Finding the Best Sportswear factory

Finding the best sportswear factory to produce your performance sportswear is a daunting task.

You could spend hours if not days searching online and reading factory bios about the number of workers, ethical and technical standards they work to and the the machinery they use to produce their products and make your decision based on this in the hope that their bio is accurate and they are honourable.

We get approached on a daily basis from factories touting for business as they know we produce sportswear in factories around the world for our clients and would like a slice of this business. We often spend a little time digging through the interesting ones via their website to find they are not as “Qualified” as they claim.

We also go to several sportswear trade shows and again visit the more “Quality” focussed stands to see what they actually offer and if they could form part of our network. One year we popped onto a stand that had an ashmei soft-shell jacket hanging up on their display and touted that they made this for ashmei. We introduced ourselves but didn’t confess that we owned ashmei and knew that they had not made this jacket. Instead we enquired about the piece and asked them to explain the materials used to create this jacket and the approximate cost of the jacket is they replicated this with some tweaks.

Bear in mind, this is at an international sportswear trade show and the calibre of exhibitor should, in theory be top notch!. The response from the sales guy was quite astonishing. He confirmed that they make for ashmei and the jacket was last years production ! (lie #1). He said the fabrics were from their source and made from synthetic materials ! (lie #2). He quoted a price for the jacket which was actually less expensive than the cost of the material we use on the rear of the jacket!!!

When I pointed out we were from ashmei, he looked puzzled, shrugged it off and admitted he did not manage the production and it was a colleague in China that managed this account. We highlighted that we have never placed any production with their factory and never will and requested they remove the garment from their display and not to tout business on the false presentation that they made for ashmei.

I then looked around their stand at the other blue chip brands they claimed to work for and wondered who, if any they actually did produce for. I doubt any.

We work with a network of sportswear factories that we have established a great relationship, some for over 15 years and have proven themselves with the production of innovative, high quality, performance gear that hit our specifications on every level

Many of the factories we work with don’t physically show at trade shows or need to tout for business as they already have an established network of blue chip performance sport clients who continue to feed them production year after year. In fact some of our factories capacity is so full we need to reserve several months in advance of the required shipment date and one factory we work with wont entertain new clients without a firm commitment of bulk production with a minimum order value prior to receiving designs and specifications.

It’s a bit of a mind field out there and we suggest you carry out some thorough due diligence before you start to work with any new factory. If they claim to work with a brand, ask the factory for the representative of that brands contact details so you can ask for a reference. This should clarify if they actually make for these brands and you may also get an honest appraisal of the factories quality and service.

Alternatively, get in touch with us for some advise.

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”

Looking for a GREAT sportswear designer?

What’s important when you look for a performance sportswear designer?

We believe the most important aspect to any designer, is their production knowledge. You need to look past the pretty CAD drawings and understand what they know about sportswear production. If a sportswear designer has little or no knowledge of how sportswear is manufactured and is not actively involved in the production, then how can they really understand the design phase.

Sure, Pretty CAD’s look great and may get the look of the garment across, but without in-depth knowledge of each stage of production, then all they are creating is a CAD that directs the look.

We have been designing and producing high performance sportswear since 1997 and it’s the production phase that allows us to really understand each process of manufacture and what is and isn’t possible.

Understanding how the factories machines work also allows us the opportunity to push new concepts and ideas that haven’t been created before.

We also believe a sportswear designer needs to understand fibres as these create the performance aspect of every sports garment. Fibres are like the ingredients of a delicious cake. Get them right and the garment will perform and offer the athlete a real benefit. Get them wrong and the garment is little use to the athlete.

This knowledge of fibres and their performance characteristics is vital as it determines which fabrics are selected for each design. We see so many brands launch product that they claim to offer fantastic performance but the fabrics they have chosen actually work against the requirements of the sport. The brand then hoodwinks consumers by smothering them with techno marketing blurb to blind them with poorly researched stats or phrases that sound promising but offer very little.

If you look at some of the worlds greatest designers and product creators, they fully understand how the whole product works. Look at Gordan Murray, Adrian Newey, Steve Jobs or James Dyson, all pioneers in the design and production of superior product and all with in-depth knowledge of how to produce their product. They fully understand each component, its performance and how it relates to every other component and its only when you understand this can you tweak and push boundaries that will ultimately end up with something unique and superior.

Our approach is identical to these great designers, being that we visit the factories and understand how the process works and their abilities. We understand fibres and how they perform and often develop our own bespoke materials when off the shelf fabrics are not good enough and we stay involved from concept until finished production so we can sign off the development at every stage and make sure the concept is never diluted.

 

Sportswear design – That’s what we do.

Sportswear design is much more complex than fashion design.

Fashion is all about style, fit, touch and colour. Sportswear design is about all of the above but most importantly it’s about function.

Fashion is about covering the body to give you protection from the elements and from the local constabulary from locking you up from indecent exposure. Sportswear is also about covering the body and protecting you from the elements but its also about providing a level of performance you need to enjoy the aerobic activity you are doing.

Sportswear design is therefore approached is a very different way to fashion design. We look at the needs of the athlete and work out how we can help manage their comfort in the conditions they are performing or the activity they choose to participate in.

We then select fibres that will provide the best performance and create bespoke fabrics where an off the shelf fabric is not suitable. This bespoke fabric we call the core ingredients to the product as if these are wrong, the athlete will no longer feel comfortable and will stop enjoying their sport. Get it right and the athlete is not aware of the garment and allows them to focus purely on their sport.

We then move onto the features of the garment. We create a list of required features each garment requires based on the athletes needs and start to build these into the design. These features need to work first and look great second. If they don’t work, then they are useless and create issues for the athlete.

Only after these features have been designed do we progress to the style. This is where we become “fashion designers” and create the piece based on the target consumer and the brands identity while following any key fashion trends that are relevant.

Finally we add colour, again based on trends but also keeping it relevant to the sports requirements.

Sportswear design takes a further step being that the prototypes then need to be tested to make sure they work correctly and there are no issues. This is something that never happens in fashion as the only requirement within fashion is make sure the garment fits well. With sportswear we need to make sure the athlete is not restricted and the garment provides the required performance to keep the athlete comfortable. It also need to be durable as many athlete’s activities put more strain on their sports garments than their normal fashion wardrobe.

Only when the garment has been approved by the gear tester do we move onto the final stage of the design stage and sign off the specification ready for bulk production.

How do we design sportswear?

No all designers work the same way. This is how we differ and how we design sportswear.

We ALWAYS start with a blank page and evaluate the needs of the wearer. We don’t take on clients that simply want a”ME-2″ or a quick copy of an existing product or brand.

We want to be challenged as this gets our creativity flowing. There is nothing better than working with clients to design sportswear that becomes the the next ultimate product and then watching our client’s competitors scramble to catch up as soon as they launch. We then love to move the game on again, season after season, keeping one step ahead.

When we design, we think about the activity the athlete will do, their environment, climate and conditions the garments will be exposed to. It’s only when you fully understand these parameters can you start to think about material and fibres that are up for the job.

We have a deep understanding of how performance fibres work and their core performance properties and we have the ability to develop bespoke materials when required that deliver unparalleled levels of performance over a typical off the shelf fabric.

We then look at what features are required by the athlete and ONLY include these features. There are too many “duff” sportswear garments out there with useless features that have been built into garments because the brand could afford to add these features or they thought this added additional features without thinking about the performance.

There a great “BIG BRAND” running jacket out there. It’s a waterproof, taped jacket made with a completely reflective, waterproof material. The problem is, the reflective material doesn’t breathe as its made with a thick silver print and glass beads to reflect light. To get over this issue, said “BIG BRAND” laser cut breathe holes all over the jacket that then renders the jacket non waterproof. They have ended up with a running jacket that is far to hot to run in that is targeted towards running in the rain but is covered in holes to help the jacket breath. The industry is full of similar examples on “non joined up thinking” or marketing spin to get past fundamental flaws in their product.

Sportswear is all about performance. If it wasn’t, then we would wear fashion clothes when we exercise but we understand they they are not cut correctly and they make you sweat or don’t protect you from the elements. We focus on this performance before we approach style and features.

It’s a simple approach but one that many in house design departments don’t follow.

We are a small team and as such we manage the whole process from design through to production as a whole project. We don’t fragment this development journey into different departments. One member of staff manages the whole process which guarantees the concept is never diluted or compromised and the end product 100% resembles the original design. Again, it’s a simple approach and one that is never adopted by established brands who work in departments, passing the product from design, through to development, sourcing and then production departments, all having a part to play in the dilution of the original concept.

Always join up your thinking when designing sportswear

If you are designing performance sportswear, then start with getting the fabrics right and you have 1/2 the job done.

Designing sportswear is about understanding the requirements of the end user.

We like Mover. They have launched some really clever skiwear over the years since their launch in 2006. It’s their understanding of the benefits of merino wool we especially like.

They use merino wool to help regulate body temperature as being too warm on a mountain means you sweat and cold sweat on a mountain can result in discomfort at it’s best and can be lethal.

Synthetics are fantastic if you want something extremely lightweight and warm, but no synthetic can regulate body temperature, so if your working hard or the conditions change, you can soon become too hot and you feel clammy inside your layers. This clammy moisture can then turn cold when you stop being active and cause severe heat loss.

Breathability is the key to optimal thermal regulation and you need to look no further than nature for the answer. Animals are exposed to excessive heat all the time, such as being out in +30º sunshine all day with a huge fleece or a dog lying much closer than any human could next to fire for hours on end after enduring a day of freezing snow, rain and extreme cold temperatures. A merino sheep has over the centuries perfected the art of staying comfortable in excessive summer heat while staying warm in extreme winters through its fleeces ability to thermo regulate.

Mover wanted to replace the synthetic wadding in padded skiwear with something that regulated heat and was the first ski brand to produce a 100% natural wool padded and merino lined GORE-TEX® ski garment that is never too cold and never to warm.

WOOL SPORTSWEAR

How 3D printing and sportswear design and development are now linked?

3D printing helps Blue Associates reduce the cost of developing sportswear trims and components.

3D printing and sportswear design – a new way of working.

In the past five year, 3D printing has quickly gone from a topic of advanced research development to an affordable piece of home equipment.

3D printing is a method of additive manufacture, which eliminates the need for moulds. A high-powered laser fuses a fine powder of material into thin solid layers, forming a 3D structure. The process produces almost zero waste material and can produce highly complex structures not attainable through traditional processes.

With 3D printing machines becoming more affordable and the processes involved to produce a printable becoming easier, trim suppliers have now invested in this technology to provide quick solution to first stage prototypes.

Currently, developers send design artwork to trim suppliers, who in turn produce the 3D CAD files required to produce a mould. The developer therefore doesn’t see a to-scale sample until the mould is created, a process which is very expensive and time consuming.

Now, our suppliers are changing this process, allowing to-scale 3D printed working sample to be presented to our clients prior to mould being produced. It allows our clients to physically see the detail and function of any of the trims we have designed and also allows us to dummy fit these in situ on the prototype garments to make sure there will be no issues.

So, why isn’t trim being mass produced using 3D print?

The simple answer at this stage is materials and cost. Materials that are more cost effective to produce trim simply aren’t durable enough to withstand the repetitive pull of for instance, a zipper. Materials that are strong enough are available and have been used in many current sports products (for other uses, see video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIRyxzMWvkA), however the raw materials and equipment set-ups are far more costly. Certainly in the near future this is a possibility, were just not there yet.

Once 3D printing on a mass scale becomes a reality the design rules for production efficiency are thrown out of the window and the results will be extremely impressive. And by the time your zipper head breaks, you may well have a 3D printer in your own home to print off a replacement.

 

Starting a sportswear brand? Then don”t just knock off someone else’s.

Blue Associates work with many start up sportswear brands wanting to develop sports clothing and ALWAYS starts with a blank page.

Starting a sportswear brand from scratch is really tough.

Its extremely hard work and takes real dedication and commitment to make it succeed. The brand concept needs to be unique, really set itself apart from the competition and stand for something. If your concept doesn’t tick these boxes then the chances for success will be slim.

We get approached by lots people who have, in their mind a fantastic new idea in sportswear. In reality many are passionate about a particular sport and see $$$ in front of their eyes when they look at the scale of the super brands who dominate the sports market. Some even think they can simply knock off their product and undercut them to make them stand out, however in reality this is destined for disaster. The super brands are working to pretty standard ma­rgins and produce huge quantities of each style to then distribute around the globe to their network of retail partners. How on earth is a start up going to simply undercut them when they struggle to produce the factory minimums.

At Blue Associates we only work with clients that are truly interested in creating something unique. We simply don’t do “Me 2″. When we start the design process we always start with a blank page. We obviously research the market and evaluate the competition but importantly, we look at alternative influences to drive the design process. Function and performance always leads this process followed by style and colour that are usually dictated by the function anyway.

We have worked with big design departments in established brands and have noticed that they soon become very stale. For instance, an outdoor brand will only visit outdoor stores, suppliers, fabric mills and trade shows to check out what their competitors are doing. Before long all the brands within outdoor start to copy each other and the market becomes stagnant with launches of their new version of last seasons product, usually with some new snazzy style lines and some flashy new colour.

We hate this. It’s not innovative and quite often the original concept of a particular product is the best as its driven by innovation, so why change it just for changing sake. Instead, we design with a fresh approach. We develop styles that are required and necessary to partake a sport. We then finesse each product to be the best it can be and move on. We don’t promote redesigning a new version 6 months later with new style lines and in the latest trend colours as most sportswear will never be worn down a catwalk or on a red carpet.

There is always room for improvement or introduce new technologies and materials and when such technologies become available and will significantly improve the product will we opt to produce V2 of a design. Basically we are improving the engineering behind the product.

So, the moral of this journal is simple. If you want to start a sportswear brand, make sure you have a fresh concept that’s unique and stands for something. If you are simply looking to become the next Nike by knocking them off then stop right now and rethink.

Below is a very funny film from the CEO and designer of Saddleback Leather who has decided to highlight the uniqueness and quality of his product by teaches consumers what they are giving up when they by something Knock Off.

http://youtu.be/a11wlngpuSY

 

Why Brand Language for start up sportswear brands is so important?

Start up sportswear businesses must create strong brand language to stand apart from their competitors

The importance of brand language, a new term and more than a simple logo

We work with many start up businesses that want to launch a range of performance sportswear to compete with the established big brand names as they believe their concept offers a new niche or they want to improve what is currently on offer.

We are approached on a weekly basis from entrepreneur’s who believe they have the difference. They are usually from completely different backgrounds than the sportswear market but have a passion for their sport and therefore have figured out their concept

Once we have established if the concept has legs and studied their business plan we start to investigate the sometimes difficult topic of “Branding”. Many of our start up clients have already started the process of registering their brand name and have even come up with a logo to be used on the garments, however this is only the start of the “Branding” process.

Back in the day, it was generally accepted that a brand was strong enough to warrant their position in their chosen market by simply coming up with a decent product and plastering their logo onto this. This is still accepted in the lower/middle markets as many consumers within this sector are less driven by brand values and price/features start to take priority.

If you want to start a mid/high end brand then clear brand values and a brand language needs to be created. Once these have been finalised these should be adhered to and applied to everything the brand then creates, weather this is product, communication or marketing.

Brand language is not simply a logo that never changes. Brand language allows a consumer to recognise a product even if the brand logo was not applied. It’s about quality, visual & functional consistency. Apple for instance has a very strong brand language and if the apple logo was not applied to their products I would guess the majority of consumers would still recognize their brand straight away. This brand language does not simply end with the product but the whole apple experience. The way their stores look, the staff uniform and service approach and even the packaging that has been engineered to strengthen the quality approach and brand language.  I cannot think of one PC brand that has a similar strength of brand language as apple and until PC brand start to recogise that apples success is far more than its functionality and great product design, they will never have queues like this in their stores.

apple HK store

When we start to work with start up brands we look at the Brand Language way before we start to look at product as this determines everything the brand stands for. It’s very hard to introduce or change Brand Language once a brand has been established.

Posted by Stuart Brooke

Founder of Blue Associates & ashmei

http://pursuit.ashmei.com/#home

We are hiring…. Sportswear developer

Sportswear Developer / Technologist – FULL TIME

We are a successful technical sportswear design and sourcing consultancy and also have our own brand of performance running apparel.

Our clients work in Cycle, Outdoor, Ski, Golf, Surf and general sports markets and we offer a turnkey solution to design, development, sourcing and production.

We are looking for a Garment Developer/Technologists to manage the development and production of our clients products from creation of detailed specifications, fittings, size & grading, critical path management and sample approval.

You will need to communicate to the factories on a daily basis via e-mail and resolve all development and production questions.

You must be computer literate with e-mail, word, excel and illustrator and have at least 3 years experience. Excellent communication and organisational skills are required and you must be able to work with the team and also be motivated to work alone.

In return we offer a highly competitive salary based on experience and excellent career prospects.

Please send your CV to stuart@blue-associates.co.uk, with a covering letter along with your current/past salary package and required package.

Blue Associates Ltd – ashmei. ALDBURY – HERTS

BLUE  ASSOCIATES

A consultancy of sportswear designers and developers that specialise in the production of performance sportswear

Established in 1997 and have been designing, developing and sourcing high performance sportswear for blue chip sports clothing brands around the globe ever since. Our products and clients often win “Best in Test” against their competitors due to the product we design and produce for them as we approach product design and development in a different way to most sportswear brands.

Working with sportswear brands in different sports we are ale to look at the sportswear market as a whole rather than focus our research into a specific activity. This allows us to share technologies, fabrics, research, manufacturing techniques and garment features from one sport that may not be obvious to another.

For this reason we are often brought into established high profile sportswear brands that have an internal sportswear designers and development teams to bring some fresh thinking and new concepts to the brand. Most of the product we are asked to design are their top tier, highest performance product.

We also work with many start up brands who have no idea about how to design, develop or source sportswear but have a great idea, route to market and funding in place. Many of these start up brands are now successful brands with some now established as brand leaders within their sports sector.

When we work with any client we ALWAYS start with a blank page and break each garment down into its basic ingredients, right down to which fibres to use to extract the highest performance for the end use. We then source fabrics from our library of technical mills around the world and if we can’t find a suitable material we start to develop our own specifying which fibres to use, how they are blended and the performance finishes required.

Once we have determined the fabrics we start to design the garment based on the required features and build style around these features. We also design and develop all the bespoke trims such as cord locks, buckles, buttons, adjusters and swing tickets.

Sourcing is predominantly Far East based as we find the quality, service, technology, infrastructure and price are all favorable over other alternatives and at the end of the day, if the product is the best quality and is the right price the you sell more, which means everyone wins.

How to launch a sportswear brand

I established Blue Associates in 1997 as a design and sourcing consultancy working with blue chip sportswear brand, developing some of the highest performance sportswear in the world for them.

We have worked with many of the elite performance brands within Outdoor, Cycle, Marine, Golf and Ski and have watched our products win our clients “Best Product” and sometimes “Best Sportswear Brand”.

We have also worked with many start up brands, helping them evolve their concept into reality and now watching them enjoy the success of hard work, quality product and a great concept.

In 2009, I got into running as a quick and simple way to keep fit that could be squeezed into a busy schedule and something that could be done anywhere in the world with very little equipment.

My passion for product meant I quickly acquired a massive collection of specific running kit from the typical running brands and running became my escape from work, usually finding time for a midday run three times a week to clear the head and work out life’s troubles.

One day I came back from a typical run and looked in the mirror before my post run shower and noticed that the only running gear I was actually wearing were running shorts and trainers. My shirt was a merino jersey I use as a baselayer when I snowboard and my socks were merino too from my downhill cycle days. I realised this was wrong and started to research the running market to try and find running gear that had similar high performance I was used to when I snowboard and cycle.

I was amazed to find that nothing really existed and was bemused at the way all of the running brands seemed to follow an identical formula of product development and strategy. I found that all of the gear used almost identical fabrics, colours, styling and therefore price points. My research concluded in the running department of Paragon sports in NYC where I wondered if I covered all of the logos up and invited the brand managers from each respective running apparel brand to come and identify their products, if they could actually do this.

At this point I knew there was a gap in the market for a higher level of performance gear with a completely different look to the establishment. I spoke to several retailers and journalists about this concept, nearly all of them saying this was a great idea but make sure the clothing was not any more expensive as runners don’t spend money on their kit.

I didn’t believe this, as running shoes are a big investment with gels and hydration also add up. I also believed runners were prepared to trade up but have not been given the opportunity to do so as nothing currently existed. I also knew we could not improve performance and quality without using more expensive materials and manufacturing craft which would in turn increase the cost and therefore retail price.

Our strategy was simple and one we have used for some of our blue chip clients when we develop their best clothing – Don’t compromise on quality, performance, features and style, ignore the cost of the product until we get the product right.

This strategy has resulted in the launch styles winning “Best in Test” over and over again and “Best Brand” several times by gear reviewers and specialist running press.

The range is developing fast with a much larger product offering being launched this year and a women’s specific range that will be the same size as the men’s range by the end of this year.

So there you have it. That’s why we started ashmei and some background to our pedigree on the design and development of sportswear. We have established a great following of loyal customers who come back time and time again to order the new product as soon as we launch them which is a great compliment to our vision and we thank you very much for this support.

I hope you enjoy the gear and we are very interested in your views, comments and opinions that we will digest and use to develop the brand and the product to maintain our position of being “The finest performance running clothes in the world”

ashmei