By Chris Rohrer / RARR Sportswear

Before launching my own sportswear brand, I worked for an apparel factory in China with my main role as the link between our factory and design teams of major brands.  It was my job to handle our orders from early quotations and sampling to bulk production and shipment.

Another part of my job was to find new brands that we could produce for, and the primary way we did this was to attend apparel sourcing shows around the world.  When I worked for the factory I would attend as an exhibitor to find clients, and I attend now for my own brand to find suppliers.You may have an idea for a clothing design, but finding someone to make it for you can be one of the most difficult steps in the beginning stages.  Whether you’re new to the industry or a seasoned vet, in my experience the best way to find clothing producers is to attend a sourcing show.

What is a sourcing show?

Think of it as speed dating for factories – it’s your chance to meet hundreds of suppliers from all over the world in one place and decide who is the right match to make your clothing.A sourcing show is a forum, usually held in a large conference center, that both suppliers and brands attend to meet each other.  The suppliers will set up a booth to exhibit and you can walk from booth to booth to determine who might be able to make your designs.

A sourcing show is a forum, usually held in a large conference center, that both suppliers and brands attend to meet each other.  The suppliers will set up a booth to exhibit and you can walk from booth to booth to determine who might be able to make your designs.

Shows are usually organized by product specialty as well as by the region the manufacturer is based.  If you do a bit of research before you hit the floor, you’ll be able to efficiently focus on your needs.

How much does it cost to attend?

Attending a sourcing show as a brand or buyer is usually free, though you will probably need to provide proof of your company or brand.  A business card should be enough, but it is recommended to contact the show or confirm on their website in advance as it is possible circumstances may change and it varies depending on the show.

What shows can I attend?

apparel-sourcing-show-rarrTexworld, New York & Paris: Texworld is held in New York, NY twice every year at the Javits Convention Center – once in January and again in July.  The apparel based show features production factories, fabrics and accessories suppliers and features a new printing section.  Suppliers come from around the world, though there is also a USA domestic production section as well.

SOURCING at MAGIC, Las Vegas:  SOURCING at MAGIC is held in February and August each year.  It very similar to Texworld but may be a bit easier to reach for west coast based companies and designers.  MAGIC also has a USA region for those looking for domestic production and it features a footwear supplier section that is so big it is held in a separate building.

Canton Fair, China: Held in the southern city of Guangzhou, this is the largest trade show in the world.  Held biannually, at this fair you can find producers for just about anything, with clothing and accessories a part of their week three itinerary.  The Canton Fair only allows for Chinese manufacturers, but you’ll find a huge variety of supplier specialties.  This is for more experienced clothing producers and those who plan to make at least 500 pieces per design colorway.

Benefits

  • Meet factories and reps in person:  Having direct communication can be so important.  There is no substitute for being able to see and feel the clothing in person and test the factory’s quality.  It’s also a great way to get a better impression of the company and ask as many questions as you need to.  A few minutes of face-time can accomplish a lot more than days, or even weeks, of emails.
  • Speed Dating: Sourcing shows make it possible to meet so many potential suitors in such a short period of time.  It’s also a great way to be able to directly compare different factories and what they can offer.
  • Trend Spotting: Seeing so many booths side-by-side, you’ll start to notice trending fashion.  They often bring their newest productions, which will let you see what’s popular.  A lot of people say the fashion centers of the world are New York or Paris, but you can often see new developments from suppliers before it they hit stores.

Ask Questions

Often times seeing a company’s website isn’t enough to paint a full picture.  You will be surrounded by manufacturing experts – use the opportunity to learn more about their companies and about the industry as a whole.

Questions to Ask

What is the minimum order quantity (MOQ) and capacity?  It is important to know if you can reach the factory minimum, or likewise, if they can handle the quantity you need to be made for each design.

Do they have their own factory or outsource production to other factories?  Sometimes it might seem like the supplier is a factory, when the reality is some act as agents and just find factories to make your designs.
What parts of the process can they handle?  Are they a one-stop-shop (idea to finished garment) or do they only handle parts of the production like cut-and-sew.  It’s important to know if you need to find other resources, like someone to handle the printing or make your clothing patterns.

What other resources do they offer?  It’s always a bonus when a factory can help source fabrics and other trims, like necktape and labels.

Advice

  • Don’t look for just anyone that can make your clothing, find the right fit.
  • Be upfront with what you’re looking for and what you need.  Don’t pretend to be an expert if you need someone to walk you through the order.
  • Show, don’t tell.  Don’t be afraid to bring an example of something you’re trying to make to help guide the factory, whether it is a small piece of fabric to a full sample to show the sizing.  It doesn’t take away from the originality of your clothing to show something similar, but it will actually help the factory get it right.

General Warning

This is an amazing opportunity to meet all kinds of suppliers, however, I just wanted to make sure readers understand the commitment this path takes.  While suppliers you meet at these events usually offer complete customization of your clothing from the fabric to the labels and packaging, the commitment of both time and money are often very substantial.  Supplier minimums can be quite high and it can easily take one year from beginning sampling to receiving bulk production.  As I mentioned before, I highly recommend asking as many questions as possible with suppliers you intend to cooperate with in order to understand the expectations and the commitment.

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