It’s not easy to start up any Business, and when you rely on overseas manufacture the difficulty is quadrupled; for 99% of the time you rely on emails, patchy phone calls and miscommunicated messages! Still, when we started Fuller Fillies, we knew we would have to work with these concerns, so I’m not really griping.
One of the first hurdles, whether you manufacture in the UK or abroad, is the minimum order quantity requirement on every individual piece of whatever you make – clothing on our case; out of China you can expect demands of 800-1000 per colour/ per style, double that if the fabric needs to be ‘Dyed to Match’ meaning dyed to your specification. Think about that; for a new capsule range of let’s say a matching Jacket, Gilet & Breeches in 2 colour options that is 6000 pieces – and of course, you need more than just three garments.
India often has lower minimums – about half that, but that is still a mammoth ask when you start out.
Then of course there are a raft of other costs; Import Duties and shipping, Insurance required for everything from loss of product to a broken fingernail, protection of Trademark (£27 000 for the record but, should it be infringed you still have to pay a barrister to fight it!) Staff, Websites, Agents…and when the product arrives there is the issue of tolerances to deal with – no factory will even discuss compensation until 30% or more of a line is proven to be wrongly made.
Of course, after becoming established you make relationships and gain loyalty with the factories, you wheedle out the myriad of dodgy ones and gain a ‘second sense’ or a ‘nose’ for the trouble makers!
This brings me to the reason for this post today; as the world’s first ever plus-sized Brand we keep a keen eye on what else is happening in the market; in this day and age this means keeping abreast of Social Media amongst other routes to market. As a member of many related ‘Larger Rider’s’ groups on Facebook I noticed a lot of ‘Riding Tights’ and ‘base layers’ turning up being sold by people who had given themselves a ‘Brand Name’ but were all selling the same garments; this in itself is very odd because – if you properly establish a brand, protecting the name and logo worldwide and advertising it widely to ‘draw a line in the sand’, you probably spend upwards of £80,000 – so the last thing you do is allow any factory to make YOUR garments for another Brand! And they know this – send them a counter sample of another Brand’s garment to ‘copy’ and they will insist at lease 30% of the design is altered to make it ‘unique’; this is the one area of the law the overseas Factories live in fear of offending!
So I thought this needed further investigation! Lots of different brands (I’ve now counted over 20) selling the same items with different logos…and THEN, all of them seem to be offering ‘another 20 pairs arriving soon’ – which clearly required investigation! So I found out who the supplier was, it wasn’t hard as they were advertising in all the groups... I approached them as any legitimate Brand would, asking for their Terms of Business and their bank details – and then the alarm bells really started to ring!
They have no Terms of Business – neither were they willing to be bound by ours. They wanted 100% payment upfront (with order) payment by ‘MoneyGram’ into a personal bank account! Let me tell you this is highly suspicious! Especially when the Factory is in India and the Account is in Pakistan…that is like paying Galaxy for Cadbury’s chocolate!
Firstly, NO FACTORY asks for more than a deposit upfront – 10-30% then the rest ‘on sight’, meaning you get to check the product before clearing the balance; and with a new Factory you REALLY need this!
Secondly – you MUST agree Terms of Business – what happens of the product is wrongly made, gets lost in transit or is late by so many months that the product is out of season - which county’s laws govern the contract? – our TOB are about 1000 words BY NECESSITY.
Thirdly there is this thing about minimums; when I raised the question of payment I was told “well you only have to take 30 pieces at a time so you don’t lose much!” I’m still reeling from that comment!
Needless to say, I dropped them like a hot potato, as any experienced business person would; but I have to tell you that I am being kept awake at night still; call it my ‘Corporate Conscience’, my need for fairness…
Without much research I found 20 individuals selling this Factory’s wears – the garments are all the same meaning that, before too long there will be a price war – there will have to be; these ladies have no ‘USP’ – and still the Factory attracts more sellers on a daily basis.
- They are already selling at tight margins so what happens when they get returns?
- And what happens when there is a problem with the garments? What recourse will these re-sellers have?
- Is the factory going to be traceable...and this brings me to the last horror I found…
For two weeks this young lady who advertises all over Facebook in her own name INSISTED the Company name was ‘X’, when I commented I had spoken to them at SPOGA , (Industry buying fair) which I had if they were who they claimed to be, she said they had never exhibited…yesterday her colleague messaged me to ask why I was putting people off buying from them, and guess what – an entirely different Company name was used!
I can hear the haters now, “of course she’s saying that, this takes business away from Fuller Fillies”; well not really, our Brand has never been about cheap stuff made to a standard pattern ‘one size fits all’ – we have always designed from the fabric upwards to ensure good quality and great fit at affordable prices.
For me – this is about protecting the Industry I love – and Fuller Fillies started this niche of the Industry…the worldwide adopted term ‘Fluffy’ to describe larger riders came out of a conversation I had in 2006…before Fuller Fillies larger lady riders had NOTHING to wear other than men’s clothing – so YES, I’m passionate about the movement we started. I have helped a number of new Brands to get on their feet in my time that have gone on to become ‘Competitors’ to an extent BECAUSE that is good for the market – and so I really don’t want to stand by and act dumb whilst these chancers sucker our X-Lovely Ladies in!
I recognise why their offering is appealing to people who want to set up their own ‘thing’; its cheap, it’s easy; but you’ve heard the saying ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’? This is not only a gift horse – it is a Trojan Horse too and it contains more assassins than you can ever really appreciate. At best, you’ll get your product and it will sell at a price that might make you a few quid or bucks until another offers it out cheaper; at worse they will disappear with your money – but that’s alright because “you don’t have to order many so you won’t lose much”
Please; proceed with caution – no, scrap that – TURN AROUND AND RUN LIKE HELL!