How to Select the Right Swimsuit Manufacturer for your Swimwear Start-up Label

Successful fashion entrepreneurs have a secret they won’t share: their little book of handpicked clothing design manufacturers and clothing sample makers. These are clothing manufacturers swimwear entrepreneurs found over years of trial and error and they guard it as fiercely as Khaleesi was with her dragon eggs (any GoT fans in here?).

But we’ve taken the cat out of the bag because the people you work with are the cornerstones of making bank and getting your swimwear designs from ideation to execution and point of sales. When you finally hit the ground running with the right partners for the job, you gain access to specialized manufacturing, lower capital investment from your side, quicker go-to-market times, and improved profit margins. So, how exactly do you even start to find a swimwear manufacturer who’ll do the job for you? Grab some tea and biscuits, because this article is juicy with all the tips and tricks.

The initial hunt

The Internet is a great place to start when you’re on the lookout for potential manufacturers. A simple Google search will yield thousands of potentials but here’s a little heads up: you might want to spend some time combing through about 30 Google search pages. Some swimwear and apparel manufacturers may not have optimized websites and probably sit on the 42nd Google search page.

Google isn’t your only option, libraries are wealthy in their knowledge, too. Yes, believe it or not, libraries do still exist, and they have exclusive paid access to some databases and directories. It’s no skin off your back to check those out, as well, because some manufacturers may not even have a web presence.

Alternatively, visiting expos and trade fairs are plus plus in our books because you can directly talk to the manufacturers or their representatives and make quickfire decisions if you wish to pursue a longer discussion about manufacturing potential. Not only are they great to scout manufacturers, but also fabric suppliers, as well. You’ll never be short on the plethora of expos that take place, and here are some starting places to kick start your search:

Another great option is talking to fashion school and swimwear incubators. Most often than not, these programs have industry connections that are not only rich in resources but vetted and verified, so you know you’ve struck a gold mine when you get referred.

Lastly, try your luck by inquiring about manufacturers other brands are utilizing. This option might be tricky since swimwear brands may be reluctant to divulge such information, but a quick search into their manufacturing capacities may open up a few doors for you, as well. However, keep in mind that these manufacturers may not agree to supply at a low MOQ given its established relationships with other brands.

Know what to ask for

Once you’ve got a list of potential manufacturers, substantiate your options by checking them against a criteria of requirements. Your criteria can list a whole host of necessities including qualities, competencies and must-haves that you want. To get this list started, figure out how much work needs to go in to get your swimwear pieces manufactured and the overall process from handing in your techpack to receiving samples and finally getting the final product into retail shelves. To make things easier, here’s a quick-reference list to help you get started:

1. Domestic vs international manufacturer:

Think big picture then move into specifics. One key elimination round should be whether you want to go with a domestic or international manufacturing partners. There are advantages and disadvantages for both. Overseas manufacturers are cost competitive, but long distance relationships can be tough and will require you to establish clear channels of communication and stricter quality control processes. If you decide to stick with an international swimwear manufacturer, you will have to account for shipping and duty fees that tag along.

2. Minimum order quantities

Most, if not all manufacturers will have a minimum order quantity (MOQ) requirement and this could be higher than what you anticipated. Keep lines of communication clear and express your expectations. You may want more pieces of a certain size or design and less of another, so make sure you know your audience and the resulting quantities communicated and agreed by your manufacturer. Some manufacturers may agree to a lesser MOQ in the interest of building long term fruitful relationships but regardless of the outcome, be prepared for potential negotiations and budget tweaks you may have to make.

3. Manufacturing categories:

A no-brainer when narrowing your list is ensuring that your manufacturer has the capacity to produce what you have in mind (and heart) and the experience to back it up. A non-negotiable recommendation is to always go with a manufacturer who works in swimwear. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel with this one because you might find yourself tough out of luck if you decide to go with a manufacturer specializing in casual wear when your label is all swim and no casual.

4. Manufacturing competencies

Sometimes, you may find it that a manufacturer may not be able to replicate your CADs exactly as you have imagined it due to feasibility issues. Small changes such as stitch type, finishes, bindings may not all be available to your chosen manufacturer. In the instance you come across a manufacturer who ticks all the boxes but may not have the capacity to produce your swimwear identical to what you had in mind, be prepared to make a few design adjustments and come to a suitable compromise. Additionally, it’ll help you decide if your ideas will be expensive to produce at a large scale and even bring to the table more ideas you had not thought of before.

5. Manufacturing seasonality

Manufacturers have cycles of production and priority clients. Discuss with your potential manufacturing hubs about their production capacities and associated timelines to ensure consistent turnarounds.

6. Fabric handling

As with picking a manufacturer skilled in producing swimwear, pay attention to their fabric handling, as well. These include things like stitch type, needle type, machinery type and thread tension used. If these terms sound a little scary, don’t worry. Do a bit of research and obtain this information from your manufacturer itself. Some manufacturers provide presentations detailing their capabilities, so it would be in your best interest to schedule a call and discuss all the semantics to ensure success down the road. Alternatively, consulting with an mentor or expert may help you identify if the manufacturer is up to the quality and standard you want.

7. Intellectual property

Protecting your designs against theft could be a real issue regardless of your decision to go domestic or overseas with your clothing manufacturer. To protect yourself from rampant intellectual property theft, sign nondisclosure agreements and parent your designs in your regions.

8. Shipping

Who is going to ship your finished product from your manufacturer to you/your markets? If you decide to go with an overseas swim manufacturer, have your shipping processes sorted and get in touch with partners who will work seamlessly and effectively to reduce your go-to-market time.

9. Costs and turnaround times

This is the money bite! Have transparent expectations about your agreed upon cost structure. Some manufacturing hubs may require you to make down payment prior to production. The important factor here is negotiating. Discuss, to the best of your ability, a price you can both agree on. Similarly, note down turnaround times so that you aren’t constantly falling through the roof trying to coordinate with your front end retail options and your back end production.

10. Cultural fit

Production practices can differ depending on the location of your apparel manufacturer. Sourcing ethical and fair work will require you to do a more of a deep dive such as looking into their policies, sustainability goals and assessing their overall work ethic. A manufacturer focusing on ethical practices will often showcase it on their website or if not, you can bring it up during your initial communication.

11. Communication efficiency

Here’s the kicker, it’s highly, highly doubtful that your first round of sampling will be the nexus of your dreams. There will be quite a lot of back and forth and it’s imperative that your manufacturer has open lines of communication and a strategic process in place for your feedback loops. Let’s face it, you don’t want to get your first batch of samples and wait until the grass grows to get the second round. Ain’t nobody got time for that. With some manufacturers, you will have the opportunity to talk with technical experts to discuss and clarify and doubts about production. However, keep in mind, time is money and some manufacturers may require additional payment for further technical assistance.

12. A few other things to consider

As you narrow down your list of potentials even further, keep in mind a few other necessities such as the sampling process and the cost involved, and their capacity to source extra fabric and fringe additions such as clasps, buckles and frills. Lastly, ensure they can cater to your sizing requirements and other market oriented requirements.

Once you’re satisfied that your manufacturer is the next best thing after sliced bread, you can finally launch the production process (happy days!). The light at the end of the tunnel is a little closer than it was before albeit the hard work that still trudges on! Take your time to find a manufacturing partner who really works for you. Sometimes the perfect partner on paper may just not have the right chemistry. So, trust your gut. And when you do find that perfect match, make sure to outline clear expectations, keep the lines of communications open and frequent to create a collaborative and mutually respectful environment!

Not sure if you’re ready to look for a manufacturer just yet? Find out everything you need to have in place before you go on a hunt to find your perfect swimwear manufacturing partner!

Runway Kit is a unique e-commerce platform that offers fashion designers and entrepreneurs the option to design, sample and manufacture in smaller, flexible quantities – all at start-up friendly, transparent costs.

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