December 27, 2022

Sourcing Fabric for Price-Sensitive Categories

sustainable fast fashion

I blog extensively about current events in our industry, apparel initiatives in the news, and information apparel entrepreneurs and fashion designers may find helpful.

In this post, I’m sharing a case study I hope you’ll find useful in your fabric development and fabric-sourcing efforts.

This Post is All About Fabric Sourcing for Price-Sensitive Categories

Sourcing Fabric Can be All About Saving Money
Often clients come to me when they have specific projects they need help with.

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 responsible for developing the fabrics for the mainline categories.

This team would soon be responsible for the more price-sensitive categories once the additional headcount was approved.

However, the headcount had not been approved and allocated yet.

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 categories development requests while the headcount approvals were sorted out.

My Client Had Very Specific Fabric Sourcing Needs
My client needed help achieving meaningful cost reduction on two core high-volume fabrics.

The process I used to resource/develop the fabrics saved them $50,000/ year for a single material. 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 I thought I’d share with my readers the step-by-step processes I use to get my clients the fabrics they need at the prices they can afford. Maybe this 4- step process will also help you gain 5-digit yearly savings!

Step 1: Understand exactly what fabric you are developing from the start.

It would be best if you insisted on having a fabric target up front, including a full-width fabric sample of 1/2 linear yard length that you can cut down further.

You’ll need to plan on cutting this piece down further if you plan to send it out to many suppliers.
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What is a Fabric Target?

A fabric target is the fabric standard you want. It is the fabric you are aiming for. It’s what you want when all this is said and done. The fabric target is your perfect fabric.

Where do You Get Fabric Targets for Fabric Sourcing?

Fabric targets can come from many places. If you visit textile trade shows, fabric manufacturers and vendors will display fabric headers representing all the fabrics they manufacture. These headers can be your fabric target.

If you have access to a materials library from a brand or any fabric suppliers, you can ask for a header to take with you to serve as your target for fabric sourcing.

If the supplier at the trade show won’t let you take their fabric header because it is all they have with them, order 1-2 yards from them at the show to be sent to you. You can use that as your target.

The fabric face and back must be clearly labeled, with all labels stapled to the fabric, even if they are sticky labels. Murphy’s Law states: the most important label on your fabric will always fall off during handling and be lost forever, so be ready by stapling everything.

Technical Details You Need to Know and Share

When sourcing fabric for apparel, it’s important to understand the technical details of the fabrics you are considering.

This includes information such as yarn count, fiber content, weight per yard, width, recovery, shrinkage and handfeel. Knowing this information can help you select the right fabric for your needs and ensure that you’re getting the best value for money.

Additionally, understanding fabric composition is key when considering fabric care instructions and potential durability issues.

Here is a list of technical details to get you started.

Fabric Composition

What is the fabric made of and in what percentages?

Weight (gsm)

The weight of the fabric in grams per square meter.

Fabric Construction

Is the fabric knitted, woven, or nonwoven?

If the fabric is knitted, list the type of knit. For example, is it an interlock knit, a single jersey knit or some other kind of knit? The same level of detail applies if the fabric is a woven fabric.

Filament or yarn size

How thick are the yarns or filaments used to make the fabric? If it is a spun yarn, is it ring-spun or open-end yarn?

Yarn density

Yarn density refers to the number of picks and ends if you have a woven fabric or it refers to courses and wales per inch for knitted fabrics

Cuttable fabric width or tube size

The width of the fabric you want or can accommodate is important to share with manufacturers when you source fabrics.

Finishing type

Are there any special or functional finishes required for the fabric? Finishes can add many properties to the fabric in a more economical fashion than would be possible if you just relied on

Dye type required

If a special type of dyestuff is required, be sure to list that. Usually, this happens because a high colorfastness rating for the fabric is needed.
Target price per square yard or square meter
When making a fabric sourcing request for apparel fabrics, it’s essential to include your target price per yard. Without this information, potential fabric suppliers won’t know where to start when providing quotes.

Additionally, including your target price will help ensure that you’re presented with options that are within your budget.

Be realistic with your target pricing request by not low-balling the fabric supplier. If you have run preliminary costing and you know you can afford $3.50/sq meter, don’t say you can only afford $2.00/sq meter. Going for $3.20/sq meter is reasonable, but insisting on a ridiculously low price won’t help you.

Obviously you want to get the best price possible, but you’ll only waste valuable time and jeopardize your reputation with most fabric suppliers if you aren’t reasonable.

MOQ (Minimum order quantity)

When comparing fabrics, it’s important to know what the minimum order quantity is for that fabric. A quoted price only applies to a certain order quantity. To guarantee that you receive that price, you must purchase their minimum order quantity. The reason is that raw materials must be obtained before the fabric can be
MCQ (Minimum color quantity)

Areas of flexibility

Are you ok with a slightly rougher or softer hand feel than the sample you are providing? Are you fine with a fabric weight less than the target- if so, by how much? This is EXTREMELY important to include upfront.

You do not want the supplier to believe that all you will take is precisely 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 (you) has the advantage of comparing and studying details of the fabrics side-by-side for minutes on end, while the customer will not be able to study for minute differences.

Fabric Details You Never Share

Trade secret information from the current supplier or other suppliers, current supplier name and price charged. Just not cool.

How to Find the Technical Information You Need

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 upfront 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 thoroughly evaluated for the fabric composition and construction details.

Step 2: Send fabric out to fabric suppliers who can help with sourcing fabrics for low-cost applications.

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.

You’ll initiate development with many fabric suppliers at once so that you receive back many fabric options that you could possibly work with.

I call this “casting a wide net”, and this approach is critical to making sure you have something you can work with for your clothing line.

For all fabric suppliers you initiate development with you need to provide the following:

  1. A large swatch of the fabric- an 8.5” X 11” is ideal, stapled to a swatch card
  2. All the details I listed above, listed on the swatch card
  3. Assign a unique development number to the specific development you are initiating so that you and the supplier have a development number you 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 developing the fabric for you. In other words, that development number is “fabric specific,” not “supplier specific.”

Who You Should Send the Package To:
1) The current fabric supplier. They should always be allowed to re-source the current 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 allowed 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 included 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 because that is the way it works. Your goal is to reduce the price you pay, and their goal is to charge you as much as they can so they can stay in business.

As frustrating as it is to be faced with prices you can’t afford, there are some actions you can take to find the perfect fabric at the right price.

Step 4: Investigate ways to decrease the quoted price

Reduce the fabric weight

Lower weight usually means less cost, so try decreasing the weight to decrease the price.

Optimize CW

Are there specific widths that this supplier uses that will be cheaper than other cuttable widths?

Find out if there is an optimum cuttable width based on the fabric mill’s available machinery. If you ask for a fabric that has to be run on a set of machines with less capacity, your fabric cost will be driven up.

Optimize filament/ yarn size for the mills purchasing department if you can

What are the popular filament sizes that the fabric mill buys or that the 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

Suppose no existing filament size would be cheaper due to larger purchase volumes at the fabric supplier.

A thicker filament or yarn size will be cheaper if all other variables are equal. So, increase the filament or yarn size to reduce the price. Make sure to hold the fabric weight constant, and therefore, you should expect the construction to change.

Upon increasing the yarn or filament size, you will likely notice a change in hand feel. It will probably stiffen a bit, become warmer, and it may become rougher.

Investigate whether a finish or surface treatment will soften the hand feel to more closely match the original. Finishes you should consider include microsand, backside microsand, sueded, silicone, and aero-wash finish.

The finish will influence the cost of the fabric. 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, or it doesn’t make sense to try this.

Also, you need to know that specific 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 a diminished colorfastness.

Change order quantity or manipulate your order frequency

Once you have worked to decrease cost as much as possible without sacrificing hand-feel and aesthetics, look to find pricing decreases due to increased order volumes. You may find that Increasing the MOQ will reduce your price.

Change development process requirements

Once you have reduced cost using all the ways mentioned, now look to your normal internal sampling processes to determine how to reduce quoted price.

If you typically have a highly complicated sampling process, with several fabric rounds along with several colors lab dipped, work to minimize that process for these special low-cost fabrics.

You need to 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 already being passed along to you in any quote that the fabric mill gives you.

So as a final step in the negotiations, severely reduce the amount of development work you require and work to reduce costs.

This approach also shows the fabric supplier that you understand how your requirements influence their costs, and proves your willingness to be a good partner.

Fabric vendors talk to each other, and word will get around the textile industry that you are a partner that works in good faith.

Conclusion

Using these exact strategies and processes, I saved my client a projected $75,000 in the first year by resourcing only two fabrics. The entire process took three months.

These savings realized are on two 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 savings that your company could use?

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