by Fredrik Grönkvist
Importing clothing and textiles from China? Keep reading, and learn what you must know about sourcing clothing manufacturers, fabric specifications and design drawings. We also explain how you can reduce the Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) requirement and compliance testing costs by streamlining the use of fabrics and colors.
Product focus is the primary factor qualifying potential apparel manufacturers. Clothing factories are specialized in making certain types apparel, which also is reflected on their material subcontractors and machinery. You’ll get an idea of a supplier product scope by quickly reviewing their website or supplier page on Alibaba or Global Sources. That said, the business scope, as specified on the supplier’s business license, can be even more telling. Below follows an example:
High-grade fabric weaving, dyeing and finishing; clothing, textile products in the production, processing, sales of the company products, and related products in the acquisition of export business.
We can tell, from the business scope above, that this supplier is an export oriented textile fabric manufacturer. If there is no mention of ‘production’, ‘manufacturing’ or specific production procedures, the supplier is likely a trader. That category of supplier also tends to include a large number of product categories in its scope.
Buyers in many markets, mainly the United States and the European Union, must ensure compliance with various product standards and regulations. When it comes to textiles, there is a variety of substance restrictions in place, limiting the content of formaldehyde, lead and AZO dyes – among others.
However, few apparel manufacturers can provide compliance documents (i.e., test reports). Thus making it hard to assess a clothing supplier capability to produce compliant goods. Instead, compliance documents are far more often held by textile fabrics subcontractors, and overseas buyers, rather than the apparel factory.
That being said, our experience tells us that the risk of non-compliance (i.e., a product that fails compliance testing) is low, when importing clothes from China. Our clients have submitted material samples for REACH and California Proposition 65 testing on a frequent basis in the last few years, and very few have failed testing. There is, however, one exception. Coated fabrics. Buyers of waterproof fabrics with TPU or PVC coating must take extra care, as the coating may contain phthalates and other restricted substances.
A Quality Management System (i.e, ISO 9001:2008) is implemented in the supplier’s production flow to track and limit defects. Among clothing manufacturers, far from all suppliers hold QMS certification. Clothing importers are wise to not rely on the suppliers to manage quality, but shall implement their own quality assurance procedures.
Social compliance has been a hot topic in the industry in recent years. Especially since the collapse of Rana plaza in April 2013. That occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh, not in China. I’d also dare to say the (overall) degree of workplace safety is higher in China, compared to other Asian manufacturing destinations. That being said, a supplier with social compliance audit reports at hand are to be preferred. Look for suppliers with BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) and Sedex certification.
Fabric specifications can be based on an existing ‘standard fabric’ or an OEM specification. The latter may result in a vast increase of the lead time, and the MOQ. We’ll back to the MOQ in a bit, but first follows a list of fabric specifications:
All components must be listed in the bill of materials, and may include everything from fabric pieces to zippers. The quantity of each component, on a per unit basis, must also be specified.
Design elements can be replicated from reference samples, or design drawings. However, limiting yourself to only one of two is unwise. A physical sample provides a much needed reference product for the supplier during the sample development process. However, design elements must also be communicated as design drawings, which also serves as attachments to sales contracts and other product documentation.
The design drawings shall also show the position of washing labels, prints and embroideries, for the sake of reducing the risk of misunderstandings.
A size table lists dimensions for all sizes. This is a complement to the design drawing, on which the various measurements are to be specified (i.e., chest width and length). The following measurements may be included:
All print and embroidery files must be provided in either .ai or .eps format. Include the following:
This article (Why Techpacks are important), published by Hong Kong based Techpacker.com, further explains why the Techpack is critical when outsourcing apparel production to Chinese, and other Asian, manufacturers.
When importing clothing from China, the MOQ is usually set at around 500 to 1000 pcs per product. There is a reason for this. Clothing manufacturers must purchase a certain quantity from the textile fabrics and component suppliers. This quantity requirement is then reflected on the MOQ the clothing manufacturer must set.
Clothing suppliers are not only setting MOQ requirements per product (i.e., design), but also per color, fabric and size. Hence, clothing importers must request the following MOQs from prospective apparel makers:
For further clarification of how the MOQ is structured, an example follows below:
Clothing suppliers are generally more willing to offer a lower MOQ when it’s in their own control to do so. As we see in the list above, the SKU MOQ is often based on the MOQ per color. The latter is in turn set by the fabrics supplier, rather than the clothing factory. This is even more obvious when we look at the Size MOQ, for which the supplier can afford to be more flexible. This also explains why a lower order volume results in a limited material option.
Now, 500 pcs per SKU is not a terribly large volumes. It’s barely enough to keep a medium sized clothing factory running for more than a couple of hours. However, most brands are not limited to only one product. Hence, an MOQ requirement of 1000 units per product is multiplied by the number of SKUs in your catalog. As such, startup brands and small businesses have the following options:
Option 2 enables the supplier to both satisfy the MOQ requirements set by subcontractors, while offering its overseas buyers a reduced MOQ. As said, clothing manufacturers can afford to be a bit more flexible when it comes to the processes they manage in house. For example, cutting and sewing. Yet, expect a reduced volume to result in an increased unit price.
This strategy offers another benefit. Substance testing costs (i.e., REACH and California Proposition 65) are largely based on the number the number of fabrics and colors. Hence, compliance testing costs can be vastly reduced by limiting the number of fabric and colors used to make a collection. Most countries only require the importer to provide material test reports (if any applicable substance regulations), rather than product specific test reports (with the notable exception of children’s clothing).
Clothing is a high volume product. As air freight charges quickly run up due to ‘Volumetric charges’, shipping by sea is the only viable mode of transportation – for anything but minor sample deliveries. Sea freight charges are based on three factors; Incoterm, volume and destination. For more information on sea freight when importing clothing and textiles from China, read the following articles:
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/.