I have learned a lot over the years by visiting factories in the US, Asia, and Europe. The relationship between the brand and the vendor is critical. Asia manufacturers can vary in specialties as well as competencies. Sometimes they are vertically integrated, which means they have resources to make the fabrics, buckles, webbings, aluminum parts as well as sewing the products. This can be very convenient for the brand, because they don’t need to source anything from other vendors. Sometimes manufacturers focused on making one thing like backpacks. They have fabric vendors that make fabrics for them, but when you want special or custom fabrics you need to source them yourself. Sometimes manufacturers can make a variety of products, like tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, camping mattresses, and clothing. I learned that these types of manufacturers are only competent in a few products they make and struggle with the others.
Working with different types of vendors each come with benefits and drawbacks. Selecting a manufacture is important then with careful communication, the right team in place, respecting cultural differences, and paying attention to details you can have a great partnership.
THE NIGHT SHIFT, XIAMEN, CHINA
Manufactures have a busy season and a slow season. Here is an image of the night shift making MSR Tents.
TENT MANUFACTURING, HO CHI MINH, VEITNAM
Tents need to be 100% inspected at the end of the production line. Every tent is set up and looked over, they check for everything to be right. They snip thread ends and also look for oil stains from the sewing machine.
The right kind of thread and how it is stitched are very important. Where the stitches knot together is as important as stitches per inch.
The fabric is laid out on long tables in multiple layers, then cut.
The cutter uses a vertical blade that runs up and down very quickly, he needs to wear a chainmail glove to protect his hand.
Shoes are removed, and slippers are put on before entering the manufacturing floor. This is both for cleanliness of the factory and so the sewing machine operators can have better control of the speed of the needle with the foot pedals.
BIAS CUT BINDING TAPE
The raw edge of a tarp or a rain fly often needs binding tape. In this image, they first fold over fabric and stitch the open side together then feed it through this machine to cut it into strips. They need to turn the bucket so the fabric tube is not twisted when it reaches the cutting machine. Then a special adaptor is used on the sewing machine to make it fold over several times as it is sewn onto the edge of the rainfly. Straight cut binding tape is cut on the fabric role in an alignment with the weave of the yarns. Bias cut is diagonal to the weave of the yarns and has a better stretch, straight cut is more static.
SMALL RAIN ROOM
Good manufactures of tents will test the seam taping on the customers tents.
BIG RAIN ROOM
DOWN STUFFING ROOM
This room is where they fill and close garments and sleeping bags, so they can keep the down plumes from getting onto the production floor. Tubes pump the down into the room, into the sleeping bags, then they sew it up.
Everything is based on how many units you can get done it the shortest amount of time. Factories try many ways to improve the productivity of the sewers. This conveyor belt was set up on a timer, sewers would put a certain number of pieces on the belt and it would move forward until the finished product was at the end.
SEWING MACHINE NEEDLES
Every needle and every broken needle needs to be accounted for, so no piece of needle goes out to the customer.
MULTIHEADED EMBROIDERY MACHINE
Some vendors can do multiple embroideries all at once. Embroidery might be logos, decorative or icons.
SYNTHETIC INSUALTION FOR SLEEPING BAGS
Here are layers of synthetic insulation on the floor. They cut these the same way they do the fabric with a vertical blade.