Alibaba and finding a manufacturer

Are you in the first stages of starting a business? 

Looking for someone to manufacture your designs? 

Or are you just wanting to import product to resell? 

After four years of importing, I think* I finally have some idea of how this 'alibaba' game works. There is SO much to cover! From designing, to sourcing, to getting your product into the country. This blog is going to focus on finding the right manufacturer/supplier based on all of the errors and mishaps I have come across whilst navigating these tricky, and often EXTREMELY, secretive waters.   

One of the very common 'mishaps' that I have come across, not once, but TWICE, is copyright. Unfortunately, it is impossible to be across every product that has ever been designed, manufactured and sold. 

After my copyright run ins, and a lot of wasted dollars, I was embarrassed at how naive I was and felt like an imposter in an industry that I knew nothing about. I was VERY ready to cut my losses and move on from this business idea. 

After a few months, having learnt a tough lesson, I decided that it is incredibly difficult to import a unique product without designing it yourself, or, without importing it directly from the designer themselves. If you think you have found a unique product to import on Alibaba, there is a 99% chance (regardless of what they tell you) that this product is a result of someone else's hard work. Now finding myself often on the other side of the 'Copyright' game, this practise infuriates me. 

SO, how do you successfully utilise Alibaba? Step one, in my opinion, ONLY use it if you are looking to import your OWN designs. Alibaba is not a safe space for sourcing product to simply import and resell. 

Designing product is SO fun and SO rewarding! Design a complete product. The width, the height, the colours, unique features that make it stand out in a crowded market. Every element of your design needs to be considered by YOU. Once you have a design that is complete (don't leave room for interpretation on the manufacturer's behalf) you are ready to find yourself a manufacturer. 

Before you dive into the depths of Alibaba, do your research! When you see products you love whilst strolling through stores, take a squiz at the label and see where they are made. After months of doing this, I found that most of the ceramics I was picking up with a 'rustic/handmade' feel were manufactured in India or Japan. When I picked up products that seemed a little more 'perfect' in nature, I found that they were more often than not made in China or Thailand. 

For my first product, the plump pot, I wanted a handmade feel with an imperfect finish, so, I knew to look in India or Japan. Upon searching regions in India and Japan via the Alibaba website, I found India more affordable. I was on a budget given my previous import attempts, so, India it was!

Once I had established that India was the country of choice, it only took a quick google to discover that 'Khurja' in India is known for ceramics. With my complete design in hand, my search key words were 'handmade/ceramic/Khurja/India'. Alibaba is a bit of a deep dive, but after a few hours browsing catalogues to establish each manufacturer's style I was able to settle on five manufacturers who felt like a good fit. I sent each of them the same brief and ordered a sample of my 'plump' pot from them.

I won't pretend that this is a cheap process, this was expensive, but it was the best decision I made in ensuring quality and design were up to scratch. The samples cost between 75USD and 150USD + Freight, which is very standard as they do have to build a mould to produce your sample. So don't be shocked at this cost! If you want to save on freight costs, order your samples FOB and arrange a shipping agent/broker based in your country. A shipping agent/broker will liase with your supplier and organise freight, customs and everything in-between. I cannot recommend an agent enough! 

FYI, some terminology that confused the hell out of me when I started ordering product through my manufacturers: 

EXW: You will arrange all freight, from the seller's doorstep

FOB: The seller is responsible for packing and loading the freight, in my case this means that my suppliers are handing over a packed container that is ready to load 

LCL: 'Less than a container load', you'll see this referenced if you are purchasing a small shipment, such as a pallet or cartons. 

In the instance of my plump pots, all coming from the same area, my shipping agent was able to consolidate all of the samples into one shipment.  When they arrived, there was one sample that stood out and reflected exactly what I had envisioned for my first line of planters. BOOM, manufacturer found. 

My first supplier has become a huge part of my business, I love visiting them and seeing how everything works. Alibaba certainly isn't all bad! 

In summary, if you're designing your own product. Alibaba for the win. 

Looking to become a reseller? Go direct to the designers themselves. 



- Big Daisy 



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