The fashion industry relies on both clothing manufacturers and distributors to get their products from factories to retail stores and ultimately into the customer’s closet. However, these two types of companies play very different roles with unique capabilities. Understanding the key differences can help fashion brands and retailers choose the right partners for their business.
What is a Clothing Manufacturer?
A clothing manufacturer is a factory that creates finished garments from raw materials like fabrics, trims, etc. Their specialized equipment and skilled workers take textiles and transform them into shirts, pants, dresses that are ready for the retail market.
Key Capabilities of Clothing Manufacturers:
Product Development – They have pattern makers and sample machinists who can take a design sketch and turn it into a physical prototype garment
Sourcing Raw Materials – Manufacturers source all the fabrics, zippers, buttons and have established relationships with textile mills
Mass Production – They are set up for large scale apparel production with an assembly line of sewing machine operators
Quality Control – On-site quality control team inspects the garments during production to ensure specifications are met
Finishing – They trim loose threads, fold or hang, tag, bag and prepare shipments
What Does a Clothing Distributor Do?
A clothing distributor purchases finished, packaged apparel from different manufacturers and then sells these products to clothing retailers. They facilitate getting garments from factories into retail stores.
Key Capabilities of Clothing Distributors:
Warehousing – They have large warehouses to receive and store inventory from many vendors
Order Processing – They take orders from retailers and facilitate fulfillment through picking & packing
Shipping & Logistics – Distributors consolidate products from different vendors and arrange cost effective shipping
Marketing Support – They provide promotional images, descriptions and other assets to support sales
Accounts Receivable – They handle invoicing retailers and collecting payments
Key Differences Summarized
While both are important links in the apparel supply chain, clothing manufacturers and distributors play very distinct roles with unique capabilities and business models:
Clothing Manufacturers Clothing Distributors
Make physical products – Buy finished goods from manufacturers
Expertise in product development & manufacturing – Expertise in warehousing, shipping and logistics
Produce garments in large quantities – Consolidate inventory from many vendors
Quality assurance over production – Provide marketing assets to retailers
Direct-to-retail sales capability – Accounts receivable management
Clothing manufacturers create garments using fabrics and trim while clothing distributors purchase finished products and facilitate getting them into retail stores. Understanding these key differences in their roles and capabilities helps fashion companies and retailers select their ideal partners for sourcing, production and distribution.