Fabric Sourcing - A Beginner's Guide For Buyers

A useful checklist of ideas to optimise how to source fabric and improve your confidence and expertise during textile trade shows

September has started, and so the time has come to begin preparing the autumn/winter 2019-2020 collections. The upcoming textile fairs and trade shows are the perfect opportunities to initiate the fabric sourcing process with the selection of new materials available from suppliers all over the world. But where to start? The novelties available in such a fertile creative period can be daunting, especially for the beginner fashion buyer, who is still to fully unravel the best and essential techniques of the business.

The pressure is on: how to stay focused and align the fabric sourcing with the rest of the design team, communicating the correct ideas to the fabric supplier? These and other anxiety-driven questions might haunt the beginner fashion buyer, but you can make your team proud. It’s possible - and easy! - to optimise the fabric sourcing with some preparation, so revise (or expand) with our tips on the checklist below.

Textile References: Get Visual

The old saying was right for a reason: images are worth more than a thousand words. Visual references will help communicate the vision to the fabric supplier, and they might even enhance their output on it, being able to suggest different textiles regarding the fabric handle, finish and cut proposed. Mood boards are step one in this process, and, if possible, the fashion buyer should also have textile samples. Colour, prints, textures, materials… Tell your supplier what kind of product development the fabric is for, and they might be able to recommend specific textiles or even advise you against getting materials that will not work on the pieces they’re intended.

Improve Your Fabric Sourcing Knowledge

Occasionally we all fall for the trap of settling our knowledge once out of University, but research on a professional level contributes not only to a personal career growth but also to a challenging and inspiring work environment. When it comes to fabric sourcing, there are countless ways this can be done. Trend reports, for instance, will always present more information about new textile technologies, and trade shows - like Première Vision, Texworld, Milano Unica, Interfilière and many others - will even have seminars where you can continue to develop your textile knowledge. Follow certifications such as Ecocert or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and when in doubt, online research is the easiest option, with reliable content for fashion professionals, including new apps to make the connection between fashion buyers and suppliers much easier.

And finally, communicate with your colleagues: listen to their suggestions and take notes to bring to textile trade shows, including the type of fibre, weight, texture and hand feel. Being informed about your requirements will make you a more confident buyer, and hence you will be able to take more advantage of trade shows, not to mention improve your communication with the suppliers.

Think Of Sustainable Practices

Thinking sustainably has ceased to be a temporary fad to become the norm. Challenge yourself: how could you minimise the impact your brand has on the environment? Would the solution rely on materials, such as using sustainable fabrics? Linen, organic cotton and hemp are only a few examples available. Technology has been improving the textile developments, bringing to the market better versions of man-made fibres such as lyocell, casein and Orange Fiber, among many other recent innovations, like biodegradable sequins and recycled polyester.

Sustainable fabric sourcing can also mean more economy: finding a local supplier might reduce the cost of transportation if air shipping is avoided, or maybe naturally dyeing the fabrics in-house if your brand has an artisanal development and works with small quantities. Calculating the exact amount of fabric to be used is also crucial to avoid waste, and consequently, will save money as well.

Shortlist Some Suppliers (And Organise Yourself)

Especially when visiting trade shows and fabric fairs, it’s easy to get lost in the novelty - both experienced and new buyers alike could have fallen for the feel of new textile technologies, and have let their curiosity take the most of their efficiency. This could be avoided by shortlisting the suppliers you need to visit first, and by having a list of all the fundamental questions you need to ask. A basic list should include technical details: what is the MOQ (Minimal Order Quantity)? How much is it - are the samples the same price? What are the shipping costs and delivery time? What are the payment terms? Are the fabrics readily available and is there continuity? What are the supplier’s certifications?

The more organised you are, the more efficient you will be. Be open to suggestions from the fabric suppliers as well, and explore their know-how to bring a whole new perspective to the collection.

Instead of carrying loads of business cards, take pictures only of the ones you genuinely plan to contact and follow up the email with a call - technology is always good support, and keep an eye for apps that may simplify your work. Save one afternoon to wander around the trade show after your research is done, and savour the fact that you’ve optimised your fabric sourcing and are now free to fulfil any personal curiosities.

Buyers: Know What You Are Looking For

As you build up your confidence as a fashion buyer, it’s crucial to be prepared with the basics: fibre, weave, weight, finish, colour and application of fabrics you need; have visual references and samples if possible. It’s OK not having an exact definition of what you need - this is something that you and the supplier can work together to find out, creating joint value in this new relationship. Tell them what the textile is for - sportswear? utility jacket? - with sketches when available, and consider their input, aligning the commercial and design needs. While it’s quite unlikely that the perfect fabric exists, communicating your needs might result in a finding a fabric that delivers the expectations to all parties.

Building and maintaining a relationship between buyer and seller is an enriching career development at any stage, and particularly crucial to beginners to expand their know-how and buying skills. Take the opportunity to learn specific information from the other side of the supply chain, and embrace every new season with refreshed enthusiasm.