Finding the right CMT
At first it might seem like a hard step to take, knowing who to speak to, what you actually need, who to trust and how much it might cost – all these will play a part. Truthfully, finding the right CMT can involve some trial and error when first starting out, but if you do your research and make a good plan the experience should be a good one.
The first thing to know is that all CMT’s specialize in something, some only do stretch fabrics, or only children’s clothes or maybe just denim. Therefore you need to be very clear about what you need and phone around to find the right people for the job. Matching up jobs and CMT’s well in the beginning will save much heartache in the future. Keep in mind that this may mean that one range is spilt amongst two different factories which together cover your needs best. Also remember that when dealing with CMT’s they’re there to make ready-to-wear, retail clothing and not to produce intricate one off pieces or couture style garments.
The process begins once you’ve made sketches and begun to source or finalize fabric choices. Every designer uses the factory process a little differently, some do everything up until the actual sewing before passing it over, while others will hand technical drawings to the factory and let them make patterns, find fabric and so on. Obviously when you’re looking for a CMT you must be clear where you fall on this scale to make sure they can meet your needs.
Once you’ve spoken to a factory that sounds suitable you’ll have a meeting to discuss all the details. Make sure before you arrive you already have a fairly firm plan set out and know what the most important criteria are that you cannot compromise on. Part of making a deal with the factory will involve negotiations and to make sure you leave with the best deal and peace of mind it is vital to be well prepared before hand.
Your negotiations may cover many topics, but of course the most important will be price and quality. It’s a universal truth that more money equals better quality. You need to decide what level you are aiming for, and what level you can realistically afford. CMT’s usually assess quality using grades from A to D, A being best. Most factories offer a range of grades depending on the quality/price deal a particular customer wants, others will simply have one grade for all their output. Other topics will include quantities – how many you want, what is the factories minimum run, how long will ‘x’ quantity take etc. Also consider packaging; should the clothes be folded in boxes or should they be put in plastic with the swing-tags already attached, and once boxed, where and how will they be delivered, what will that cost and how many days will it take?
There should always be accurate technical drawings to given to the factory manager to make sure they understand all the garments and finishes. If you’re making the patterns yourself, take a sample pattern with you. You can also make a sample of a finished garment from that pattern, or the factory can do this for you. Either way, it’s important that the factory produces an in-house sample for technical checks before production begins.
Together with the manager you’ll have a fitting of each garment and this is where changes will be made. This is the last chance to make adjustments and corrections, so take advantage of it. If major changes are needed, another sample will have to be done. It’s possible to repeat this process over if things are still not right, but this takes time, effort and money and eats into the production schedule so best you have confidence and a good relationship with the pattern-maker (or yourself) so that big problems are resolved long before factory stage. Once a fittings have been done for every item, the last thing to do is take note of what gradings need to be done. Know before hand what your size ranges are; does everything come in sizes 30 – 38, or can you only afford 3 different sizes, perhaps basic items have a larger size range than the formal pieces? Make sure these specifications are clear.
Fabrics will be discussed in similar detail. Remember that fabrics are really the core of the process, they’re what the customer sees and feels and you cannot make any CMT decisions without a clear notion of the fabrications. Since you’re working with a factory that specializes in your fabrics they know them well, therefore if you’ve sourced fabrics, bring samples so that everyone can check their suitability. This will be especially important when you’re first starting out because you won’t have nearly as much experience with fabrics as the factory people. They will usually want to do a sample in the real fabric as this is a much better indication of the final result.
Once the fabric is approved by all you’ll have to make 100% sure that you can have that fabric available for the factory as soon as they need it. It’s no good starting the whole process and then going to buy more fabric, or another colour and finding they don’t sell it anymore. Now the CMT’s waiting for fabric to get working and you’ll be paying for the time even if nothing is being produced. Good planning and logistics are essential to stop yourself landing up in this kind of situation.
Another solution is allowing the CMT to source the fabrics for you. The advantage is you don’t have the stress of finding, buying, re-ordering the fabric. Also, CMT’s have connections with fabric mills and/or importers and will be able to get good deals and more exact specifications. There are disadvantages too; as a designer, particularly in a small market like ours, one of the ways to differentiate your designs is fabrication, but if a CMT is buying your fabric, chances are they’re buying it for other labels as well. Conversely you may have problems with very small runs as these factories/mills are used to dealing with bulk rolls of fabrics, or at least 500 meter cuts and often they’re not very accommodating to requests of 20 meters.
The next bit of preparation will be to make an official production plan. It’s vital and if not done properly mix-ups are bound to happen and blame thrown in every direction. A production plan numbers each technical drawing along with its pattern and sample to make sure that if anyone needs to check back, things are easy to find and styles aren’t confused. There will also be a detailed breakdown showing each garment and which sizes it comes in, how many of each size, how many of each colour, trim colours to fabric colours and any other relevant details; together these instructions are a ‘cut-sheet’.
A basic time frame showing when everything needs to be finished by is also made and shows if there are certain dates in-between where smaller goals must be met. Timelines will most obviously be affected by dates, such as an upcoming show or stocking a shop. However there are other things to take into consideration too. Delivery times are often not accounted for and can cause a rush at the end. Also consider repeat orders, where a series of items is selling far better than expected and you’d like to be able to do a mid-season stock-up. The factory has its own details of how many units it can produce a day and their own schedule for each job so it’s important that you are both clear on the expectations because late deliveries are bad for everyone!
If a factory delivers late for no obvious disaster reason or does so more than once it’s suggested to find someone else to work with or at the very least have a serious discussion with the factory manager – late delivery is simply not acceptable because ultimately it reflects badly on your label when shops see your stock depleted and not filled up on time, or your shows are always a bit of a last minute rush.
Finally there’re finances. Before even setting foot on a factory floor be 100% clear where you stand financially and what you need to and are willing to spend. Obviously this has a big influence on initial decisions regarding how many different units will be produced. When negotiations are done, make sure to get a proper invoice from the company. In many cases, mainly with smaller designers/companies, deals are spoken and promises are as good as someone’s word. Unfortunately that can’t always be relied on so make sure the invoice includes all the expected payments without leaving off little ‘extras’ like delivery. Also make sure it clearly contains the details of the deal such as the promised date of delivery. Doing this properly will protect everyone if something happens and problems or disputes arise. All CMT’s work on a cash-on-delivery (COD) basis which means they won’t hand over a single piece of clothing until you’ve paid for it in full. It’s important to bear this in mind so cash-flows remain in working order. It can easily happen that from the time you start paying for fabrics, patterns, factories etc it can be three to six months before you start to see that money coming back in sales, so you need to be prepared.
If you ensure that you’re financially prepared and plan properly beforehand, partnering up with a CMT can really help your label to grow by producing so much more clothing in much less time. As you continue, try and be sure that the decisions you make in production are really building your brand and investing in the future stability of your company. As you build up relationships with your CMT(‘s) and others like fabric suppliers or pattern-makers you’ll find things get easier as your network lets you in on some more of the little trade secrets and you get to meet the right people to help you really grow.