Although there are many designers here in the UK, manufacturing seems to be on the decline in many industries. This is due to a number of reasons, one of the main being reduced costs overseas. However, with Brexit and the lower value of sterling, startups are increasingly looking at manufacturing closer to home.
Samantha Jenkins is the founder of Mother & Nature, the UK’s first range of outdoor maternity wear with a twist - you can wear it during and after pregnancy. Designed and manufactured in the UK, this range provides women with the freedom to carry on enjoying the same activities they did pre-pregnancy, but in comfort and style. Here are Samantha’s tips for finding designers and manufacturers.
How did you go about finding a designer for your maternity range?
As I had no experience of design and manufacture when I started on my business journey, Google was a fantastic aid. I had an idea in my head of how I wanted the products to look and work, but I had no idea whether this would be workable in terms of design and bringing the idea to life.
I started searching for a designer and I came across a site called ‘People Per Hour’ which has a huge range of freelancers, from website development to clothes designers. I looked through their experience, feedback, and where they were based (in case we needed to meet up, so preferably in the UK).
I found a couple of potential designers, one who had experience of designing outdoors wear, and one with experience of designing maternity wear. After speaking to both people, I went with the person who had the outdoor clothes design experience. I wanted the range to have the same technical specifications as your outdoors favourites, but with a bump in mind, and this lady had been pregnant, so had a good understanding of maternity wear and accommodating a bump in a range of clothes.
There are lots of other freelance websites; Upwork, Toptal, and Elance are a few.
Did the designer offer you any advice when it came to manufacturing?
I spoke to the designer about the manufacturing process, as again, it was nothing I had had experience of before. I asked her opinion and if she had any recommendations regarding manufacturing overseas or manufacturing in the UK.
The designer had a source in Turkey who already manufactured some of her designs, so if I was to go down this route it would have saved me the job of trying to find my own manufacturer - not speaking any other languages, that would have been a problem. She also thought as a startup that manufacturing in the UK would be too expensive for a startup and overseas might be the better option.
How did you decide between manufacture in the UK or overseas?
I read up on it a lot, seeking out articles on the state of the UK manufacturing industry, and learning about the pros and cons to manufacturing at home and away.
The main factors which I thought needed to be considered were:
- Expertise and experience
- Working relationships
The cost to manufacture in the UK was going to be more expensive than overseas. I tried to ascertain some ballpark figures for manufacturing for both options. It looked like manufacturing overseas was going to be around two-thirds less expensive than in the UK, which sounds great - but there was so much more to consider, such as:
- The lead times on producing samples would be much longer when overseas shipping was factored in
- The cost of shipping the samples back and forth would be more expensive
- The language barrier, when communicating, meant that there was a possibility things could be lost in translation
When it came down to it, for me, the unit cost of the clothes was the third on my list of priorities to consider. I was working on something completely new, I really wanted to have control over the whole sampling process, and having someone in the same country that I could talk to and go and see and discuss things with was by far the most important aspect.
I can now say, with absolute confidence, that manufacturing in the UK was the right option for me and my business.
How did you find a manufacturer once you decided on where to manufacture?
A fantastic website which the designer told me about, called Lets Make it Here, had all the information I needed to start to make a choice. You can search for manufacturers of materials, footwear, garments, accessories and more. This can then be broken down even further into types of garment manufactured, so I could narrow this down to companies who had experience of manufacturing outdoor wear, jackets and trousers, working with waterproof materials etc.
I found four potential manufacturers and started making contact with them. I initially sent a non-disclosure agreement for them to sign before I spoke about the designs. I found the template online, and it gave me the security that my designs wouldn’t be copied or used by someone else legally.
I had a few conversations and many emails discussing fabrics, pattern cutters, finishes, types of zips and all sorts of things I had no idea about. The manufacturers all had a great deal of experience, and all could probably have produced the range I wanted. The company I chose to use was FPM (Flame-Pro Manufacturing), who are based in Birmingham. The contact there was so helpful, which was exactly what I needed as I didn’t have the experience myself. He talked me through the whole process, wasn’t condescending, and seemed to be really genuine. He also offered to help through utilising their freelance pattern cutter, sourcing fabrics, packaging etc., and was, by far again, the person I wanted to work with.
Something else I learned about manufacturing is that you cannot get an accurate cost for something unless there is a sample of the product already made. They simply do not know the labour time involved, and the exact amount of material required. So even though I got some ballpoint figures, this was another decision that wasn’t based on price, but on having a good working relationship with someone who is helpful and proactive.
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