Wednesday, 1 August 2012

How do I find a manufacturer for my footwear project? Part Three - What to discuss?

So you found a manufacturer and you are ready to discuss your project with them?  Well done for getting this far.
You may or may not have designs at this stage, if you don't have designs, then this doesn't necessarily matter.
There are three things that a factory will always want to know immediately.
How much?  As in, what do you want to pay per style.  It helps to have done your research and to be clear about this.
How many? As in how many pairs.  This is a big sticking point for many entrepreneurs.  Often I get contacted by entrepreneurs who don't realise the large amount of pre-tooling that goes into footwear production.  All of the components have to be ordered from suppliers and they are made to order to exactly fit the last (including the last itself if you wanted an exclusive last).
That's components such as heels, toe puffs and heel stiffeners, insole boards, the press knives (little pastry cutter type things used to cut out the pattern pieces).
It's really not worth tooling up for a dozen pairs, no component supplier would make tools in order to make a small order like that.  So if you want just a few dozen pairs, then you should employ a small workshop that does hand cutting, but expect to pay much, much more as they will be making more of the components by hand which requires great skill and a lot of time.
When? As in when do you want to receive delivery?  For instance it is Mid October now, there is no way you would meet delivery for this Holiday season.  You would be able to meet delivery for holiday season in 2013.   So, for a completely new brand it is wise to allow about a year, for a completely new athletic footwear brand, perhaps as long as two years.
If you can confidently answer these three questions from the factory then well done.
The next bit of fact finding should be about how the factory likes to work.  The questions you should ask should be -
When are your busy/quiet periods?  As a newbie if you can adjust your development timetable so you are not trying to get all of your samples in the middle of their busy period, then you might find it easier.  As a newbie, you will always be at the back of the queue.
If I send you designs, are you happy to work with a hand sketch or cads?  Do you want me to use your factory spec sheet or can I use my own?  Not all factories require cads, many (especially in Europe) are happy with a sketch with detail written on it.  It's best to ask, it's also fine to ask if they can provide an example of something from someone else from a previous season that they were happy to work with.
What about components?  Again, this can vary by country.  In China, I would normally send a colour cad, often (but not always) on an excel spreadsheet specsheet and the factory sources absolutely everything for me, the heel, last, materials, buckles, the lot.   But when I work in Europe I might bring my own last that I developed myself, or an agent might drive me to a last maker and a heel maker and then materials suppliers so that I can work with them. The factorys' job is to order the insole board, heel and toe stiffeners, receive the components that I've ordered and assemble the shoe.  I might even visit a fair such as Lineapelle and order samples of components and materials myself and bring them to the factory with me, together with the details of the supplier.
What are your sample charges?  What about components costs?
Some factories charge for samples, some do not.  So find out the costs and payment terms.  If you are developing your own heels or outsole moulds, ensure you have sufficient capital to pay for these - it can be as much as $1500USD for a sample outsole mould for a sneaker.  Or $500 for a new heel.   If you work with one of the fine Italian luxury footwear sample rooms then the going rate is about 500euros per pair.
Once you have had this discussion, you are then ready to work with the factory!  Good luck!