Sourcing in the Fashion Industry
For any business, you’re only as good as your sources. This is especially true in fashion. Finding quality fabric mills is a must prior to launching your brand. There are many ways to go about finding the right mills that align with your company. Here are some methods that I’ve used to put together my list of resources.
Textile Trade Shows
I’m fortunate to live in an area that has many showrooms that are are accessible. Not everyone has that luxury. For those of you who don’t have a garment district in your city, textile trade shows are a good way to get started. The shows that have been the most useful for me have been Magic Sourcing Show in Las Vegas and New York, the LA Textile Show, and Premiere Vision New York. Signing up to attend these shows is very simple. They normally have an application online that you can fill out and you just need to hand them a business card when you get to the entrance in order to get your badge. The main expense is travel and hotel. Give yourself at least two full days to comfortably walk through the aisles. For someone who is new to the game, it could be a little intimidating at first, but everyone is generally friendly and more than willing to answer questions. There are a couple of important things to know prior to approaching a booth. They will ask you what you are looking for. Some of these mills have hundreds maybe thousands of swatches, unless you’re planning on having 150 styles in your first collection, you don’t need to set aside 400 swatch headers. Know if you’re looking for a knit or a woven. If it’s a knit than you need to narrow it down even more, jersey, french terry, fleece, etc. Be specific and they will show you swatches that are relevant to what you need. Don’t come up with designs while walking the show. Know what you want to design prior. Also, make sure to ask what their minimum order quantity (MOQ) is. Don’t waste time falling in love with various textiles only to find out the MOQ is 3000 yards.
If the flight and hotel to attend these shows is beyond your budget, the next best thing is to look up the exhibitor lists. Every tradeshow posts a list of exhibitors on their website. I’m not going to lie, it is pretty difficult to sort through because many of these textile mills have really really crappy websites. You will question if some of them have been updated since 1996. I’m not exaggerating. The problem with going to their site is that you don’t get to feel the fabric which is important for someone trying to source a collection. 98% of the time, you won’t really find much, but its that 2% of the time where you find clear pictures online, with a detailed description of the fabric that makes you want to fist pump in your chair. For that rare occurrence, you will convince yourself that it is worth the hassle to copy and paste random company names hundreds of times and click on a link that hopefully links you to the mill. Premier Vision’s website luckily has profiles of their exhibitors with the url to their site. Their site even allows you to filter which country’s mills you prefer to look at. When you do find a mill that’s worth reaching out to, make sure to check their “about us” and “faq” to make sure you don’t ask them questions in the email that are already answered on their site.
Finally. I’m surprised that it took this long to create a website that links brands to various fabric mills. Le Souk has done a great job of giving access to mills that you pretty much have very little chance of finding the old school way. Le Souk gives you access to thousands of textiles from 53 mills based all over the globe. It really does a nice job of bridging the gap for people that easily can’t travel to trade shows or showrooms in other countries. You can order swatches of most of their offerings for only $4 a swatch with free shipping. You can filter goods by content, origin, weave, end use, etc. It even gives a detailed description of every mill’s MOQ, sample yardage, lead times and price range. As soon as you sign up, they will reach out to you and assign a representative that can answer all your questions. So far my experience with Le Souk has been very good. They only negative thing I could say is that I wish they had more knits to choose from but I’m sure that will increase as the company grows.
Another bit of advice I could offer is to always ask the mill whether there is continuous yardage of a specific item. Let say you like a certain swatch so you order some sample yardage. It may take 4–8 weeks to produce a sample that you are completely happy with. If they sold every bolt of that swatch in that given period of time, you are screwed. Make sure to know what quantities they are carrying of that item and if it finishes, whether or not they will replenish that stock. Make sure to know the lead time of how long it would take to restock that item so you can coordinate with the release of your collection.
Lastly, you can always negotiate prices. Ask them at what yardage do they offer a discount. If you find a mill that has minimum order quantities at 300 yards and you only want 150 yards of a certain item, there are ways around this as well. You could offer to pay a little extra per yard and a cutting fee. This may get them to be a little lenient on their policy. Another option could be to make the same design in two colorways and ask if you could order 300 yards but divide the yardage into two colors. The last option could be, to order the 300 yards as a PFD. This stands for Prepare for Dye. You will receive the material raw, usually in off-white color, that you could stock and dye as you please. You can spread the yardage out over multiple collections.
Just like any other industry, the fashion industry forces you to be creative, not just from a production standpoint but also from a business standpoint. Sourcing is one of the most important aspect of your business. Having a strong list of vendors that supply goods in a timely manner is vital to health of your brand.