This is an important step… after you source and research, and select a factory or two you feel may work well… you should evaluate the factory. Some of the evaluation can be done in writing. Questions can be emailed back and forth, such as: Who do they manufacture for? How long have they been in business? What are their production capacities? Do they sub-contract? Can you visit the factory? What hours do their sewers work and how many days per week? Do they practice wastewater and environmental management? But once you really feel a factory may work for you, it is truly best to visit the factory. You should get on a plane and go… whether the factory is on in Los Angeles, South Carolina, China, Poland or Bangladesh. It is important to meet the factory management; see how they work, how they communicate, and how they answer your questions. It is imperative to see and spend time in the sewing space and look at the cutting room. Is the equipment is old or new? Look and see if there is fabric on the floor? Is the floor wet? Is the factory well lit? Is it clean? Take a look at the workers. Do they look happy? Are they eating their lunch while they are sewing? Are there windows and unlocked doors? Are the restrooms acceptable? These factors are important. An important detail is whether or not a factory uses sub-contractors. If they do sub-contract, you should ask to take a look at those factories as well. Meet the managers face to face. If the factory managers seem unwilling to answer some questions, look you in the eye, or show you part of the workspaces, then consider that. Factory personnel are at their best during vendor visits. If at their best they do not give you detailed answers, you can surely assume they never will. Communication will not improve once you are doing business together. You need to follow your gut, when it comes to communication, if you feel they are skirting issues, they are.
If it is difficult to get on a plane and go to China or to Hong Kong or Taiwan, then you should consider hiring an agent to do the factory visit for you; or if you have started a small company and someone is taking care of your production, then that individual will do the visit for you, but you do need- in one way or another- to visit the factory and perform an evaluation. There is a terrific Factory Appraisal/Evaluation Form in afore-mentioned Vendor Compliance Handbook. It is a multi-page form listing all the areas you must appraise. Nothing beats visiting and evaluating a factory yourself. It connects you with the factory like no email or website can, we highly recommend the experience.