I get calls all the time from people wanting to make custom hats for sale at retail. This article will attempt to answer some production related questions in details. Hopefully it will help all of you aspiring hat designers. For those just starting out, there is another article that will cover questions related to the planning and design process.
When it comes to production, it is important to know that it takes money to make money. So make sure you save up money as the starting cost for producing your hats at the per piece level will not be cheap. Let’s face it, no manufacturer is going to take a 6 piece custom hat order. That would be considered a sample order, and the cost would be very high, whether you have the hats custom made in the US or overseas. It is simply impossible to get 12 hats at $5 a piece!
One needs to be realistic when it comes to how much a factory will “help” you with your first custom hats order. Factories are in business to make money. And they will only help you to the extent that you hold the promise for future business. So it is unlikely that a manufacturer will do a custom fabric print or color for you unless you are an established company with a ton of potential for future business.
So how do you start? Well, first you should try to use stock fabric whenever possible. If your design needs to be printed on the hat instead of embroidered, try to minimize the number of color combinations to minimize initial cost. This is to reduce the number of different items you would have to sample, and the number of setup fees potentially involved. You might be able to use sublimation and heat transfer for the design, but that usually involves a very high initial setup cost, and an even higher production minimum quantity. And usually these processes are best done overseas, again due to cost concern.
When it comes to sourcing vendors, overseas production facilities are still the lowest cost choices with the most versatile production options. Global Sources dot com is a great place to source for overseas vendors. I personally prefer it to Alibaba as there seems to be more well-established factories on Global Sources. But you may have more luck with Alibaba, so try different things. Talk to as many factories as possible.
Once you have compiled a list of potential vendors, you need to ask the right questions to cover your bases. What is their minimum requirement for samples? What is their lead time for sampling? Would they be comfortable sharing a few of their customers’ names as references? What form of payment do they accept? What are the fabric choices they can offer? What is their minimum for custom colors? For custom all over prints? Asking the right questions also tells the factory you know what you are doing. So they will be more honest with you. Be honest yourself. You want to establish trust with the factories so they are more likely to give you payment terms in the future. Do not negotiate too hard during the sampling process. This tells the factory you do not have enough financial resources. And factories do not like to do business with people who do not have adequate financial resources, no matter how hot you think your designs are.