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The secret techniques of retailers sock sourcing and manufacturing methods.



When people ask where is the best country to make stocking and socks. Usually the number 1 answer is China. Most people even know there is a sock town called "Datang" located in Zhuji, Zhejaing. During it's highest peak, Datang was producing over 8 billion pairs of sock per year (1/3 of the worlds sock production). So naturally, when people ask "where do socks get made", China comes up often. But the question often asked is, how do you find the sock manufactures and what should you be looking at.


This article will focus providing valuable tips shared by retailers as you navigate your business to choose your proper supplier. It will consist of two parts. You can click on the section you are interested and read the corresponding content.


Part 1: What do others retailers do, when they find possible supplier?


 

Part 1 : What do others retailers do, when they find possible supplier?


There are so many sock and stocking factories in China. It can be confusing, a lot of guessing, and frustrating. Well, we are here to help you out. We believe sharing the experience we learned, will lead to success to all. With that said, let's get started.


 

  1. How does Nike, Adidas, Bombas and other well known brands pick their suppliers?

Brands usually base their supplier selections on the following information.

  • Quality assurance (QA) and Quality control (QC) system.

If you don't know what QA or QC is, I suggest you do some research on these topics. But here is the short definition.


QA - the planned and systematic activities implemented within the quality system that can be demonstrated to provide confidence that a product or service will fulfill requirements for quality. For example, insuring each sock machine is calibrated correctly during production to insure quality.


QC - system that is focused on fulfilling quality requirements. For example, inspecting each sock for poorly knitted holes and discarding them as defects.


The sock retailers will focus on the suppliers strength in these area's to guarantee the quality of socks. So these retailers usually do the following.

  • Ask questions, like how many QA and QC supervisor per production line? This can impact how little the factory is supervising the production line.

  • Ask the manufacture to show us their methodology or look at the actual production line to examine the procedures. Basically "are you practicing what you saying"

It is common for customers to send their own QA or QC as supplements to the manufacture you are working with. It does add additional cost but it gives you additional insurance in case the manufacture misses things.

  • Does the factory sub-contracting any production process.

What does this mean? A sock factory should have everything right to make a sock? Well that's not true. Many factories specialize in a process or a particular sock style. Just because it's a sock manufacture, doesn't mean it can make all style socks or design all graphics. So when a factory doesn't have inhouse capabilities, it has to enable sub-contracting. Sub-contracting is asking another supplier to assist with a part of production.


Sub-contracting happens in manufacture. It's actually quite common, especially if factories are busy and they have many orders to fulfill. But brands like Nike rather find suppliers who do not sub-contract work.


The question you may be wondering is, why don't they like sub-contracting. With sub-contracting, it means your sock manufacture is no longer in control or monitoring the parts that are outsourced in real time. It also means your sock manufacture cannot deal with emergencies if it happens at their outsource partner. Of course some sock manufacture's have really good partners but most larger customers try to avoid this scenario.

  • Capacity and scheduling

Another area the retailers focus on is, factory capacity and scheduling. Capacity is how many socks can be produced per day, per month, etc. Many manufactures will tell you, they can produce hundreds of thousands per month. But it's not as simple as that. Retailers will ask what is your current capacity at and if you have schedule for additional capacity if we add X amount of socks per year.


For example, you want to work with a sock manufacture to produce 100,000 pairs of sock for Christmas 2021. This sock manufacture has 200 sock machines but you find out 80% of the sock machines are already used by other clients for Christmas 2021.


Which means this sock manufacture depending on when you submit your order, might not be able to produce all 100,000 pairs, leaving you with shortage of products.


No matter how big or small the manufacture you are working with. You must understand the factories capacity and scheduling for the timing to deliver your products. Be aware, many manufactures in China will outsource your project due to capacity or scheduling conflicts. But if this happens, it's better for the manufacture to be transparent with their client to insure quality of the product delivered is controlled and meets your expectations. However most larger retailers will not accept this, so for them understanding capacity and scheduling is a requirement

  • Political and environmental risks

You may not even be thinking about this or maybe you are today with Covid-19 situation. Imagine if your supplier today was in a country that had the following war, internal rioting, uncontrolled pandemic. Many retailers are paying attention to the risks for both political and environmental to insure the suppliers they select are minimally impacted. When the world runs smoothly, nobody worries about this, but as seen by the recent pandemic and economic relations, things can change fast. Which means your business should have a disaster plan. I will write another article, how the pandemic highlighted the need for backup plans. (what you can do to minimize your risk).


  • Collaboration

Finally retailers will focus on Collaboration aspects. Collaboration such as development of your designs, production issues, scheduling conflict, re-orders and dealing with product issues. From our experience we have assisted many retailers and each one has their unique approach on sock development. Patience is a virtue in this business. Depending on how large or small your business is, your manufacture may or may not give you their best collaboration.

So many retailers will spend time to analyze if their manufacture or agent has the ability and patience to work with them. Just because a manufacture is the best in the world, doesn't mean you will be a happy customer, if the sales/factory contact has no patience or not transparent with your projects.


 

2. Machine count is an important indicator of the expectations.


When you look for a sock manufacture, many people will look for the more machines the better the sock manufacture right? This is the most obvious behavior "more is better"


However having more machines doesn't mean the sock manufacture is good for you. Here is a general guideline based on sock machine count and how it may impact the behavior of the manufacture.


Machine account guideline


>600 sock machines

MOQ (3000-5000), Brand their own socks, full schedule for the year, working with high end brands or producing cheap plain socks for super markets (> 15 million cheap white socks per year). High output focused on basic socks with low innovation. Normally if you don't have huge basic quantities, they normally do not take you seriously if your cannot hit their MOQ. No test orders. Strict QA and QC requirements.


200-500 sock machines

MOQ (2000-3000). Brand their own socks, capacity at 70%, looking for new customers.. Better innovation and willing to try new things. Supports various different needle count machines. Patience on development process (willing to fix sample issues). Willing to do limited small test orders for larger order to meet their MOQ. Above average QA and QC requirements


100-200 sock machines

MOQ (1000), work with smaller buyers, sometimes a niche market, like a certain style of sock. Less needle count options. Okay to do test orders of 500 pairs of socks. Limited patience on developing with you (1st sample approved only). Average QA and QC requirements


<100 sock machines

MOQ (200-500), support majority of customers trying private label, low QA/QC requirement.


The guidelines are meant to assist you, with your expectations when dealing with manufacturing your are sourcing. They do not speak for all manufactures.


 

3. What qualifications do you look for in a stocking or sock manufacture?


Many retailers will require the factory have qualifications or certifications in certain area's of it's industry. These certifications are needed in case for lab testing, importing records or simply understanding if the factory has knowledge in these area's. Usually the bigger the client, the more certifications you may require. Here are some of the certifications you want from a sock manufacture.


Manufacture standards

  • ISO 9001- Standard to demonstrate the ability to provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements in manufacturing. Almost all manufactures have this.

Social Audit (Social compliance)

  • Wrap: Business Social Compliance Initiative - An audit that checks companies against working conditions in the global supply chain.

  • Sedex: A popular audit for apparel on also checks companies against working conditions in global supply chain.











Yarn Certificates

  • BCI: Better Cotton Initiative which understand the cotton supply chain to be produced ethically and morally.

  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100: Textile raw materials meeting non-harmful standards.

  • GRS : Global recycling standard for recycled yarn.




Other notable certificates to watch for

  • Wal-mart, Target, Disney, other large brand Factory Inspection Standard. These are good certificates because larger brands have already done a lot of the research.


 

4. Working through an Agent or Direct Manufacturing?


As you weave your way to find your supplier of choice , you will come across choices of working with an agent or direct manufacturing. Each path has it's own advantages. It's hard to choose which one is better because it depends on your organization capabilities. But many large retailer's use a hybrid of agents and direct manufacturing to utilize the different strengths each organization provides. I will list out some of the advantages an agent or working direct brings to the table.


Agent - Innovation experience is more robust due to the experience of dealing with different sock manufactures and driven by customer focus. An agent's specific skillset is customer service. They can offer a one stop shop from development to shipping, product designs/idea's and innovation. Good agents have a vast network of suppliers to meet different clients requirements. For example if you wanted to make a cozy sock and an athletic sock, an agent will match you with 2 sock manufactures based on their expertise but you will only deal with the agent. Which means communication and expectations are consist. Without an agent, you may have to deal with 2 separate sock manufactures and explain yourself twice. Good Agents will make the whole process seamless which brings value to the clients.


Direct Manufacturing - Cost is the best advantage of working direct. You no longer have to pay additional fee's that an agent will command. With a good manufacture, they may be able to offer the same customer service as an agent. However in the end, a manufacture strength is their manufacturing ability, so they are normal less focused on customer service aspect. Another advantage of working direct, you might feel like you have more control vs an agent. Sometimes just the thought of having more control will make you feel there is more trust between both parties.


Side note: Some sock manufacturers have their own separate trading company because they want to capitalize on capturing a larger market and enhance their customer service.


In the end, as you nominate your choice of supplier, I highly suggest to explore both options to see what fits your organization, especially if your just starting your business.

 

Part 2 : Advance techniques on sourcing sock manufactures (secret sourcing tips)


I am going to share with you some techniques on sourcing that other retailers utilize but don't advertise.


Utilizing big retailers supplier databases.


You may be wonder, what do I mean? Isn't their sites like alibaba.com already? Why would retailers share their trade secret about their supply chain?


Well some larger vendors are transparent in their supply chain because they feel they owe their investors and customers transparency. They also are not afraid to show their supply chain because they know their suppliers will always provide them the best service and prices due to their purchasing power. With that said, here are some links I wanted to share. Not all retailers do this but if you search on the internet, you can find a lot of information.


Nike - Nike Sustainability - Interactive Map (nikeinc.com). You can find all their suppliers in all their countries. They also provide summary statistics of their supply chain. It's very interactive and a great view on where Nike manufactures their products


Adidas - adidas - Global Factory Lists (adidas-group.com). They provided excel files you can download.


Visiting trade shows


You will be amazed by how many clients we dealt with, that rarely visited trade shows for their industry. While traveling to trade shows does cost money, but it's a great way to check out suppliers work. There are trade shows for every type of product sold. Some trade shows are better than others. It's a great way to collect those contacts and also check out the newest products.


Retailers always send their people to trade shows to look for the latest trends or potential new suppliers. If your at the trade show, you can spot the badges from many large retailers. So here is some trade shows for sock fashion category, so when Covid-19 situation is over, you can visit. I can't list them all, there is many.


Australia

Australia’s premier international sourcing show for apparel, accessories and textiles.


Dubai

The UAE’s exclusive sourcing fair


China

This is a small site that has good information of trade shows in China but also other countries.


How can we not list this fair, one of the worlds largest trade show in the world for China. Here you will find many things besides socks.


South Africa

Source Africa expo on fashion apparel.


United Kingdom

Pure Origin London unites manufacturers and buyers in London’s busiest fashion trade hub.


United States

It's not a magic show, it's a fashion show. It focus on fashion apparel, which also includes Socks. Many manufactures from all over the world visit this. Look for other Magic Fashion trade shows to see if your local country has one.


West Coast destination for textile, design, and production resources from around the globe. They also have a sourcing pavilion for finding factories and other production-related services.


Trade show to buy from wholesales but it's good for new business who need inventory to start with but also to check out the latest products.


There are also sites dedicated to multiple trade shows around the world like https://10times.com/


Utilizing software to check out your competitors import records.


These tools are expensive but it can provide a wealthy of information on sourcing factories. Very few sourcing experts talk about this because they rather keep this a secret. So rather than explaining, I will list one of our favorites. It this can show you all kinds of information in regards to sourcing.



We hope the information provided in this article can help improve your sourcing ability and help locate a supplier who can fulfill your needs. Please leave comments and subscribe to us if you want future articles.



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This is very helpful! I hope there is more update about socks so I can keep my knowledge updated.

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