You have developed a new shoe design, or your brand is growing, and you are ready to source a new shoe factory to manufacture your brand in China .
So, how do you find and vet a shoe factory across the ocean from your home office? Here’s how to get started.
How to find a shoe factory?
Whether your initial introduction came from a friend, Alibaba, or various search methods (all valid places to start), there are some telling questions to start with when vetting a factory. I recommend getting off WeChat and onto email, where it’s easier to search and organize your conversations and start with the following:
Top 10 questions to ask a prospective shoe factory
- What is your Minimum Order Quantity per style and color?
- What is your current lead time for production?
- Do you own the factory, or are you a trading company?
- Do you work with any outside inspection companies? Which ones?
- Can we send a local developer for a factory visit? When can they come?
- Do you have experience manufacturing the type of shoe we are developing?
- How long have you been in operation?
- Please provide a reference from a current customer.
- How many assembly lines are in your factory?
- What other shoe brands do you produce?
Is this a good shoe factory?
From their email reply, you can glean lots of information. For example, how fast did they reply? What is the quality of their English communications? Do you have the money and product demand to reach their order minimums? How long is the lead time? Is it much faster/slower than other factories you have interviewed, and does it seem realistic? Remember, if something seems too good to be true, be wary; there’s a good chance it’s not true.
Shoe Factory or a Footwear Trading Company?
Are you looking for a factory to work with or a Trading Company? (Not sure what the difference is? Check out this article on What is a Trading Company.) If you work directly with the factory, you will have more control over your product, and that’s important if you have a unique design. Question 4, regarding outside inspection, will give you an idea of how open they are to having outside inspectors come to their factory. An outside inspector will perform a professional inspection on all goods and give you the report before you pay the factory for the goods. I always send in an inspection company of my choice and will not work with a factory that doesn’t allow this. Lastly, today’s pandemic climate does not allow foreigners to travel in and out of China. However, if you have someone you know on the ground in China, it is optimal for them to go and check out the operation.
Do I need a backup shoe factory?
Try to keep your selected vendors to a minimum. Two or three at a time, max. Send them your sample shoe and product specifications and allow them time to ask questions as they make a sample. It could take as long as 60 days for sample production and costing information to arrive back at your office.
If the samples don’t look good, you should be very wary of the attention to quality and detail that the factory will apply to your production.
It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. Once your brand becomes established and proven to have some success in sales and reorders, it’s time to branch out. If you grow your supply chain properly, you won’t get stuck placing orders with manufacturing partners not meeting your needs.
Shoe production MOQ
A small start-up brand that can barely place orders at minimum quantity does not have much leverage or bargaining power with a manufacturing facility. Established factories are busy, and they want big orders. Starting from scratch with a new brand takes lots of extra work on the factory’s end, and they are not always willing to take on ‘the little guy.’ As a result, your orders may fall to the back of the production schedule and get delayed when a bigger, more established brand needs a rush order. Finding a factory to believe in you, your product, and see the value your business will bring them in the future is not easy.
Do I need a big shoe factory?
Why ask how many assembly lines? The “assembly line” is the standard unit of measurement for a factory. A one-line or two-line factory is a “micro” factory. They can make 2000 pairs per day. You can get good service from a small factory. Is this small factory financially sound?
Does the factory have 20 lines or 50 assembly lines? The “mega” factory may be looking for “space filler” customers. You may find yourself in a huge factory with excellent equipment, but your brand’s support staff may be junior employees in training. It can be a challenge to find a factory that is the right size for your project.
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Local or export factories?
Why do you care if they are making other brands? If you visit a large factory and you see they are making for Nike or Adidas, you can be confident they will have a strict QC process. If, on the other hand, you visit a tiny factory in western China that is making Nike shoes, you can assume you are seeing a counterfeiting operation. You want to be in a factory with quality brands rather than discount brands. The quality requirements of “local” brands and export brands are very different, you are looking for an “export” grade factory.
Professional Footwear Inspections
Do you need more sourcing tips and professional inspection techniques? Check out the book How To Spot Fake Sneakers. It is a step-by-step guide to quality control and professional sneaker inspection. Textbook includes the 50-Point Essential Check List for Professional Footwear Inspection not offered anywhere else.
Can I trust a factory I found on Alibaba?
The answer is maybe.
You must be careful. Be on the lookout for danger signs. Here are a few of them:
Will the factory send you the paper pattern for your design? If not, run.
Will the factory send you the 3D CAD file for your outsole design? If not, run.
Will the factory let you know the name of the outsole mold factory or the contact information for the material supply factory? If not, run.
Factory sourcing help
“The Shoe Dog” can help! At the SneakerFactory we have years of experience placing brands with quality factories that are reputable and won’t rip you off. Let us work as your “shoemaking coach” or consultant to help you reach your product sourcing and development goals faster.