No matter how beautiful a garment is, if the fabric isn’t deemed acceptable by the customer, it’s likely it’ll end up on the sale rack!
Sourcing fabric is an exciting part of designing a fashion range, but it’s also a complicated and sometimes daunting process that can leave fashion business owners feeling like they’re navigating in the dark.
Fabric is such a vital part of a brand’s appeal – from soft luxurious fibres, to hardy weather-proof pieces. The fabric is what seals the deal, and we want you to become a pro at choosing the best fabric options that will turn your garments into pieces your customers will want to wear every day (where appropriate!).
We’ve compiled some fundamental information to help you decide which fabric is right, and handy tips to keep in mind before you invest.
Knowing the Basics
Having some basic knowledge around fabric types and the way they perform is a key step in the initial design process. There’s many factors to consider when choosing the right base fabric, including weight, composition, construction and functionality.
Deciding how you want your design to fit the body will also determine which fabric composition and construction you’re sourcing.
Being able to distinguish between woven, knitted and non-woven fabric structures is the first step:
- Woven – Woven fabrics are made up of a weft (the yarngoing across the width of the fabric) and a warp (the yarn going down the length of the fabric). Woven fabrics are usually used for shirting, pants, jackets and coats and dresses.
- Knitted – Made by inter-looping a single yarn continuously to create a soft stretch knit fabric. This is commonly used for tees, loungewear, casual basics, socks and activewear
- Non-Woven – Fibres or filaments mechanically, thermally or chemically bonded together and often used for interlinings, insulation, protective and industrial clothing.
Choosing the right fibre such as natural or synthetic will also add different characteristics to your design:
- Natural – Originating from an animal or plant (eg. wool, cotton, silk or linen).
- Synthetic – A man-made fabric that is entirely chemically produced (eg. polyester, acrylic, rayon or viscose).
Finding a Supplier
Finding fabric suppliers can be a tedious, but important process. Once you’ve established your fabric criteria, you can then start exploring where to find the right supplier.
You can approach this via:
- Trade Fairs – Visiting a fabric sourcing trade fair in your area (or off-shore in the country you’re manufacturing in) can be a great way to source a range of fabrics, start building a fabric library and build relationships with potential suppliers in one go. Examples of good trade fairs include Premier Vison, Texworld USA, Spin Expo Shanghai and International Sourcing Expo in Melbourne.
- Factory leads – You can always ask your garment factory or sample makers as they are already working with fabric suppliers they trust. If you’re using off-shore suppliers to manufacture, then they will also source fabric on your behalf. They will also provide information around minimums and pricing.
- Fabric Agents – Finding a fabric agent can be useful in helping you source fabrics, negotiate costs, and provide information around lead times. They can also help co-ordinate the fabric delivery to work within your sampling and production timelines.
- SYFB Directory – Upon signing up to the ‘Start Your Fashion Business’ programme, you’ll gain full access to a comprehensive Australian Fabric Supplier directory and Global Tradeshow directory.
When undergoing research, you will most likely find that Australian fabrics are more expensive than offshore options. The upside is the MOQ’s are usually reasonable.
Sourcing suppliers that offer lower minimum quantities is a great option for new designers and brands who may need as little as 25m for their first collection. When starting out, you may consider accepting a lower profit margin to initially test the market and keep your risk of excess inventory low. But depending on your category, as you grow and scale, it can become expensive and less profitable if you’re ordering a large volume of fabric at higher local prices.
Buying off-shore is usually a less expensive option, but you need to keep in mind variables such as minimum order quantity (MOQ) which could be upwards of 500m on some fabrics and transport costs. When buying stock fabrics, you can often procure lower MOQ’s and keep your costs down.
Remember to always enquire about the MOQ when requesting initial fabric costs and prior to ordering swatches and sampling. Many off-shore fabric suppliers will add a surcharge if you want to order less than MOQ, so it’s worthwhile asking if this is an option!
Fabric Development Lead-Time
The lead-time for fabric development can range anywhere from 2 weeks for a strike off, 1 month for sampling and up to 8 weeks for bulk production.
It’s crucial to factor in your lead-times while production planning to ensure your fabric arrives to your garment manufacturer in line with your planned garment production schedule.
When buying stock fabrics that are readily available, lead times are not as much of a concern, you just need to factor in any fabric testing required and transportation.
A key question to ask your fabric supplier is whether they will re-stock this fabric if they sell out and if so, what the lead times will be. Having this information is essential, especially if you want to continue running this fabric in the future and need to re-order.
Cuttable Fabric Width
The cuttable width is the measurement of fabric from side-to-side, less the selvedge (which is the woven border on the sides of the fabric). Knowing your fabric consumption (calculated using your pattern marker), will help work out an accurate garment cost and estimate how many metres you’ll need to buy for production.
Fabric testing can be costly for new designers, but it’s beneficial to do basic testing on delicate, high-risk fabrics or if you’re buying a large quantity. Testing ensures your fabric performs as required.
A wear test is important to measure how the garment performs, gauge the overall quality of the fabric and understand how a customer would wear and wash it. This will identify any fabric or garment problems that can be resolved before you start bulk production.
Some off-shore fabric suppliers may provide in-house colour fastness and performance fabric testing on request as part of the quality control procedure. However, it’s important you confidently understand the test reports you’re looking at. Companies like SGS Australia can supply you with independent testing and have offices in various countries.
Dyeing and Print
Understanding Colour and Print terminology can help you ask for the right process and method first hand.
- Lab Dip – A fabric swatch or yarn mock-up represents the colour tone on your fabric and is prepared by the fabric supplier for colour approval before sampling or production.
- Strike off – A small print mock-up representing how the print design, size, overall look and colour will look on your fabric and is prepared by the print supplier for approval before sampling or production.
- Screen Printing – Used industry-wide for quality and accuracy across most fabric types, this printing technique uses large mesh screens to push ink through onto the fabric. Each colour uses a separate screen and most fabric printers will have a maximum amount of colours that can be printed per design (often 6-9 screens). The more colours used, the higher the printing cost.
The MOQ using the screen print method can often be over 500m as the factory set-up, costs and preparations take time, but produces a high quality durable print.
- Digital Printing – Often the go-to for new designers, digital printing is slightly more costly, but you’re able to print photographic designs with an unlimited number of colours and you can print as little as 1m. Like a paper printer, it prints directly onto the fabric and works best on synthetic fabrics such as polyester and acrylic, and produces vibrancy in colour and detail.
*Tip – use the digital print method for sampling before you finalise a design if you are screen-printing. This will save on costly screen charges.
You’ll most likely be aware that the Fashion & Textiles industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
Using fabrics that aren’t ethical and eco-friendly is becoming more of a social taboo, with consumers becoming more aware of the manufacturing process and expecting a transparent supply chain.
It’s your responsibility as a brand to understand how and where your fabric is being made, who made it and ensure you’re being transparent to your customers.
There are many sustainable options now widely available to new designers, from organic cotton, linen and hemp, recycled cottons and polyesters, bamboo and natural plant or water based dyes.
As a new brand, it’s a hugely beneficial and attractive selling point to be sourcing sustainably and showing an awareness around ethical manufacturing. This is really where the industry is heading, so consider this if you’ll want to be seen as a forward-thinking and responsible brand that looks ahead.
If you’re planning to launch your own fashion label, Fashion Equipped’s ‘Start Your Fashion Business’ online programme will give you the very best industry knowledge and insights to guide you through the crucial early stages of your fashion business.