The simple sequence of our search was as follows:
- Enquire current manufacturing partners if they had any knowledge/connection to local suppliers
- Search in English based B2B directories such as Alibaba, Global Sources
- Conduct desktop based research through keywords
Current manufacturing partners
We enquired all of our manufacturing partners, based in the Far East, about whether they could assist in our project to manufacture a waterproof cycling backpack from rPET. It quickly became apparent that this was not at all a common request as none of them had any direct experience manufacturing backpacks from this material, nor did they have any connections to potential suppliers. A few offered to make some enquiries on our behalf.
The first manufacturer came back with this response:
According to them, it is not technically possible to produce a seam welded waterproof backpack based on rPET materials.
Another manufacturer came back with this:
She then proceeded to try to sell us backpacks made from the standard materials such as PVC and nylon coated with TPU, which we politely declined.
Although she could not find a rPET based solution for us, she pointed out something very important. Seam welded waterproof backpacks made from nylon or polyester are usually coated with TPU to ensure 100% waterproofing. This would also be needed for rPET as rPET itself is a recycled form of polyester.
Having no luck from our existing manufacturing partners, we moved on to sourcing from B2B platforms.
We began to search for suppliers of rPET fabrics using popular B2B directories which turned out to be a confusing, unmanageable maze of information. A simple search of "rPET fabric" returned 4,596 results and over 90 pages of results.
We didn't think going through 90 pages was such a great use of time. So we tried more focused search terms such as "waterproof rPET fabric", "recycled PET TPU" and so on. This yielded slightly better results but still did not feel focused enough.
We then began to search specifically for rPET backpack manufacturers as we figured their level of expertise would be higher. We contacted some and here was a typical response:
We also managed to find a supplier who purported to be a partner of famous brands such as Coca-Cola.
We browsed through their catalogues and ultimately talks broke down as none of them had any experience manufacturing waterproof rPET backpacks using seam welding technology, which is what we needed. So after countless hours searching, exchanging messages and browsing, we were back to square one.
Google search using keywords
We then tried to find suppliers directly through search engines, and surprisingly found Google to be a better mechanism to find potential suppliers.
We found what we thought to be an ace of a supplier, and spoke directly to their international sales manager. The manager was friendly, very responsive and it was clear that they are a big supplier in the rPET niche. They provided rPET backpacks to brands such as Tchibo Germany, Kathmandu, SwissGear, L'Oreal, Hema and High Sierra.
Conversations were very positive, as evidenced by the following response to our questions:
Their commercial terms were as follows:
- minimum order quantity of 1,000 backpacks for an initial order; or
- or 1,200 yards of material
We are still in conversations with this supplier regarding producing sample materials for our prototype. The issue is that they only have sample materials for regular materials and not the exactly specification (rPET with TPU coating) we need to produce a waterproof backpack. So far, they have declined our request to produce sample materials to produce our first prototype, preferring to prioritise their other larger orders. For us, it was a lesson in that some suppliers have strong leverage and are in position to pick and choose their buyers.
So far, we have not been able to find our supplier, though we have already put in countless hours. However, we are hopeful that a breakthrough will come soon. We are still to look down the path of trade shows