How to source fabrics and trims
In order to get one step closer to your envisioned sportswear brand and intended garments, you need to find the right materials and trims. This can be achieved by going to fabric fairs, searching the internet for suppliers or letting the manufacturer source for you. The tricky part of all three options is to find the best choice at the right price. In the start-up phase using fewer materials would be advisable. There will be minimum quantity limits to think about.
Before going to fairs, or contacting suppliers and manufacturers it would be advisable to have your business already registered and planned. Having your logo and brand name in place will be a plus.
The fairs are business fairs and you need to have a company registered to be able to attend. Let’s say you haven’t come that far in your brand development and have no registered company or logo. Well, you can register with the one intended as long as you have a business card. Print a few at home or at your local supplier. Whatever you do, make sure you have one, because a business card exchange will happen at every interaction.
Here are three sourcing options with pros and cons, do’s and don’ts
1. At Fabric / Trims Fairs
Before you even go to the fair, how do you know what you like and what you want? A good tip is to go downtown and look at competitor garments to give you an idea. Have a look at the inside of the garments, usually on the left inside, there is a care label that notes exactly what the material is. Also, have a look inside your own wardrobe and see if you can find materials of your liking. Take a close look at the care labels for instructions.
The preparation phase before going to the fair is very important. Why are you going in the first place? What materials and trims exactly are you looking for? How many, in what weights and for what specific garments? There needs to be a big structured list of every single material/trims needed. Put together a little folder of swatches/trims that you have found, either from cutting competitors’ garments or from other supplier swatches. Bring them with you and show the reps. This might guide them in the direction you are looking for. If they don’t have what you want, they might suggest other vendors, or have better suggestions for your intended materials.
What information will you have to give the reps in order for them to help you find what you’re looking for?
- Fabric: what type of fabric is it? A woven, knit, a waterproof material with membrane?
- Fiber and composition: Should it be a durable polyamide, 20% cotton/80% polyester, 100% merino wool?
- Weight: 140gr/m2 for a base layer? A little heavier 350gr/m2 if you are looking for an outerwear material for example.
- Color: Have some color swatches in hand in case you are in a time constrain and need to find stock materials or have a look at a color card
Before arriving at the fair, give yourself time capsules for every material, to make sure you stay focused, on track and that you don’t lose time. The risk might be that you leave the fair missing some of your materials…
It is advisable that you don’t ask for minimum quantity or price in the first meeting. This can be portrayed as rude. You can get that information later when you find the fabrics you like.
If you find something you like on the spot you can ask the sales rep if they have sample meters/yardage in stock and order a couple of meters/yards to sew up a prototype and test the material. You usually have to pay for the sample meters and for the postage.
In the beginning it’s really hard to know what to look for, therefore the best way to find what you like is to go through many swatches. Eventually you will get a more edited eye and you will get inclined towards certain materials. Trust your gut and let your hands and eyes do the job for you. Is the material soft, or hard and noisy, start to take notice at how the materials behave and what you go aaaaaahhhhh about. Put those to the side and order swatches. It’s always good to have too many swatches and do the editing in the studio, than having too little and no plan B in case things go south…
If you happen to hear the word MOQ it means Minimum Order Quantity. The minimum amount of meters/yards they require for you to buy per fabric.
Before you leave the fair you can try to make sure you have a plan A, B, and C for every material you are looking for. At least you will have a couple of options in case one of them doesn’t work.
When receiving the swatches, mark them with the arrival date. After a while you will have many swatches to keep track of. You can also sort them by type of material or by supplier, whatever works for you, and no, a big pile in the corner of your studio won’t count as sorting. If you find what you like, ask the supplier to send you testing results for you to see how the material performs. If it’s durable, if the color is lasting, if there will be pilling etc. Since you have the swatch, throw it into the washing machine and see how it performs, the results will help you in the selection process.
2. From Your Studio
You might not want or can’t attend fairs to source your fabrics and trims. So how can you get the materials you need then? You contact the suppliers by emailing and by calling them, explaining what you want in a detailed manner and they send you swatches that correspond to your description.
How do you find the right suppliers? You google. This is a very tricky way of finding materials if you don’t know what you’re looking for and if you don’t already have contacts. First of all, like with planning before you go to a fabric fair, you need to know what you’re looking for. When you contact a supplier via email, be short, very descriptive and straight to the point. This will increase your chances of getting the right materials. When the supplier has your “wish list”, they find what materials match best with your description and send you the headers. You receive the bunch and look through them.
After editing and narrowing down to a couple of options you contact the supplier again and ask for MOQ, lead time and price. With the info received from the supplier you calculate and pick your wished material. And remember: Prices and MOQs are negotiable. The lead times can be moved a little but roughly, you should count on the weeks you are given.
3. Through Your Manufacturer
Depending on what manufacturer you find, they can most of the time help you source your materials. Here, as the above, it requires a detailed explanation of what you have in mind. Send swatches, pictures, competitor’s garments, whatever you need to do, to best explain what you are looking for. Depending on how much time you have, letting the manufacturer help you source can be a quick and effective solution. The manufacturer will from the beginning have the price in mind and limit your choices. Of course, the manufacturers have a limited amount of materials, but as a start it can save you headache, time and money.
You have found your intended material and now what? How do you proceed? The next step is for the supplier to dye your material in the exact color you want. You send the supplier a Pantone ref or a clip of the color you wish to have. After a couple of weeks, the supplier will send you the lab dips. Usually 2-3 color options per intended color. The best way to review these are both in daylight and indoors to see which options match the Pantone ref best. You OK the best option and if none is good enough you comment: too red- please add more yellow, or too dark- please make slightly lighter etc, until you get exactly the color you want.
If you are under time pressure, there are some ways you can save time. When discussing with the suppliers you can ask them what materials and colors are always in stock. That means you can order your bigger quantities directly without waiting for the supplier to do the lab dips, and then produce the big order.
On parts of the material offer, suppliers usually have a color card. These are the colors most used for that specific material. Again, if you are under time constraints, pick a color from the color card.
Logistically it is a good idea to plan your manufacturing and source materials from the same continent. If you have your factory in Europe and the fabrics are coming from somewhere in Asia you will have to pay for the fabric shipping, have longer lead times, potential extra costs and the bureaucracy headache with the toll paperwork. Be smart in the beginning and plan for a smoother process.