Fashion Brands: How to help reduce lead times

Fashion brands usually want the flexibility of shorter lead times as they can help them to react to sales and changes in the market. Ideally, we’d be able to get a full order on next day delivery, right?!

Unfortunately, long lead times are the bugbear of many emerging and medium sized brands as they often find they’re not prioritised by suppliers who have bigger customers to service.

Note: we don’t ever want to give our suppliers too much of a hard time with regards to lead times. It’s important to have a good working relationship with suppliers and we don’t want rushed/poor quality orders or to jeopardise the working conditions of the people making our products.

What are lead times?

The lead time of a garment or range is the time it takes from placing an order with a supplier to receiving it at your end. I won’t go into the specifics of what the ‘placing an order’ and ‘receiving date’ are, in this post, as that’s a conversation for another time! Your shipping terms and many other variables can have an impact on these dates so clarify this with your supplier if you’re unsure.

Factors that impact on lead times

There are no hard and fast rules as lead times vary considerably from supplier to supplier; depending on country of origin, whether you’re designing the garments yourself and where you sit in the market in terms of quality and price.

A general guide is that (when buying from the UK) European and UK based suppliers have shorter lead times than suppliers in Asia and China. European suppliers usually have lead times between 4 and 10 weeks and Asia/China Suppliers usually have lead times between 10 and 18 weeks.

The type of product you make can also impact on lead times. Garments that require a lot of workmanship like outerwear tend to have longer lead times than jersey T shirts which are relatively easier to make.

The size of your brand can impact on the lead time you’re quoted by a supplier. Large brands can command much quicker lead times (even though they tend to buy in larger quantities) because suppliers and factories will prioritise their orders (for obvious reasons!).

Fabrication and make up can also affect lead times, specially woven fabrics, labour intensive stitches or knitted fabrics can all increase the lead time.

My tips to help reduce lead times:

In general, having a conversation with your supplier, about lead times, is always the starting point. Breaking the lead time down and getting explanations of why some are longer than others will really help you to understand the unique challenges you have as a brand.

Ask suppliers for advice as they may well have some clever ideas to overcome obstacles.

Other practical solutions could be:

  1. Reserving production space with factories. This will mean that you have a guaranteed spot when it comes to the time you need to make your bulk production

  2. Don’t over sample. Focused sampling will win favour with suppliers as it won’t cause them too much work

  3. Thorough range planning up front (at your end) is key as this will reduce the number of changes you make to the range further down the line

  4. Use past colours and styles where applicable and possible as this will save time in terms of lab dipping and fitting garments

  5. Use stock colours that the factory already has available

  6. Back a greige (un-dyed and finished) fabric that you will use across styles. If the fabric is ready and in house it will reduce the overall lead time. Waiting for fabric to arrive is often one of the longest parts of a lead time.

  7. Source closer to home as this will usually offer a quicker lead time

It’s always good to hear from you! If you have any queries, feedback or want to share your experience then get in touch with me on the comments below, by email or via my Instagram.

I update my Instagram with tips and videos weekly so come and say hello!

I talk about lead times, the critical path, the industry standards for cost prices, range planning and managing the buying calendar in my guide ‘Buying Essentials for Fashion Brands #1’

Take a look at my guides,  blog and website for more insight into fashion retail and wholesale