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Sportswear manufacturers in China: A complete guide

by Fredrik Grönkvist 

 

Sportswear Manufacturers in Asia

In this product guide we cover Sportswear Manufacturers in China, and look into the specifics of importing private label and custom designed fitness apparel. Keep reading, and learn more about production clusters, material specifications and product customization. In addition, we also explain what you must know about relevant textiles regulations, including substance restrictions, technical standards and labelling requirements.

Sportswear Manufacturing Clusters

Sportswear Manufacturers, a title that can be applied to Apparel producers of a wide variety of products, are (with notable exceptions) concentrated in Fujian and Guangdong. Instead, they are part of the larger apparel industry. Sportswear buyers shall consider visiting the following cities:

  • Shenzhen, Guangdong
  • Guangzhou, Guangdong
  • Fuzhou, Fujian
  • Xiamen, Fujian
  • Jinjiang, Fujian
  • Quanzhou, Fujian

As with all suppliers, Sportswear manufacturers are specialized. Textiles manufacturers can in general be said primarily be specialized on certain product categories, materials and target markets. Below follows a list of common product areas in the industry:

  • Compression Wear (Fitness, Cycling & Yoga)
  • Hiking & Outdoor
  • Jackets
  • Skiing & Snowboarding Wear
  • Gold & Tennis Polo’s
  • Swimwear

Fabric and Material Specification

Sportswear buyer can generally rely on materials and components supplied by the Apparel manufacturers’ subcontractors. However, the quality of the materials on offer, differs, as Apparel manufacturers does not only specialize in areas – but also price segments. While a supplier may be ‘reliable’, that is not saying they are focused on high end Sportswear. Quality can only be defined in technical terms. As such, a first step of the process is to draft a material specification. When buying Sports and Fitness Apparel, this must be included:

  • Fabric (e.g., 61% cotton, 33%polyester, 6% spandex)
  • Fabric Weight (e.g., 180 gsm)
  • Stretch (i.e. 4-Way Stretch)
  • Other materials (e.g., Lining and Mesh)
  • Printing
  • Other fabric specifications (e.g., Quick Dry, antibacterial, UV Protected)

Importers are wise to begin with a somewhat flexible material specification, as the manufacturer must be able to match corresponding fabrics. OEM fabrics can be purchased, but should be avoided unless you have highly specific material requirements.

Product Design, Customization and Tech Packs

A material specification is complemented by a design drawing, both of which must be included in the buyer’s Tech pack. Today, however, many apparel companies buy private label (ODM) products, rather than custom designed (OEM) clothing. As the applied procurement and product development procedure is very different between the two, we compare the key points in the table below:

 ODM SportswearOEM Sportswear
Reference SampleProvided by the supplierProvided by the buyer
Sample PhotosProvided by the supplierProvided by the buyer
Material Specifications
1. ‘Guideline specifications’ provided by the buyer.
 
2. The supplier provides counter samples of the fabrics that corresponds (to a varying degree) to the buyers ‘Guideline specs’
1. ‘Guideline specifications’ provided by the buyer.
 
2. The supplier provides counter samples of the fabrics that corresponds (to a varying degree) to the buyers ‘Guideline specs’
 
Alternative B: The supplier purchase OEM fabrics made entirely according to the buyers specifications
Design DrawingsProvided by the supplierProvided by the buyer
MeasurementsSize table provided by the supplierSize table provided by the buyer
ColorsSelected from suppliers color card or standard fabric colorsOption A: Selected from suppliers color card or standard fabric color

 

Option B: Selected from Pantone color card

Logos & Embroideries.ai or .eps files provided by the buyer.ai or .eps files provided by the buyer
Labels.ai or .eps files provided by the buyer.ai or .eps files provided by the buyer

 

Apparel Regulations and Standards

Sports and fitness wear are, in some countries and markets, subject substance regulations. As far as I am aware, such regulations apply to most consumer products, including textiles, and don’t apply specifically to Sportswear. Buyers in the United States and the European Union must be aware of the following:

MarketRegulationDescription
EUREACHREACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) restricts usage of chemicals and heavy metals in all products, including Sportswear and other textile goods. Third party compliance testing is not required by law, but non-compliance results in fines and a forced recall.
USCA Prop 65California Proposition 65 restricts more than 800 substances in consumer products, including Sportswear and other apparel. Compliance is required for all companies with more than 10 employees, selling in, or to buyers in, California.
USFHSAFHSA (Federal Hazardous Substances Act) restricts various substances, some of which are found in textile – for example Formaldehyde.

 

Ensuring compliance requires Sportswear importers to apply a comprehensive testing strategy. Normally, the first step of this process is to limit the supplier selection to those able to produce verifiable test reports. However, as many experienced Apparel buyers already know, many manufacturers lack an extensive compliance track record, making it hard to tell whether a supplier is truly able to control its incoming materials.

In fact, many suppliers themselves are unsure if their products are compliant with overseas standards. As far as I am aware, the most efficient way to verify compliance, when buying apparel, is to first confirm materials and colors, which are submitted for compliance testing very early in the process. If possible, in parallel with sample development.

Buyers of Sportswear shall also consider a range of other, non-mandatory, performance testing procedures, including the following:

  • Flammability
  • Thermal
  • Water
  • Fiber Analysis
  • Fabric Abrasion and Pilling Resistance
  • Feather and Down Testing
  • Fabric Tearing Strength
  • Colorfastness (i.e., UV Light, Rubbing)
  • Antibacterial and Odor
  • Quick Dry

Fabric samples can be tested in Mainland China or Hong Kong, where several accredited European and American testing companies are present. However, Sportswear manufacturers require the buyer to pay all third party fees, including for substance and fabric performance testing. For reference, a variety of EU and US technical standards for textiles can be found here:

Most other markets base their standards to largely, sometimes entirely, on American or European Union standards.

Labelling Requirements

Importers are required to ensure compliance with all local labelling requirements. The scope of regulations varies by country and market, but tends to include the following:

  • Material specification (i.e. 80% Nylon / 20% Spandex)
  • Washing Symbols (i.e. ASTM and/or Washing Instructions
  • Size
  • Country of Origin (i.e. Made in China)

Never assume that your supplier is aware of how clothing must be labelled in your market. Asian contract manufacturers, including Chinese, are accustomed to making goods entirely according to the buyer’s specifications, including for labelling. Yes, that’s the case even when buying ODM products. To avoid compliance issues, provide your suppliers with ‘ready made’ .ai or .eps label files, and its placement specified in the design drawings of the Teckpack.

Sportswear Trade Fairs in China

Global Sources Fashion Fair

  • Location: Hong Kong
  • Time: October 27 – 30
  • Website: Click here

Hong Kong Fashion Week (HKTDC)

  • Location: Hong Kong
  • Time: July 4 – 7
  • Website: Click here

Canton Fair (Phase 3)

  • Location: Guangzhou
  • Time: October 31 – November 4
  • Website: Click here

China International Sporting Goods Show

  • Location: Fuzhou
  • Time: May 8 – 11
  • Website: Click here

Taipei Int’l Sports Textile & Accessory Expo (SpoMODE)

  • Location: Taipei
  • Time: March 2 – 5
  • Website: Click here

ISPO Shanghai

  • Location: Shanghai
  • Time: July 7 – 9
  • Website: Click here

ISPO Beijing

  • Location: Beijing
  • Time: February 24 – 27
  • Website: Click here

Fredrik Grönkvist is the co-founder of ScandinAsian Enterprise in Shanghai. Since 2010, he and his team have helped hundreds of companies worldwide, primarily in the EU and US, to develop and manufacture products in China. He is also the main contributor on www.chinaimportal.com, a leading knowledge base for small- to medium-sized enterprises importing from Asia. For further questions, you can contact him on www.chinaimportal.com/contact-us/.

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