Sourcing is a major component of a fashion designer’s business. A company that consistently works to improve their sourcing tactics will inevitably be more successful than one satisfied with its’ sourcing policies and procedures. For those just learning about the business, sourcing is locating and working with manufacturers of finished garments, textiles, and trims such as buttons and zippers; basically any component that you yourself do not produce that goes into the production of finished goods.
The biggest factor when sourcing is partnering with someone that can be trusted to deliver what is promised. I have heard countless horror stories of designers who were delivered poor quality garments or product that was not even near what they had specified. When sourcing overseas or a place where you cannot oversee production on a regular basis, experts advise contracting an agent to ensure quality control, ethical treatment of workers and adherance to specifics set forth in the contract such as specs and quality of fabrics used. Even if you hire an agent you should still be willing to go and inspect the factory yourself. Ensure you get references from the factory and talk to their current partners to verify quality and dependability.
When importing there are three main factors to consider; speed to market (lead time), duties and freight. Keep in mind that the lowest initial price is often not the best avenue of production. Getting product to market at the right time may outweigh lower production costs, so even if producing in the eastern hemisphere is cheaper, manufacturing in the western hemisphere may get your product to market faster and cost less in freight. As far as duties are concerned it is very important to become aware of the U.S. Free Trade Agreements, which is somewhat permanent legislation, and Preference Programs, which have an expiration date. NAFTA and CAFTA are two of the free trade agreements, among others, enacted by the U.S. Some of the preference programs include those with the Andean countries (ATPDEA), the Caribbean Basin (CBTPA), Haiti (HOPE) and African nations (AGOA). The legislation regarding importation is very complex so please visit the USA-ITA for more information.
In regards to freight there are a few different ways of shipping your product including air, sea or a combination of air/sea or sea/air service. Always keep in mind, once again that the cheapest price may not always be the best. Ask yourself why one company would be able to quote a lower price than another. In the end you may actually end up paying more especially if you don’t have someone on site measuring or weighing your cargo. For more information try to get your hands on the August Sourcing & Fabric special edition of California Apparel News. The journal features two excellent articles about sourcing and international shipping.
If you have experience sourcing domestically or internationally and would like to share your story I would love to hear it! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.