Tips for Fashion Designers: How to Find Suppliers in a Foreign Country

Finding the right supplier for your product is first and foremost the most important step towards bringing your business idea to fruition. It may prove challenging, however, if you’re trying to find a good supplier in another country.

Here are some tips that will help you find a great supplier in another country, specifically Vietnam; one whom will be able to help you create your product that is good quality and for a fair price.

1. Create a Supplier List and Define What You are Looking for

Quality standards may differ between countries, so it’s good to know exactly what kind of product you are after and set the standards before speaking to the supplier. Prior to asking your suppliers about the expected cost of your product idea, it would be wise to write down a list containing information that may prove valuable while trying to make a decision. Write down everything you may require from your suppliers before reaching out to them.

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Next, ask your supplier about minimum order quantity, sample pricing, production pricing, turnaround time and payment terms. Don’t forget to find out your supplier’s production ability and flexibility. Will you be able to change some parts of the the design during the process? Do they have the know-how to fully understand how to produce your design? Do they already have consistent batches of the material you want, as far as type and color are concerned? Do they take custom orders with a fair price?

Do your research, create a spreadsheet of potential suppliers, fill out all of their contact details and notes on your conversations, and then narrow it down to a list of around 5. Plan to meet with these suppliers and work on receiving a sample from them so that you can get it down to 1 or 2 suppliers that you will work with. The good news is that services in other countries aren’t as expensive as they are in Australia, the UK and the US, so you should be able to get multiple samples made instead of being constrained to working with one supplier after you have paid them for the costs of tooling, etc.

2. Ask Local People or Relevant Businesses for Recommendations

Unfortunately, some legwork and door to door visits are to be expected, since in some countries, like Vietnam, most businesses do not have a website. We have found that working with small-scale to medium-scale suppliers are the best to start off with as they are more flexible and willing to negotiate. Also, because they aren’t able to do as much marketing as bigger businesses, you can find a producer who is more dedicated to your designs than those who work on a larger operation scale.

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Small-scale to medium-scale suppliers are the best to start off working with.

Often times these suppliers also have workshops out of the back of their house, so it can be hard to find them. Therefore, make some door to door visits to get recommendations and directions to their workshop. We found out handbag maker by first finding a leather supplier and then asking them for handbag maker recommendations. There’s nothing like word of mouth recommendations in foreign countries.

3. Expat Forums are a Valuable Resource

It’s never a bad idea to have a good relationship with expats that have been living in the country for a while. They are usually very helpful and willing to share their experiences with you if they have any experience working with suppliers or happened to have come across local shops that have what you are looking for.

We have also found that expat forums on Facebook have been a great source of information with a very interactive and passionate community who are willing to answer questions if you are new in town.

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Expat forums on Facebook have been a great source of information.

4. Find a Local Translator to Assist You

The language barrier will be the biggest problem you face, but it is also the easiest to fix. It’s so important to get a translator on-board from the beginning so that they can help you do your research and communicate what you are wanting to design with possible suppliers. It also works in your favor when negotiating the price of production, as you can take the time to communicate with each other and not respond instinctively to the supplier. In Vietnam, a great way to find a translator is through job listings on Craigslist, Vietnamese job boards or through recommendations from locals you meet while in the country.

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One of the keys to making a lasting relationship with your translator is finding a person who believes in the philosophy of your business.

The ideal assistant would have a firm grasp on the local culture, along with a general knowledge of the way that particular product production works, and they should also be able to give you valuable real-life information that you cannot find on the internet, such as how to deal with a foreign supplier and proper way to communicate with them. You can start by finding a part-time assistant and promoting them to a full-time position as soon as you have a bigger budget. In many developing countries like Vietnam, you will be able to find a quality translator easier, because many of the local people love practicing English with a native speaker.

One of the keys to making a lasting relationship with your translator, or any employee for that matter, is finding a person who believes in the philosophy of your business, and has experience in producing products. They should also be an excellent communicator and value providing good customer service so that you can maintain a great relationship with your supplier through them.

5. Keep in Mind that Volume is not Always the Only Advantage for Receiving a Better Price

Of course, you will always negotiate a better price when you place a larger order, but you aren’t always ready for that kind of scale, as producing products requires a large amount of upfront capital. In order to receive a competitive price from your supplier, you can always make the most of being a foreign designer! You should let your suppliers know about your mission and philosophy. Whether you are preserving local culture, supporting an endangered art form, raising awareness about eco fashion or empowering underprivileged artisans in remote areas, you should definitely show your suppliers your recent activities in their country. Let them know how people in your country appreciate their handicrafts, and explain that you would like to collaborate in order to increase both of your profits and prestige in the long term. Even though it all greatly depends on the supplier’s personality, it’s definitely worth trying to get them on board with the main mission of your design.

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Our leather worker is making our tote sample that incorporates Cham weave.

If you have questions about finding suppliers in a foreign country, we’d love to help! Write us a message about what you are looking to design and which country you will be producing out of. If you select the right supplier right off the bat, you are creating a solid foundation for the future of your brand.

For tips on how to design your first handbag design, check out our recent blog.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Best local Saigon markets for designers and crafters - Wild Tussah

  2. Shannon

    This is a really helpful article. I have studied fashion design and although that is not the career path I am taking, I have always been curious as to how people can find suppliers. I am interested in supply chains so this article is also interesting for me- as it would be for anyone working in the industry.

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