This Is How You Find A Factory In China
You've got an idea, you see a hole in the market. You think you can do it better. But how on earth do you find a factory in China?
Alibaba? Good luck.
Whilst it powers enormous amounts of world trade, this is like the chicken leaving the hen house to meet the wolves for a dinner party.
We honestly thought it would be easy, but... it's not. It's really not.
Nearly a month was spent contacting factories on Alibaba, Skype, email, if you want a sample, you need a tech-pack. WTF is a tech-pack?
First question, guaranteed:
"How many pcs do you want to buy?"
You think emptying your life savings into a new business idea is going to get them excited volume wise? Some perspective here. We ordered 5,000 pcs (pieces) and had no less than 20 factories not even return a quote!
As much as I love email, Skype, Whatsapp & WeChat there came a point where the only thing we were making was a hole in our pocket.
This is how you do it:
- Get a Visa
- Book ticket
- Get on plane to China.
You know that moment in life when you realise you really know nothing about what you are doing? This was ours. We knew nothing about making underwear. But we learnt one very very important lesson when we arrived in China.
If you are willing to haul your ass on a plane to China, they respect it and will work with you. You're not kicking tyres and kissing babies at this point in their eyes.
We were very fortunate to have found a great factory, who spoke English and had a dirty bird around the corner for lunch.
Seems pretty straightforward? Nope...
You have to make some big decisions and very quickly and once they are made, there is no going back:
- Which fabric are you using?
- How do you know it will last?
- What will it look like in 6 months?
- Can it withstand guys putting it in the dryer at 850c?
- Flatlock stitch or 3-need thread?
- Sizing? A Medium in Australia might be a Small in the UK.
- Guys fart a lot. Describing what a 'skid mark' was in Chinese was not so straightforward.
It's best to bring samples... R&D in China sometimes stands for Receive & Duplicate.. so the more you can SHOW them what you want, the better.
They asked us for our tech pack. This is normally an extremely detailed document describing the factory, the size, cut, colour, stitching etc.
Our tech pack:
The Sample Room. It's literally THE most important room of the factory. It's where the factory will produce, of course, a sample, for the client to sign off, which will be the final production-ready product. These are usually some of the highest paid workers in the factory.
This is also a good opportunity for you to see the factory yourself, ensure the working conditions are safe and fair and of course all the laborers are qualified.
This is not the point to make a joke about child labour! It's taken very very seriously in China, contrary to popular belief and we as a company take it even more seriously. The factories pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to be certified against child labour and inhumane working conditions. Our factories hold all these accreditations.
It took about 25 iterations and changes to get our product right. It literally came down to us sitting on the floor of the sample room, trying them in our underwear. Yeah you get a few weird looks walking around the factory in your underwear, but f***k it.. you gotta do what you gotta do.
There is NO point coming all this way to build an inferior product. You have to get it right because once they are made, they are made.
Testing in the sample room:
Signing off the production is the scariest part of the process. The decision is final and you can't change it. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, it becomes very hard because the placebo effect can take hold here and you can try something on and 'think' you feel a difference.
First Pair of Step One's in production:
QC (Quality Control) is enormously important. It is often done by a third party company who will come in and take random samples from the production run. Aim for about 98% approval rate. In clothing, you will never get 100%.
Production done, build the relationship. Usually done at dinner hosted by factory owner.
Gary, owner, started the factory when he was 16, making them in his mum's apartment then grew and grew and is now one of the bigger suppliers in the underwear market.
So before you quit your day job and pour your kids college funds into your new clothing venture:
- Get on a plane - only way to do it
- Know exactly what it is you want to make
- Listen to them, they are the experts
- Visit 2-3 factories minimum. If the prices at one are too good to be true - it probably is, but you won't know until they are in your warehouse in Australia.
Make sure you've got a lot of storage space because if it doesn't work out, you're pretty good on underwear for awhile :)