How to Begin Material Sourcing

Let’s get into the time machine and fast forward to the point where you’re going to a factory and putting your ideas into work.  If you don’t have EVERYTHING available and ready to go for production, the factory cannot start on your sewn products. Thus, your goal is to have fabrics, notions, labels, hang tags, garment construction necessities and trims all ready to go the very first time you speak to a factory. If your factory doesn’t do product development, you’ll also need to have samples, marking and grading, and a tech pack completed in order to begin production.

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It’s All About Quality

Now let’s ride the time machine back to the present. Keep this in mind, the devil is in the detail.  Make a lovely silk blouse with poor quality or non-compatible interlining and all of your 100% silk crepe de chine, mother of pearl buttons and satin labels have been wasted.  Show your line to a potential buyer with garments that have a cheap looking label and all your work and money have again gone for naught.

The lesson here is to build awareness of the importance of sourcing fabrics with continuity and the highest quality standards when developing your products. Making a lower priced cotton tee? It doesn’t matter. Your customers will be expecting the highest quality. Cutting corners, rushing through the sample process and switching fabrics after your technical work is completed will only add to your expenses and diminish quality.

Identify The Type of Supply Cycle

The first thing you need to do is to have a general idea of what is available with continuity and what categories are more prone to a “one and done” supply cycle. The category that tends to be the most troubling in this area is printed fabric. Prints with continuity are not impossible but they are rare.  Do you think you can get around this by custom printing your fabric?  This is an expensive process and the economics aren’t sustainable until you’re producing large amounts.  In addition, when printing custom fabrics, there are additional fees for setup. As you think this through, remember that quality is a must, especially in knits. Why? There are very good $3.00 to $4.00 per yard woven fabrics. Chambray, silk classics in polyester like taffeta, faille and chiffon, basic lightweight cotton and other woven fabrics can be excellent at low prices. However, in knit, there are few – if any – high quality $3.00 to $4.00 fabrics. In fact, even on an inexpensive tee, lower priced cotton jersey or interlock will bring you a world of hurt. Torque, shrink and more will throw off your efforts unless you have been vigilant on quality.

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Know Your Fabrics

Feeling a little overwhelmed already? Here’s the good news. Today, there’s much more for the independent designer to work with than even a couple of years ago. There are very high quality knits that are moderate in price. For instance, if you are looking for lightweight woven cotton for shirts and blouses, the selection is fairly endless. Items that used to be impossible like Merino wool jersey, fine rayon/silk velvet, matte jersey, cut and sew sweater knits, lovely printed voile and much more can now be sourced with quality and continuity at merchantable prices. Moreover, minimums in many cases have also become more manageable. However, you should expect to pay more for small quantities as you’re performing your product development.

What Sets You Apart?

Unquestionably, getting started is a difficult process so let’s look at a healthy way to begin. Somewhere, you should have the germ of an idea of what you want to make. As you look at this idea ask yourself this: Are you just rehashing something that is in Macy’s or WalMart, or do you have an idea that they are not presenting? Remember, product differentiation eliminates price competition. Hence, as a domestic producer, you need at least some degree of “product differentiation”. Of course, just by producing a high quality domestic product, you will have certain innate advantages. We will return to the innate advantages in the future, but they are there and these advantages are available to you.

Where To Start?

Once you have an idea of what you want to make, where to start? Maker’s Row Industry Specialists can help. Continuing to follow and read posts here on the Academy will also assist you in attaining a product development IQ, so to speak. Do your due diligence. Find out who can help and who can’t. I’ll continue this discussion in my next post on your path to indie designer success.

Plus, keep learning about sourcing with our free Sourcing 101 e-course!

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