Fabric Sourcing: Insider Tips for Working With Fabric Suppliers

Platterofgold Editor By Platterofgold Editor 8 Min Read

Fabric sourcing can be overwhelming for new designers when it comes to garment production. But how do you work with fabric suppliers?

To say that fabric is essential when it comes to garment making is not an overstatement. In fact, it is a critical part of garment production.

As a new designer, you can work more effectively with suppliers by educating yourself on the process and understanding industry terminology.

Usually, fabric suppliers carry a limited stock of fabric left over from converters and mills. They will typically not restock a specific fabric, colour, or print once they run out of them or they out of stock.

Know Your Needs

Fabric sourcing is a crucial step in building your garment line. Researching, sampling, and negotiating prices and terms takes significant time.

If you rush this process, you risk making suboptimal fabric choices that could impact the quality and performance of your product.

First, know what your production volume is going to be. This will help you prioritize which suppliers to reach out to.

You’ll also want to understand the lead time or how long it will take for the fabric to be available from the vendor once you place your order.

This varies widely by supplier and fabric type. It’s recommended to consider using a wholesaler or jobber if you’re unsure which fabric types you need.

 

They can source a wide range of fabrics and may offer lower minimums than fabric retailers. Also, they can dye, print, or finish the fabric to your specifications.

They often work on commission, so they’re motivated to get you the best prices possible. They can also help you save money by negotiating better prices with fabric mills on your behalf.

Know Your Vendors

Knowing how to work with a clothes and fabric manufacturer is vital for anyone in the fashion industry, whether you’re starting your own line or helping other brands get their designs into production as a freelancer.

Knowing the suitable suppliers and how they can help you will make the entire process much easier – and get your line one step closer to a finished product!

There are three types of fabric suppliers:

  • 👉 Mills: Fabric mills produce fabric and typically have a high minimum order quantity (MOQ).
  • 👉 Wholesalers: Wholesalers stock fabrics bought from fabric mills and sold to retailers.
  • 👉 Jobbers: Jobbers deal with overruns and surplus fabrics, often selling them at a discounted price.

If you’re unsure which supplier to choose, try attending a trade show like Texworld or DG Expo in New York, where you can browse the selections of multiple fabric suppliers at once.

Alternatively, ask for a recommendation from someone you trust in the fashion industry. Make sure that you have a plan for sampling and inspecting fabric shipments. This should be based on recognized statistical sampling methods and industry standards.

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Do Your Research

If you want to be a successful sewist, it’s essential to know your fabrics. Knowing your fabric weight (GSM), color, and care instructions will help you make the best choice for your sewing projects.

Also, a fabric’s stretch percentage and fiber content will help you choose the material for your project. Communicating regularly with your suppliers will build trust, improve quality, and reduce costs.

It’s a win-win for both parties and can even lead to innovative concepts that both companies can use to enhance their products.

One way to keep communication lines open is by using a communications app that allows you to chat with multiple suppliers and track orders all in one place.

 

Another important thing is to ensure that you pay on time. This is because late payments can strain relationships and affect supplier reliability.

Streamlining communications with your suppliers will ensure that your orders are processed quickly and accurately, saving you time and money.

It will also minimize the risk of errors or missed deadlines. It’s a good idea to avoid blanket purchase orders and order materials on a case-by-case basis.

Be Honest

A good relationship with fabric suppliers is critical to finding low minimums and suitable fabric for your designs. Being dishonest can damage those relationships, even if you aren’t trying to trick the supplier into giving you a better deal.

Be honest about your project, timeline, and how much fabric you need. A good supplier can help you meet your deadlines and give you advice on how to best work with a factory. They also know the ins and outs of different types of fabrics.

When you reach out to a fabric supplier, ask them about the fibre, weight, and colour of a particular fabric. Include a Pantone reference to make it easier for them to match colours.

Also, don’t ask for too many options in your initial email. Two ways to source fabric are directly with the mill or through a fabric-sourcing agent.

There are pros and cons to both methods. Generally, a fabric agent will charge a commission for their services, but they can save you time and hassle by researching fabrics and providing you with sample yardage.

Negotiate

Once you’ve fine-tuned your design and are ready to start manufacturing, it’s time to find a supplier for your fabric. Rather than turning to Google (the Wild West of Information), a fabric tradeshow is your best bet for finding someone you can trust.

Determine your leverage in the negotiation: What are the most critical aspects of the deal, such as price or delivery schedule?

Then, determine where you’re willing to make concessions and how much discount you can offer in return. Remember that suppliers are businesses, too – they have products and profits to make, just like you do.

Show them that you can provide long-term business, and they will likely be happy to work with you.

 

Ask them for customer references and a list of the prices they charge their other clients – this can help you establish your bargaining position.

Ask for the units of measurement they use, such as per yard or meter, and their payment terms, too – this can help you estimate your total costs.

 

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