Apparel Development and Production Series: Fabric & Materials Sourcing

Welcome to the second installment of our series: Sourcing!

 Newly sourced materials in the Stitch Texas conference room with sourcing library

Newly sourced materials in the Stitch Texas conference room with sourcing library

Sourcing your materials is one of the very first steps in your development process. Until you know what type of fabric your product will be made from, there’s not much you can do, as the fabric weight, stretch, width, content, and behavior all affect your pattern and construction of the garment.

Sourcing is about more than just what the garment is made of. Sourcing your own materials allows you to set yourself apart from the competition by having complete control over the quality of your materials and choosing something unique so your product doesn’t blend in with your competition. It also allows you to have much more control over your quality and cost, which is crucial for the success of an emerging brand.

At Stitch Texas, we have a wide range of material resources for you to peruse to help you figure out what you’re looking for. Some of our clients choose to source their own materials, and take advantage of our free library to get started. For those clients that aren’t comfortable doing their own sourcing, we offer a sourcing package and we will source material options for you based on your desires and needs for you to choose from.

When you begin sourcing your materials, there are a few important factors you need to consider:

  • Knit or woven?

    • What type of fabric are you looking for? Many mills or suppliers specialize in either knit or woven fabrics, while some may offer both. This is the simplest and broadest categorical breakdown of the type of fabric you’re looking for. Pattern development and sample fit/construction will be very different if you’re working in knit vs. woven. This is usually a very easy choice to make and most clients know which category they want their designs made in. If you’re not sure which is right for your design, we can advise as to which will be best for your product.

  • Fiber content

    • What is your fabric made of? The fiber content of your fabric will have major impact on the hand, appearance, behavior, price, and care of the fabric. You may want to only use fabric made of natural fibers, or perhaps your project requires man-made synthetics, or a blend of both.

  • Fabric construction

    • Now we’re getting into the finer details. Will your knit be a ponte, a jersey, an interlock? Do you want a twill or a plain weave woven? There are hundreds of different types of knits and wovens to choose from, so you’ll need to research which type you like and what will perform best for your product.

  • Weight (thickness)

    • The weight of the fabric you choose will be influenced by design, and by what season you’re designing for. The weight will also affect the drape and durability of your product. Most fabrics are weighed in GSM (grams per square meter) or ounces. Unless you are familiar with fabric weight you may not understand these numbers at first but the bigger the number, the thicker/heavier the fabric.

  • Colors and prints

    • Few things are as heartbreaking as falling in love with a fabric only to discover it only comes in black and white when you’re looking for a wide range of colors. Be sure to specify your color needs when sourcing to eliminate options that won’t meet your needs. Of course with many fabrics custom dyeing and printing is an option but that adds time, cost, and could increase your minimum order requirements. If you are planning to print your own custom prints on a fabric, you’ll need to research printing options first to determine what style of printing you’ll be using as that will limit what types of fabrics/fibers you can print on.

  • Performance

    • Are you designing a garment that needs to be quick drying and wick away moisture? Does it need to be water or fire resistant? Some of these treatments can be added to fabrics, but it’s always best to source the fabric with these properties already designed into them to avoid additional time and cost to do this yourself.

    • It’s important to wash test your fabrics before committing to them. You’ll want to know before you design your fit if your fabric has a high shrink rate, or if the fabric starts to torque after washing. Torquing is when there is an imbalance in fabric knit or weave (usually in knits) and over time the fabric twists. You may have a t-shirt that after many washes you begin to notice the side seam slowly rotating around your body instead of laying straight down the side. This is called torquing. Other issues to look out for are color-fastness (fading), wrinkling, and pilling.

  • Personal values

    • More and more we’re finding that clients care where there fabric comes from and the impact it has on the environment and communities around the mill. Sourcing organic, recycled, vegan, or domestic materials is limiting and often more expensive but it can be done. Just make sure you lead with these requirements! Remember to consider your customers values as well as your own. After all, if they aren’t willing to pay the price for specialty fabrics, or your product does not meet their value standards, your product sales will suffer.

While fabric is what most people think of when sourcing, there are other materials to consider. Most factories will provide standard thread in common colors included in your costs, but beyond that you may be responsible for all or some of the following:

  • Trims

  • Binding

  • Buttons

  • Straps

  • Zippers

  • Snaps/Grommets/Rivets

  • Labels/Tags

  • Packaging materials

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Now that we’ve talked about planning and researching what kinds of materials you need for your project, how do you go about finding them? There are a lot of ways to do this, so let’s dig in!

Trade shows
These are a great way to source your materials. The benefit to trade shows is that you have direct access to material providers so you can ask questions and easily get answers. Directly sourcing materials allows you to touch and feel and quickly determine if the fabric is what you’re looking for. Having access to dozens of providers all in one room is an invaluable experience when sourcing. The only draw back is that you have to wait for the show to open and in most cases will have to travel to get to it. Some shows to check out include DG Expo, Magic, and LA Textile.

Mills
Working directly with a mill can be great because you’re removing the middle man, but very often mills have high minimums and limited color options. Fortunately, we have a large network of mills that offer very low minimums that are a great fit for beginning designers who aren’t ready to commit to thousands of yards of fabric.

Converters
Converters are companies that buy fabric from the mills in large volume, split the rolls into smaller, more affordable sizes, and dye them into more color options. This makes the fabric more accessible to smaller brands and offers a wider range of options in color and print without the designer having to worry about dye/print costs after purchasing their fabric. Obviously additional value has been added to the fabric now and is being offered at smaller volume so the cost will be higher.

Jobbers
Jobbers buy up dead-stock from mills, converters, and designers. You can find some really unique, limited fabric options from jobbers at good prices, but typically once that fabric is gone, it’s never coming back. They can be a great resource for designers doing small runs, but they are not reliable for continuous stock.

Fabric Reps
We always start by recommending that our self-sourcing clients talk to a fabric rep. The great thing about independent fabric reps is that they represent a wide range of companies so they can usually find lots of options, and since they are usually commission based their services are free to you. This is a great starting point, as you’ll learn a lot just from the questions they ask you, and it’s quite likely that they will have what you need.

Your development company (Stitch Texas)
No idea how to go about finding the fabric you want? Let us handle it for you. Many factories and development companies, including Stitch Texas, offer sourcing as a service. We’ll collect multiple options based on the specifications you provide, and let you choose the one that you like the best. We’ll be sure to only pick options we know will work for your project!

Some final notes on your material choices

  • Standard industrial cutting tables have a maximum width of 70”. If your fabric width exceeds that, you should expect more loss, poor yields, and additional cutting costs.

  • ALWAYS order your fabric on a roll, unfolded. If you provide production yardage on a rectangular bolt (folded) or loose yardage, you’ll likely see additional charges for pressing, laying, and cutting.

  • Never order exactly what you need. Add 5-10% for all materials (labels, zippers, buttons, fabric) and if you’re using a knit, especially with high stretch, you might want to order 10-15% over as the knit is likely to contract significantly once unrolled and laid on the table.

  • To determine how much fabric you need, you’ll need to get yields from your production factory. Never order your fabric before you get this or you may order way too much or way too little!

  • Make sure to get the care and content info from the fabric provider. You’ll need this on a tag in the garment, it’s the law.

  • Remember, unless you are sourcing a very simple common fabric, this process can take weeks, even months. Budget plenty of time!

Ready to get your project started? Need help with sourcing? Contact us by e-mailing hello@stitchtexas.com and we’ll be happy to help!