When you are choosing where to manufacture your new clothing line, there are a lot of options out there. Before you make your decision, thorough research is essential. You need to arm yourself with as much information as possible to make the best decision. Manufacturing costs, ethics, and quality are all variables that will affect your decision. But one thing is certain, choosing to manufacture overseas is always risky.
5 Reasons Not to Manufacture Overseas
1. Design Miscommunication & Malfunction: It’s the Norm with Overseas Manufacturing
No matter where you are having your designs manufactured, clear communication is the key to success. And when you have put in the time and money to begin the manufacturing process, there is absolutely no room for trial and error. Communicating product specifications clearly is more difficult with language barriers and there’s a much higher chance that measurement differences will occur when working with manufacturers in different areas of the world.
Newer designers want to know what is going on at all times and that means frequent check-ins. If your manufacturer is overseas, that will mean flying to them multiple times a month, annihilating any cost savings. And, once there, will you know what to look for? Do you know what questions to ask them? Or even how to communicate the issues you see?
Unless you’re an experienced designer with an impeccable tech pack, you’ll want to check in on your designs. With an overseas manufacturer, that is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Now, imagine you think you have the communication handled and you don’t fly over to check in because it’d kill your budget. You’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of your finished designs. The day comes and that big package arrives. You open it, pull out that garment you spent so much time designing and sourcing materials for, and it is wrong.
Maybe the fabric is not what you ordered or the trim is flimsy and cheap. No matter what the specific issue is, the end result is that it’s wrong and there is nothing you can do about it. Design miscommunication and malfunction is the norm with overseas manufacturing. With language barriers, time, and culture differences, communicating by phone will not be nearly as efficient or productive as checking on your line in person.
2. Cost & Risk: The Cost to Manufacturing Overseas is High, and so is the Risk
You may have heard that it is cheaper to manufacture overseas. In reality, the total costs of manufacturing in the United States versus overseas are closer than you think. In fact, it is sometimes less in the US. That may surprise you, but you have to consider all of the costs that are going to add up. When you created your budget, you should have factored in labor costs, materials, packaging, shipping, traveling, and more.
When you manufacture overseas, you need to look at these costs as well as the cost to ship overseas, the costs of flights to check in and meet with the manufacturer, and any emergencies that have to be handled from a distance. Plus, when manufacturers have to ship overseas, their minimum order quantity is typically in the thousands. For newer designers, this is just not feasible.
3. Liability: Overseas Manufacturers Have None
In the United States, we have a product liability system in place to protect consumers and designers like you. If a manufacturer’s product is defective, they are held responsible. In general, the US product liability system covers defective products that cause or could potentially cause harm or injury. For clothing, this could include burn hazards, choking hazards, and other injury issues.
As far as other legal liability, you may find yourself in a situation where the manufacturer simply isn’t delivering on their end of the agreement. In these cases, there is little you can legally do about it when working with manufacturers overseas. Essentially, you run the risk of the manufacturer taking your money and you have no power to do anything about it. It doesn’t matter if you sign a contract – are you ready to enforce it?
4. Transparency: With Overseas Manufacturers, There is None
Unfortunately, unethical practices in factories are a very real thing. Low pay and dangerous conditions are things that come up a lot. American factories are strictly regulated to ensure that workers are adults, paid a living wage, and given certain rights. Environmental issues are also heavily regulated in the US. Dye houses and other mills follow strict guidelines for proper waste disposal.
Outside of America, that is not necessarily the case. It is not uncommon for brands to learn that the factories they employ are using child labor or other unethical practices. When this happens, the brand suffers greatly and it is difficult to bounce back.
5. Delivery Dates: Good Luck Getting Anything on Time with Overseas Manufacturers
Think about how far your product has to travel to get to the United States. Even inside the United States, there are so many things that can hold up shipping. Truck shortages, weather conditions, natural disasters, not to mention iffy mail systems themselves. When shipping internationally, products have to travel much farther and likely through multiple countries. This multiplies the risk of shipping errors that could hold up the delivery of your pieces. If you are working on tight deadlines with buyers or retailers, a hold up in shipping will make you look unprofessional and there isn’t anything you can do about it.