VFS Mentoring Event Review- Production

Guest speakers;

Burack Cakmak: Head of Sustainable Production, Gucci Group Ltd.
With over thirteen years business experience, Burack is currently the Director of Corporate Sustainability at Gucci Group. He is responsible for the implementation of sustainable production, working to develop initiatives for business ethics, human rights and environmental stewardship.

Paul Williams: Business Counsellor for East London Small Business Centre
With an extensive history in garment manufacturing, Paul became Managing Director for the design and manufacturing of Next, Debenhams and House of Fraser, running three factories simultaneously. Paul then spent two years as a consultant, auditing and setting up factories in China and Turkey for various clients before becoming an advisor at ELSBC. ELSBC is an agency designed to provide financial and business advice and support to start up fashion labels in the UK. 

Burhan Bilici: Managing Director De´ Atelier Ltd/Sourgrape
With a family background in manufacturing, Burhan has 15 years experience in the production business, having worked for companies including Karen Millen, Whistles and All Saints. Burack now runs his own production company with a portfolio that includes Hussein Chalayan, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Jonathan Saunders, Mary Katrantzou, Roksanda Ilincic, Richard Nicoll, Roland Mouret, Eudon Choi & House of Holland.

Finding the right factory
  • You can start on-line with a basic search and email the ones you are interested in 
  • Go to an area where there are many factories and visit them all until you find the right one
  • Talk to others and share your experiences. You must all work together as the next generation of designers. You do not have to share confidential information but working together will give you more leverage to influence behaviour.
  • Look at other brands the factories work for. Are these brands in-line with yours?
  • When they have made your sample, this should be an indicator of the quality of your production orders.

Manufacturing Abroad
  • Don't have to go abroad for manufacturing. More and more units are opening up in the UK - not just in London but also in the Midlands and North of England
  • When you are starting out, it is a good idea to have things manufactured in the UK because you can keep a close eye on it. It's when the orders grow and you need to start considering price that you might consider manufacturing abroad
  • It completely depends on your designs where you might choose to go. You might consider Italy, Portugal, Turkey, The Eastern Block (in particular Bulgaria and Lithuania) or you may have to go even further if you need specific skills e.g. handwork to India or Morocco for leather
  • You don't have to stick to one location. As you grow, you may consider different location

'Made in Britain' label
  • Items can be labelled, 'Made in Britain' if a certain percentage of the garment was made in Britain
  • If you buy fabric and bring it into EU and pay the duty, it becomes European
  • You don't have to put country of origin on garment labels within the EU, however, this is a requirement for the US

Custom Information
  • You can ring them and find out, they are very helpful

UK Based Production
  • There is a big market for UK production, not just new designers but also bigger designers
  • Designers like the 'Made in Britain' label
  • More retailers would like to come to the UK to reduce the carbon footprint
  • There isn't enough manufacturing in the UK to be able to cater for the demand but more manufacturers are now starting to think its worth it to open up small factories

Questions to ask a factory initially 
  • The capacity of the factory
  • What their availability is
  • When their quiet periods are - when it will be best time to place your orders
  • What interests them in taking on your goods
  • Their lead times
  • Prices - they should have set prices
  • Terms of Business - set these out in the beginning. Ask questions like, "What if you are late with production?". Cover all possible situations so you know where you stand if problems arise.
  • Ask what their sample mark-up rate is

The Factory/Designer Relationship
  • A factory is only as good as its designers
  • Make sure you go there with absolutely all the information you need. It has to be very clear. Organisation is key
  • Have the sample with you, technical drawings, size charts, information on how to make, patterns. You have to make sure your patterns are correct
  • Any inaccuracy will hinder your production. You need to make sure all elements are covered early on 
  • You've worked on the sample and should know where the complications lie so if you know something might be tricky in production, make them aware
  • Make sure they can understand your handwriting
  • If you need to supply threading, beads, zips, they all have to be there. If anything is missing, it will stop production
  • If your factory is abroad, you have to be even more careful that everything is there. Have a line sheet and triple-check everything
  • Everything has to be available at the same time. Once the factory cuts the garment, they will want to finish it. They have targets to reach themselves. If you have things missing, the relationship breaks down

Production Orders and Samples
  • Factories do samples for the shows so they are familiar with the product and can give designers a price for production
  • Sampling costs a lot more than production does. There are separate prices for samples and orders
  • Don't just turn up with a sample and ask how much it would be to produce
  • You should see the factory's ability to create a high quality garment before placing a full order
  • It's unrealistic to ask a factory to sample every item in a collection

Overseeing Production
  • Go in while they are making your products especially when they are on the machines
  • You know the product better than anyone else so you should physically be there overseeing that
  • All factories should allow this
  • You can give them comment sheets on what you expect
  • You can oversee from samples to full orders

  • Garment must be made in a cost-effective way
  • Without changing the design, you can look at how it's made
  • Ask the factory for advice on ways to reduce the costs
  • It is the style which will determine pricing - some styles are just not productive
  • After 50 pieces, you should be able to ask for a discount in the UK
  • Abroad, it might be over a 1000

  • Factories prefer to cut themselves
  • If you cut it or you've outsourced the cutting and something goes wrong at the factory stage, easy for them to blame it on the cut

What to do if your sample was perfect but your production order wasn't
  • If you were there while it was being made, you could avoid this
  • Shouldn't be any different if they made sample perfectly
  • Tell them it's not how you wanted it. You will then have to negotiate
  • It is very difficult to try and get anything back if they do get it wrong
  • Avoid mistakes by regular visits and building relationships

Terms of Agreement
  • Some factories won't sign contracts, depends on the establishment but you can have terms of agreement
  • Terms of Agreement can be through e-mail provided you get a response
  • As an incentive, you could offer to pay an extra percentage if they finish your order early

Payment Terms
  • You can have stipulations in your terms of agreement that will give terms of payment
  • Each factory has their own payment terms and you will have to negotiate these
  • You should aim to be able to QC your garments first without handing over any money in the UK. This is more difficult when manufacturing abroad - you will have to pay 30-40% upfront. You can then QC the garments before handing the rest over
  • It is important to pay something to be ethical/sustainable and cover some of the factory's costs such as wages

Production Loans from 
  • Available from East London Small Business Centre
  • If you get an order from a reputable stockist, you can apply for a loan. If approved, they will fund fabric and production costs until you get paid
  • This is usually over a 3-4 month period with interest at 5%-7%
  • If you've paid this back on time, there is the option of coming back the following season for another loan

Minimum and Maximum Orders
  • In the UK, 10-20 garments, Europe 50-100 garments, China 250 garments
  • Minimums are coming down in Europe
  • Items that require handwork are lower
  • If it is less than 10, sample prices will be charged
  • With samples, possible to get just one done only if you book in advance

  • Factories like to forecast 3-4 months ahead but book out 80-90% of capacity with 10% left to cater for additional work and re-orders
  • Only small re-orders

  • Build yourself a critical path and follow it
  • You are a business so keep in touch with the factory and oversee the production to make sure it is being done on time
  • Factory will be eager to meet deadlines because they have factored in other production also

Sustainable Production
  • Looking at the impact you are having when creating a product and be considerate every step of the way. Make sure you are not putting future generations needs in jepordy. You have to be considerate of how much you are using, what type of materials you are using 
  • Put in your Terms of Agreement that you expect minimum wage to be paid and standards to be followed
  • Find out who exactly is making your product so everything is traceable
  • Consider how much processing goes into the design, where you are producing, where you transport from
  • Consider using local services to help sustain and create jobs

Production Agents
  • These aren't a good idea when starting out
  • Bigger companies use them especially when manufacturing abroad
  • They will impact on your cash
  • You should learn to do things yourself so you experience everything from design up to sales
Sarah Goodwin