Sportswear sourcing – Why source the best source you can

We have been sourcing sportswear from our network of trusted partners since 1997. We only source from factories we have worked with OR come very highly recommended and offer something our existing partners cannot supply.

The majority of our sportswear sourcing is from the Far East with a large focus on China. Most of our clients and consumers conclude that we source here because the price is more competitive, however this is no longer true. The labour costs and working benefits and conditions have changed dramatically over the last 20 years and it’s no longer one of the “Low Cost” countries with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh all having substantially lower labour costs than China.

We source from China for completely different reasons to cost, they have the best service and quality. Chana’s days of cheap and poor quality are well and truly over.

Our partners all run apprentice schemes taking school levers and training them to become master machinists, working their way up through the ranks of machinists, all depicted by different coloured tabards depending on skill base until they become the top dogs. Being a top dog is rewarded by a larger salary and higher skilled fabrications that are based on quality rather than efficiency.

Sure, there are still many factories in China that don’t run this scheme and work their staff longer hours for lower pay, but we believe you get what you pay for in life. If the price is too cheap then someone, somewhere is getting a hard deal. You can always source cheaper but something has to give, be it staff conditions, pay or quality.

Our partners are some of the best sportswear factories in the world and as such produce for only the highest quality sports brands that all audit and inspect the factory before they commit to placing production with them

Many of these factories run state of the art technology based manufacturing with a “Closed Door” policy within the sample room, not allowing 3rd party eyes or customers access to this room for fear of ideas being copied and technology process being stolen. In fact, one of our factories wont accept ANY visitors to the facility where they actually construct the garments it’s so cutting edge.

These factories are full of laser cutters, ultrasonic welders and bonding machines that cost $000, 000’s and therefore the facilities match this state of the art theme, many of which require customers to wear overshoes to maintain cleanliness and the staff also have to replace their footwear before they enter the production rooms.

The factory floor always tidy, uncluttered and immaculate and run with the same precision as the technical sportswear that they produce. The same cannot be said about low cost manufacturers we have witnessed or even home grown factories.

A couple of years ago we worked with a client in the USA who wanted to produce some very high performance sportswear. We started the process in one of our partners in China because they had the machinery and expertise required and the 1st samples looked fantastic. However, the brand insisted we resource production using their source in the USA as “Home Grown” was important to them. They’re marketing department were focussed on claiming their sportswear sourcing was all American rather than focussing on how important the quality was.

They website claimed they were one of the best USA performance sportswear factories that provided some of the laser and bonding features that we designed into the garments, however when we visited the factory it was like stepping back in time.

The factory was a shambles. The factory floor was a mess with piles of part completed work stacked up and no clear flow to the production line. The majority of the machinists were from Mexico and the decor and facility hadn’t been updated since the 70’s.

The cost of the production was almost 60%+ higher than our source in China and the quality of the stitching was night and day to our source with poor quality stitching and no in-house lab testing on the bonded components to make sure there would be no issue after the garments left the facility.

Sure, the lead time was slightly lower because they saved 4 weeks shipping the goods from China and they could state it was made in the USA but the components, fabric, machinists were all NON American and the price and quality was all substandard. The only American part of this production was the bricks and mortar and the owner!

After a review of the samples the client agreed to revert back to the experts and we continued the production in China.

We also source sportswear in Vietnam, South Korea and Portugal, again in facilities that specialise in some of the highest technical sportswear production in the world.

The bottom line her is “You get what you pay for and if you want the best, go to the best”

Innovation Appreciation: PATAGONIA WORN WEAR

We LOVE Patagonia and WORN WEAR is just one of the reasons we appreciate what the brand stands for

Patagonia Worn Wear

With the now, worldwide yearly tradition of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ creating hysterical scenes at many retail stores and online around the world, Patagonia took the opportunity to celebrate the items of the clothing which their customer’s already own.The Worn Wear campaign created a community of individuals who have shared the stories of their favourite Patagonia products, how long they have owned them, where they have been together and how the product has helped overcome challenges along the way. The campaign promotes the reuse, recycle and repair messages to create items of clothing, which have a personality, a story and a journey; therefore reducing the waste created from discarding old clothing and removing the unrenewable resources used in the production of a new garment. The video below showcases a number of these incredible experiences, creating an inspiring and aspirational piece, which among friends, led to the immediate purchase of some waterproof patches and a sewing kit!

The standout individual in this piece is a surfer from Baja, Mexico; who after 15 years of wearing his Patagonia board-shorts in adventures which spanned surf hotspots around the world, showed his deep regret that he had to replace the ‘ass end’ of this board-shorts with a recycled beach umbrella. Check it out:

Link to Video: PATAGONIA WORN WEAR

The Patagonia Worn Wear campaign reinforces the Patagonia mission statement that quality lasts. Many brands will have succumb to the temptation of exponential sales and profits over the ‘Black Friday’/’Cyber Monday’ weekend, however we want to show our appreciation to Patagonia for standing strong and true to their message, a standard that resonates with us at Blue Associates.

For more information on the design, development and sourcing that Blue Associates has completed for sports brands, please email: stuart@blue-associates.co.uk

Read more about Blue Associates HERE

 

 

 

 

Rapha – How they started

How Rapha started the design and development of their cycle brand

Making design integral to the business

A tight integration of all the company’s activities is an essential part of the brand’s success, insists Scheybeler.

‘The design of our products is the core of the brand, but everything we do has to reflect the same values,’ he explains.

To achieve this, design is a core responsibility for Rapha’s senior management. Mottram and Scheybeler are intimately involved with all key design decisions, from product prototypes to catalogue photo shoots. ‘Design can’t be an afterthought, you need to build it in at the start,’ he continues.

At the same time, Rapha is a highly outsourced organization. Six full-time employees handle product development; marketing and order fulfillment but detailed design, sourcing and manufacture are all outsourced. ‘We use a network of freelance designers and small agencies to handle this work,’ says Scheybeler. ‘More often then not they are cyclists themselves and they bring their own passion to our concepts.’

Core members of Rapha’s extended network include Message, the web design agency that helps with the back-end design and functionality of its website, and Blue Associates, a clothing design and sourcing agency, for liaison with manufacturers and material suppliers. The company has also collaborated with clothing designer Paul Smith.

Managing such a loose network of contributors to produce a cohesive product range is a challenge for Rapha and the process has been a significant learning curve for Scheybeler. ‘I was a creative type in my old role; other people did the organizing: now it is really important that we get the product development process under control ourselves.’

To do this, Rapha has adopted a formal approach to the writing of briefs for every new product, carefully discussing and documenting as much as possible about their vision for each new product– who it is for, how it will be used, what it will be made of, what it will cost. Together with rough sketches produced in house, this brief provides first the company’s designers and later its material suppliers and manufacturing partners with a thorough understanding of the requirements.

Manufacturing takes place across the world, with items produced in the UK (London, Somerset, and Scotland) China, India, Spain, Vietnam and Italy. Increasingly, production is moving to the Far East, although Scheybeler insists that this has not been for cost reasons.

‘We actually found ourselves going to the Far East for quality reasons,’ he notes. ‘We do source from Italy too, but so much experience has been lost from the European textile industry that it was difficult to get the manufacturing expertise we needed.’

Tested to destruction

User testing has been at the heart of Rapha’s product development process. The founders started by testing the products themselves, before eliciting the help of London cycle couriers for prototype evaluation.

‘Couriers are very hard on clothes,’ explains Scheybeler, ‘They wear them a lot, probably don’t look after them very carefully, they carry heavy bags and they don’t wash them as often as perhaps you might expect!’

The result, he explains, was a lot of destroyed clothing in the early prototype phase and a considerable amount of invaluable feedback on durability and design features.

Today Rapha also sponsors its own cycle racing team, in association with leading London cycle retailer Condor. The team not only serves to raise the company’s profile at racing events, it also acts as the perfect test bed for new designs.

Rapha’s founders remain adamant that they will not be shifting the core values of the company to encompass other sports, or even other areas of the sport of cycling.

So while mountain bike enthusiasts might be buying Rapha clothing today, they won’t be seeing products targeted at them. That still leaves the company with room for growth. Worldwide, the bicycle industry is worth in excess of $20billion. In developed markets, this expenditure is split roughly in half between bicycles themselves and accessories and clothing.

Within its target niche, though, Rapha has been quick to exploit opportunities for expansion. To date the company has done this in two ways: by broadening the range of its products and be exploiting even narrow sub-groups within its target audience.

Rapha’s original series of jerseys and caps, for example, has now been expanded to include leg wear, gloves, rain gear, luggage and branded accessories developed in partnership with other companies – including a heart-rate monitor and an elegant training diary.

The company has also produced a more informal range of clothing aimed at the fixed gear movement. Fixed gear bikes are a simple, single speed design popularised by cycle couriers and city commuters, who value their robust, low-maintenance characteristics and the cachet associated with the fact that they are more difficult to ride than conventional machines.

‘We are debating internally how we take these sub-divisions forward,’ says Scheybeler. ‘It will be an interesting balance; we want to develop product ranges for specific types of cycling, while keeping the overall offering consistent.’