Prior to making this website, I was doing an awful lot of research on manufacturing in China. The reason for that was because I and a previous classmate wanted to start an online retailer that sold eco-friendly products. We thought of selling t-shirts made out of organic cotton, bamboo toothbrushes, and other clothing/gadgets that could be labeled “environmentally friendly”.
As we lived in China back then, we had one clear mission before we kicked off the project: to find eco-friendly manufacturers in China.
This is how you find them. Or at least: these are our experiences while searching for them.
Table of Contents
- First and foremost: which products have I personally imported from China?
- Manufacturers or existing products?
- Chinese manufacturer “marketplaces”
- Customized products
- Hiring an agency
- FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping things up
First and foremost: which products have I personally imported from China?
Being in e-commerce for such a long time, I’ve tried to import and sell a lot of different products from China.
When I do some counting in my head, I would reckon that I’ve tried at least 25-30 different products. These are some of the few that are still live on the Amazon platform (through another seller – I’ve already let go of my Amazon FBA business):
What do these products have in common?
These might all seem like random products to you. But in fact, they have some similarities that you need to think about before importing something from China that you want to sell abroad:
- They are cheap to manufacture in China.
- They can be sold for more than 10 USD in the US.
- They are unique. In other words: there are no direct competitors on Amazon. At least it wasn’t when the products were launched.
- The manufacturers in China are able to ship them directly to the warehouse in the US.
Manufacturers or existing products?
There are some big chances that the person reading this article is interested in importing some ecofriendly products from China and selling them in other geographical areas. Fine – that was my thought was well a couple of years ago.
But the first question you need to answer is: do you want to import products that have already been made or do you want to order customized products with your own logo, etc.?
Doing the first is pretty simple. Doing the second one…not so much.
Chinese manufacturer “marketplaces”
Browsing the internet is a great way of finding eco-friendly Chinese products. The best and biggest marketplace is called Alibaba. Almost every single production company in China that ships internationally will be listed on Alibaba. If you go to their website and type in “ecofriendly”, you will find thousands of products listed:
You can just check this link (Alibaba.com).
And if you don’t want to click that link, this is how it looks like:
However, there are some issues that you need to be aware of.
Alternatives to Alibaba
Alibaba is not the only place to source (eco-friendly) products in China. As I speak and read Chinese, I’ve used some local websites.
However, every time I’ve sourced products in English, these websites have been helpful to me as well:
Ecvv is more focused on machinery and electronics. But DH Gate is probably my favorite. On that platform it’s super easy to contact sellers and get the information you want.
You do not know the quality of the products listed on Alibaba. As they are an open marketplace, there is no quality control being done by the website. In other words, you have to trust the supplier – or ask for a sample before you buy.
Finding reviews is also very difficult. It does not work like Amazon where you have loads of people reviewing every single product. Alibaba really feels more like gambling, which is why you actively have to work towards minimizing your risk.
And this is where it gets tricky. Most of the products listed got a “minimum order quantity”. That could range from 2 products to 10,000 products. Placing an order on a lot of products that you do not know the quality of is not a good idea. You don’t even know if the product is as sustainable as they promise!
Always ask the manufacturers about the shipping time to USA/Europe/wherever you got your warehouse. They do very often, without discussing with you, choose the slowest courier service in order to save money.
Communication is key.
We found out that the language barrier could be difficiult to handle. Many of these small manufacturers are located in rural areas of China and are communicating with their international customers through some translations apps. If you are really dedicated: try to find someone who can speak Mandarin.
Another hot tip is to download Wechat. It is almost identical to Whatsapp, but something that every single Chinese person have installed on their phone. It only takes a couple of minutes to download the app and get started. 🙂
So the first part is easy. If you want to import ecofriendly products that are already under production, just head to Alibaba.
Now comes the difficult part.
If you want to put your own logo on something, you would have to communicate that directly to a factory in China. Many of the business people trying to run such cross-country investments try to, quote, “make their own brand”. And that is understandable. I was in your shoes just a couple of months ago as well.
There are loads of challenges that need to be solved in order to make this happen:
1) How do you make sure that the quality is as good as you hoped?
2) Communication. We found out that it is almost necessary to have someone speaking fluent Mandarin when trying to negotiate and communicate with Chinese manufacturers.
3) Logistics. How would you send the products? Directly from China or via your own warehouse abroad?
4) Finding factories that can create what you want. This is where our project ended. We wanted to create at least 10 different products before we went live, but simply could not find that many manufacturers that produced various forms of sustainable clothing/accessories. It might sound weird, but it is the fact.
We got a Chinese friend to help us call many of the production companies asking if they could deliver what we requested. Turned out that it was a much more difficult task then we had thought.
Hiring an agency
If you are serious about this project, you should consider investing some money in an agency that can help you out. And try to push for a contract where you will only pay if they successfully find a manufacturer that can produce and ship your ecofriendly products.
And if you think this sounds like a hassle, which it is, you can always go back to Alibaba and buy a couple of products to sell. You have to start somewhere, and making customized environmentally friendly products in China appears to not be the easiest task.
Unfortunately, I am unable to namedrop any agency as we did not try to go that way, but I am sure that Google will provide you with a lot of useful information if you just know which search phrases to type in. 🙂
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
These questions are mostly answered based on my own (long) experience with sourcing eco-friendly products in China. However, some of them are supported by second-hand sources.
Q: What is the best and most precise way to contact sellers on Alibaba/DH Gate?
This might surprise you. But it’s actually a sellers’ market on some of these websites. You need to present yourself in a proper and professional way.
Not only is it important to let them know you are serious. It’s also important to be as precise and accurate as possible with your demand to the seller. In that way, you will both get rid of a lot of mailing back and forth about small details.
I spent some time on Youtube watching different videos about this topic – and I feel that this one is the best I’ve seen so far:
Q: Can I get a list of all manufacturers in my category?
I wish! A lot of people have asked me about that.
“Is it possible to get a full list of everyone selling consumer electronics on Alibaba?”.
The answer is: no, it is not. You would have to manually go through the manufacturers that sell products in your niche. Luckily, there weren’t too many manufacturers in the bamboo niche – so it was quite obvious who I was going to pick. 🙂
If you’re lucky, you don’t have too much choice in your category either.
Q: Do I have to use an agent to do sourcing in China?
Not that I know of.
Let me put it this way:
- 1) I know a lot of people who do sourcing in China for Western companies.
- 2) I know a lot of people representing these companies that have used sourcing people in China.
I prefer to do everything myself.
You will save time by contacting some people and finding products for you. And sure – it might decrease the risk of getting scammed. But I honestly do believe that you would know your niche better than some random expat guy in Shanghai that has visited some factories.
Video: How to find a sourcing agent in China
As the video states, you should interview different agents before finding one. The best agents are the ones that:
- Are easy to communicate with
- Have local knowledge about a lot of suppliers within your category
- Understands your customer and especially the quality need of your customer*
*= A lot of things are cheap in China. But if you aren’t willing to pay a decent price for the goods, you’re gonna get garbage. And with selling garbage on Amazon (or somewhere else), your business will die.
Wrapping things up
As you can see, it isn’t easy to source eco-friendly products in China. One thing is to figure out WHAT you want to sell. Once that’s done, you need to find someone reliable and trustworthy.
The problem is that reliable and trustworthy manufacturers very often have “different” prices compared to scammers. That’s why spending a lot of time on Alibaba/DH Gate can be painful. When you think you’ve finally found some gold, it doesn’t take long to understand that the guy you’re talking to just tries to squeeze out some money from you.
That being said, Alibaba has gone in the right direction when it comes to exclude scammers and poor manufacturers from their platform.
I have successfully imported and sold a lot of eco-friendly products from China to Amazon (US). And it’s worked wonders. So if you follow the tips I gave you in this article, I’m sure that you can do the same. 🙂