This week GFW spoke with Hawthorn, one of the UK’s leading clothing manufacturers. They specialise in working with fashion start ups, small brands, SMEs and emerging designers, offering a full scale manufacturing solution."

GFW discussed key information for any designer looking to launch their label, from pricing and minimums to fabric sourcing and production lines.

 How can you helpstart-up clothing brands and emerging designers?

 As a business we focus on working with start up brands for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is because once upon a time, we ourselves were a start up fashion brand and we found it impossible to find a manufacturer who could help us. We found that the minimum orders of the factories we were dealing with at the beginning were unrealistic for a small brand. Typical MOQs were around 300 units per size, so for our modest range of 4 tee shirts, we would have had to have ordered nearly 5000 units to have a size range! As a start up with limited funding, that’s just not viable. We identified that people in our position needed to have more options, so we started Hawthorn which has MOQs from 50 per design, and that can be split for sizing. This means we can help start ups to get a good range out there when starting out, without having to invest huge amounts in something they’re new to and naturally will be slightly apprehensive about.


How do minimum orders work for new designers? 

 Every manufacturer must have a minimum order quantity to make their business viable, but for several reasons. The main reason is because of minimums along the supply chain, such as in fabric weaving. For us, we have to weave a minimum amount of fabric, so our minimum order is directly related to that. For other manufacturers however, they may have minimum orders which only attract certain types of customers; those who are established for example. Our business model is focused on working with start ups due to our own experiences in the past, so we make it as accessible as possible for new designers to get a foot hold in the industry.


 What advice can you offer a new designer setting up their label?  

We actually wrote a guide about how to start a clothing line which covers almost everything you need to know about getting into the industry, mainly because we work with so many new brands and have learnt nearly all there is to know! The main thing to remember however is that the designing of the clothing is only a small part of starting a fashion brand. You need to have the creative flair to make a website and social media presence which is appealing, and the business sense to ensure your brand is profitable. 

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 What do you need to know when setting up as a new designer? 

Starting a business in any industry will be a learning curve, but for the fashion industry the most important thing is that you know your market. Most people looking to start a business in clothing are already passionate about fashion and they understand what their target audience will wear, but it’s important to put a lot of thought in to the designs and whether your target market will be happy to wear them before spending money on stock which you may have second thoughts about later down the line. 


 How do manufacturers help with fabric sourcing? 

There are two main types of manufacturers – CMT and FPP. CMT stands for Cut, Make, Trim and FPP stands for Full Package Production. CMT manufacturers generally won’t help with sourcing of fabrics, and they would instead direct you to a mill or fabric merchant to purchase fabrics for them to create into clothing. FPP manufacturers on the other hand will weave or source fabrics which meet your design brief, meaning you can keep all your activities under one roof and usually with one point of contact. 


 Can you give us an overview of a production line?  

A production line is a very busy place, which involves a lot of moving parts all coming together seamlessly to ensure a smooth progression of items. When clothing is created in bulk, each step is individually done before moving on to the next. The first step is usually fabric weaving, where enough raw fabric is woven to be able to fulfil the order. Next up is cutting, where paper patterns are overlaid on to the raw fabric to be cut out into the individual panels which make a garment. After all the panels are cut for all the sizes, they’re sorted and move on to the sewing stage, where they are pieced together to create semi complete items. After sewing, the garments move on to finishing which includes the attachment of ancillaries like labels, zips and trims. The penultimate stage is quality control, before the final stage which is steaming and packaging, ensuring everything is well presented for the client. 


Can you give us an overview of a supply chain?

Different manufacturers have different supply chains, however it’s common for everything to be done in house to reduce the overall cost. Some factories may weave fabrics in house, which means they purchase yarns and dyes from their suppliers in order to do this. Others may purchase pre woven (stock) fabrics, in which case they will usually be able to send samples to customers before they commit to an order. Although this allows the customer some reassurance as to the product they will receive and the quality of the fabric, this approach to a supply chain doesn’t allow flexibility as the compositions, weights and colours of the items will be set by the mill. If fabrics are woven in house on the other hand, anything is usually possible. 

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What does sampling mean and how can it benefit a new business? 

Sampling is the process of testing out your new design for real, actually creating a one off item which represents the design you’ve created. Sampling is imperative when creating a new product, and there are a couple of ways it can be done. If you go to a CMT manufacturer they’ll be able to create a sample for you, based on your designs, and they would usually charge for the single product based on the hours that go in to making it. The other option is to use an FPP manufacturer who would usually require you commit to an order of the minimum order quantity, but then they would make an initial sample and allow you to make amendments to it before going ahead with the bulk order. By sampling the design, you get a chance to refine it and make sure it’s perfect before you receive any larger quantity. 


Can you explain how a manufacturer checks for quality control? 

 When anything is produced in bulk quantities, there will always be an allowance for an amount which are not quite up to the required standard, so it’s important to have a rigorous quality control system in place so that none of those items make it to a customer. Our quality control system operates throughout the production line, from the fabric weaving process, through cutting and stitching, but the last line of defence is when items are being steamed and folded – that’s when each item is individually checked for defects. 


 What does a designer need to give a manufacturer to create their garments? 

 To create garments, manufacturers rely on technical specifications, or tech packs as they’re more commonly known. A tech pack is a document which gives all of the necessary information for a manufacturer to create the product, such as material composition, colour codes, fabric weights, sizing, detail images, dimensions for placement of branding and even the very small and not often thought about details like thread colour. Different manufacturers work in different ways however – some will help you to create a tech pack or work from things like inspiration images, whereas others will insist you provide them with a tech pack before they start discussions. 


What is the lead time on getting garments made? 

Lead times vary depending on a number of factors, including the time of year, the complexity of the designs, if there are any particularly custom elements which have to be done off site, or for example, special treatments which are required which take time like hand distressing. Generally, however, for simple items, a factory would be able to complete the sampling and bulk production stages within around 10 weeks. Everything would of course depend on the products themselves though as something like a custom zip puller may add a week or two to that. Because of lead times, brands usually work a season in advance, so in A/W they’re usually designing their following S/S collection. 


What advice can you offer a new label on being as sustainable as possible and what do you think about fast fashion? 

We’re always trying to be as sustainable as we possibly can be in everything we do, and we actively encourage the use of fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo and hemp in the clothing of the brands we work with. In the current industry climate, every manufacturer should be offering organic or sustainable alternatives to fabrics, for no more than a small price per unit increase. Any manufacturer who is imposing far higher MOQs for organic fabrics is more than likely trying to take advantage of the situation. Personally, our organic fabrics are a tad more expensive than traditionally farmed alternatives, but we offer them at the lowest MOQ in the industry so that they’re accessible to start ups. We’re always trying to encourage the brands we work with to steer clear of fast fashion fabrics like polyester for example, and we are currently working with some publications to raise awareness on the damage that fast fashion and textile waste is doing to the planet, and the