I invented seven products related to cooking. I have paid for/budgeted for incorporation and provisional patent attorneys, monthly expenses, and an accountant. In February (PPA files in Jan) I will meet with small manufacturers to get quotes. My thought is to sell both wholesale (because of positive initial response from kitchen specialty stores and contacts) and retail (because I teach web development/marketing and can create landing pages, set up on Amazon/social sites, etc. at no expense). I pay for bills by coding for clients and teaching a few extra classes since the products are not yet on the market. I sold the cookbook that complements, it's in-press.
I am trying to determine what an average $ order might be to dedicate to getting a soft goods manufacturer large enough to be scalable and small enough to be in the US and willing to work with a lighter order to begin. I realize this depends on how many products at what cost; I wondered if you think $5,000 or $10,000 or ? is an order size where a soft goods manufacturer will be willing to price competitively? Retail for the products will be $20-50.
I don't have direct experience with soft goods, but lots of other manufacturer experience.
Each of these manufacturers are businesses in their own right, with clients, resources, overhead, etc. You'll also most likely find that some manufacturers are more willing to try and curate new business through working with small accounts that are not necessarily profitable for them at first, but have long-term growth potential.
I think you might need to back into it from a different position... How much do YOU need to have manufactured in order to feed your supply chain with initial product, have stock on hand, distribute demo/sample items and so forth? My guess is that if you put some effort into this you'll come up with a number, and that number won't be wildly divergent from what any company that would/could work with you would be anticipating.
From there, talk to your various potential manufacturers and lay out your situation. Let them know you need X units to start, and anticipate additional orders for Y more every Z weeks, and does this volume fit business model? It obviously helps if they can manufacture your items without a lot of switchover costs, plus if you can be flexible on volumes (+/- 20%) and delivery dates (+/- 2 weeks), then that opens a lot of flexibility for THEM to schedule your runs in between larger more demanding client jobs.
For something retailing for $20-$50, I'm guessing you anticipate the manufacturing costs to be 25-35% of that price. So, say between $5 and $18ish. A $10,000 first-run budget gets you a mix of about 500 to 2000 items. I would think that most manufacturers could deal with a MOQ in this range.