How To Source Apparel Fabrics for Price Sensitive Categories
In this post, I’m sharing a case study with my readers that I hope you’ll find very helpful in your own departments in your own fabric development and sourcing efforts.
Case Study Background
Often clients come to me when they have specific projects they need help with, and this client needed help to develop new fabrics for a category of the business that was particularly price sensitive. In my prior work with this long-term client, I worked closely with the team that was responsible for developing all the fabrics for the mainline categories, and this team would soon be responsible for the more price sensitive categories once additional head count was approved.
However, head count had not been approved and allocated yet, and while that usually is taken care of before work is started, the Brand President was keen to get the fabric development started for this category to support some aggressive business plans. So, the client brought me in to handle the new categories development requests while the head count approvals were being sorted out.
My client needed help to source apparel fabric needs for a specific period of time in order to: 1) break new ground- how were the two teams going to work together and interface moving forward, once the headcount was approved, and 2) achieve meaningful cost reduction on 2 core, high-volume fabrics.
The process I used to source apparel fabrics saved my client $50,000/ year for a single fabric. Below, I’ll detail step-by-step the process that I used.
I don’t often “pull back the curtain”, so to speak, to give my readers all the details of HOW I help my clients…… But this time, I thought I’d share with my readers the step-by-step processes I use to get my clients the results they need. Maybe this 4- step process will help you gain 5 digit yearly savings, too.
So how do you develop fabrics for extremely price sensitive categories?
Step 1: Understand exactly what fabric you are developing from the start.
You have to insist on having a fabric target up front, including a cuttable fabric sample of about 1/2 linear yard in length. The fabric face and back must be clearly labeled, with all labels stapled to the fabric, even if they are sticky. The most important label on your fabric will always fall off during handling and be lost forever, so be ready for that by stapling everything. You must also know the following details of the fabric:
Filament or yarn size
Cuttable width or tube size
Dye type required
MOQ (Minimum order quantity)
MCQ (Minimum color quantity)
Areas of flexibility- Are you ok with a slightly rougher or softer handfeel than the sample you are providing? Are you fine with a fabric weight that is less than the target- if so, by how much? This is EXTREMELY important to include up front. You do not want the supplier believing that all you will take is exactly the fabric you have. In price sensitive markets especially, the customer will not notice many differences in fabric that the brand will notice. The brand has the advantage of comparing and studying details of the fabrics side-by-side for minutes on end, while the customer simply will not be in a position to study for minute differences.
WHAT NOT TO SHARE: Trade secret information from current supplier or other suppliers, current supplier name and price charged. Just not cool.
You could try to begin development with a fabric sample only, but if the whole point is to develop and source the fabric as cost effectively as possible, then why waste time up front figuring out crucial details you need?
The technical information above is usually found in the FDS, or fabric data sheet, that the current supplier or your company maintains. If your company doesn’t have an FDS, or if the FDS is outdated, you can always send the fabric to a 3rd party testing facility like BV, SGS, or Intertek to have the fabric fully evaluated for the fabric composition and construction details.
Step 2: Send the fabric out to your mill partners who can help you with developing fabrics for low cost channels.
This is referred to as “initiating development”, and you’ll want to make sure you do the following to ensure the development has been initiated properly from the beginning. Now, some people in the industry will say this is not “true development”, that this is simply “resourcing”. My thoughts? Fine– Call it resourcing if you like. You can call it whatever you want if it’s saving your company $75,000/year.
For each supplier you initiate development with, include:
A large swatch of the fabric- an 8.5” X 11” is ideal, stapled to a swatch card.
All details above in Step 1, listed on the swatch card.
Assign a unique development number to the specific development that you are initiating so that you and the supplier have a development number to refer to during development. For example, “Development #101”. You will refer to that unique development number when communicating with all the suppliers you work with on that fabric. For example, if you are resourcing a 90/10 Nylon/Spandex Single jersey with 5 suppliers, and the development number for that fabric opportunity is “#101”, you will use development #101 with every supplier who is developing the fabric for you. In other words, that development number is “fabric specific”, not “supplier specific”.
Who to send it to:
1) The current fabric supplier. They should always be given the opportunity to submit for the fabric first. They could have new resources that could allow them to offer the fabric at a lower cost than before.
2) Core or partner mills. They should always be given the opportunity to submit for the fabric, due to their core status.
3) Any mills that are known to utilize lower cost supply channels than other mills should be submitted to as well.
Step 3: You sent everything out, are starting to get responses and samples back, and everything is still TOO EXPENSIVE. Now What?
Fabric suppliers will always come back with fabrics more expensive than what you asked for- that is the way it works.
Step 4: Ways to decrease the quoted price.
Less weight usually means less cost, so decrease weight to decrease price.
Optimize cuttable width-
Are there specific widths that this supplier uses that will be cheaper than other CW? Find out if there is an optimum CW based on the available machinery the fabric mill has. If you are asking for a CW that has to be run on a set of machines with less capacity, your cost will be driven up.
Optimize filament/ yarn size-
What are the popular filament sizes that fabric mill buys or that vertical supplier produces? Most fabric mills purchase certain filament sizes more often than others due to their current order-based product mix, so find out which filament sizes they order larger quantities of to see how much that will drive the cost down.
Increase filament size-
If there is no existing filament size that would be cheaper due to larger purchase volumes at the fabric supplier, then all other variables being equal, a thicker filament or yarn size will be cheaper. So, increase the filament or yarn size to reduce the price. Make sure to hold the fabric weight constant, thus expect the construction to change.
Upon increasing the yarn/filament size, you will likely notice a change in handfeel. It will likely stiffen, become warmer, may become more rough. Investigate whether a finish or surface treatment will soften the handfeel to more closely match the original. Finishes to consider include: microsand, backside microsand,sueded, silicone, aero-wash finish. The finish will influence the cost of the fabric, so as with everything, this increased finish cost plus the fabric cost must be less than the price you are trying to beat by increasing the filament/ yarn size. Also know that certain finishes will cause colorfastness to worsen, so make sure to understand the reduction in expected colorfastness and whether or not your fabric end-use will allow for colorfastness to be worsened.
Change order quantity/order frequency manipulation-
Once you have worked to decrease cost as much as possible without sacrificing handfeel and aesthetics, look to find pricing decreases due to increased order volumes. Increase the MOQ so that you can realize increased cost savings.
Change development process requirements-
Once you have reduced cost using all the ways mentioned, now look to your regular internal sampling processes to determine how you can reduce quoted cost. If you typically have a highly complicated sampling process, with several fabric rounds along with several colors lab dipped, work to reduce that process for these special low-cost fabrics and have a serious conversation with the fabric supplier to find out how much this reduction in development work can be passed along as cost savings to you. Trust me- if your normal sampling processes are complicated, the cost of that complication is being passed along to you in any quote that supplier gives you. So as a final step in the negotiations, severely reduce the amount of development work you require and work to reduce costs.
By using these exact strategies and processes, I was able to save my client a projected $75,000 in the first year by resourcing only 2 fabrics. The entire process took 3 months. This savings realized are on 2 core fabrics in growing categories, which means these savings of $75,000 can be expected each year for several more years and can be expected to increase.
Does this sound like a savings that your company could use?
While I can certainly carry out these cost-saving resourcing projects for you (check out my consulting packages for more info), feel free to use this process yourself to realize real cost savings in your department and Brand.