There is no simple, bullet point list to follow when considering your first approach to a sewing factory. Like you and your product line, every provider is unique. In the end I can only speak for my factory but I hope this will be helpful.
As reluctant as I am to say this, as a factory owner, communication from new designers is far and away the most frustrating part of this whole process. There is a huge variety of ways to approach a contractor these days; truly, it can be overwhelming with options ranging from private platforms, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, Etsy etc. It is very likely that factories aren’t on all of these platforms or use them for communication so the simplest approach is best -namely, a direct email (follow these guidelines) or a phone call. I can’t stress this enough -and if the factory requests that you call them, then do that as soon as you possibly can. Do not ignore that and continue emailing as though this had never been stated. Do not return email asking for a time to call. We’re working 8-5. Somebody will answer. If you wait too long, your email will have been long deleted and you’ll have to start over. I won’t work with someone I have not spoken to by phone because subtle clues illustrate whether a person is ready to enter into business relationships. If you worry about that, don’t. The people most likely to be rebuffed won’t read this post because they are special. They often order other people around and talk over them. Avoid that and you’ll be fine. Be yourself and try not to be nervous; a good partner will be uncomfortable if you are nervous. Remember that the other person wants the call to be the start of new, successful relationship too.
Every factory has a few concerns; in bold are the questions I’d ask you. In italics, I list the reasons I’m asking or what is going through my mind.
What kind of products are you making? Can we make these products? Do we have the necessary equipment and skilled labor? If we don’t have the machines, can we get them? Is it worth getting the machines? How much time and expense would be involved in learning how to do this product?
How soon do you want work to begin? I have X project winding down and am looking for the best option to fill my schedule. How much advance time do I need to ensure both me and the customer are ready then?
When can you send me the pattern (assuming you’ve not hired us to make yours) and materials for a sewing test and price quote? Are you aware of all that needs to completed before hiring a contractor? If you’re not yet ready to send documentation, samples and materials for a test sew, how far out are you? Are these things that we can help you with?
How many units do you need? We don’t have minimums but will you be able to sustain the expense of producing small orders and survive? We won’t make any money either if you’re struggling so we want you to get ahead as quickly as you can. If you need larger lots produced and this will be a long term relationship, I’ll need to add staffing and get them up to speed.
Have you calculated what your sewing costs should be to fit into your profitability and pricing strategy? Very few customers have realistic cost ideas. Some are too high but most are too low.
Once these things are discussed in brief, you’ll need to send work materials for a test sew in order to get an estimate. Very few good factories can give you an exact price if this is first time you’ve taken this step. There are too many things that can happen to unexpectedly raise the cost of an estimate much less an exact price. I suppose I can flesh this out in part two. It is very frustrating when customers unnecessarily increase the cost of doing business. The trouble is, too many don’t realize that a short cut here or there will have the effect it does. I will say now that our biggest surprises come with fabric. It’s gotten to where we will only provide cost for sewing as cutting is so variable between sampling and production. We bill for cutting separately.
Stay tuned for part two. Hopefully posted soon.