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Working with a British clothing manufacturer

How to take the pain out of sampling with a British clothing manufacturer in 8 easy steps

UK clothing manufacturer

Photo: S.E.H. Kelly

I get a lot of designers contacting me asking for recommendations for British manufacturers that can make their products. Some of them are very frustrated because they have sampled with factories that I have recommended but they have been disappointed by the results. They cite time taken to sample, quality of the end results and failure to communicate as the reason that they don’t think things have worked out.

Are our UK clothing factories really not up to the job? Or is something else going wrong here?

I spoke to Russell Hammond of the Scaphan Network, who works with many top end designers to help them make their businesses more profitable and get their production right. He had the following great suggestions for how to get sampling right first time:

How to Make Perfect Samples in 8 easy steps

  1. Plan – Benjamin Franklin said “failing to plan is planning to fail”. You need to set a critical path (a calendar detailing who will do what by when) at the beginning of the season and stick to it. Build in a 2 week buffer for expected delays.
  2. Be realistic – Are you really going to finish designing in October for the February show?
  3. Involve your suppliers – If you tell them when you think you will give them fabric/trim/patterns and when you expect them to produce the sample then they will feel involved and be more likely to deliver on time.
  4. Include a range plan – Most of the timing is dependent on capacity. Try and think about how many styles you want to show by category (dress, trouser, skirt etc) and then add 20% for samples that don’t work. Make that your range plan and stick to it.
  5. Expect the unexpected – Build in time to do last minute samples. Even the best designers change their mind at the last minute so don’t try to plan everything. Assume 10% of your range will be designed/patterned/produced at the last minute and warn everyone.
  6. Communicate – Russell says “So often I can resolve a problem between a factory and a designer by helping them to talk and listen to each other. It’s surprising how often I hear from factories who say they can never talk to the designer.” Make sure you explain what you expect from the factory and when. You should have already told them roughly how many samples you’re making and when they are expected to produce them. Talk to them (ideally face to face) about it before even starting to sample.
  7. Be clear – Make sure any correspondence is clear, concise and consistent. Russell says he often finds that specs contradict toiles. The factory then decide which one to follow (usually the wrong one) and then the sample looks terrible. Before sending the pattern/fabric/toile pack, imagine you’re a factory. Is everything clear? Do they have everything they need? Are they expecting this? Do they know what to do once they get it?
  8. Keep your promises – In his business Russell often helps designers with late deliveries. When he investigate it turns out that the designer makes all sorts of promises regarding production orders, fabric arrival and deadlines that they don’t keep. If you want a factory to keep their promises then you have to keep yours. Treat the factory with respect. They’ve hopefully been doing this longer than you so make sure you listen even if you don’t like what they’re saying.

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  1. Hayley Chalmers on March 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    For me the most important thing has been communicating with the pattern cutters and the factory. With no fashion training I learned some great lessons. Spec sheets need more detail than you think. Anything not on there is then left to the pattern cutter’s and factory’s imaginaiton.

    It’s also useful to discuss the design and the fabric that you have chosen with the cutter and the factory before you start getting patterns made – they can advise on difficulty of manufacture, appropriateness of the fabric for the design etc etc. It can save a lot of wasted time and samples.

  2. si on April 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I’m just looking into creating my own line of clothing. This article has helped a lot.

  3. Peter on August 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

    I cannot agree more on points 6 & 7. I have worked in small start-ups, and now work for a large international brand. More often than not the real issue is people’s difficulty in communicating, and listening to what suppliers have to say.
    If they tell you something is probably not possible, they mean it. You can save yourself a lot of pain by respecting what they have to say, and engaging with it.

  4. FRANCES BOLTON on October 24, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I am interested in manufacturing clothes for export. Please get in touch

  5. Glenn Mann on January 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm


    perhaps someone could recommend a baby and childrenswear manufacturer in the UK? we have everything ready to go and would love to work with a UK manufacturer but have had little luck…


    • JOHN FLINT on February 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Glen, i cant recommend a manufacturer, but if you ever need an embroiderer, please get in touch. john@castle-embroidering.com of phone 0115 947 2888.
      All best regards, John

      • Kate Hills on February 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm

        Hi John
        Thanks very much for getting in touch.
        I know of several companies that have requested embroidery services recently.
        I will send you an email
        Many thanks

        • JOHN FLINT on February 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm

          Hi Kate,
          Thank you very much!

          Here are a few bullet points about Castle Embroidering:

          1) Castle have been in operation for over 60 years, up until twelve years ago we were the largest embroidery company in the country, operating 25 multi-head machines from 12 to 20 heads.

          2) Most of the work we did went in to Marks and Spencer. However, unfortunately when M&S decided to go 90+% overseas, Castle had to down size and change its direction.

          3) Now Castle operate five multi-heads (Three Tajima and two happy machines) + one Tajima sample machine, all fully compatible to do baseball caps.

          4) We also operate two top of the range Ethos digitising systems, to ensure your designs are created swiftly and to the very best possible standard.

          5) Castle now works mainly with promotional and work wear suppliers on an embroidery only basis, many of our which have their own embroidery machines, but often have the need to contract out, for various reasons from in-house staff shortages to near impossible deadlines, that we often make possible!
          I hope you will look at this e-mail with favour and optimism and I very much took forward to hear from you in due course as and when the need arises.
          However; in the meantime, if I could I ask you to be so kind as to save this e-mail for your future reference.
          All the best,
          Castle Embroidering Limited
          Unit J Stonebridge Court.
          Alfred Street South.
          NG3 2GY.

          Tel 0115 947 2888.
          John Flint

    • Kate Hills on February 16, 2013 at 12:15 am

      Hi Glenn
      I can certainly help you with that. Just fill out the form here http://makeitbritish.co.uk/find-a-uk-clothing-manufacturer/

  6. John Robertson at Veganline.com on January 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I suggested an idea to London Fashion Week (aka British Fashion Council ) via my London Assembly Members, but none of them was willing to take it up and go to a meeting with me. London Fashion Week, surprisingly, were willing to meet a member and constituent.

    The idea is that every UK clothing and shoe factory they can find is asked to nominate customers who might want the subsidised PR of exibiting at London Fashion Week. Nobody is allowed to apply directly. That way, the people who get publicity at taxpayers’ expense are also good at dealing with UK factories. Probably helping them to pay taxes in the UK. It seems fair. The exhibition should also state the names of factories that made things on display, alongside the name of the stallholder who is flogging the stuff.

    The current system is a bit like the X-Factor with industry pundits picking winners from among the bunch who apply – often ex fashion students. Then there has to be subsidised help to try and help them become businesslike and find suppliers.

    Another suggestion would be to call it London Rag Trade Week : the idea of Fashion is muddled and a turn-off for most of us.

  7. Yasmin Aswat on February 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    This article is interesting as i am a leather clothing/product manufacturer who has been making for over 30 years and all our products are made in the UK! i am always looking for more customers who need a maufacturer/factory in the UK!

  8. Bernadette Grocock on February 26, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start up in clothing manufacturing and training in the UK?

    • Yasmin Aswat on March 7, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      its hard work would be the first thing. Finding trained people like machinist can be challenging. Finding someone with experience is a must and will make the process easier. Different areas need different expertise, from pattern cutting to cutting the item, machining to finishing the final article takes a lot of work and knowledge.

      Hope that helps

  9. Dan on March 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    I have a couple design sketches on paper but apart from that i have no knowledge of how to bring these sketches alive. I’ am very interested in starting a clothing label but have no clue what to do apart from sketching my idea.
    As this collum is all about manufactuering im guessing everyone else already knows what they are doing which is why i’ am hoping someone can help.

    • Yasmin Aswat on March 7, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      I would first advise working out what material/fabric you want your items in. Then you need to find a good pattern cutter and finally find a factory that will work with the fabric you have chosen.

      samples must be made in order to work out what the finished product will look like. Doing a range can take a bit of time and finding the right factory to make your products can also be challenging but hang in there. Sometimes you can find a factory that will help you through the process.

      hope that helps

  10. candice hemming on April 15, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I read with interest the above comments as I am looking for a UK manufacturer and embroiderer in order to start an equestrian/sportswear clothing line, I am keen to “Keep it British” and am worried by the horror stories I have come across when trying to work with manufacturers abroad.
    We have an established company brand in the equestrian world through our other products and have always wanted to bring out a clothing brand to offer something a different.
    Any help or advice on how to start to establish a relationship with a UK manufacturer and embroiderer would be a massive help.

    many thanks

    • Yasmin Aswat on April 15, 2013 at 9:23 am


      drop me an email on sales@aswatleathers.com I may be able to help you out or point you in the right direction


  11. Sanna hill on April 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    I have read all the points and found it very interesting, I am a designer just started my own ladies wear line and i make all the clothes myself. I am now looking for a uk manufacture who can help with my next collection. Is there anyone who knows a good manufacture who can help with sampling, patten grading and small production runs.
    I have called a few that I found on line but they were not interested.

    Many thanks
    Sanna Hill

    • Yasmin Aswat on April 22, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Hi Sanna

      i might be able to help please email me on sales@aswatleathers.com to discuss



  12. neil on May 17, 2013 at 8:01 am

    we have been making in the UK for the last 6 years, good production is hard to find here and even harder to keep good, we have just lost our shirt factory to bigger/cheaper production,,,,,looking for anyone who can make GOOD shirting in the UK

    accounts @ robinsdad.com

    • Aïda on June 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      Hello neil,
      We manufacture good quality clothes including shirts in the UK ( central London)with our experienced staff and a fast turn over.
      Please contact me at my email address to discuss.

  13. MR T on May 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    I am a UK tailor i have over 40 years experience in tariloring. I have my own tailoring business. I provide made to measure services, Bespoke Services, Sampling making for men and women suit, shirts, blouses trouser, skirt.

    All the garments are made in the UK at my workshop.

    For any information contact
    Mr A.Goffar or Mr T
    UNIT 30
    TEL: 0203 246 0000
    E-MAIL: info@bespoketrend.com

  14. Daksha Mistry on August 30, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I am looking for a sample maker for swimwear. I have been designing swimwear for incontinence for 3 years and as my factory is abroad now, I need samples made of my new designs. If anyone knows of swimwear sample maker, please go to my website and contact me.

  15. Daksha Mistry on August 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    I have been designing swimwear for 3 years now. I am looking for a sample maker for swimwear. This is incontinence swimwear. Please contact me through my website, if you are swimwear sample maker

  16. Cally on October 27, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    This article is great! Thank you for all the advice. I am looking to get a range of yoga clothes manufactured. I am hoping to work with stretchy fabrics. I come from a design background, but have terrible pattern cutting skills…Just wondered if you can recommend any good companies to work with? Many thanks.

  17. Rachael on October 31, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I am looking for UK manufacturer for womens clothing, underwear and bikinis that can produce samples etc and small production runs.

    If anyone can help me or point me in the right direction that would be great!

    Thank you

  18. Ruth Green on November 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I am looking for a UK manufacturer to produce and pattern cut my range of children’s clothes, small production runs.

    Anyone with experience and advice on this would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

    • Karen on November 25, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Ruth,

      I came across your post asking for for advice on finding a UK Clothing Manufacturer. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but did you have any luck?

      I am in the situation and any advice would be appreciated.


      • Nicki on May 3, 2016 at 12:52 pm

        Hi Ruth and Karen,
        I am also in a similar position and wondered if you had any luck with a UK manufacturer for kids clothing – produce and pattern cut range and small runs? I am new to all of this so any help would be greatly received.
        Many thanks

  19. Angela Kane on January 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I have just discovered this site after searching for sample makers – very useful.

    I would welcome suggestions for finding a sample maker. My business is upmarket Sewing Patterns for download plus tutorials and sewing eBooks. I have quite a following. I am making up my samples myself but it is now holding me back. I need many more examples to promote on my site.

    What would be a good way forward for me?

    Thank you

  20. Nera on January 9, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Can someone help me with the procedure in obtaining brand license for a small start up business to use a licence character ?

  21. A giant within fashion - Clothes on Sale on January 28, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    […] within the fashion world. It is in my opinion very deserved. Hugo Boss never made a compromise when producing the clothes. It always possesses the quality and the fashion that Hugo Boss is promising the company’s […]

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