What you don’t know about finding a supplier

I launched Stork three months now, and since then many things have changed — my supplier being one of them. In this piece, I’ll tell you how I sourced and decided on my current supplier for Stork.

Finding a supplier for your business is easy — but finding the right supplier for your business is not. It seems so simple because there are so many options (at least in textiles), but the clutter can create a lot of confusion. Everyone is willing to offer ‘the best price at the best quality the fastest,’ but it’s up to you to figure out which vendor will actually deliver over the long haul.

Ultimately for me and for Stork, the goal was simple; get the best quality product for the most reasonable price from a supplier that is responsive, and always on time.

Ready. Set. Go.

Step 1: The Initial Search

The textile manufacturing/sourcing/supplier business is built on relationships, trust and communication. There’s a ton of noise. In short, it’s not easy to find what you’re looking for. Thankfully, Alibaba completely transformed it’s sourcing tool from general search to a two-sided, sophisticated marketplace.

It’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it serves its purpose. Below is the tool I used to find my supplier called, AliSourcePro.

It’s pretty easy to use for those without sourcing/manufacturing backgrounds, but sourcing apparel is not for the faint of heart

AliSourcePro is essentially a bare bones tool for receiving initial quotes for your projects. You can choose from practically anything — there are about 50 different primary categories and then 50 secondary categories off of each primary category.

I chose apparel, added very basic garment specifications (type of materials for each part of the shirt), some pictures of our current ‘Stork Fit’ undershirt, our minimum — rather than estimated — order quantity, and pressed submit.

2: Vetting the Offers

I got ~20 offers within 24 hours of pressing submit — but most of them were not helpful.

I responded to only offers that had the following:

  1. A comprehensible message to ensure smooth communication
  2. A defined price per unit at my minimum order quantity — not a range
  3. Operated in a stable country

Out of the twenty, I responded to seven to ask for free samples. One offered free samples, and four others offered samples a reasonable price; however, the supplier that offered free samples outdid all of the others. He offered to produce samples of my undershirts to spec (with my actual specifications), and ship them to me immediately...for free.

I opted to get samples from the four suppliers, paying for three. With the help of my girlfriend, who works in fashion, I was able to ask for certain things I might not have known about otherwise — for example; the difference in the material of the base of the shirt versus the neckline, and making sure to review both.

3. Reviewing Samples & Making the Decision

The samples came over the next few weeks, and varied in accuracy, and quality. We got some weird fabric from one supplier that looked like it could’ve been sewn into a kimono. Clearly there was a portion of our back-and-forth that was lost in translation from that supplier — though we ended up receiving some fabric samples/swatches that were worth looking into.

When reviewing fabric there are a few key things to look at:

  1. Are the cables of fabric that make up the garment straight? This can affect how the shirt looks, washes and how long it lasts.
  2. Is there pilling or striation on the fabric? If there is pilling on the fabric before construction/wash etc. than your garment will look cheap and old
  3. Is the sample the correct gsm (grams per square meter aka. thickness)? Is it the correct color? For undershirts, we needed to produce a thin, white garment. That was indicated clearly in the instructions for the sample review

Back to the supplier that asked for our specs up front to create the shirt with the logo for free. The fabric quality was approved by professionals in the fashion industry, the logo was silk-screened and clean, and the specs were close to perfect (spec fixes are simple, and rarely are an issue pre-production).

We washed/battle-tested the sample shirts to test shrinkage (which is measured in % of the 21 measurements for my specific cut of shirt), and the shrinkage was an acceptable amount. After a few wears, washes and dirt stains, we decided to move ahead with our current supplier. He won Stork’s business with awesome customer service, an awesome product, and on-time delivery.

In Summary

The whole process took 2 months start to finish, and we stayed under budget —as far as my initial research, these were both wins. We’re ecstatic about our new supplier and our new product.

We are receiving our first major round of inventory from our new supplier on June 2–3, and will be well-stocked to handle the upcoming growth coming from a few different avenues:

  1. Father’s Day Gift Guide segment on a major television show
  2. Articles on well-known male-focused fashion blogs
  3. Customer acquisition marketing campaigns
  4. Our first re-order for our quarterly subscribers

We are overly excited about the next few months for Stork — details about our first TV appearance coming soon…