Flora Davidson, co-founder of SupplyCompass, a production platform for fashion brands and manufacturers, explains what you need to know.

1: Find the right partners

‘If you’re self-funded and cash-strapped (which is most businesses at the start!), try to make a small run of your product locally in the first instance. For example, a run of 10 pieces or so per style. Find a sampling studio or micro-factory for this part (it’s hard to get in with a more established factory until you can hit 50 to 100 pieces per style or colour – explore that when you’re scaling up your business a few collections later). Although the costs are much higher when you make a small run, it’s worth it as these units often have expertise in supporting small brands in getting off the ground and will allow you to get super close to your product. The first time around, it will take you much longer than you’d hoped, and take many more rounds of sampling to get to the perfect sample. Be patient – this will only improve over time.’

‘When you do find the right manufacturer, present them with your business plan, brand positioning and pitch your business to them. Tell them why you want them – you’ve got to sell yourself to them at this stage. Remember, they might have had their fingers burnt by businesses behaving badly or going under. Most of our factories would avoid working with a first-time startup with no business plan, no proto-samples and no clearly laid-out tech packs.’

2: Set up the right process

‘A common pitfall is reaching out for costs from a factory without first considering your recommended retail price or RRP. Only once you know this can you give a target price: the desired unit cost you need to make it for in order to make any real money. If you choose a direct-to-consumer model, rather than wholesale first, you will have more room to pay more for your product.’

‘Invest time in creating structured tech packs and a clear way to request samples and give feedback. Spend time at the start of the product development process with your factory, setting up the best way to work together, making sure to listen to how they like to operate and how they work with others.’

‘It may seem simple at the start, designing and sketching initial designs, but the moment you start sampling – making fit changes, updating your tech pack – this is where the miscommunication, issues and frustration start to happen on both sides. Most issues happen with document sharing, missed feedback and too many unstructured emails.’

3: Design smart

‘Fabric sourcing and minimums are the biggest hurdles. Consider designing around what is available, such as surplus fabric and deadstock – unless you’re prepared to commit to 500 to 1,000 metres of custom-made and dyed fabric. I’d suggest sourcing fabric in the same country as your unit or factory, as it streamlines the process and will avoid any unexpected shipping and import costs.’

‘Do one product and do it well. We often see brands trying to start with a broad range of products – which, for a first-time brand, can end up being much more expensive and mean it takes longer to get your brand off the ground. Focus on one or a small handful of core products. Test them on your customers, iterate and perfect; then consider expanding your range later down the line. Plus, this means you only need to work with one factory and it will make the process easier.’

This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2021. To become a subscriber or purchase our newest guide, head to our webshop.

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