I have had a lot of sourcing questions appear in my inbox this week. It’s exciting to hear that so many people want to make new and interesting products, and fill voids in the apparel and accessory market. There are folks out there looking for full package manufacturers, new fabrics, very specific trims, and those that want to create components that don’t yet exist. While inquiries vary quite a bit, everyone asks, “How long will sourcing take?”. This is a very valid but complicated question. This blog post covers a general answer only. Please contact me to discuss your unique sourcing needs.
Sourcing tends to be the one part of the development process that can’t be easily defined. First, it depends on what you are looking for and on what you send me to reference. If you send me a swatch of a basic polyester/rayon/spandex blend jersey in 120g, I can think of a few fabric suppliers who tend to stock or make this fabric. I then reach out to all those suppliers, and let’s say one happens to have exactly what we're looking for. They send me a fabric header with all the details and test report. I cross check to make sure it’s a workable option for my client and then forward all info to them. This whole process may only take a day of my time over the course of a week. But, there is also the possibility that none of those fabric suppliers are currently running or stocking what we’re looking for. The apparel world is constantly in flux. Then, I must reach out a bit further in my network to source the fabric. Sometimes the mill or fabric supplier wants to see an actual swatch or something close as well. This takes shipping time but helps move things along faster in the long run and results in better fabric options. If you have a more complex fabric, the process will be longer and more involved than this.
There is also the variable of location. Certain parts of the country and the world take longer. Sourcing fabric in Asia can take weeks – a week for the reference swatch package to arrive, a week or two for the mill to find comparable matches, a week to ship it back to the US. Just getting the first round of sourcing can take a month of calendar time. And if the fabrics need to be further refined or sourced, this can also take another month or more. I generally advise 1-3 months for sourcing to be safe. If you’re in the US with me and we are working on sourcing in North America or Canada, estimate 4-6 weeks or so for your average materials.
Color matching across stock fabrics is another challenge. Since every fabric supplier has different fabrics and different color cards, this is nearly impossible. Most color cards will have between 4-12 available colors on them. They are typically more classic season-less colors that sell well from year to year. The best work around I've found to get your two different fabrics to look good together is to pick tonally similar or contrast fabrics. An item can still look good if the main fabric is a woven, for example, and only comes in one shade of grey and the knit waistband is another.
Sourcing manufacturers is a different process. Again, it depends on what the manufacturer or factory currently has in the works. If they are completely busy or full now, they might not be a fit. If they do have capacity for another project, then things may move forward a bit more quickly. If it’s a manufacturer I’ve heard of, but not worked with or a colleague recommended them to me, then they need to be fully vetted to make sure there can be a good working relationship. Do they have the machinery needed to properly construct the product? How is the quality of what they are currently making? What is the MOQ and MCQ (minimum order quantity and minimum color quantity)? I use a lengthy questionnaire form that I created to get all of the necessary information from the manufacturer. Think of them as a business partner. You want to make sure they are a really good match.
There are a ton of variables in sourcing so it depends on what you want, where you want to make it or source it from, when you want it, and how much you need. A lot also depends on the mill or manufacturer’s current status.