Working successfully with an overseas manufacturer

An off-white woollen jumper on a wooden tabletop.

Sandra Brand owns and runs Alessandra, specialising in lush cashmere. She designs her pieces in Melbourne, sources most of the yarn in Mongolia, and manufactures the pieces in China. Here are a few of her top tips for working with an overseas manufacturer.

Find the right supplier

Sandra found her main factory in China thanks to a recommendation from her brother. The factory also does millions of dollars of business in the US, Germany and France, which was a good sign that they could maintain big, demanding orders.

Within a month, Sandra visited the factory and liked that it wasn’t a sweatshop, that the workers were well cared for, and many even lived onsite. She has now worked with this factory for over 10 years.

Overcome language barriers

Sandra works with a factory manager in China who speaks very good English. Despite this, there can be ongoing issues.

'Somebody in the food chain can still get things wrong,' she says. A simple misunderstanding in the colour code of a yarn written on a garment specification can mean a sweater is made in bright orange instead of pale green.

To combat confusion and translation errors, she keeps her directions very clear and simple. 'I never overload with information,' she says.

Rolls of patterned fabric sitting in large brown tubes in a rack in a warehouse.

Have backup plans

Despite years in the business, there's always a chance a shipment will arrive late or quality control slips. Sandra tries to head off problems by bringing her production cycle forward. She's clear in explaining this to her factory contacts too, so they know she's trying to give them as much time as possible to do a good job.

Pay suppliers on time

'Never forget that the people on that factory floor have children to feed,' Sandra’s father would say to her. Today, she always pays her suppliers on time. 'I get my stuff made as I never have, and never will, let anyone down on payment,' she says. 'It goes back to the lessons I learned as a child.'

Currency fluctuations can be stressful as her foreign orders are in American dollars. She pays on delivery of a shipment, which can be months after an order is placed. Trying to hedge the Aussie dollar is virtually impossible, she says. It's about riding out the cycles. 'These are the rises and falls in business, that's why they say it's not for the fainthearted.'