Starting an underwear brand is more tricky than you would think and a decision has to be made early, concerning how to get enough styles in your own design, to seem like a “real” brand, while keeping prices low and getting around the minimum quantity issue.
Ideally it would be great with 250 pieces of 10 different styles in a really great print, but start up costs on fabric, waistbands and prints in particular, would make this a very expensive order.
At KAMA we accept any quantity, we have no minimums. But we are all about helping new start ups getting as many different styles on the shelves, at as low a cost possible. Knowing how bulk production is set up and learning a few tricks to get around minimums is crucial to a new started brand, here´s the most important advice:
Fabric comes in various different materials, but by far the most prominent is Single Jersey 95% cotton 5% elasthan. Some brands use micro polyester fibers for the sporty angle, and some use modal or other soft fibers for the exclusive angle. Minimums on fabric makes it a good idea to start up using the 95/5 cotton elasthan fabric. We usually always have some of this fabric lying around in black, white and melange so minimums are very low. Also, when dyeing fabric it is done in tubs. Each of the smallest tubs takes enough fabric for around 1500 – 2000 pieces of trunks. Dyeing less is possible, and if you dye 1000 pieces the added cost/wont be much, but if you want to dye 100 pcs each of 4-5 different colours, the added cost per piece would be more than you would think. If you are running a line of solid colour underwear, and want to keep prices low on smaller quantities, while having as many styles as possible, we suggest you look into making contrasts where you change the waistband colour and the fabric colour around, and make 2 different contrast styles of the same colour of fabric and waistband. contrast waistband Done like this, is a great way to boost your number of styles, as you could get each of these 4 styles made on a no surchage basis, if buying around 750 pieces of each, as minimums are reached on the fabric and the waistband.
Waistbands come in a lot of different materials, where some are rough to the touch and sturdy while others are more smooth, that´s all about preference. Some waistbands are only 3 cm in height, and some are 5,5 cm. The increace in height is followed by a similar increace in price. Some 4 cm waistbands are 0.2 USD on a pair of undies, while others are 0.6 USD all depending of material used.
Minimums are around 2000 pices per style, though usually we can talk that down a bit. If you plan using one waistband for only 500 pieces, then the price will be a lot higher on the waistband.
A way to get more waistbands at a lower cost is also to keep the same design, but only change the colours. When weaving waistbands a lot of the production cost is setting up the weaver. Once the weaver is set up it is very easy, to tie a different colour yarn at the end of the previous colour. This way minimums on waistband can get to a point where 1000 pieces are enough, as dyeing mimimums for waistband yarns aren´t that high
Underwear is washed often, and rubber prints are usually very uncomfortable on underwear, which pretty much leaves reactive print as the only viable option, as it has the softness and colour fastness needed.
Unfortunately, minimums on best grade machine printed reactive print are very high. Imagine a printing devise the size of a house, and then yourself next to it carrying enough fabric for 100 trunks in a backpack, and you get the general picture.
Minimums on trunks are 6000 pcs per print. This is very high, and even for some of the larger brands 1 style of print often doesnt reach that much. There are though ways of minimizing the added costs, and still getting the number of styles you crave.
There are 2 seperate added fees when printing reactive. Print start up fee and fee per roll of colour. These fees will be a big part of the total cost of doing a reactive print.
Before printing anything the machine has to be set up,. This takes time and man hours so all reactive print facilities has a machine setup fee, in case you are not reaching minimums.
Add to that, there´s an added fee per colour of the print. The colours are administered with a big roll per colour, and the cost of making this roll will be added to your print costs.
The actual price of a reactive printed garment, when the added print costs are taken away, is slightly but not much more expensive, than a solid colour garment. Some multi coloured melange fabrics are actually more expensive than reactive printed fabric. It is the costs added if not meeting minimum quantities, that makes this print expensive.
Currently the start up fee is around 500 USD, and the price per colour 100 USD, so a simple equation would be:
500 + (number of colours x 100) / (order quantity)
So an all over printed style with 3 different colours, with a total of 800 pieces in order quantity would be: 500 + 300 = 800 / 800 = 1 USD / piece for the added print fees.
A way to make this cheaper could be to do the same print more times, but with different colours, and try to minimize the number of colours. (Remember, white is free as the fabric is white before you begin printing in most cases).
In this case you will minimize the fee of the rolls, as the same rolls are used for all three prints. You will still have the start up fee for each print as new fabric has to be adjusted to the machine, and the machine needs to be washed to prepare for the new colours.
So in this case:
500 USD + 75 USD per colour (As the 300 dollar fee per colour is now divided unto 4 prints) = 575
Divided unto 800 pieces, this would add up to 0.71, which is still a lot per piece but could still be well worth the extra cost as a start up investment because cheaper alternatives really doesnt compare.
All over prints vs. Placement prints
For underwear we strongly recommend always using reactive print. Reactive print is administered across the full surface of fabric, so all over prints are by far the best choice for underwear.
There are ways to make placement prints, (like for example a motive on the leg or across all front panels of the underwear) but they are all very time consuming, and if you want a print that is durable.
As you can see a lot of the fabric will be wasted. Add to that, it is hard to ensure that
There are other methods, but none are really good. We have more detailed advice on prints and print techniques here, including a chapter about placements and other important info, to keep in mind when printing on jersey fabric.
Placement prints look nice but should be, and are mostly kept, at an absolute minimum as it is very expensive, if it´s to be done properly.
As the same packaging is usually used for all the styles in a collection, minimums are easy to meet, so this is an area where an extra 0.1 USD can make a big difference on how your product is percieved. Our experience tells us that having something on the packaging front that looks really exclusive is money a lot better spent, than hundreds of dollars on print and waistband penalties.
Another good idea is 2 or 3 packs where 1 style is printed. This way you will be able to spread the print costs of the printed style unto 2 or three garments, and get your total 3 pack cost down to an acceptable level.
What would we do?
If we were starting up we would aim for around 10 styles. Not too many, but still enough to have something to sell, and a nice little point of sale.
First we would go for 3 all over reactive printed styles in same pattern, but different colours, and each of the waistbands used on the printed styles, we would use on a solid colour style.
So that would leave us with:
We would then go through some different contrast styles to reach minimums on fabric and waistband. In order to do this, we will make sure that the colours interchange nicely while we are in the design process. (Among all the things we at KAMA are good at, unfortunately design isn´t one of them, so please bear with us here, we hope you get the basic idea 🙂 ).
So now we have 12 styles. If order quantity is 500 per style we would almost reach minimums on fabric for the solid styles, we would reach mimimums on all the waistbands, and only have to pay added costs for the 3 reactive printed styles.
Done this way start up costs for 6000 pieces of high end underwear, in 12 different styles, could be kept below 15.000 USD. We would also be able to do a variety of different styled 2 or 3 packs to further boost our sortiment.
Again, we are not saying this is the only way to go. Some brands retail their underwear at 50 USD/pcs on their own webshop, and they of course have a lot more freedom to do what they like, but it is good to have in mind the costs of creativity.