Manufacturing – Together Alone

I am writing this post in regards to production that is placed with third parties around the world. Mostly in developing countries. I choose Together Alone, as you are making with the factory as you believe in their abilities, quality, price, delivery and much more.  So you are together but usually alone, as you maybe many miles apart.  Most suppliers tell you what you want to hear which is very far from reality.  Only experienced, qualified, and trained staff can identify the reality from fiction.

Mass Production Facility - Vietnam
Mass Production Facility – Vietnam

This is usually where the problems start with what is the truth, who do you trust, where is your production actually being made, how will the finished product look, and who is overseeing your production, I will review a few valid points below:

1) Why did you allocate the production to this factory?

– Was it a comfort issue? or lack of choices?

– Are they really the right factory for this product?

– How many better factories are out there?

– Why are you settling?

– Do you have a plan B and plan C ?

– Do you operate with the Kaizen business model of constant improvement?

– Or you happy with what lands on your doorstep?

2) Now lets explore the three major factors of all production orders; quality, delivery and price… you must choose your first, second and third priority from the three.

– Quality will depend on who actually made the Original Samples, Fitting Samples, and PPS (Pre-Production Sample).  Who is actually making the samples?  Is it the available factory or a sample factory well the production factory is being sourced, allocated and finalized?   It maybe a challenge to find the right factory, at the right price, who can meet the delivery as the original factory that was planned to make the production does not have the availability or can no longer make at that price.  Then there is the supplier who found a cheaper price, so they reallocate to the new factory based on a lower price.  Once the order is placed this can change and you will be the last to know about it if you are thousands of miles away.

QC - Fabric switched at Bulk Stage
QC – Fabric switched at Bulk Stage
QC - Binding stretched
QC – Binding stretched
QC - Crotch not centered
QC – Crotch not centered
QC - Hole in Pocket Bag
QC – Hole in Pocket Bag
QC - Broken Surge along seam (aka hole in garment)
QC – Broken Surge along seam (aka hole in garment)

– Now that we have finalized the quality, how will this affect the delivery?  Usually it’s not a problem, if there is a contract signed and there are no quality issues.  But when are there no quality issues in garment manufacturing?  You need to stay on top of your original supplier, as well as any approved and not approved sub-contract factories.  Teach them how to cut, sew, apply decorations, label, ticket, tag, fold, and pack your garments.  Then you need to stay on top of your supplier and factories to keep them honest, meeting quality, compliance, and deliveries.

QC - QC Manager, Factory Manager, Factory Owner
QC – QC Manager, Factory Manager, and Factory Owner

As you can see from the above photo, it is a huge responsibility for the QC Manager to openly report issues to the factory manager and owner.  This often leads to power struggles, yelling, pushing, intimidation or other methods to hush the quality issues.   It is a known fact that bribes are a part of the culture and  industry.  Securing experienced, qualified and trained staff that go to the factories to report honest findings is a huge mandate but can be achieved by explaining their responsibility, role, and conduct.

– Price is pretty simple, unless there are delays, quality issues, or changes which can be costly.  In addition if you production was allocated based on price, and the supplier was changed last-minute this will be a quality issue that will need allot more management.  You will need to keep on the new factory atleast twice a week, to ensure they are actually making the production and control the product.

3) Location, Location, Location.

– If you are making in China it is one of the largest countries in the world with eight main dialects, but actually over sixty sub dialects. So chances are the locals are speaking another language as well as Mandarin (Putonghua). With all this languages you have issues with culture, ethics, and responsibility.  As well a different management style that is based on their short span of manufacturing garments.

– I know of many agents based in Shanghai, that are manufacturing in other provinces who are using another agent to oversee the production… as the other agent is closer and speaks the local language. As well, since it is their home province, they will have access to many more suppliers. This also applies to an agent who is based outside of Mainland China, they will also usually use a sub-agent to oversee all orders… then there can be another sub-agent.

Agent, Sub Agent and Factory Owner reviewing quality issues!!!
Agent, Sub Agent and Factory Owner reviewing quality issues!!!

4) Communication and Management…

– Imagine based on the above, the amount of communication, diligence, systems and room for errors.

– As well you may know it is illegal to export products to some countries when you don’t know who is the actual supplier. In the USA, they will ask your supplier for an EIN number, which pertains to that supplier, and only that supplier. If they know the product is outsourced this is a major offence and all of your future shipments may be subject to a thorough search.

Original Factory
Original Factory
Sub-contracted factory one
Sub-contracted factory one

The original factory was approved for social, ethical, compliance, quality, systems, infrastructure and EIN number… The sub-factory would not be approved for all the above hence they are taking the production.   The quality issues at the sub-contracted factory highlighted their lack of expertise, experience, systems and management.   But at the stage the original factory and sub-contracted factory were in too deep, and over their heads in production to understand the issues on hand.

– It is best to have someone (If you are Western it is good to have someone who is Western, as they will understand) very close to the supply chain who can follow your program in addition to your multiple merchandisers and QA/QC.

I find the best way to manage your supply chain is by having a reliable and trusted person/company who is based in the local country to oversee your production and be closer to the manufacturing location. If you are located in that country the supplier will be less likely to lie, as you can travel to verify the facts in hours or in a day. During production I like to show my face at the actual factory once or twice a week. This depends on the comfort of the supplier as well as any ongoing issues.

The solution is to have experienced hands at receiving, cutting, sorting, inline production (two inspections) and final inspection stage, I can spot irregularities in production, to determine if it was actually outsourced and made at a different factory. As there is usually a really good reason why the same products have different quality issues. But in order to spot this you will have to be there, and challenge your factory, to get to the truth, discover the facts and problems before it is too late. If it’s too late you need to rectify the issues before they get on the ship or in the air.  As returned product in your home country will damage your brand image for life.

I have over 25 years experience, with 20+ years in Asia for the apparel supply chain.  in 2008 I moved to Shanghai to build and create Source the Globe out of a mad passion to connect buyers, suppliers, and industry professionals.   Really I was hoping to improve the connectivity, management, and simplify your supply chain headaches for softgoods.   But, I don’t have the millions to build what is required for the web platform.   So instead I offer my hands on expertise, experience, intelligence, and time to ensure you have a smooth supply chain. I personally guarantee to improve your ROI by improving the quality, the systems, the delivery and the cost.  You can send me an email with your specific needs and I will be sure to help you create success and happiness.

In closing everyone needs help making in Asia but only a few will admit it, it is those that will (H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, and many more) who continue to grow and prosper.

Only the best, always 🙂


5 thoughts on “Manufacturing – Together Alone

  1. This is an addition from a comment on Linkedin…

    Great post! Unfortunately many Western brands start seeking help from an “intermediary” or a local professional once its too late! One has to keep in mind that entering and penetrating a new market is not the same as working in the domestic market! If you want to get a good quality product, you must know where to search for it, or be ready to send your own ppl to control it. Cutting down this unnecessary cost of sending own professionals to once point of production is what leads the brands to the ultimate solution of cooperating with experienced, highly professional and sincere domestic production management company! Hope more buyers will take the advise of working through a third party, i.e. a local agent/ intermediary, rather than paying the higher price of a bad quality/ delivery.

    Greets from Macedonia!

    Teodora Filipova


  2. This is an addition from a comment on Linkedin…

    I agree with Teodora: great post Jeffrey!
    By sure local agent /intermediary are of help, but I personally believe more on company
    people and myself!!!

    I’ve have never did and never do what you wrote as introduction which is really true!

    Luisa Cadeddu


  3. My reply to both…

    Intermediary or local professional, can give you perception to believe what they are saying and ultimately doing. But as I mentioned even the locals or intermediary will outsource, especially if in another province to control costs of travel, time, language, culture, relationship (Guanxi in China) and sourcing barriers.

    Agree that it is about supplier (intermediary, local, or foreigner) selection, qualification, certification, training, monitoring and management to ensure that best practices are upheld. Finding the right suppliers for the type of products and not choosing from the comfort zone or allocating to an inappropriate supplier (agent) is a frequent mistake that will lead to more supervision and management.

    Ultimately it is great to send your own staff, but even the largest companies in the world (H&M, Zara, Walmart, Diesel, etc.) recognize this is impossible, so it is important to empower the right people to help the brand/retailer focus on the package (sales & marketing) to the final buyer.

    I agree the best solution is to cooperate with experienced, highly professional western management style to work with established and new factories (suppliers, agents) to live and breath Kaizen (constant improvement).


  4. This is an addition from a comment on Linkedin…

    I really wish some more people would get involved in this discussion which is very important to both suppliers/agent and important BRANDS in the world.

    I agree with Teodora, this is a great post .

    thanks Jeffrey !

    Anna Di Francesco


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