By Polly Chen
China has become a major manufacturing hub for fashion brands. The country remained the largest clothing exporter in the world in 2018. But with the U.S.-China trade war escalating, brands that traditionally manufactured in China are now relocating.
Thom Baker, global creative director at Champion, said:
Tariffs are landing on footwear, and it’s going to affect the whole category. …People have been moving out of China for a long time, going to Taiwan and now Vietnam. People have been looking at lower-cost sources.
Fast fashion and high fashion brands are leaving China. They would like to manufacturer in non-tariffed countries to control prices and improve their margins. And Southeast Asia is now the popular choice for fashion manufacturing’s relocation.
For example, Bangladesh has much lower labor costs than China and Vietnam has relatively lower tariffs on garment exports. Because of brands relocating en masse, Bangladesh saw a rise in its sales overseas from $29 billion in 2017 to more than $40 billion. Also benefitting from importers leaving China, Vietnam’s textile and garment exports grew 14.5 percent in July.
But manufacturing outside China doesn’t mean a total relief. Manufacturing outside China might encounter a skilled labor shortage (see #3). Unskilled labor could lead to production delays and shoddy products.
Additionally, other Asian manufacturing countries’ infrastructure is not as advanced as China’s. Bad infrastructure could cause shipping delays and significantly affect supply chains.
Some brands remain with their suppliers in China
But under the trend of relocating from China, some brands still believe that it’s worthwhile to manufacture in China. They stick with their Chinese partners even when costs are increasing. Some brands remain in China for the high-quality manufacturing here.
Jessy Dover, founder of handbag brand Dagne Dover, said the quality of her product is always the priority. She will keep supporting her Chinese partners and adapt with them through economic changes, especially since she relies on them for their unique skillset and production abilities:
Different types of products require different types of specialists and craftsmen, so location can be dictated by that in some circumstances.
Some fashion brands remain in China for the high relocating fee. Relocating means moving the existing production lines away to find a new factory with qualified labor elsewhere. Sourcing raw materials in a new place could also cause headaches.
Megan Stoneburner, the director of sourcing and sustainability at Outerknown, said her brand will be struggling to meet sustainability requirements outside China.
Megan’s team must visit every facility, see all the materials and know where they come from to maintain their sustainability program. If her brand moves from China, she will have to send people around the world to sample the products and make sure they are meeting the brand’s standard. Megan said that strategy would be difficult, and as a result her brand will keep manufacturing in China for now.
How to manage garment quality when manufacturing outside China?
If you are an importer that manufactures your products in China, you might also be considering leaving China. But when you ponder other sourcing alternatives in Asia, the first thing that comes to you should be quality control.
The “Made-in-China” label no longer represents low product quality. On the contrary, many high-quality goods are made in China today. But how to manage garment quality when manufacturing outside China?
Here are three ways for you to manage garment quality even if your manufacturing is outside China (related: 3 Ways to Manage Garment Quality Control):
- Set clear tolerances for measurements. You can specify each point of measurement in a sheet for better reference.
- Conduct on-site testing during inspection. On-site testing like the crocking test and stretch test can help ensure your product’s durability and functionality.
- Use lab testing to further control garment quality. A professional-grade lab can test fabrics or garments according to your specific requests. You can learn about the composition, the dimensional stability, colorfastness and other factors that affect garment quality.
The last thing you want to see is customers returning clothing because of quality issues.. In order to preserve quality amidst the trade war, it’s a good idea to adhere to quality control best practices like those mentioned above.
The views, opinions and images in this article are purely the author’s own. Global Sources does not own responsibility for what is presented in the article.
Polly Chen is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in Asia for clients in the US, EU and Australia.