Handbag Designers: Tips for Manufacturing Overseas

manufacturing overseas

In my last article, I discussed the startup costs associated with a handbag launch. In today’s article, I want to give you some tips for manufacturing overseas.

When my partner and I started our company, charm and luck, we only manufactured in Asia. Our backgrounds were in fashion, but not in the manufacturing sector. We were based in Los Angeles and did not have the connections with local sample makers or small manufacturing houses. Knowing we would be able to achieve better prices and margins, we always worked in Asia.

We had tried to do some work with India, Mexico, and the Philippines, but China was always the logical choice for us due to our handbags having a lot of crystal and metal embellishment which was all produced in China.

Another plus for us was the ocean freight transit time was less than other areas of the globe. From Hong Kong the transit time is 12 days and the cargo ships leave several times a week. We always ocean freighted our goods because the handbags were too big and heavy to send via Fedex or UPS.

My advice for anyone thinking of working with China:

  • Ensure your communication in all forms – emails and tech packs – is impeccable.
  • Pad your sampling or manufacturing time. Things always go awry when producing overseas mainly because you cannot control things when you are 5000 miles away. So make sure you pad a little time in your production schedule.
  • Ask for photos – lots of them.
  • Consider going to the factory to oversee the sampling or production. If you cannot go, hire a third-party inspector.They are very affordable for the amount of information they offer to their clients.
  • This one seems obvious, but make sure to insure your goods coming into the US.

I cannot stress how important it is to visit the factory. I know the costs to travel to China are high, but whenever I went to China I was able to accomplish so much.

  • I was able to source and find unbelievable findings that my factory would never be able to do for me because they didn’t have an ‘eye’ for it.
  • I was able to find new factories.
  • I was able to meet international contacts who worked in my field who are still in my network many years later.

Working with China was an overall positive experience for my company as we were able to achieve the margins we needed to grow our company in a profitable way. We would not have been able to achieve such hyper-growth while manufacturing in the US.

In my next article, I will talk about producing domestically.


Image via zubrow

Christine Syquia

Christine Syquia is the owner of Accessory Business 101, an online consultancy for established and emerging accessory designers. Based in Los Angeles in the Fashion District, Christine enjoys meeting new designers and sharing her extensive knowledge of the accessory world. In her spare time, Christine created Spotlight Accessories in 2012 as a side project to showcase emerging Los Angeles designers and is also co-founder of Fashion Camp Los Angeles. She is mother to two young boys, a passionate (albeit gluten-free) foodie and a hardcore Soul Cycle rider.

  1. Christine

    Hi Debra- I have used Asia Inspection many times and have been pleased with their services. They have inspectors worldwide.

  2. Debra

    Great article! I’m going through some of these pains right now as a start-up working on my first production run. With regards to the comment “hire a third-party inspector.They are very affordable for the amount of information they offer to their clients”. Can you recommend anyone and tell me what the going rates are? My factory is currently in Shenzhen.

  3. Jack Derington

    Christine’s comments are spot on. We are in the unique position of being a maker/manufacturer, design house and now brand developer. We focus on our own brand as well as providing high value OEM services to new brands in leather and fabric women’s and men’s accessories. We are on both sides of the coin, usually more than once on any given day. In our medium term strategy we are looking to have certain product manufacture in the US, however overseas outsourcing is likely going to be critical for a new brand and/or designer. Speaking from the maker side, please, if at all possible, go where the factories are. Meet the people who have already told you they can do everything you ask. It is amazing that something as simple as a face to face meeting can make a situation so much more clear. Look at the factory. If it has 1000+ people, making thousands upon thousands of bags, there is a good chance they will not be able to really work with you in a way that is best as a startup. This is not a negative, not at all, rather just an economies of scale thing. You will quite possibly need a maker that is willing to make 500, 100 of even 20 of a piece to help you gauge the market, make adjustments etc. Feet on the ground is absolutely critical. As Christine says, there are many different and excellent ways to manage production and QC from afar. As a maker, i beg you, come visit. Don’t expect real success or positive results based on products developed over phone calls and email. You will never be happy with the result and when you are pitching your brand, the confidence level in your voice, it will not be as convincing. There are makers out there that believe in what they do. They want to be vested in what you do. One last thing regarding ‘cultural’ differences. In China, like in India, Philippines most other countries, you will be faced with people telling you at all turns, ‘no problem’. When you hear that phrase, try to replace it in your head with something like ‘ you really scare me and I want you to like me, buy from me so I make a commission and I also might have this job only because my English is pretty good’. Last in this rather long comment, be willing to walk down some paths that might seem of no value or your people are telling you are worthless, you will be surprised what you find.

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