With rising costs and the scarcity of quality natural hair, the lure of going factory direct is an ongoing temptation for many hair replacement studios and wig boutiques. My father, Bijan Todd, and I have had many trials and tribulations with factories over the years. Thanks to the “Link” we’re able to share these valuable experiences with you.
Over the past several years many so called factories from the East have been mass emailing hair studios across USA and Europe. Even we at Dimples, a UK/USA wholesale-manufacturer of wigs, top pieces, and hair systems, receive many of these mass emails. At first, when our customers would tell us that they were thinking of going direct with factories in China, we were concerned. We decided to investigate some of these “so called” factories. We thought, “Could there really be that many factories producing quality out there with such low minimum order quantities?”
My first experience in dealing with factories in the East was back in 2003. I was backpacking alone around the world for a year. I made friends with a mob of Irish backpackers in Vietnam. After we left Sapa and Hanoi we decided to get ourselves some designer, custom made suits from Hoi-An. Shortly after arriving we walked through the streets looking for a place to eat. One of the lads, Owen, was talking out loud and he happened to say the word, “suit.” All of a sudden an old lady wearing a headscarf, cotton overalls, and gloves, grabbed Owen’s wrist. She held his wrist so tightly he couldn’t break free. She then dragged him through a maze of back alleys. We didn’t know what was going on so we just followed half laughing half scared, while Owen was forcefully taken by the old lady.
Eventually, she knocked on a big rusty, sliding door. To our delight it was a clothing factory. They gave us a stack of GQ magazines and told us to pick any style from the magazine. They also showed us rolls of fabric to choose from. I chose a black, cashmere fabric. During this time they treated us like royalty. After some negotiating and some “same-same-but-different” jokes with the owner, they agreed to make us custom made suits for one hundred and twenty five dollars each, what a deal! Two days later we came back to the factory. I remember my suit feeling itchy and one or two sizes too small, especially the trousers. The factory owner shouted at me when I politely complained. Begrudgingly, she altered the waist of my trousers an inch. The fabric didn’t feel like the sample cashmere they showed me. But, I got a deal and a custom made suit. When I returned home I showed my dad who actually happens to be an avid suit wearer, even while gardening. He looked me up and down, shook his head and said, “Please don’t wear that again.”
At Dimples, we may not know much about manufacturing suits, but we have worked with factories from the East for decades. We have experience in producing quality Remy hair and European hair Wigs, Top Pieces and Hair Systems. And, we carry plenty of stock. We’ve been working with the same factory since the late 1960’s. It has taken us years to forge this long-lasting relationship with our factory. (We also have another business where we own a full-scale factory in Manchester England that produces many skin care products.) However, before Dimples took off, we had many ups and downs with quality control, deliveries and even scams. When working with a factory from a third world country, there is no guarantee or accountability for the money you pay up front for deliveries and for quality control. It takes years of losses, patience, training, support and face-to-face visits across the world. Basically, it takes a lot of money, time and risk.
We have spoken to hair replacement studios and wig boutiques that have thought about going factory direct and others who have tried and had disappointing results. Also, as I mentioned above, we investigated and visited several of these so-called factories that send out mass emails. It turns out that many of the factories we hear from are not actual factories. They are either agents or workshops. Both of these agents and workshops make websites with many pictures. They send out mass emails in English.
So, what’s an Agent?
Agents are the middlemen between you and the workshop (or the middle women, like the old lady that grabbed Owen). Agents get a percentage of the sales, but the percentage is added on top of the regular cost of the product. The workshops don’t take losses by deducting agent’s fees from their prices. So, you pay slightly more working with an agent and you add another layer of communication. The problem is you may never know you’re working with an agent. Most will say that they are factory representatives when in a actually they are agents.
What’s a Workshop?
Workshops are exactly what they sound like. This is usually a room, or a few rooms, with any where from 5-100 workers. They assemble wigs, top pieces and hair systems. They may have a few sewing machines for machine backed wigs and they may have some ventilators. But here’s the issue, everything else is outsourced to other workshops. The hair, the hair processing, the caps, the bases, ventilating of the hand-tied backs of wigs, ventilating of mono top, ventilating of French Tops and more, are all outsourced. So where’s the quality control? When everything is outsourced across different provinces throughout the country, the original workshop (your point of contact) is just assembling the final product. Consequently, there is little to no quality control. Every shipment you get will be a gamble. And, if you want to complain, you most likely won’t get any solutions. Workshops and agents demand payment up front, when the order is placed, or at the latest, before shipment. Even if you do get to return something to be remade you’ll have to wait another two to four months. However, what if you tried a factory and you got one or two good samples? And, what about the quality control for your future orders?
Sample Room vs. Production Line
There are sample rooms and there are production lines. The workshop’s most highly skilled, most valuable workers work in the sample room. When you are working on making a new item, the product, through all of its trials and attempts will go through the sample room. After a few tries, and a few months of rejects and remakes, you may receive an acceptable sample to work with to replicate. And, by now the most skilled workers in the sample room maybe somewhat familiar with your product. The next step is to go to the production line. The sample is passed down to the production line to copy. The production line workers are different to the sample room workers. The production line workers have the least experience and they are paid the least. As a result there is often a lot of turnover in this section. Therefore, even after approving a sample, when your shipment arrives, the delivered products are most often nothing like the sample from the sample room you approved. It can take a long time for the production line to get the production close to the approved sample. Also, with all the parts of the wig or top piece outsourced to other workshops, quality control will always be a huge risk from one shipment to the next.
What’s a Real Factory Like?
On the other hand, a real factory has thousands of workers. There are dozens of quality control managers for every section in each production line. There’s also a final quality control check before packaging. Any problems will be addressed after production in the final quality control check by some of the highest skilled workers. Real factories deal in such high volumes that their workers get the experience, training and skills from repetitively manufacturing the same styles and colors. Also, delivery dates are more accurate and consistent. However, real factories only work with large volumes and with established manufacturer/wholesalers. They have strict minimum order quantities and they have no websites or marketing departments. They are just factories, that’s all they do. They don’t canvas for new customers. They are also under government supervision so they must have safe, sanitary environments, with no underage workers. Even though all production is made on one site with highly skilled workers, the time difference and language barrier are still a challenge. Also, the products in our industry are highly technical so we must visit our factory several times a year to conduct our own quality control. We also must be in constant contact on many nights into the late hours with our factory. Finally, when we receive shipments we do another quality control check before stocking in our warehouses.
To get an idea of the correct procedure and quality control, take a look at a synthetic, machine made wig. A synthetic, machine made wig is often underappreciated because of the production volume and the low purchase price. But, in reality, in a real factory a machine-made wig is made with a lot of detail and care. A synthetic hair machine-made wig goes through nineteen to twenty different hands! It’s hard to believe that we call this type of wig “machine” made after going through so many hands. Having said that, just imagine how many hands a handmade, natural Remy or European wig goes through.
Are there savings by Going Factory Direct?
By going factory direct, initially there may be some slight savings from piece to piece. But, if you take into account the mistakes you, the workshop, or agent makes on samples, production line errors, at the end of the day there will definitely be losses. The time it takes to get a shipment could also be the difference between losing a customer and keeping one. But, most of all, what’s your time worth?
If you are charging $100 or $150/hour for a-la-cart cut-ins, color, or servicing, etc. is it worth it to get away from the chair, or to get away from the marketing or advertising for new customers? Consequently, when I buy my suits I don’t try to cut corners and go factory direct to Hoi-An Vietnam. I go to the department store and buy a branded suit that comes with a guarantee of workmanship and trust. I can also return the suit if I have any problems. The lure of going factory direct can take years of investment and losses. But, if working direct with factories is the core competitive value of your business, and you have the time and money, then go for it. On the other hand, if your time and money is focused on your customers and on and marketing for new customers, then there are plenty of wholesale/manufacturers across the USA that are established with quality standards, great service and fair pricing; just a phone call or text away.