The reflex is human, there is generally a tendency to look for the optimum price / quality ratio, regardless of the universe in which one is considering acquiring a good. As far as the clothing factory world is concerned, it is difficult to discern the false from the true and we are still far from understanding all the components to be taken into account in the final price of a garment. Which often leads to this sentence: “it is too expensive”. Today, we will try to inform you about the fashion circuit by taking a garment from its initial state until the moment you’ll receive it at your door.
What is the clothing manufacturing circuit
It seems important, in the preamble of this article to justify its structure. Logically, the first thing to evaluate will be the price, quality and production process of the different fabrics. Then, the stage of manufacturing: how do brands find the best manufacturer to produce their clothing line? What is the difference in cost between producing in Asia and in Europe? From there, we will address the latest costs involved in the price of the product: logistical and commercial intermediaries.
Raw materials are the major constituents of the clothes we wear. Obviously, for each category of raw material, the price depends on the various qualities but also quantity, which makes the all fabric purchasing process more complicate that it seems. Several parameters will be taken into account here, and one some might say that these are related to the nature of the fabric without, however, denying the downstream work of processing the material.
Indeed, a flower can be more valuable than another of the same famillly because of an exceptionally fertile soil. For the same reason, an animal with rare skin or beautiful skin will make the leather more expensive than the average price. On the other hand, the synthetic will also have a variant of quality but also depending on the research and development with regard to technical fabrics. In any case, some countries will remain more experienced than others in the production of fabrics and it will also affect price of the fabrics, including all the know-how that flows from it.
Cotton is a perennial shrub from warm countries harvested as an annual plant. It is therefore a vegetable fiber taken from the cotton flower. It is the most used natural material in the world! The cotton is moderately warm, pretty resistant, soft and easy to take care of. As with every natural material that composes fabrics, there are various qualities (500 different kinds of cotton are cultivated in the world). The most prestigious cotton fiber is from Zimbabwe. Its characteristics depend on its use, and therefore its value.
How to produce Cotton ?
Once bought by textile factories, cotton undergoes the stage of its transformation into yarn in specialized factories. They are divided into several categories according to whether the length of the fiber is short or long. While technological advances have considerably shifted this practice towards automation and scale-up production, there are still some handmade manufacturers with traditional looms to produce more exclusive high-quality series.
Different quality of cotton
Cotton is not a homogeneous product because there are several diversities. It is nevertheless considered as such and its price is fixed according to a given factor. The recognized reference for international cotton prices, the Cotlook A Index, is based on the representative offer price of a basket of the most widely marketed international grade cotton. These prices refer to a current average quality. The prices of the main origins are published daily by Cotton Outlook. They are in particular fixed according to the grade (quality assumed according to the type of plant) and the length of fiber. The three largest cotton producers are China, India and the United States accounting for more than 60% of the cotton production worldwide. In the textile industry, the species Gossypium barbadense are very long fiber usually found in Egypt that represents the high-end standard.
The fiber of these cotton species is long, fine, and resistant. This is why it is more expensive for companies to work with this particularly luxurious cotton and it is then more expensive for the end client.
In general, all mammals can be providers of leather but in reality, only those who have a skin with little roughness and sufficient surface area is used by the fashion industry. Basically, the most used leathers remain lamb, cow and buffalo, even if sheep, goats, pigs or “exotic” leathers are also produced on a smaller scale.
Production process of Leather
Subsequently, animal skins once controlled for their quality are processed for the textile industry. Indeed, the leather of the beast must be transformed before being exploitable.
The fresh skins are notably salted and are then desalted to remove the water and allow the preservation. Then there are the processes of soaking, peeling, fleshing, grinding, pickling, tanning, finishing and re-finishing! If all the steps are important, the last two destined to the final rendering of the leather are probably the most important. For example, tanning is the process of transforming the skin into leather by means of tannins, substances of different natures (vegetable, mineral, such as chromium III salts, combined) that are softening and moisturizing the leather. The finish will then act on the surface to give it a dipped, nappa, aged or wrinkled appearance.
Different quality of Leather
In the textile world, leather designates the skin of the animal that is treated. To make it simple, there are two qualities of leather: the “leather flower” and the “leather crust”. the first being the top layer of the animal, more noble, more supple, more resistant, more impermeable. Its appearance is smoother. It is called “full-grain leather” when used throughout its thickness and its natural appearance is retained.
The second, called “leather crust” refers to the lower layer of the animal, flesh side, obtained by slitting of thick leathers. The term “velvet crust” refers to the appearance of a fibrous or “coated crust” when it is covered to give it a smooth leather look. The leather crust is mainly used for low-end clothing.
The price of the leather
The price of the leather will then be fixed according to the animal from which it comes, the grain of its skin and its treatment. For Quentin, founder of the Brand called Piola:
“Regarding the quality of the leather, everything is a matter of traceability, touch and finishing. So, for our part, it is important to ensure a careful control of the quality of the leathers we receive.”
Wool is a fiber of animal origin, derived from the fleece of sheep or other animals. It has the advantage of absorbing moisture; it is an excellent thermal insulation and therefore an ideal material for the winter. Obviously, there are various qualities which depend mostly on the longevity of the wool.
Production process of wool
The initial process is the mowing of the animal. One collects its fleece and one sorts it according to the part of the body from which it is extracted because it already determines a quality index. It is then washed, dismantled, combed, spun, dyed and woven to give a woolen armor. On average, a sheep has about 2kg of wool on it at shearing time and in a normal-sized farm, a shearer can mow between 200 and 300 animals during the day, paid approximately 1.50 € per mowed beast
The main indicator of quality, and therefore the final price of wool, is, above all the animal from which it comes, giving it attributes of beauty, insulation, absorption of moisture and different strength. The sheep and the lamb thus constitute the lowest degree of wool quality and it will rise in range if it is a merino sheep with softer and longer hair. The mohair, coming from the Angora goat, will have an even longer peel.
Different quality of wool
Premium wool are, among the most common, alpaca, an animal originating in the high plateaus of Peru or the angora rabbit, both producing highly sought-after wool for the length and fineness of the hairs. Finally, the most prestigious and expensive of all wool is produced by goats raised in the mountainous region of Kashmir (between India and Mongolia). It is also dear above all for its qualities and its rarity: light, silky, brilliant, elastic, soft and warm, knowing that it is classified like cotton according to a graded index, grade A representing the highest.
Price of the wool
In economic terms, the most generic of wool will be sold between € 1 and € 1.30 per kilo when more prestigious types can sometimes reach the € 20. The choice is acquired with experience, according to Fulbert, founder of the Atelier Particulier brand:
The raw material is very important. New Zealand merino wool is very well known. The process of wool and spinning also. The best factories are located in northern Italy, on the foothills of the Alps, such as the Zegna Baruffa factory, which belongs to the group of the same name. The three main criteria for us: the quality of the process of transformation, guarantee of durability, the softness and the “touch” of the wool. We use almost exclusively virgin wool, which is a worsted softer wool.
The virgin wool
Finally, the designation of virgin wool corresponds to a product to which no more than 7% of other fibers have been added. For pure virgin wool this percentage is reduced to a maximum of 0.3% of other fibers. The designations 100% wool are therefore very blurry and can correspond to many things, in particular a wool of lesser quality or recycled wool. For information, the world’s largest producers of wool are China, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, Argentina and the United Kingdom. Still for Fulbert from Atelier Particulier for whom wool plays an important role:
The raw material plays more and more in the quality of the product. Moreover, it is no coincidence that some spinners have made a real name, including among the general public, such as Vitale Barberis Canonico, Albini or Thomas Mason. On this subject, the Italians are surely the best, and England / Scotland also but to a lesser extent.
Rubber is widely underestimated in the batch of raw materials used in garment making, especially for its primary role in the footwear industry. Rubber is a material that can be obtained either by transforming the latex secreted by certain plants (eg, rubber) or synthetically.
How to produce Rubber
Rubber is never used in its natural state but especially after vulcanization, which is a chemical process allowing to give it particular attributes of solidity and elasticity. Its use, although previously sporadic, was especially prevalent in the 1960s for shoe soles. It is with a mold that, after patronage, it is obtained to give it the desired shape after application of heat.
Different quality of Rubber
Nevertheless, knowing how to recognize the quality of a natural rubber is extremely important in the fashion industry and partly determines the durability of the product that will be manufactured once it has been processed. For Quentin, founder of Piola sneaker brand, everything is in the quality of the leaves:
The process of selection of a rubber is very different than for any other material. As far as we are concerned, we use wild Amazon rubber from Peru. We then receive rubber sheets from rubber latex. We pay great attention to the moisture of the leaves and to the purity and concentration of latex in a concern for comfort and hold.
Generally, the secrecy of the production process of each supplier is well preserved, so it is impossible to give a price based on the rubber present in the final product. Nevertheless, it can be estimated that for a running basket say generic, it will turn around the € 1.50 to € 5 and more when you touch higher qualities.
It would take too long to go into detail of the provenance and quality of the synthetic materials, as there are too many different qualities for each type of synthetic. Retracing, for example, the price share of the polyester present in a fabric composed of 70% wool, 30% polyester is impossible. Another example is the acquisition of a nylon fabric to make a lining 50 cents to 5 euros per meter, whereas if it has undergone a waterproof or specially resistant treatment to make a parka, Will go well beyond this price. Finally, a Gore Tex fabric will obviously be even more expensive.
How to find your Fabric Supplier
The choice of raw materials plays a key role in the process of producing your own clothing line with a factory, because basically, it is above all the main component of the finished product. The most important thing for any fashion brand on this point is obviously to flush out the reliable supplier.
They can be divided into two parts: entities used to working on a large scale, expecting a rather generic product available in large quantities, and the more confidential ones offering scarcity and limited to only small series (of course, one can go with each other).
Importance of fabric sourcing
At Piola, the color is announced on this occasionally tedious operation: Finding the best raw materials and know-how of excellence has asked us for time and patience.
One would expect, the answer is multiple and this task is not necessarily the same according to the brand years of existence. Let’s say that if we start from the zero point, it is not so complicated as it appears. First, trade fairs on the world of textiles are the most ready to welcome representatives in matters of all kinds. Thus, whether one looks for wool, cotton, leather or if one has a more specific request, there is the embarrassment of the choice of these welcoming events of the specialized companies.
Know that it is rare for a brand to have only one supplier. Generally, they will largely guarantee the quality of the final product. For example, Fulbert from Atelier Particulier tries hard to “pick” every material from renowned names:
We are looking for specialized suppliers where they are: in Biella for wool, in Como for silk, in Tuscany or in Limoges for leather, etc. The hardest part of our job: convince them to work with us!
Then, word of mouth remains an important element to take into account. Not necessarily in an environment as competitive as that of the shoe in which one reveals less its sources, but more in the clothing.
Finally, a good supplier will not necessarily be the one who will make the best price but also the one with whom a brand will consider to have the best human and professional relationship. All these elements will thus constitute a sustainable partnership. For Uriel from Maison Standards, this step is crucial:
Sourcing materials and plants is essential and defines the quality of the products. We proceed in a very traditional way: we select a range of fabrics then we contact the weavers and agents specialized in these materials. We select in their range the references that we like the most and which are good standards. Then the factory buys from the weavers at each production. We have only a few factories that work for us, each specialized in a product category: shirt, trousers, pullovers ….
We select the factory after having visited them on site and look at “the products and brands customers. And we build relationships of trust over time. Because we start replenishments every 2 months.
The Clothing Manufacturer
Obviously, finding a good supplier of raw materials is crucial but finding the right apparel manufacturer is just as much or even more. Here, several truths are good to state first of all: producing your clothing line in a factory in Asia costs less than in a factory in Europe, the most expensive remaining in Western Europe. There are good and bad factories everywhere, even in Asia, even in France or Italy. It is not because we produce low cost that we can not sell our products at a high price. On the other hand, the opposite is impossible, otherwise we sell at a loss. Handicraft is necessarily more expensive than automatic. Let us try to verify them in order to understand the differences in costs between the different production sites. Were to produce your clothing line.
Why produce garments in Asia?
Let’s not turn around the pot for lines and let’s be honest. If an X brand chooses to have its clothing manufacturer in Asia, it is for its low production costs. Moreover, it is common to encompass by “Asia” all the countries of production at low cost when talking about textiles; Namely China, Bangladesh, India, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, but also Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco. But outside of the price point, why does so many brands produce their clothing with apparel manufacturer in Asia ?
Firstly, they have a well stocked arsenal. Know that China alone accounts for 33% of textile exports worldwide and that 70% of the clothing bought in Europe comes from Asian countries. Sourcing fabrics in Asia by yourself is so easy no matter what you look for, and you find it at low prices.
Then, because the cost of labor is much lower than in Western Europe or United States. But here, be carefull, there is a huge difference between producing in India Bengladesh or Vietnam, Cambodia and Pakistan, where humans are working 12 hours a day and six days a week without hygiene, without words, without break and this for a remuneration which can in certain cases amount less to 50 euros per month and manufacturing clothes in Thailand, Tunisia and Morocco where people usually works less than 10 hours a day, 5 days a week in good working conditions for a salary above 200 euros per month. Usually, the quality of the clothes are much better in Thailand than in Bengladesh for exemple.
All this put together offers efficient and inexpensive production possibilities, knowing that a Western seamstress wins about 20 times more than a Bengali. It does totally depend on your fashion brand production marketing and quality positionning but also your order quantity but you might prefer to produce your apparel brand in Thailand or eventually, for a lower price but lower quality, to manufacture your apparel in Burma, than in Bengladesh or India where quality is very poor and human rights are not respected.
This also contributes to a taboo mainly linked to the human factor causing fashion brands not necessarily to assume their Asian production in term of marketing and morality. Nevertheless, it is possible to find pearls, factories with high quality standards. For example, at Maison Standards, we prefer to play it transparent:
We do not produce exclusively in Europe, it is very difficult and it does not necessarily make sense for certain products or materials that are only found in certain regions. I manufacture as much as possible in Europe but the sweaters, cashmere and silk are made for example in China. In this regard, Maison Standards is transparent and chooses to assume to find excellent production workshops in Asia.