Fabric Sourcing: 5 Expert Tips

Fabric sourcing is one of the most important steps to purchasing excellent materials. Whether you’re an up-and-coming or established fashion designer, your fabric’s quality, origin, reliability, price, and production timing can drastically affect your clothing line. Rightfully so! 

Your pieces make up both your stellar reputation and incredible business results, which means the clothing itself needs to be the cream of the crop. And since fabric is the largest element to your pieces, it makes sense to put a lot of time and energy into high-end fabric.  

But it begs the ultimate question of how to source material for a clothing line in the first place. Where do you start? What makes up quality fabric? How do you choose the right fabric manufacturers? 

Before you begin the fabric sourcing process, pay attention to the following tips to set yourself up for success!

1. Find a Reliable Fabric Supplier

manager reviewing fabric suppliers

Dependability and trustworthiness are everything when it comes to fabric suppliers. Especially if your design goes into full production. The manufacturers have to be able to guarantee the stock you need. 

You don’t want to push your launch back because the manufacturers don’t have the clothing materials on time, sent you the wrong order, or are super slow to respond to inquiries and mishaps. You want to rely on them to always compassionately work with you until you get the results you paid for. 

To find reliable suppliers, you can talk to trusted sample makers and clothing manufacturers for their contacts. Visit local trade fairs and start compiling a swatch library. Always order fabric swatches first to test out the materials before purchasing! You’ll also want to understand the different types of suppliers so that you can make a decision based on your situation:

  • Mills: supply made-to-order fabrics with a high minimum of thousands of yards or more
  • Converters: secondary sources, known as wholesalers, process unfinished products from mills, like different colors and prints

According to StartUp Fashion, “Jobbers are another category. They carry a limited stock of excess fabric from converters and mills, selling 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.”

So if you’re planning on doing an exclusive, one-time line, you might consider jobbers to save extra money. However, if you’re planning on long-term pieces, you might consider mills or converters (wholesalers). 

2. Enquire About the Lead Times

manager enquiring about fabric lead times

Planning your production schedule is crucial to ensure everything from the fabrics and equipment to patterns and factory workers are in sync and ready to meet your launch deadline. 

Again, you don’t want to push up the schedule, only for it not to align with something else, and then your entire production is off. This is particularly important for seasonal clothing lines, where timing is the backbone of profit. 

As a general rule of thumb, never assume, and always over-communicate and enquire about the time requirements for production orders, so they’re made and delivered just when you need them. If you order hundreds or thousands of yards, expect a longer lead time, as it’s unlikely your fabric is pre-made. 

3. Negotiate Fabric Sourcing Pricing and Terms

managers negotiating fabric pricing and terms

Pricing is often one of the touchiest aspects of fabric sourcing. But remember: you get what you pay for. Make sure to find out whether the supplier has wholesale or tiered pricing. Otherwise, it can greatly affect the overall profit margin. 

Smaller quantities are typically more expensive, and keep in mind fabric prices are based on length, not width. You can create a lay plan of your pattern pieces to see exactly how much fabric you need beforehand. This way, you don’t end up losing out on money due to ordering too much or not enough the first time. Preemptive calculations are key!

You’ll also want to discuss other terms like stock availability. Even if there’s only a slight possibility of a repeat order, be sure to talk about it with the supplier if they’re planning on discontinuing the fabric in the future. If you need to come back for more, let them know, and maybe you can work something out.

Lastly, minimum and maximum quantities must be clear from the beginning, too. Many manufacturers have a minimum order quantity of up to a few hundred yards of fabric. If you’re new to the fashion industry, this might be too much. 

You can either negotiate terms and settle on an agreement that works for both of you or go for a low-minimum supplier. Either way, don’t be afraid to communicate. You never know how far a supplier will go to help!

4. Ensure Fabric Quality

sourcing managers checking fabric quality

To source premium fabrics and materials, it’s important to check the fabric specs and properties. For instance, read up on the weight, contents, and width. The weight will absolutely affect the overall piece’s structure and how it lays on a person. The contents influence the feel and how you should care for the clothing. 

And be careful not to assume the fabric has a standard width! Handwoven, delicate fabrics are usually thinner, and even some wholesale materials are a lot wider than you would think. This can affect what you put on the fabric and how many yards you need to buy. You might be able to save money and allocate some leftover budget to other areas of your clothing line. 

Sourcing in the garment industry should also mean catching up on the care instructions of the fabric, as they play a huge role in your customer’s experience! In the long run, try not to get too caught up in finding the perfect fabric. 

Sourcing fabric materials is all about balance and compromise. You might be wasting valuable time and money in a never-ending search. Be willing to meet in the middle when you find a fabric that matches your design, minimum, and budget requirements. 

Ask questions before you fall in love with a material! You don’t want to settle on a piece of fabric only for it to be completely out of minimum range. Before you purchase, always sample fabric swatches to ensure it’s up to par! 

5. Mind the Origin of Your Fabrics

The importance of fabric sourcing revolves highly around ethical and sustainable practices. There’s been a spike in demand for supply chain transparency. And when it comes down to it, it’s your responsibility to know what the process looks like at every step. 

So, when you’re looking at where to get fabric for your clothing line, get curious. Is it ethical and sustainable? Do your due diligence and read up on How to Create an Ethical & Sustainable Clothing Line. It’s absolutely possible to find quality fabric manufacturers in the USA!

Choose a Great Fabric Sourcing Manager For Your Next Line

manufacturers reviewing fabric for clothing line

Fabric sourcing is a huge deal, and we know how overwhelming it can be. Here at TEG, our expertise provides high-quality creative services like fabric and trim sourcing. Our top-of-the-line sourcing managers skillfully guide you through sampling fabric swatches, negotiating terms and prices, quality control, tracking orders, and more. 

Whether you’re an emerging or established designer, we’ve helped over 900 designers during the last decade bring their visions to life. We’d love to help you, too!

For all inquiries and questions, please call or fill out the below form, and we will respond within 1-2 business days. Thank you!

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