How to shop the fabric market.

When you begin to email and/or call fabric suppliers, the fabric salespersons will ask you a series of details about the fabrics that you are sourcing. Knowing what fabric type you want is not enough. For instance, if you state that you are looking for heavy velvet, you will not necessarily get a heavy velvet you need. A supplier may have a suitable heavy-weight velvet, but it may take six-eight weeks for delivery and you need it in four weeks. That velvet then will not work after-all. Or, there could be many other factors contributing to the fact that this heavy velvet, that looks and feels exactly as you want it to, will not work for your collection. Consequently, you need to be ready to advise all the required specifics and fabric details to the fabric suppliers. In addition to the fabric type you want; you must also advise the following specifications as well:

• Fiber type
• Delivery date
• Quantity
• Country of Origin
• Destination
• Color and Design
• Weight
• Width
• End use
• Launderability and Compatibility
• Price
• Sample yardage

Let’s address each of these points individually:

Fiber type:
Fiber type refers to the fibers in which the fabric is constructed (or made of). It is also known as fiber content, and is the breakdown, in percentages, of the fiber types) used in a fabric. Fibers are extremely thin strands of a natural or synthetic material and fibers are spun into yarn. The yarn is then knitted or woven into fabric. There are natural-fiber fabrics (i.e.: cotton, silk, hemp, flax); synthetic-fiber fabrics (i.e.: polyester, acetate, nylon); regenerated-fiber fabrics (i.e.: viscose, rayon, tencel); recycled-fiber fabrics (i.e.: recycled cotton, recycled nylon, post-consumer water bottles); and blended-fiber fabrics (i.e.: 60% wool/40% nylon, or 80% cotton/15% nylon/5% spandex, or any other combination of above). Blended-fiber fabrics, also known as blends, list the percentage of each fiber by weight in descending order.
The fiber or fiber blend a fabric is made of greatly influences the characteristics of that fabric, and therefore the garment or item that fabric eventually is made into. The fiber content affects the hand (feel), drape, quality, durability, appearance, care, and comfort of a fabric. And in turn, affects the quality, durability, appearance, and care instructions of the style. Fiber type also affects the customer’s perception of the item the fabric is used for, as customers often have pre-conceptions of certain fibers and will or will not buy an item based on fiber content. This is important to keep in mind, as by law, the fiber content of the fabric used in an item must appear on the tag and/or label at the point of sale.

Delivery Date
The delivery date refers to when you need the fabric. Perhaps you need the fabric in your factory by May 1st latest. With the delivery date information you can calculate the leadtime. Leadtime is the time period between when you place the actual fabric order and when you actually need the goods in-house. So, if you have allowed yourself four weeks to source, edit and select fabric for your line and you plan to place your production fabric orders at the end of those four weeks, and you need the fabric at your sewers in eight weeks, then you have a four-week leadtime. Therefore, the fabric supplier has only four weeks in which to deliver the fabric. The leadtime is the difference between when you place the order and you need the order in-house.

If you are not in a rush, you have a long leadtime. If you have a long leadtime you will most likely have a larger selection of fabric qualities to choose from, than if you had a short leadtime. A short leadtime generally refers to needing the goods in less than four weeks (after production order is placed). If you have a short leadtime, then you must find goods that are in stock and available immediately. As even if goods are available immediately, it still may take a couple weeks for the fabric order to be placed and for the fabric to be pulled, cut, rolled, packaged, invoiced, and shipped.

When you source fabrics, you should advise your desired delivery date or your required leadtime. In that way a salesperson will know that if you need a fabric four weeks from now, they will know which fabrics to show and which not to show you. You cannot rush a leadtime. If a fabric is not in-stock, it takes a considerable amount of time for the supplier to knit or weave the goods, then dye, print, and/or finish the yardage and ship it to their warehouse, and then to you. A jobber or wholesaler with goods in stock, is best to provide you goods with a short leadtime, whereas a mill or converter require long leadtimes.

Quantity refers to how much fabric you plan to order. You will base what suppliers you contact on their minimums. The minimum is the least amount of production yardage that you can order from a company. Therefore, if you know you need 200 yards of a fabric, and a company lists their minimums as 500/ yards, then you automatically know not to spend time souring from them. Minimums per company may vary. Fabric suppliers may set one minimum quantity for their entire inventory, or they may assign different minimums for each fabric type on their line.

This book lists only low minimum fabric suppliers and wholesalers with in-stock programs, all of whom have set low, or perhaps no, minimums for their lines. These low-minimum and in-stock suppliers mainly sell fabrics that are open-line. Open-line fabrics are already dyed in basic colors, as well as a few fashion forecasted colors each season. Fabric companies such as mills and converters establish higher minimums, and jobbers and other wholesalers set lower minimums or, often, no minimums at all. It is important to be up-front with your sought-after fabric amounts, so you don’t take time looking at fabrics you will not realistically be able to purchase. If you need 100 yards of velvet, and ABC Fabrics has a 500-yard minimum, then you will know during your initial conversation with your salesperson, that they don’t have the right velvet for you, and you can use your time looking elsewhere. On the other hand, if you need 250 yards, and they only have 100 yards in stock, and cannot get more by your desired delivery date, then that too will not work. With all tis said, please know that, occasionally a supplier will accept an order smaller than their minimum yardage requirement. When they do this, they generally add a surcharge but they’ll take the order, so if you are prepared to pay a small percent more, it never hurts to ask.

Also, ask the supplier if the minimums they quote are per fabric or per color. A 500-yard minimum for polar fleece may sound high at first, but if you find out the minimum is per fabric style, then perhaps you can split up the order into two colors, i.e.: 250 yards black and 250 yards white. Every supplier varies whether their minimums are per fabric or per fabric/per color.

Lastly, really do stay with the quantity you require, and don’t allow yourself to be persuaded to order more than needed. Excess unused fabric sitting in a warehouse shelf or on a cutting room shelf for months is dead inventory, which you will only be able to sell at a loss.

Country of Origin
Country of Origin (always referred to as COO) refers to the country in which the fabric was knitted or woven. U.S Customs and Border Protection defines Country of Origin as the country in which a textile or apparel product is wholly obtained or produced when the product is completely produced or manufactured in one country. And when two or more countries are involved in the production of goods, the concept of “last, substantial transformation” determines the origin of the goods. For instance, if the fiber comes from China, but the spinning and weaving occur in Japan. The country of origin for the fabric would be Japan.

It is imperative to know the COO of fabric you are sourcing, as the fabric must travel the distance from the COO to wherever you need the fabric. This transport time affects lead-time, and the shipping costs, affects the price of the fabric.

Destination refers to where you need the fabric delivered. It is generally the country and city where your garment production factory is located, as that is where the fabric will be spread, inspected, cut and sewn. The destination country/city is where the mill or fabric supplier ships the bulk production of your fabric. Generally you will get a sample cut to approve before the bulk production is shipped. You receive the sample cut in your office or wherever the design or production team is located.

As stated in the previous section, you must consider the distance between the COO and your destination country and city. Do you have the time to ship the fabric to the destination? For small production lots, you want to find a fabric in the same country, as the cost of shipping across the seas will be quite high for a small fabric lot. And if you have a short leadtime, then even if COO and destination are the same, you still have transportation and timing issues to consider. An example is if the fabric originates from L.A., and your sewing contractor is in New Jersey, then you must ship fabric bolts from coast to coast- which will take approximately five days, not including order processing and packing time. Therefore, with short leadtimes, it is best to work with wholesalers, jobbers and in-stock programs, whereas the fabric can be ordered, processed, put on a truck and delivered within a week or two.