Top 10 Sourcing Questions from #AsktheSource Twitter Chat

When it boils down to sourcing fabric and manufacturers for your production run, there are several variables to consider. We hosted our very first live #AsktheSource Twitter Chat with our resident sourcing expert Liz Long.


Q1: How can you source mills with low minimums? –@fagiolena

A: Orders required by large textile mills and trim suppliers have higher minimums than what a fashion entrepreneur or small business owner has allocated funds to produce. There are several ways to circumvent minimum order requirements. Ask the fabric supplier if they carry overstock or if you can tag onto a larger client’s order. There are also numerous companies willing to work with independent designers. Digital printing is another cost effective option.


Q2: What’s the next step after the sample making stage? How should designers continue the product development process? –@crisanna6

A: After you’ve completed your first sample run, find material suppliers who can provide volumes you need for production. Then, you’ll need to look for a production partner to begin the garment manufacturing stage. After this step, the production pattern will move into grading and marking. Most factories provide cut and sew services to assemble your product. Garments are typically pressed and finished following this stage.

Hint: If you need help finding the right factory partner for your product, submit a project on Maker’s Row for custom match making.


Q3: How many samples should a fashion startup launch with? –@kpodschwit90

A: The manufacturing process can be expensive. Your sample quality largely depends on your budget and prospective timeline of marketing and sales activities. Designers typically like to take samples “on the road” to meet with potential retail partners. However, we recommend producing 1-2 samples to share with potential factory partners and keeping on on-hand as your ‘master copy.’

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Q4: How can I find a smaller batch mill to help me design custom fabrics? –@BeersandBeans

A: Search for textile mills on Maker’s Row and contact the suggested factories to find out their minimum order requirement. Avoid buying at retail because this can harm your margin. If you purchase from a jobber, it will be difficult to reorder that specific fabric. Mills will be more willing to negotiate minimums once you provide detailed specifications of your fabric type, budget, timeline, etc. Custom dyed fabric typically requires 300-500 yards per dye lot. To completely customize your fabric run, prepare for a volume requirement of  2000+ yards.


Q5: How do you find a reliable manufacturing partner?

A: When searching for a reliable manufacturing partner to work with to ensure reliability, conduct three reference checks with brands they’ve worked with in the past. Their previous clients will provide a great evaluation of why you should or should not collaborate with a particular factory. It’s critical to ask the manufacturer for samples of their work to get a better idea of their quality standard and technical ability. Also, when reaching out to manufacturers, pay attention to their response time as it will provide a glimpse into their communication style going forward.


Q6: Financially, is it better to source yourself or have your manufacturer source for you? –@gaetanadesigns

A: Manufacturers can be wonderful resources to help you source fabrics and materials because they already have an existing network of supply chain members. Determine your capacity and timeline before independently sourcing. If you find yourself with extra time to accurately perform this search, you may end up saving yourself money. Additionally, some manufacturers provide sourcing services.

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Q7: If a design cannot be patented, what are other options? –@trevorjbrown

A: If you cannot secure a patent for your design, ask suppliers to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Suppliers hear so many product ideas that the risk of theft is considerably low. However, try focusing on branding and quality. Explore what features make your product idea uniquely positioned for a higher market share.

Tip: If you’re unsure about whether or not your product idea needs a patent, check out this article to determine which patent is right for you: Patents for Your Design.

Q8: How much time should you factor in for the sample production after the sketching/fabric selection stage is complete? –@azmaraasefa

A: The sample production timeline depends on the schedule and turnaround estimation time of the factory producing your sample. An estimation of 1-2 weeks is a great starter. Additionally, it’s more important to closely monitor quality standards during production.


Q9: What is the best way to source swatches? –@lauralmoffat

A: Send fabric suppliers swatches you already have to see if they can match similar options. If you live in New York City, take a trip down to the Garment District where you can locate hundreds of fabric suppliers and stores. Sourcing trade shows like DG Expo and SOURCING at MAGIC are also great options to collect swatches while also learning about new trends in materials.

Hint: Check out this helpful article on sourcing fabrics at trade shows: 5 Tips for Making the Most of Sourcing at MAGIC Trade Show

Q10: As an emerging designer, is it better to hire a factory or work with a seamstress? –@augustasignatur

A: Some factories have an in-house design team which offers full-service development packages. You should try to keep production under one roof or at least within proximity. Many service-orientated businesses work together or refer work to one another.

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Maker’s Row Academy Sourcing 101 Course

We know how it can be difficult to begin the sourcing process. To give you a jump start, we have created a free e-course to help guide you through the process. Start from the basics of determining what kind of factory or manufacturing partner you need to start out with and end with a lesson on best practices for working with a factory partner and making the most of this relationship.

Join our Sourcing 102 Academy E-Course to bring your ideas to life. (It’s free!)

Plus, take a look at these top 5 articles detailing the sourcing and production process:

  1. Fabric Sourcing Strategy: 3 Tips for New Designers
  2. How to Negotiate Minimums
  3. Manufacturing Your First Collection? Here are 5 Things to Save You Time & Money
  4. 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Contacting a Factory
  5. How to Produce Your First Sample: 3 Key Steps