is in China right now, producing cashmere & silk coats and jackets. Although this is her 4th year to do this, it’s the first year she has spent 9 months with me first, to help develop her “pattern production” skills, so she could design & produce highly creative shapes. All 4 years she HAD to go over there to watch over production. This is the first year that I helped prepare her to TEACH the stitchers how to mass produce these high fashion, creative coats and jackets. China just doesn’t know how to produce tailored high fashion. By going over there, she also is assured really great low costs.

    By contrast, I have spoken to some DEs who have tried to do some overseas production. Even IF they got some decent cost structures, every one that that I know of, that didn’t have someone in that country to work on it, found that the production lot was made very badly when shipped in.

    Another example imports leather jackets (men’s & women’s) from India. (He is a member of my Boston Fashion Industry Meetup http://fashion.meetup.com/1/ ) There are two problems: 1) he’s not a designer, he leaves it to them, and the styles are too basic and he can’t compete. 2) the production cost is too high (he doesn’t know enough about production & costing), and he can’t compete with a store like Wilson Leather. But, because he knows them well in India, one good thing is that he can get “custom” made for individuals here. Then, the costs are OK.

    Just though I’d add some thoughts on this subject. Thanks, Miracle, for writing this up here. And thanks, Kathleen, for having so many great posts, and people.

  2. graham says:

    It totally makes sense that doing it from another material costs tons of money. What you’re doing is not asking them for “silk”, you’re asking for “different machines, different material, and different factory”…

    Look, factories tend to specialize in something. For example, I have two bartack machines in my factory of nine straight stitch machines and three overlockers. When the factory isn’t making my bags, they don’t use the bartackers at all. They send out the fabrics for button-holing or bartacking to another contractor. A bartack or buttonhole costs about $0.20 in small lots in Turkey. A shirt or a pair of pants might have 20 or so at most, and it makes sense to send out the parts rather than doing it in the factory. On the other hand, my packs have between 140 and a 175 bartacks. If you do a production run of 200 pieces, you’ve just bought a good condition used machine…Or if you’re working with a material that the factory isn’t set up for, you’ve just bought the factory a new set of machines!

  3. Pichitra Wuttisitti (Susan) says:

    The discussion forum and comments on oveerseas manufacturing plus issues with ‘submarine’ are a few of the issues that make me squirm when I think about doing business with the U.S…. I am one of Bangkok’s avid fashion trendsetter (kidding)… I luuurve creating, mixing and mathing, and flaunting my designs on me…I have turned heads, I have frequently been stopped and asked where I bought what I was wearing…. hmmm… so I started my own collection…. I am keen to look for small to medium international buyers of ready to wear young, chic, hip, and ethnic clothings in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. I feel that U.S. will pose a huuuuge barrier of entry with all the quota restrictions and sales reps that might take me on a spin, and rules and regulations that may zap my creativity… this is a little turn around on the perspective on issues at hand… any comments? Would like a few suggestions and help aong the way for me to start my humble entry into the ierce fashion world in the U.S.

  4. Babette says:

    This story is consistent with what happens when Australian designers go offshore for production. I know a company that had a factory in Fiji. They closed it and moved their production to China on a contract basis.

    They’ve had to dump container-loads of goods that were so substandard they couldn’t put their label on it. Now they send a highly skilled production manager to China to oversee the training in the factories they use.

    One of the problems they’ve had is that China is going thru rapid development. The (usually) girls who work in the factories often move from the countryside and live in a hostel at the factory. They get trained and become quite skilled. If another factory opens closer to home, they move immediately rather than have long journeys home only every couple of weeks.

    A factory can lose a chunk of its trained workforce overnight and has to start again. So the production manager has to go back to China and start over. Even if they keep the staff, the production manager has to go to China at the beginning of every new design run.

    Training on new designs isn’t enough. Even the basics have to be covered. The production manager I know has had to train the girls to put a new needle in the machine every morning. Otherwise they just continue until it finally breaks.

  5. azalea says:

    I import silk fabrics from India and have had to check every yard before I sell it further. Usually the solid colors and plaids are spotless and clean but the embroideries can have problems.Visiting factories there I saw that often they work in such low light that dull spots and stains are barely visible. Its not that they dont install bright lights, the power supplied is of very low voltage and a 100w bulb burns like a 25watt one. The workers that check the goods dont have much to lose if the fabric they pass gets rejected.The factory owner suffers losses but cannot pass it on to the workers as he is dependent on them.Firing them he may actually get people worse than them.
    It takes a few attempts but once you settle down with 2-3 factories that understand your standards its worth the effort to source from there.

  6. Andy Chang says:

    the reality about portals like alibabas is that it is mainly for people whom are computer savy. If any one had ever been to factories in India and China, they will know that people working in a factory are usually not even high school graduates. They can barely read let alone use a computer. So whom are these people that are using computer and advertising on Alibaba and similar portals? They are either trading companies or SOE (state owned enterprise). either way using them you will most likely get screwed. Lets take a look at the trading firms. These companies only have one goal in mind and that is to make a sale. Most of the sales staff working there have no manufacturing back ground, however they do speak English, so any English speaking individual will find them easy to work with ( because they will promise you the world.) However, when they actually hooked you, and deliver the final product, most people will realize that they got screwed, becuase the factories with whom they placed these orders have no concept of quality control. They are used to producing mass quantity goods with low quality. If one doesn’t have a good check and balance, it is likely that the final product is only fit for swapmeets.

    Lets look at SOE, these are losing money business owned by government, which the governments are trying desperately to get rid of. They are usually with thousands of sewing workers. However, because of their massive size, they are not interested in orders less than 10000 pcs. So who can make 10,000 pcs of dresses or suits with 1 color only? You may have guessed, Walmart and the likes. Walmart can get a killer deal, because the only objective for these factories is to have lots of orders, whether profitable or not is none of their business. Their only objective is to hit the export numbers. These managers are not reviewed based on factory performance. So that also explains why a dress would cost $300 fob China or etc…….

    Also, most oversea vendors are suspicious of customers, because we all know there are a lot of crooks out there. A lot of factories got burned through Alibaba and similar portals from committing to orders and buyers backed out after all fabrics and trims had been purchased in being produced. so by nature not only the people sourcing are wary of being taken for a ride, so are the factories that are offering their services. Since the concept of “Credit” is not yet taken up by places like India and China, sourcing there will be difficult to say the least.

    The best way is to find a referal, someone whom have had good experience with a certain vendor and to continue work with them. even then that does not guarantee success.

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