Episode 24: How do I source Ethical Factories who meet my MOQ's when we can't travel?
Factory, Mills, Sustainable Sourcing, Certifications, Factory Agents, Accreditations, Ethical suppliers, apparel, WRAP, Fairtrade, ECA
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to episode 24 of the Fashion Unearth podcast. Today's episode is the fourth week of a six week summer series, where I answer the most popular questions from the audience. How's everyone going? I think when this episode comes out, it'll be around the 11th of January and I hope everyone is feeling rested and hopeful about 2022 and there's been no surprises in between me recording this and it coming out hopefully. But I'm thinking the future Belinda is going to be so relaxed.
Again, just a bit of a disclaimer, this is general advice, I don't know your exact situation, so even though I'm answering your question, you still need to consider your own situation. And before I get into answering today's question, if you aren't on the email list, get on it by heading to belindahumphrey.com so that when I release that new guide around ethical and sustainable sourcing, you'll get access to an exclusive offer that I'll only be releasing to that email list.
So there were a couple of questions around a similar theme of sourcing ethical suppliers. How do you find ethical manufacturers? How do you find ones when you can't travel at the moment and visit factories? And also how can you find ones that meet your minimum quantities or your MOQ's? Well, similarly to sourcing fabric, the first thing you need to think about is what you want to make. Countries can specialise in particular products or techniques, which like we talked about, sometimes require specific machinery or skills. Sometimes if they aren't set up for it, or it's not a key product they make all the time, the results can be disappointing and costly.
Next, think about where you're wanting to make, locally or offshore. If the product you want to make needs a particular skill, and it's only found in a particular country, you will need to narrow your search down to there and again, similar to sourcing a fabric mill, there are two ways that you can source factories, you can go direct or you can work with an agent. Particularly if you're needing a new supplier and you can't travel an agent might be a good option here as they would already have a network of factories they know. Same as a fabric agent. They are a middle person, and will get a commission on the order. So you might not get the best price but it could be a good option if you're new to the industry or time poor, as they'll provide that extra level of service and expertise as well. Going direct you might save a little bit of money, but it will involve more time.
Similar to fabric Mills again, you can look at trade shows and even though in person events have been off the cards for a while many have adapted to an online format, which again, you can register for and go through the list of exhibitors. And like I said in the fabric mill sourcing episode, the most popular trade fairs are Intertextile in Shanghai, Premiere Vision in Paris or even the International Sourcing Expo here in Melbourne. Considering what product you want to make and where will help you in the search for suitable trade shows as exhibitors are usually grouped by country or product.
You can also see if brands are listing their suppliers on their websites in the name of transparency, a bit sneaky, and they might not have the capacity to even accept your orders, or even be a good fit in terms of product. But that is one way that you can kind of have a bit of a look around. And there are new platforms popping up similar to Alibaba connecting factories or mills to businesses. But some of them focus more on being able to filter sustainability accreditations and certifications. So you have to be vetted to be accepted both as a business and as a mill, but it's another emerging option particularly good when you can't travel.
And you can also ask a business who they use or if they could recommend someone. And if you have a fabric mill, they might be able to introduce you to a factory that they already have an existing relationship with.
So you've decided on your product to narrow your search, gotten a few factories that you think can make your product, the last step is to evaluate if they are ethical and can do your minimums. How do you do that? Particularly when you're working remotely and you can't travel? Well in the research phase, asking what their minimums are should be one of your first questions. And if it's too high, ask them if they can do less with a surcharge. But when I say too high, a factory won't come down from 1000 piece minimum to 100 pieces even with a surcharge because it's just a pain and not good financial business sense. Likewise, if you're talking to a smaller boutique factory and you want 2000 pieces, they probably aren't going to be able to do that or want to do that. It would mean that they've only got so much capacity that they can do or output that they can do in a year and it would mean a greater percentage of that capacity would be put with one customer which would increase their risk.
Also, in that researching phase that you want to be asked me if they already make for brands in your country, that will give you an indication of what their minimums are likely to be. For example, factories used to working with Australian brands, also used to having to do smaller minimum order quantities because of our population size. Getting low MOQ's might be a case of looking at a particular source base or areas outside of China, who are often more used to doing larger quantities for the US and European markets.
The next part of deciding whether they're ethical involves certifications. Fair trade is a good one to look for. According to the Fairtrade website, "The fairtrade textile standard requires that workers are paid living wages within six years of certification, a timeline that was found to be realistic in the standard consultation, given the huge gaps between current wages and living wage level". Being ethical means looking after all the people involved in all the stages of your product development process.
Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production or W.R.A.P is another common one that will list the wages being paid to staff and Ethical Clothing Australia, ECA is a certification here in Australia. I think I've mentioned it before. But if a factory doesn't have a certification, it doesn't mean they're unethical. As I mentioned, some certifications can be costly in terms of registration or fees, etc. Or they might be in the process of becoming accredited. But in my opinion, it's the best starting point, particularly when you're working remotely and can't go see them in person.
Developing product takes a long time and choosing a factory should be done with the intention of a long term relationship. So it's important to make sure you're aligned on values and processes. But one final tip is to maybe narrow it down to two and develop with both initially, even if you have to pay sampling for one because you didn't place an order. It gives you a backup plan if something isn't feeling right when you're starting working through the development process.
So in summary, get clear on your product first, and then just get out there and start researching. Secondly, research and search in many different areas. Even for experienced people, this can be hard and time consuming. Factories might not be taking new orders or you might want to make a product that you don't have a factory or contact for and finally, evaluate with accreditations and be direct about what minimums you need and what minimums that factory needs. This can be disheartening, but it will make it easy for you to rule some out at the get go and narrow it down and if you need to just move on and keep looking.
I hope you found that helpful and thanks so much for sending in the question. Again, make sure to get on the email list at belindahumphrey.com if you're particularly interested in ethical and sustainable sourcing, as like I said, I'm working on a new guide that I'm planning to release around the end of January, and I'm only releasing that exclusive offer to subscribers.
And I'd love to know if something was particularly interesting to you in today's episode, or just what you think about this new summer format. You can DM me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_ or send me an email at email@example.com and finally, as always, if you're listening to this on the go, you'll find the show notes, all the transcript and any links in the website in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.