Selecting a fabric supplier can be, in a word, overwhelming. Most new designer-entrepreneurs are unsure of how to navigate their options. Every fabric supplier offers different benefits, from high-speed shipping to different minimum orders. So how do you know which assets are the best fit for your apparel startup? It all depends on the way you manufacture your products.
It’s crucial to understand that there are many different types of suppliers; while some suppliers custom-make orders and may take time to get the product into your hands, others offer ready-to-ship stock that will arrive sooner, but with fewer customization options. Let’s explore some of the fabric supplier types to get an idea of what’s the best fit for your fashion brand!
Mill: A company that manufactures textiles and other fabric products using raw materials. They do so by spinning, weaving, knitting, and other methods. Some mills have made-to-order fabric options, and typically have high minimums of at least 1000 – 5000 yards.
Converter: A person or firm that purchases unprocessed goods directly from a fabric mill, and then dyes, finishes, prints and/or washes it them to create finished fabrics. They generally offer current fashion colors, prints, unique finishes and specialty effects for fabrics. Their minimums are lower than dealing directly with a mill, too!
Jobber: A person or firm that purchases excess finished fabrics from mills and converters (called overruns), leftover goods from manufacturers, and seconds (fabrics with manufacturing flaws). They flip and sell wholesale fabric with lower minimums to new designer-entrepreneurs and smaller fashion firms, as well as retail fabric stores. However, keep in mind that most of their fabrics cannot be reordered, so this solution is better for one-offs or for limited edition garment pieces.
Sales rep: An agent that shows and sells fabrics for companies and works directly with manufacturers and other textile customers. If you plan to work with mills overseas, or if you plan to work with several different companies for souring your materials, working with a sales rep may make the process faster and more efficient.
Wholesalers: An umbrella term that relates to any secondary fabric sources (meaning anyone who purchases from mills, converters, manufacturers, or jobbers and sells fabrics to smaller manufacturers). Their prices tend to be cheaper than if you go to the stores they sell to, as they up the price to make a profit.
Retailer Stores: Sell directly to consumers. This is an obvious choice – you get instant access and be able to touch, drape and hand of the fabric. Typically designers need to buy for sampling purposes. But this is never purchased for bulk or to fill large orders – it is not cost efficient, and definitely not your best choice!
Always be on the lookout
Even when you think you’ve found the perfect recipe for you and your fashion business, never stop looking for alternatives! Keep up your research on suppliers so you don’t miss out on great deals or new products in the market – you never know what you may find!
Do you have a favorite supplier? Spread some love and give them a shout out!
P.S.If you’re looking for more technical information on selecting fabric, how to work with mills and much more. Check out the Source My Garment Book. Get your copy HERE.