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The journey into China to find the perfect silk shirt

Before starting my journey to find the perfect silk shirt in China, I had a lot of questions running through my head.
First of all, where do you start? How do you make things in China? How do you find a good factory? Will I get good quality silk shirts made here?
At the beginning of The Fable, production was based in India from a very small, family run factory. The idea of uprooting and finding a larger factory in a big unknown country like China was daunting.
The process was not straight forward, but with it came some great learnings. After discovering an established and professional Shanghai-based factory, I can now say the journey has been very worthwhile.
So, where to start?
This is perhaps the trickiest part of all and I can say, there is no ‘one best method’ to it.
I know people who have had success at trade fairs. Local ones may offer some options however the Canton Fair in Hong Kong can be a great place to start. A lot of professional factories who manufacture for large global brands will attend these trade fairs where you can meet face to face with suppliers and get all the important leads. For some general market research, AliBaba can be useful, even if it’s just for quoting your order to get a gauge of pricing.  
From my experience, having a local contact up in China who understands manufacture is the best way. The right person can make a huge difference to your outcome as they use their contacts to source factories, handle production, manage quality control and help you troubleshoot problems which inevitably arise in production.
What is your niche? Select a specialist factory
There are over 3 million factories operating in China. The production potential is enormous however with a vast array of options comes the need for a highly selective vetting process.  
Partner with the wrong factory and the outcome could be catastrophic. As a general rule, look for a factory which specialises in the product you’re looking to make. The tailors/workers will be specialists; the machinery will be the best and the team you work with will have an intricate understanding of how to develop your product. This is hugely helpful as they will be able to offer improvements you may not have thought of.
The Fable’s factory specialises in silk clothing. Silk shirts, t-shirts, dresses and nightwear are their area of expertise, meaning they know everything there is to know about silk.

Another important factor is choosing a factory who is the right size for your order volume. A general rule is it’s best to sit in about the medium range for their usual orders. Too large and the factory will be stretched. Too small and you may not get the service you want.

You must show face

If you are serious about manufacturing in China, don’t expect to do so from the comfort of your own home. Showing up and meeting factory owners is an important part of doing business and failing to do so will mean you will never be taken seriously as a buyer. Not only will visiting your factory help create an important relationship with your key contacts, you will be in a position to move forward with production at a faster rate. You can have a face to face discussion about all the details and requirements of your product without any confusion. On the journey to make silk shirts I have spent a lot of time in China and have loved this experience.

Expect delays and order small

If you’re placing an order for the first time, I suggest starting small. Generally, factories have minimum order quantities (MOQ) which need to be respected. However, the last thing you want to do is find you’ve ordered 10,000 units of a product which, once in market, isn’t quite right. Much better to order 2,000 units, take customer feedback, then go back and order 8,000 units of a fine-tuned version. Most factory lead times are somewhere between 60 and 90 days, depending on what and how much you’re ordering. Having said that, it is important to expect delays in this process. A quoted lead time sometimes does not factor in Chinese holidays and evidently things go wrong, causing delays. One experience I had was when a button supplier was late on their delivery which held up an entire order of silk shirts by three weeks. If you have a month’s buffer up you’re sleeve, that should be enough.

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