How to shop the fabric market.

Many of you, who requested this guide, work in small to mid-sized fashion companies and need small yardage quantities of fabric. A small quantity of fabric is considered 500 yards or less and generally used for small lots, test orders, or special cuts for exclusive buyers.

Also, many of you, who requested this guide are fairly new to the industry or to fabric sourcing and want to learn more about the fabric market and how to shop the market. 

This guide will answers the question we are most-often asked: “Where do I start?” This is a “how to” guide for shopping the fabric market.  We dedicate this section to all of you newcomers to the industry. We wish you the best of luck and great success in your endeavors, and say, “Welcome to the fashion industry! You will love it!” 

With all that said, let’s dive into the wonderful world of fabric sourcing.

The sections to follow detail whom you will be contacting and all the details you need to prepare and be knowledgeable of when you send your emails, make calls, and meet with suppliers.

These steps and the vocabulary noted are customary when sourcing fabrics (and trims by the way). Included are pointers of where to start, what to say, and how to say it. By knowing all the details involved in shopping the fabric market, you can eliminate the additional time spent chasing fabric qualities that will not work with your line. Fabrics may not work for your line due to a variety of factors and considerations that you must keep in mind when selecting fabrics. Also, please keep in mind, that this book is a wholesale fabric sourcebook, and the term “fabric” is always used for sourcing. However, do know that the steps are the same for all materials sourcing in our industry, whether you are sourcing trims, notions, labels, factories, etc.

Fabric sourcing, also known as shopping the fabric market, is the first step once you have your design concept. Once you have your inspiration, design concept, or trend in mind, you can source and choose fabrics that communicate these concepts and trends. If your design concept is clean, sleek, and futuristic, you may be looking for gabardines; or if soft, floaty, and airy is the look you want, then you might ask if a supplier has chiffons and georgettes; or if your collection and company ethos is all about sustainability, then you may be sourcing organic cottons and recycled-fiber textiles. Once you basically know the fabrics that convey your themes, or know a specific fabric type for a particular project or buyer, then you are ready to begin sourcing your fabrics.

It is generally the design or product development team’s responsibility to source fabrics. Once you know the fabric type you need, it is best to look for suppliers by fiber type. When emailing or speaking to fabric suppliers, it is important to remember that a fiber type is not a fabric type. For instance, you cannot just say you are looking for 100% cotton fabric. Cotton is a fiber. You must specify both the fiber type and fabric quality.  You would instead say, you are looking for 100% cotton denim (or shirting, jersey, rib, etc.)  The designer or product developer’s first step when looking for new fabrics is to call or email the fabric suppliers- who sell the fiber you are looking for as well as cater to your market (menswear, bridal, swimwear, etc.)

You should email or call the fabric salesperson listed under each company listing. As you email, call, or meet each salesperson in person, you will learn that fabric suppliers are classified as one of the following:

• Mills

• Converters

• Jobbers

• Reps

• Wholesalers

What is the difference of each, you ask? Let me explain, as it is important to know the difference between these business types. The fabric supplier types listed above are defined as follows:

• Mill: 
A weaving or knitting company that manufactures fabrics and textile products. The word mill also refers to the actual building that the spinning, weaving, knitting, etc. takes place in. It is doubtful that you will work with a mill at this point, when needing 500 yards or less, as mills usually have minimums of at least 1,000-2,000 yards in the U.S and Europe and 3,000-5,000 yards throughout Asia.

• Converter: 
A company that purchases woven or knitted greige goods directly from a fabric mill and finishes the goods. Greige goods are undyed, unbleached, and unfinished fabrics. The converter then dyes, bleaches, washes, finishes, and/or prints on the greige goods. Converters offer a full line of finished solid and print fabrics.  Converters are beneficial since they offer many new, fashion colors, print designs, novelty finishes and the latest technical effects on fabrics. Their minimums are lower than dealing directly with a mill, but still higher than what is included in this low-minimum directory. However, occasionally a converter will take a 500-yard or less order, especially if they can piggy-back your order with another company’s order.

• Jobber: 
A person or company that purchases large quantities of excess finished fabrics, from mills and converters, and then sells them wholesale in smaller quantities. Jobbers sell to small design companies, manufacturers and retail fabric stores. They generally sell fabric by the bolt, which is roughly 50-60 yards, and you can decide to but just one or more bolts.

• Rep: 
A rep (short for representative) is a sales agent who shows fabric lines from one or more mills. The rep works directly with the mills and makes a commission off every sale they make. The advantage of working with a rep is that they often represent fabric suppliers generally out of your region or country. Which means that without the rep you would not have access to fabrics from many far-away mills. Reps work within a predetermined territory, and show and sell fabrics to apparel manufacturers and other textile customers. This is the best way to work with overseas mills, and if you contact a mill directly who has a rep in your area, they will advise you must work with the rep. The production minimums are often higher than 500 yards, bit do vary.

• Wholesaler: 
This is a general term for all other secondary fabric sources. Wholesalers include any other person or company that purchases surplus or rejected fabrics from mills, converters, and branded apparel, accessory & home furnishings manufacturers. If a fabric was dyed a slightly incorrect shade of pink, it might be rejected and not purchased by a fashion brand, it would then sell off-price, at a discount, to a fabric wholesaler.  The wholesaler then sells this excess fabric direct to small manufacturers, designers, and small retail fabric stores.