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4 Mistakes to Avoid When Sourcing Fabric

If you’ve ever tried to source fabric you know it can be, how do I put this…

…an arduous process.

Suppliers don’t answer your emails. They definitely don’t call you back. And sometimes there isn’t even a voicemail to leave a message.

Whether you’ve gone through this or you haven’t started sourcing yet, there are a few things you can do to raise your chances of getting a positive response.

And it starts with avoiding these four big mistakes:

1.) Writing a long inquiry email

I can’t tell you how many people make the mistake of writing a multi-paragraph email that is so long-winded your own mother wouldn’t even read it.

A fabric inquiry is not the time to go into an explanation of your company mission or your core values or your plan to single-handedly change the fashion industry.

The supplier doesn’t care about that stuff!

What does the supplier care about?

Sales.

What does he or she need to make a sale from you?

A very specific one-sentence description of the exact fabric you’re looking for.

What should that sentence include?

The fiber, the fabrication, the weight and the color.

The end.

(Yes, you can include a “hello” and “thank you.”)

2.) Immediately asking a sales rep for MOQ’s and pricing

MOQ stands for “minimum order quantity.” In other words, the amount of one type of fabric that you’re expected to order to meet the supplier’s requirements.

Of course you need to know if the MOQ is attainable for you (20,000 yards would be a bit ambitious when you’re first starting out…) And of course you need to know how much a yard of fabric costs so you can factor it into your Cost of Goods Sold.

But don’t ask.

When it comes to sourcing fabric, a significant part of the process is getting swatches in the door so you can feel them, put them in the wash, and compare them to one another.

The sales rep wants you to see the value and quality in the fabric just as a car dealer would want you to test drive the car before talking about price.

Let the rep offer the information or wait to ask until you have received the swatches.

There’s nothing worse than appearing overly price-conscious and frugal when you’re already looking for low minimums.

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3.) Not building a relationship with the sales rep

You can’t even imagine the awesome things a supplier or sales rep will do for you if you take the time to build a relationship.

Most days a sales rep is dealing with huge amounts of pressure. A big client needs a rush order. A new client received a bad roll. Throw in a handful of inquiry calls from newbies who don’t know what “fabric weight” is and the sales rep is tackling a pretty high-maintenance day.

If you respect their time by knowing exactly what you’re looking for, and you make it easy for them to help you then you’ll see a return.

Building a relationship can happen gradually over the course of a few emails here, a few phone calls there, but if you’re explicit about what you need you never know when a sales rep will call you up out of the blue and say, “We’ve got 300 yards of excess that just came in and we’ll sell it to you at a discount.”

4.) Not being persistent

Fabric sourcing is not for the faint of heart — especially when you’re looking for sustainable and low-impact fabrics.

The mainstream supplier will try to talk you out of sourcing organic cotton or wonder why you’re trying to source Tencel when rayon is so much cheaper.

Stay true to your values and the reasons you have for wanting to create a sustainably-sourced garment. Don’t try to convince them of all the reasons why sustainability is important for the future of fashion.

Keep looking, keep persisting and don’t give up until you get what you’re looking for. It may not happen immediately, but at some point, you’re going to find it.

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6 New Innovative Fabrics for Sustainable Fashion

In 2014, I attended a textiles expo in New York City. The 18th floor of Hotel Pennsylvania was host to dozens of fabric suppliers, as well as a series of seminars for designer entrepreneurs.

I went to network with suppliers and potential Factory45’ers and get an insider’s view of the “non” sustainable fashion world (it looks a lot different).

While there was a limited number of vendors selling organic cotton or recycled fabrics, I did attend a seminar that explored the future of textiles. Below is a nod to the newest wave of innovation coming out of the textile industry with a focus on sustainability:

1.) CRAiLAR is a flax fiber that drastically reduces chemical and water usage. It was named a 100% BioPreferred product by the USDA in April 2012. In fabric form, it looks and feels almost identical to cotton.

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2.) Qmilch is a 100% natural and renewable fiber derived from a protein in sour milk. (Yes, like the milk in your fridge.) The result is a fabric similar to silk, but less expensive, while being durable enough to withstand wash and care. Qmilch is naturally antibacterial and can regulate temperature, making it ideal for sports and activewear.

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3.) “Recyclon” is a recycled nylon from Unifi’s Repreve that uses pre-consumer and post-industrial nylon waste. While the makeup of the blend is not 100% recycled, the innovation has been widely celebrated by those who have been wanting a recycled nylon option since recycled polyester became available years ago.

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4.) S.Cafe is a new fiber coming out of Taiwan that uses recycled coffee grinds. Big names like North Face, Puma and Timberland are already using it, while coffee sellers like Starbucks and 7-11 are said to be some of the suppliers. Apparently coffee grinds have natural odor-masking properties without making the entire garment smell like your morning brew. It’s said that coffee grinds require less energy in the fiber-making process, making it an “earth-friendly” alternative to traditional fabrics.

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5.) EcoCircle Plant Fiber is a plant-based PET (polyester). The new fiber contains 30% sugarcane, which replaces 30% of the oil needed for traditional polyester. Teijin, the company behind the fiber, said it will have a closed-loop recycling system at the end of the fabric’s life. Nissan is one of the first companies to use the fabric for the car upholstery in the 2014 Nissan Leaf electric car.

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6.) Evrnu is an innovative new technology that recycles cotton garment waste to create a premium, renewable fiber. More than 12 million tons of garment waste is disposed of every year in the U.S. alone. Evrnu emerged from a new way of thinking about the apparel and textile industry, by textile specialists who love fashion. The Evrnu team is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to bring the technology to a larger scale.

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Photos courtesy of Ecouterre, Napo Images, A Complete Waste of MakeupHack College, Green Building Advisor and Evrnu.