Choosing Your Fabrics and Trims

To ensure the success of your collection, no doubt your designs must be beautiful and perfectly executed. That said, many designers don’t give fabrics and trims the consideration they deserve. In other words, fledgling designers are often so enamored and distracted by their designs that fabrics and trims are moved to the bottom of the “things to be concerned about” list. 

We’re here to tell you, not so fast! Your choices can greatly impact your collection, both aesthetically and financially. 

Case in point: As a consumer, you’re out shopping (either in person or online), and you spot a garment that you like. Upon closer inspection, you see the fabrics and trims are not appropriate to the design, or the garment is simply over-priced. What do you do? You walk the other way, leaving this beautifully-designed garment destined for the sale rack.

We’re here to make sure this doesn’t happen to your collection.

How To Create Your Swatch Library

If you don’t feel like you’re drowning in an avalanche of fabric swatches, you’re doing it wrong. Successful designers keep an extensive fabric swatch library. They are always building on it, and are constantly referring to it.

Your library should include any fabric you have previously used, or one that you think you might use in the future. To easily refresh your memory: 

  • Keep a record of the fabric vendor and their contact info 
  • The date acquired
  • The sample yardage minimum and price
  • The production yardage minimum and price.

You should also organize your library by the different varieties of fabric, including cottons, silks, wools, and linens. Make note of not just the aesthetic appeal of various fabrics but also their structure, feel, and weight. Many people use three-ring binders to store swatches in an organized, accessible manner.

Every time you visit a fabric vendor – or go to a fabric trade show – gather any header cards that grab your attention, or seem like it might be useful in the future (in case of linings, interfacings, etc.). 

Industry Jargon Tip #1: A “header” card is a sample card created by a fabric vendor. If the fabric is available in different colors, the colors are represented via swatch on the header card. Typically, header cards are given out with no charge.

Then, when it comes time to design your next collection, you should refer to your own library for inspiration before heading out to source something new. You may already have what you need, thereby saving yourself valuable sourcing time. 

The Importance of Sampling

When it’s time to make the samples for your collection, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a little fabric experimentation. Chances are, you’re close to settling on fabrics and trims at this point, but maybe you simply can’t decide between two options. Or maybe your pattern maker has made a fabric recommendation, but you aren’t 100% sure it’s the right answer either.

This is the time to figure it out. Make up one sample in one fabric candidate, and make up another sample in the other one. The same holds true for your trim selections. Use one style of zipper or snap on one sample, and try your other options on the other.

Stand back and look at your choices objectively at your sample fitting. Try to imagine you’ve never seen the fabric before, and look at it as a consumer might. There are many factors to consider:

  • Does the color seem right? 
  • Is it too heavy or too warm? 
  • Is it too light and airy, so it floats instead of drapes? 
  • Is it scratchy against the skin? 

Don’t forget, hand of a fabric can feel completely different when it’s sewn up versus how it feels in a swatch. 

Next, consider your trims. Does the zipper stick where it has to cross a seam? Are the buttons too hard to open, or do they look out of proportion to the garment? Do the snaps pop open when the wearer moves or bends? Should you be using hooks instead? 

In other words, are your fabric and trim choices working together to bring out the best in your design? If they are not, it’s time to reconsider.

Aesthetics vs. Cost

As we mentioned earlier, it’s easy to fall in love with a beautiful fabric. Financially, it can also be dangerous. Before you make a final fabric decision, consider the financial implications of your choice.

The biggest implication is this: does the cost of the fabric make financial sense based on the fabric yield? 

Industry Jargon Tip #2: The “yield” is the amount of fabric needed to make one unit of a particular style. 

Your pattern maker may have already provided you with your yield information. Don’t forget to get the yields for lining, interfacing, contrast, zippers, buttons and other trims as well.

Very few designers enjoy math (we’re with you on this). But please, stick with us here for the following example. Once you have your yields, the calculation is a simple one. 

Let’s use a blouse as an example, and your yield is 1.8 yards of fabric plus seven buttons and .25 yds of interfacing.

Then you choose a beautiful silk fabric that is $24/yd. and stunning mother of pearl buttons at $.50 per unit. This blouse will cost out as follows (per production unit):

1.8 yds of fabric x $24 = $43.20 for fabric

.25 yds of interfacing = $1.00

One label =  $.25

Production Sewing per unit = $40.00

7 buttons x $.50 = $3.50

$87.95 = total cost of goods per unit

Of course, your brand needs to make a profit, right? So when you price this blouse for sale, you need to charge DOUBLE the cost of goods, which is $87.95 x 2 = $175.90. Out of that number $87.95 is the cost of goods and $87.95 is your profit. 

Industry Jargon Tip #3: Doubling the cost of goods to create profit is known in the industry as “keystone” or “keystoning”.

Then, you have to consider your sales channel. If you’re selling DTC (direct-to-consumer), ask yourself this question: Will my target customer pay $175.90 for this blouse? If the answer is yes, go for it!

If you are selling via wholesale channels, then the question gets tougher. Don’t forget the retailer that buys your blouse from you needs to make a profit too. So they will also double the price of the blouse (keystone math) to cover their needs. So in the end, the customer will pay $351.80 ($175.90 x 2) for your silk blouse. Again, if the answer is yes, that price seems fine, you’re good to go.

But what do you do if the answer is no? Consider the cost of your fabrics and trims. 

Taking the example above – but switching out the $24/yard silk fabric and $.25 MOP buttons to $12/yard silk blend fabric and $.10 buttons – and your calculation will look very different.

The DTC retail price would then be $125.10 (vs. $175.90 for the silk version). If you’re selling your blouse wholesale, then the customer will be paying $250.20 (versus $351.80) at retail. 

The lesson here is that fabric and trim pricing makes a HUGE difference in the final price of your production garments. While $12 may not seem like much when you’re only buying one yard, you can see it makes a significant difference when you do the production math.

We hope you learned something today. Paying attention to the financial bottom line will make all the difference in the world to the viability of your clothing brand. Of course, there are times in every designer’s career where a little help is called for. That’s why we’re here. If you want to talk fabric or fabric sourcing, feel free to give us a call at 800-916-0910 or reach out on the web at

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