Apparel manufacturing in California

We’ve discussed this topic on FI in fits and starts but a piece from today’s mail makes me think we should cover this officially:

We are a small studio in southern california making a transition from teaching textile techniques to designing a line of baby blankets, pillows, and accessories. It is our intent to follow that up with a line of clothing focused on the same buyers. We have made all of our own patterns, and are sewing our prototypes in our studio.

After reading your book we are considering going to contractors for some professional help before starting real manufacturing. Before going to either a contractor or deciding to just do our own small scale manufacturing of these goods, we have read on your website and now on the links, that we may need to procure a registration from California to continue forward. In your opinion is this correct (if we have 2 or 3 of us sewing blankets in our studio for sale?)

Also, when following the links on your site to the CA Gov site, it appeared that to get a registration number we needed to take an exam. How do we find out what we need to study to pass this exam?

Based on information from the State of California website, “every person engaged in the business of garment manufacturing must register with the Labor Commissioner”.

The term person is defined as:

…any individual, partnership, corporation, limited liability company, or association, and includes, but is not limited to, employers, manufacturers, jobbers, wholesalers, contractors, subcontractors, and any other person or entity engaged in the business of garment manufacturing.

Garment manufacturing is defined as:

“Garment manufacturing” means sewing, cutting, making, processing, repairing, finishing, assembling, or otherwise preparing any garment or any article of wearing apparel or accessories designed or intended to be worn by any individual, including, but not limited to, clothing, hats, gloves, handbags, hosiery, ties, scarfs, and belts, for sale or resale by any person or any persons contracting to have those operations performed and other operations and practices in the apparel industry as may be identified in regulations of the Department of Industrial Relations consistent with the purposes of this part. Labor Code Section 2671(b).

In other words, even though bedding is not specifically mentioned, the intent of the law is clear so I wouldn’t waste time quibbling. The regulations would require you to have a license even if you did not intend to produce apparel later. The regulations are all inclusive. Even if you are sewing for profit by yourself at home, you will need a permit -except in cases of making clothing to order (custom work).

The registration requirements for new applicants (pdf) are comprehensive. As an ongoing enterprise, you should already have the required supporting documentation. Everyone else will need to go through the gauntlet of getting official with state and local offices and the IRS first. You will need to fill out the Application for Registration (pdf), include all attachments and include the $25 application fee (certified check, cashier’s check or money order). Once you’ve submitted your application, the state will issue you a file number along with an authorization for examination letter (which explains where and when you can take the exam). This packet will also include the study materials for the exam.

There is a fee beyond the application fee. The registration cost for the first year is $200 for sewing contractors and $750 for manufacturers. You will have to pay this fee annually to stay current. Subsequent renewal fees are sliding scale, based on your sales from the previous year (they’ll want to see quarterly reports). The minimum fee is $750 for manufacturers based on annual sales of $1-$500,000. The fee on sales from $500,000 to one million is $1,000.

With regard to your situation, there are penalties (I don’t know how severe) for manufacturing without having obtained registration. I can only urge you to cease manufacturing until you can get one. There is one sticking point; the application asks whether you’ve been manufacturing without a license but answering in the affirmative can expose you to penalties or denial of your application. Accordingly (don’t you dare say I said so or I’ll deny it) I don’t know that you should disclose you’d been doing this prior to seeking license. The application specifically states one may not commence manufacturing until the registration has been granted.

The upside of licensing is that it makes searching for sewing contractors in the state much easier. The included link also includes links to databases in NJ and NY.

[amended] Abigail sends an important comment so I will be updating this post once I can verify it with the state office.

Other entries in this series you may find useful are:
California Garment License for Out of State Companies This should be read by California residents too.
Studying for the California garment exam
Apparel Manufacturing in New Jersey
Apparel Manufacturing in New York


  1. Bob says:

    Still trying to get info on what/how to study for the exam. How detailed does the exam get? Are the stapeled summary documents enough to study from or do you need to try and understand the official CA publications? Almost seems you need to be a lawyer to understand that. What types of child labor law questions do they ask? Thanks for your help.

  2. Kathleen Fasanella says:

    Bob, I’ve amended the original entry at close with links of more recent entries that deal with these questions, one specifically describes studying for the exam.

  3. Leslie says:

    Quick question…does this apply to garments only? What about accessories, diaper bags, and the like? I don’t make clothing, but I do make cloth bags. Does this apply? If so, you then need licensing to expand and contract out to contract sewers?

  4. Kathleen says:

    does this apply to garments only? What about accessories, diaper bags, and the like? I don’t make clothing, but I do make cloth bags. If so, you then need licensing to expand and contract out to contract sewers?

    This is an old entry. The law covers ANYTHING made with a sewing machine. The state of California is rather humorless when people have thought they don’t need a license just because the law was named poorly. Contract sewing businesses MUST have a license too. Just as you cannot hire someone without a license, they cannot legally take your work if you don’t have one either. Sewing from home for profit (other than custom clothiers) is strictly illegal in CA. See the other entries in this series.

  5. Leslie says:

    I am just a bit confused then. On the state of california’s site, it states this as the law:
    “Garment manufacturing” means sewing, cutting, making, processing, repairing, finishing, assembling, or otherwise preparing any garment or any article of wearing apparel or accessories designed or intended to be worn by any individual, including, but not limited to, clothing, hats, gloves, handbags, hosiery, ties, scarfs, and belts, for sale or resale by any person or any persons contracting to have those operations performed and other operations and practices in the apparel industry as may be identified in regulations of the Department of Industrial Relations consistent with the purposes of this part. Labor Code Section 2671(b)
    The article I make is not “worn”. It is a bag used for wet items hung in the laundry room or bathroom. Is your interpretation that this law is for everything? Just want to make sure before I put myself out there for penalties now…

  6. Kathleen says:

    Is your interpretation that this law is for everything?

    ~sigh~ I’m familiar with the wording but it’s not “my” interpretation. It’s not my fault they haven’t resubmitted the wording of the legislation to state representatives for reapproval. That is typically not done because the normal course of affairs is to go to the state supreme court and nobody is going to fight it because if you look under the rules and regulations governing implementation that was developed from the legislation, you can see it’s there. I’m not going to drag out the subsection that further elucidates because it’s a waste of my time when I get nothing out of it. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t live there, I don’t send work there, and I don’t make a dime convincing you to become compliant. It’s not my law, rules or opinion.

    You have much more to gain by contacting them than me.

  7. Leslie says:

    Thanks Kathleen! Someone referred me to your blog and stated that there was a lot of informative information so I posted for advice as you were well recommended by some manufacturing consultants that I know. Thank you for your help!

  8. Kathleen says:

    Hey Leslie, I just went by your site…uh… have you been keeping up with all the CPSIA stuff? I think you have bigger fish to fry right now… See the front page.

  9. Leslie says:

    Oh yeah, there’s big hoopla about that. Actually there is an organization for cloth diaper manufacturers called the RDIA. It’s a new entity as of last year. Cloth diapers are sometimes considered clothing, sometimes not, depending on the agency. The RDIA have legal working on it right now. I don’t think my bag will be classified as a “children’s product” as we sell to gyms, etc. But everything we sell will have to be in compliance. It’s a bit crazy. So much for “helping” the economy grow…

    All of the baby products we sell will have to have compliance certificates; such items as Baby Legs, and more! I’m not 100% convinced that the product we actually manufacture falls into the “test and comply”. I do know this, some major diaper manufacturers have started doing this testing anyways, to the tune of $200.00 per test per color, which comes to $400.00 per fabric. So if you have 25 fabrics, zippers, snaps, we’re talking the tens of thousands of dollars for testing and more!

  10. Kira says:

    After reading all of these comments, no one has actually answered the question — if you are sewing from home and are the ONLY person sewing for your business and you’re not outsourcing anything, do you need to take this test and get certified as a CA garment manufacturer? I decided to write to the CA state dept (I am in SF).

    I make dog clothes and I’m the only person sewing/making the garments, so I wasn’t sure if any of this applied to me. This is what they wrote back:

    First of all, the regulations on ‘garment’ manufacturing involves the manufacture human garments – see Labor Code § 2671(b) “. . .wearing apparel or accessories designed or intended to be worn by any individual . . .”; the ‘individual’ (under common definition) means a person – not an animal.

    Secondly, the prohibition against industrial homework is against any employer that allows or suffers an employee to take such work home, or for such employees to manufacture such articles in their own home. You state that this will be your business and that you will not be using employee labor. There is no regulation about where an individual works for him/herself; the prohibition is against employee labor working from home (in industrial homework) and against the employers who permit such behavior.

    You provided the definition of industrial homework [Labor Code § 2650(d)] but you apparently failed to realize the meaning:

    “The definition of industrial homework is as follows: means any manufacture in a home of materials or articles for an employer when such articles or materials are not for the personal use of the employer or a member of his or her family.” (Emphasis added). Your query indicates that you will be working for yourself, for your own business – not for an employer. Therefore, the work you describe is not ‘industrial homework’. Should your business grow; you could not contract out to anyone working from home, nor could you employ someone to work from their home; you’d have to establish a regular place of business for such work.

    Hope this helps! I feel pretty relieved now…

  11. Kathleen says:

    I have an announcement, hope you can help this attorney who called me from the venerable Institute for Justice; it’d be to everyone’s advantage who works out of California. His email address has been omitted but is included here in the forum. If you are not a member but would like to respond, you can either call or snail mail him or email me and I will forward your response.


    Thank you so much for speaking with me about California’s garment manufacturing law this afternoon. As I mentioned when we spoke, we are conducting research for a series of reports on city and state regulations that create barriers for entrepreneurs in certain occupations. I would be very interested to hear from any of your members who have experienced problems because of California’s garment law. More specifically, I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s been warned or cited by the government for not complying with the various requirements, such as the state certification requirement or the effective prohibition on working in your own home. I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who may be in compliance with the law now but who couldn’t comply when they were just starting out because of the economic, administrative, and other burdens the law imposes. Basically, I’d appreciate the opportunity to chat with anyone whose right to earn an honest living has been burdened by this law.

    The focus of the particular study I’m working on is Los Angeles, so I’d be really interested in hearing from folks there, but I’d welcome the chance to speak with others as well.

    Finally, I should mention that one of the main goals in preparing these reports is to illustrate the negative impacts that laws like these have on entrepreneurs and small businesses and to encourage state and local governments to revisit the laws so that people may be free to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government regulation.

    Thanks so much for your help, Kathleen!

    Michael Bindas

    Staff Attorney
    Institute for Justice Washington Chapter
    101 Yesler Way, Suite 603
    Seattle, Washington 98104
    phone: (206) 341-9300
    fax: (206) 341-9311

  12. howard says:

    I have a question. I am an out of state company having some things made in California. When being informed of the requirement, I did research and noticed the company I was using was not on the data base of licensees. Also, almost no company in the building he is in was on the data base either (ans it’s a big building in the fashion district) Why is that? Are there a huge number of manufacturers that do not comply? Is the state search engine incomplete?

  13. Bridget Guzzi says:

    What a wonderful information source / discussion site. It is made clear that doing the right thing is imperative if you wish to enjoy the growth of your business.
    Those who do not stay in compliance actually push up the rates for those who do. We can bring costs down and fight squarely if we remain in compliance. There – in – after they will have to listen to us about these unreasonable costs. In reality we are paying the price for those who willfully disregarded basic employee human and business rights and responsibilities.
    The costs for this license are absolutely ridiculous. The squad of investigators that are shutting down non-compliance businesses even more ridiculous. If we get in compliance they will have to spend their time giving us the customer service we deserve, and re-assess their costs in relation to what they are providing “manufacturing”. Remember “we pay them”.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Speaking of, I’ve heard some recent really nasty stories about field agents citing screen printers in California. These guys don’t even have sewing machines, they just print shirts. Even worse, inspectors are insisting the screen printers clients have licenses…to the tune of outfits like Sun Microsystems. Right, Sun is going to get a garment license just to have polo shirts embroidered with their logo.

    It is not a coincidence that the cost of doing business in CA is what is leading to its record breaking job losses in manufacturing over just the past seven years. The jobs are going to Texas.

  15. Jamie says:

    Garment screen printers and embroiderers in California finally have a chance to make some changes that will exclude our businesses from carrying the label of “Garment Manufacturer” Spot bill AB 2576 has been introduced by Assemblyman Jim Nielsen.

    You can see the actual bill here. This is the first chance we as State residents and Business owners have had to voice our opinion. I have just added my name and business to the list of names that will be sent to the Assemblyman. The more names on the list the more weight the bill will carry. You can remain anonymous and still show support as well. The online form is here. Any questions or comments can be directed to the Assemblyman or his staff. That contact information is here.

  16. Jeff Bacon says:

    First, I have to say that while I understand the intent, the application of this law is just nuts!

    Now to the important stuff. In following the thread, one question that wasn’t discussed – that I could find – is whether a designer in California who has all work done out of state requires a license. I’m just having things silkscreened now – although even that may be a problem – but am planning for the future.

    Anyone have any experience? As much as I’d like to use local talent, it seems like the state’s making it almost impossible. I’ll also be adding my support to the bill Jamie mentioned – if I’m not too late.

  17. Mansha says:

    I own an Men’s clothing label and started my business by outsourcing the first collection. I realised how painful it is to get it done overseas when yo have a small production size. I am now planning to do my manufacturing locally. I am based in San francisco, California and have found quite a few contractors here. Do you think I should get the manufacturing done in San francisco or look around for contractors in LA which is more options.

  18. Mari says:

    Wow, this thread has been incredibly helpful! I found the answers to the questions I had about the necessity of obtaining a garment license that unfortunately I couldn’t find anywhere! I plan to start a very small online clothing company targeted to a small market, so I will be doing all the work myself.
    I’ve been reading a couple books about starting a clothing line and the information about legal matters is not thorough enough. I think it would be great to have a section/ chapter dealing with just the legal issues: Manufacturing license, business license, taxes etc. I am interested in reading Kathleen’s book next. Thanks!

  19. Liam says:

    I’d like to start designing a childrens line of clothing and accesories and plan to outsource all of the manufacturing. While I will be designing and producing the patterns, everything else will be contracted out. Will I still require a CA Manufacturing license?

  20. Kathleen says:

    Liam: legally you are the manufacturer. [That’s the law and not subject to semantics or quibbling over definitions.] As such, yes. You need a license. Insult to injury, you need to comply with the CPSIA law -which is federal.

  21. Christine says:

    My husband and I have applied for garment manufacturing permits that last 3 years. We screenprint t-shirts in our garage and have no employees. We sell shirts on our website, to local stores and at our booth at music festivals. In the past we have applied as a manufacturer, but based on the language it seems like we might actually be contractors instead of manufacturers. There is of course a huge difference in fee. Can anyone shed light on this?

  22. Quincunx says:

    On a whim, I decided to follow up on Irene’s post about the folks in Sacramento not even knowing about this. There’s six license-holders in the city proper, all manufacturers, and just over double digits if you include the one or two from every city in the area, which are not all manufacturers–and no overlap with the “sewing contractors” entry in the Yellow Pages (a misfiled dry cleaner) or “clothing wholesale & manufacturers”.

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