How to find manufacturers that make small quantities in the UK
If you’re looking to start a business making clothing, accessories or homewares in the UK, or even if you already have one, one of the things that you are probably looking for is a manufacturer that can make small quantities.
In this article I offer some tips on how to find manufacturers that make small quantities in the UK and offer advice on what you need to consider if you don’t have a big budget for manufacturing.
When you’re starting out it isn’t wise to invest lots of cash in stock up front, so a manufacturer that can make small quantities is essential. Every product is different though, and you need to take each one on a case by case basis. Only then can you define what a ‘small quantity’ is for your product type and start to approach the right manufacturer to work with you.
Here are 3 things to take into consideration before you start to look for a manufacture that can make small quantities:
1. What are you making?
Some products are much easier to make in small quantities than others.
For example, things that are sewn together are generally easier to make in small batches than items which require a mould making or a complex machine to be programmed.
Dresses, tops, shirts, coats and leather bags are examples of products that can be made in reasonably small quantities.
If a product requires some form of machinery programming or mould-making, the minimum order quantities are more likely going to be higher. This is because a manufacturer needs to receive a more substantial order at the end of the sampling process to make it worth their while.
For instance, knitwear made on modern knitting machines can require some time-intensive computer programming to produce a first sample. Likewise socks are also made on machines that need some lengthy set-up time. And if you are making shoes that need their own last (the mould that the leather is shaped around) you’ll need to make a reasonable quantity in order to cover the cost of making the last.
Ring around and ask lots of manufacturers what their MOQ (minimum order quantity) is for a certain product type and this will give you a good idea of what is considered a small order quantity for that particular item.
2. What raw materials are involved?
Finding fabrics that you can buy just a few metres of is another challenge that you need to consider if you’re just starting out.
Many of the UK fabric mills are not set up to sell you a few metres. They hold fabric on big rolls and that is how they are used to shipping it out.
So in this instance you’ve got a couple of options. You can either find what you need in a retail store and make your first order in something that you can buy off the shelf (making sure that the retailer can also get more). Or invest in a larger quantity of the raw materials but keep the number of different fabrics or leathers in the range quite tight. That way your investment in raw materials upfront is not too high.
You also need to consider any decorative application and what a reasonable minimum might be for that too. Fabric printing minimums can vary according to the type of printing and the number of colours in the print. As a general rule, if you want an all over print with lots of colours in it but only a few metres then digital printing will be best, but the most expensive per metre. Whereas if you want a placement print then screen is great if there are only a couple of colours in the design, and transfer printing if there are more colours.
3. Where are you looking?
Generally speaking, there are a lot more small studios and workshops in London than there are in other parts of the UK. This is because many designers that show at London Fashion Week are based in the city, so manufacturers and studios have sprung up accordingly. Whereas generally an area like Leicester has larger factories that are used to making big order quantities for multiple retailers. There is an exception to every rule though.
So when it comes to location you need to be flexible,
WAYS TO GET AROUND THIS
• Start with a sample maker first. They are there especially to help you prototype and are used to making hand holding a small business more than a large manufacturer is. They also won’t expect a final order at the end. We have several sample makers that are coming to our show and you can also find them on the exhibitor list on the event website. Bear in mind not all of the exhibitors have added their detail. • Get someone who can manage the production and sampling process for you and who has more sway with the manufacturers. They are more likely to get your foot in the door and get the manufacturer to bend the rules on their minimum order quantity, WHERE ARE THEY LOCATED?
Then you need to consider location. For instance,
ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE TOO MANY DIFFERENT STYLES AND SIZES?
One of the ways to cut down costs is to cut down the number of styles in your range and the amount of sizes that you are making.
I get lots of people telling me that they can’t find a manufacturer to make small quantities. It’s generally never impossible but you need to bear in mind that if you want to place very small orders what you are actually asking for is a sample order and it will be priced accordingly. But we’ll come on to ways in which you can help to alleviate some of this cost
But first of all there are various things to consider which will help make finding the right manufacturer easier.
First of all,