When stated like this, the question ‘How much does it cost to produce clothing?‘ is our least favourite question. We get enquiries like this every week and it’s frustrating.
Why, you may ask?
Because, ‘clothing‘ can mean any one of thousands of items with tens of thousands of customisations. It’s impossible to answer this question without more information.
I’m generally tempted to reply to these vague questions with my own question; ‘How long is a piece of string?’
Enough ranting though.
Knowing your production costs is essential to correctly budgeting for your mass production. But as clothing manufacturers and agencies, we need to know specifics before we can answer this question.
So, how can we know the answer to ‘how much does it cost to produce clothing?’
How Much Does It Cost to Produce Clothing?
There are many variables to consider when trying to calculate your production costs. Each design choice you make is going to impact your production costs in a different way.
In this post, I’m going to get you to envision how clothing is made and how your costs break down.
I’m writing this post with three things in mind:
- I won’t be touching on how much it may cost to design clothing. This is completely relative.
- I won’t be touching on the cost of samples as this is quite different per manufacturer.
- We assume that our readers are only ever interested in ethical clothing manufacturing.
Factor 1: Your Manufacturers & Suppliers
Let’s get the most obvious, yet misunderstood, fact out of the way first.
Every clothing manufacturer in the world is different from one another. Every supplier charges for their fabrics and materials differently.
Clothing manufacturing companies operate in different countries and under different regulatory environments. They have different policies from one another. Their operational costs are different from one another. They have different equipment and different skill sets of workers. And they always have different interests.
The last point I made seems to stump most newer designers. But its essential to understand that just because a manufacturer has sewing machines doesn’t mean they can or they want to produce what you’ve designed. Most manufacturers prefer to produce a few styles of garments.
Also, the equipment they have impacts what they choose to or can produce. Meaning, not all garments can be produced with the same sewing machine.
In summary, your production costs will always be dissimilar from one manufacturer to another.
Factor 2: The Styles & Complexity of Your Clothing
There are literally hundreds of styles of clothes out there. Whether you’re designing swimwear or street wear or resort wear or winter clothing or socks, each clothing category has subsets of possible styling, features, elements, materials, and fabrics options.
How does the styling and complexity impact your production costs?
The more complex an item of clothing is to make, the longer it’s going to take to make it. This is one of the first things that your manufacturer is going to consider when calculating how much it costs to produce your clothing – time.
Let’s be honest, manufacturers need to make money. They generally think in terms of number of completed pieces per hour. And the faster they can produce clothing, the better it is for them.
Think about it for a moment. How long do you think it takes to produce a t-shirt versus a custom sequin dress?
If the t-shirt costs $5 to produce and the sequin dress costs $50 but the dress takes four days to make, which option do you think the manufacturer will choose? In four days, the manufacturer can produce thousands of t-shirts.
This means that the more complex your clothing’s styling and designs are, the more they will charge for it’s production time.
Oftentimes, manufacturers are interested in simple clothing with large quantities because it keeps their factory busy and they can meet their sales targets more easily.
Factor 3: Your Choice of Fabrics & Materials
Your choices of fabrics and materials will ultimately play the leading role in how much your clothing costs to produce.
There are countless varieties of fabrics and blends. Your choice of fabrics will directly impact your exact production costs.
For example, let’s say you’re making women’s swimwear. It’s predominantly made from Lycra or some other synthetic fabric.
First, you need to consider that Lycra comes in different varieties, blends, and qualities. There are locally produced, regionally produced, and imported varieties. Lycra is also a trademarked brand name. More commonly it’s called Spandex or Elastane.
Do you choose the Elastane that’s regionally produced, lower cost, and standard good quality? Or do you go for recycled Lycra from Carvico that is imported, extremely high quality, and costs more?
It’s also important to highlight that most manufacturers and suppliers don’t stock the entire range of colours that fabrics come in. Oftentimes, they’ll have what are called ‘RFD Fabrics’; Ready-for-Dyeing.
I’ll touch on dyeing your fabric and how it can impact your production costs in the next section below.
Just imagine the sheer number and varieties of buttons, zippers, clips, clasps, grommets, draw strings, nuts, bolts, sequin, jewels, straps, bands, and whatever other materials that are used in clothing manufacturing.
But just like fabrics, there are also varying qualities of each. Your choice of zipper can mean the difference between pennies or dollars, depending on what you choose.
Also, suppliers always require purchases to be made in MOQs. Depending on what you choose, the total quantity of pieces will impact your budget and total production costs.
Factor 4: Dyeing, Printing & Embroidery (Embellishments)
One of my favourite parts of manufacturing clothing is getting the embellishment work completed. It gives me a sense of creativity to watch the artwork and designs come to life on the fabric.
There are numerous techniques that manufacturers can employ to achieve great results. And each technique comes with its own associated costs. Often, this impacts your final total order quantities – they go up.
But not all manufacturers can produce prints or dye fabrics. Some don’t have their own fabric printing or dyeing facilities and need to outsource the workload to third parties.
There are three types of fabric suppliers that you may come across when producing your clothing.
- There are retail suppliers that the average consumer visits when buying a few metres for their DIY projects. Their prices are generally at the highest retail prices but you can buy a little at a time.
- There are distributors that factories contact to stock up their supplies. These businesses have mid-sized MOQs but much better pricing than retail suppliers.
- Lastly, there are the textile producers themselves. Their MOQs are generally quite high and we find that we only ever approach them when we need to procure more than 9,000m of fabric.
Dyeing Your Fabric
As I mentioned before, fabric distributors carry most or some of the available range of colours that fabrics come in. This means that if you want a specific fabric colour, and it’s not available in stock, then we’ll need to dye it.
But what does this do to your production costs?
It does two things. As you would expect, your production costs increase due to the added production activity. But it also increases your MOQs.
When manufacturers prepare their dye solutions, they first consider the type of fabric that is being dyed. Fabrics consume dyes and achieve the final colour in different ways and at differing rates.
Because of this, manufacturers need to prepare a certain amount of dye to achieve the exact colour you need – depending on the fabric.
To reduce waste, they will expect to consume all of the dye they’ve made. This means the amount of fabric that’s needed to consume all the dye is calculated as your new MOQ.
To give you an example, let’s consider Cotton.
Within our supplier network, if you choose Cotton in colours that are already in stock, then your MOQ is usually 30m. But if you need to dye it, your new MOQ becomes 100m of dyed Cotton.
This increases your overall production quantities, hence, increases your production costs.
Then there’s the added cost of the type of dye that’s used. Although most brands currently still use conventionally dyed fabrics, more and more brands are switching to naturally dyed fabrics.
Natural dyeing can easily cost 2x to 4x more than conventional dyeing costs.
Printing Your Fabric
Because printing can be achieved using different techniques (eg: screen printing vs digital printing), you’re going to face different cost structures based on your designs.
From experience, screen printing costs less than digital printing (at times it’s 50% less). Initially, however, screen printing requires the building of screens which is an up-front cost to you.
Is building screens a cost? Yes.
But we see this as an investment because screens can be used for hundreds of repeat productions in the future.
But you may not always be the one to choose which fabric printing method gets used.
For example, some designs are so complex, with such a wide range of colours, that only digital printing can be employed.
Also, your fabric choice can dictate which printing method will be used, which also impacts your costs.
In Summary – How much does it cost to produce clothing?
We really can’t answer this question unless you’ve provided a great number of details about the clothing you want to produce.
The manufacturer that is contracted, the complexity of your clothing designs, the supplier that your fabrics and materials are purchased from, the fabrics and materials that you choose to use, and how you decide to embellish your fabrics all play a role in determining your final production costs.
So, the next time you send a prospective manufacturer an enquiry asking, “how much does it cost to produce clothing?”; just keep in mind what we need to know and what we need to calculate in order to provide you with the cost.