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What is a Clothing Distributor?

By Christy Bieber
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A clothing distributor is an entity that buys clothing from manufacturers at wholesale prices and then distributes that clothing to retail stores for sale to end users. Some clothing distributors, called whole distributors, will also distribute the clothing to the end user or consumer through direct mail orders. When a clothing distributor purchases clothing from a manufacturer, it marks up the price of the items before it sells them to the end-user or retail store; the retail store then also marks up the price, which generally means a consumer pays much more for a given item than a distributor pays to buy it from the manufacturer.

A clothing distributor may have contracts with several different manufacturers of clothing. The distributor may purchase different kinds of clothing, from shoes to coats to dresses, skirts or pants. One distributor may specialize in a particular style or type of clothing, or the distributor may have a wide selection. The distributor may also purchase one or more particular brands of fashion apparel. For example, a distributor may purchase only higher end clothing or may purchase a wide variety and selection of clothing from both the high and low end of the price scale.

Distributors often have contracts with manufacturers to make clothing in parts of the world where the cost of labor is lower than in more developed countries. For example, a distributor may have a contract for clothing or apparel to be made in China or in the Philippines. In such cases, a clothing distributor also acts as an importer, bringing the clothing in from offshore in order to sell in more developed places such as the United States or Europe.

The clothing distributor also has relationships with retail stores in most cases. A distributor may have a relationship with multiple different retail outlets. For example, a distributor may provide Lee brand jeans to Sears, J.C. Penney, Wal-Mart and other stores that carry that brand of jeans. The distributor may also have an exclusive or limited relationship with only a few particular stores; for example, some high end clothing brands will limit the number of distributors and retail outlets that have access to their products in order to protect their brand's image and reputation within the clothing and apparel market. The distributor then facilitates the transfer of clothing and apparel products from the manufacturer to the store, filling orders for goods and items as requested by the store and making their money in the form of the markup on items they sell.

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Discussion Comments
By wavy58 — On Aug 14, 2012

@feasting – I know what you mean. I bet that name brand clothing distributors make a fortune, because they can sell their items at high prices just because of the name that is on the label.

I have noticed that there isn't much discrepancy between prices of brand name jeans at different stores. The only time that the prices vary is when certain stores have clearance sales. This is when I like to go shopping, because I really hate paying $40 for a pair of jeans.

By feasting — On Aug 14, 2012

I didn't know that brand name clothing distributors marked up their prices before sending items to stores. I figured that the stores were the only entities to mark up prices in order to make a profit.

I suppose that if a company can get things made cheaply overseas then they have quite a bit of room to mark up the prices. I wonder how much designer clothing really costs to make. It would be interesting to know how much is tacked onto that cost just because of the name.

By Oceana — On Aug 14, 2012

There is a large wholesale clothing distributor in my town that sells items directly to the public. They do seem to be cheaper than they are in retail stores.

There is a lot to choose from at this warehouse. The lighting isn't all that great, but they do have dressing rooms, so it is possible to try on items before you buy them.

I am always looking for bargains, and shopping here for clothing is a great one. They also sell accessories like purses and jewelry, which are also marked at affordable prices.

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