As a new designer and business owner, it can be challenging to get all the aspects of your creative, production, and business processes in order. Even with several years of business experience and a solid creative direction, my co-founder and I still were overwhelmed as we learned the ins and outs of production when launching our brand, Avantūr. Initially, we didn’t have any contacts or know where to find manufacturers. Luckily, a Google search led us to Maker’s Row, which helped us source several manufacturers that either did everything or focused on specialties like pattern making, full garment production, and more. We were able to visit 10+ NYC-based factories, and from there, we narrowed down our selection to the ones that satisfied all of our production needs.
While there are many steps to getting from initial concept to a finished sample, developing a reliable sourcing strategy has by far been one of the most tricky. Here are a three important lessons we learned along the way:
1. Finding suppliers
When we first started, we had absolutely no idea where to go for materials. Based in NYC, you’d assume we’d just hop over to the Garment District and start shopping. Everyone on Project Runway goes to Mood, right? While Mood and B&J Fabrics are great sources of inspiration, they aren’t where you want to go when you’re trying to make samples that you eventually hope to get into full production. These stores often only have a limited supply of each fabric, and they most likely aren’t going to be able to meet your volume needs when you do go into full production.
Instead, you need to find a wholesale supplier, someone who will be able to reliably provide you with the quantity of fabric you need. Our sample maker was a great source of this information and directed us to a number of suppliers. We also attended trade shows geared toward emerging designers with small production runs, such as DG Expo, where dealers are ready and willing to give you lots and lots of swatches to build out your materials library.
2. Understand the diversity of suppliers
Once you navigate the maze of suppliers, it’s important to understand that there is diversity in this group. Some will carry material in stock and be ready to ship as soon as you need it. Some will make it to order just for you. Others, called jobbers, will only be able to provide you with what they have on hand. They buy large (usually discontinued) fabric lots directly from manufacturers, so, once the supply is gone you likely won’t be able to get it again.
All types of suppliers usually have some sort of minimum order quantity requirement, so be sure to work with a supplier who is going to meet your production needs. You don’t want to have to order too much fabric (we learned this the hard way!), but you still want to be able to get what you need when you need it. You’ll probably never find that perfect fit between your needs and the supplier’s until you start producing large quantities, but you can at least find the one that will work best for you right now.
3. Go directly to the source when you can
Many of the dealers you will meet act as middlemen in the sourcing process. They go directly to manufacturers and then distribute to you, and they of course markup the price to earn a profit. If you are trying to get your costs down and can afford to hold larger quantities, you might want to consider going straight to the source. For example, when sourcing zippers for our cocoon coats, we investigated the option of buying them straight from the manufacturer rather than a reseller. After calling the factory directly, we learned that if we purchased a certain quantity, we could cut $5 off the price per zipper.
Like the rest of your business, your sourcing strategy should be constantly evolving. Always be on the look out for new suppliers and continue to understand how much your current ones can provide. Approach sourcing as a way to discover new materials and manage your costs, and what can be an overwhelming process will instead become a key differentiator for your brand.