Choosing a Product’s Material for Manufacture

At Cascadia, we have many clients who come to us at a loss as to how to choose the appropriate materials for their product. It is quite common for people moving into the Private Label business to copy from one of the new and hot selling products on the market, but upon further research they can’t find material details. Why? Because the company offering the product doesn’t want to be copied exactly… they don’t want their customers confused. They’ve worked hard to carve out their niche and they don’t want other people hopping on that bandwagon.

You could always just order the product you want to duplicate, but when you receive it you’re only going to know if it’s plastic, or metal, or whatever it might be… but you don’t know exactly what the material is. You can’t really tell by looking at something, what percentage of that thing is a specific type of plastic or metal versus another. To make matters worse, many materials can be classified in many different ways, all of which affect price point. So what should we do? Here are some tips that I hope will help you.

First, decide on the overall quality level of the product you want to make. Here we normally just classify as high, medium, and low quality levels. For example in the world of handbags, a high level customer is looking at Louis Vuitton, and possibly Coach for mid-level, and private label or even no brand for lower level options. Where specific materials are concerned, take for example ceramic dinnerware. If you want your dinnerware to be high level, you must choose bone China, not stone ware. Bone China is the best ceramic material and accordingly it commands the highest price.

Second, think about where your product will be used.  For something like a luggage cover, it is very important that the material be strong and with moisture, bug, and dust-proof components. For something like a cake mold, silicone is very important to use instead of plastic. Plastic, when heated, tends to leach chemicals and is often considered toxic for use with food.

Third, let’s talk style! Your product will look very different, depending on what materials you choose to produce it with. As in the above ceramic example, porcelain is glossy, white and delicate, stone ware is more unrefined and rough. For a diaper bag, polyester is a good choice, but polyester with a special brush treatment looks fancy where others look more utilitarian, and even changes the physical feel of the material. Big tortoiseshell sunglasses have a totally different look than small round wire frames.

Fourth, decide the level of quality you’re looking for in the individual components of the product. Let’s say we want to make an ice cooler out of stainless steel. Stainless steel has a wide range of classifications, from weak to very strong, with price points to match. How strong does the steel have to be to reach the quality level you decided in the first step? How long do you want the ice to last before it melts?

Fifth, you should learn of the test requirements you’ll have to pass in order to use the material you decided on in step 4. Using the above-mentioned stainless steel example, with some special treatments, stainless steel classified as both 304 and 403 can typically pass a salt-spray test, but 201 can’t. Will your product be exposed to the elements? For cufflinks, S/S403 can pass California Proposition 65 but carbon steel can’t.  For a backpack, PVC coating won’t pass a lead test, you should make sure any protective coating applied to it is something that will pass. So before you submit the order to the factory, you must be crystal clear on the test requirements for your materials, and then make a final decision on the material.

Also, regulations! Pay attention to laws and know if there are any regulations on the product you intend to create. Some laws can get very specific, for example there are a number of restrictions on children’s products and other items which could be seen as a hazard to children, such as drawstrings on hooded sweatshirts and pull cords on louvered blinds.

And now that you know the ins and outs of materials selection on your product, I’ve got great news! If you are still confused and have no idea about the market, the consumer, the tests, and all the rest of it, I can help simplify this! If you just want to get your feet wet by exactly copying an existing product, it’s easier. Just order a sample, have it sent to me, I will send it to my factory, and together we’ll reverse engineer it to help you figure out exactly what materials it is made with.

About the Author
I am a former Amazonian, where I spent 3 years as a sourcing consultant. I have more than ten years of sourcing experience, both at Amazon and sourcing electrical home appliances. As an experienced sourcing consultant, I know how to help clients distinguish between a true factory and a pretender trading company - getting our clients the best possible pricing and long-term relationships with legitimate businesses rather than those who would take advantage of naive entrepreneurs, sadly often found on Alibaba.

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