Your newest fabric sourcing strategy: 3 Tips for new designers
Let’s start with the Basics
Having some basic knowledge around fabric types and the way they perform is a key step in the initial design process. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right base fabric, including weight, composition, construction and functionality.
Deciding how you want your design to fit the body will also determine which fabric composition and construction you’re sourcing.
Being able to distinguish between woven, knitted and non-woven fabric structures is the first step:
- Woven – Woven fabrics are made up of a weft, and a warp. Woven fabrics are usually used for shirting, pants, jackets and coats and dresses.
- Knitted – Made by inter-looping a single yarn continuously to create a soft stretch knit fabric. This is commonly used for tees, loungewear, casual basics, socks and activewear
- Non-Woven – Fibres or filaments mechanically, thermally or chemically bonded together and often used for interlinings, insulation, protective and industrial clothing.
Choosing the right fibre such as natural or synthetic will also add different characteristics to your design:
- Natural – Originating from an animal or plant (e.g., wool, cotton, silk or linen).
- Synthetic – A man-made fabric that is entirely chemically produced (e.g., polyester, acrylic, rayon or viscose).
Finding fabric suppliers can be a tedious, but important process. Once you’ve established your fabric criteria, you can then start exploring where to find the right supplier.
- Mills provide made-to-offer fabrics with minimums of thousand yards or more.
- Wholesalers known as converters are secondary sources. They process unfinished products from mills and often offer printed fabrics, specialty effects, and different colours.
- Jobbers are another category. They carry limited stock of excess fabric from converters and mills and sell it at reduced prices. You have to be careful with this category as they don’t always have repeat fabrics. Once it’s gone it’s gone, and you won’t be able to get it again.
Sourcing suppliers that offer lower minimum quantities is a great option for new designers and brands who may need as little as 25m for their first collection. When starting out, you may consider accepting a lower profit margin to initially test the market and keep your risk of excess inventory low. But depending on your category, as you grow and scale, it can become expensive and less profitable if you’re ordering a large volume of fabric at higher local prices.
Buying offshore is usually a less expensive option, but you need to keep in mind variables such as minimum order quantity (MOQ). When buying stock fabrics, you can often obtain lower MOQ’s and keep your costs down.
Smaller quantities of materials are usually more expensive. Find out whether the supplier has wholesale or tiered pricing (like we do), as this can affect your overall profit margin.
Consider sustainability and ethical policy
This is becoming increasingly important for consumers and something you should really think about as a designer. With the increasing ease of access to sustainable supply chains and an increased demand for transparency, it is no good turning a blind eye to the way the cotton growers are treated or the ethical standards of the factory creating your fabric, just to increase your profit margin.
It is your design and your responsibility to know what is going on at every stage!
A way to avoid costly mistakes is to ask the right questions! Follow the above tips and read below on important processes to consider when sourcing fabric when communicating with fabric suppliers.
Minimum and maximum quantities:
Many suppliers impose a minimum order quantity of a few hundred yards of fabric, which may be too much to order when you are an emerging designer. In such cases, either look for alternative materials from a low minimum supplier or negotiate terms and settle on a compromise that works for you both.
Always ask about the lead time for production and delivery. This will be vital when planning your production schedule. Don’t assume a supplier will be able to get your fabric to you in a couple of weeks. If you need hundreds or even thousands of yards, it’s unlikely to be pre-made and so you will need to factor in the time to have it made to order.
Discuss stock availability and continuity in advance, especially if you order only a small quantity for sampling. Imagine if the supplier discontinued the fabric at the time you needed it for production – it would upset all your plans! Make sure it will be in stock if you need to come back for more.
Don’t assume that the fabric is a standard width – always check! Hand woven fabrics are often thinner and some wholesale fabrics may be wider than you would normally assume. It really makes a difference on what you can fit onto the fabric – and may mean that you can buy less yards overall.