Sourcing fabrics for fashion brands: A step-by-step guide

February 21, 2022

When turning idea into a garment, one of the major decisions all fashion designers face is what type of fabric to use and where to find it.

Fabric is the material composed of yarn or fibres that is used to make clothing, homeware, bags and shoes. Different fabrics have different properties, making them come in hundreds of qualities and varieties.

As an entrepreneur starting your clothing line or fashion brand, pinning down the right fabric can be a challenge. Finding suppliers for your perfect fabric may be tricky when there are so many fabric suppliers across the world.

Here is our step-by-step guide to selecting and sourcing your perfect fabric.

Step 1: How fabric affects design

The fabric you choose has a large impact on your final garment in terms of quality and production. Before you approach fabric suppliers, you need to finalise important details of your clothing line such as design, functionality and who it's made for to determine the fabric's look, fit and feel.

Here are some ways fabrics can affect the fit, functionality and technical construction of your garment:

  • Weight - Once you know the approximate measurements of your garment, you can estimate the width of fabric you need to make it.
  • Drape - This is how a fabric falls and hangs from the body. The more the drape, the more the fabric will hang. Conversely, fabrics with less drape will have a sheer and liquid like fall.
  • Stretch - The stretch will affect how the fabric fits and feels. It can be expressed either in 2-way (horizontal) or 4-way stretches (horizontal and vertical).
  • Shrinkage - This will affect how the garment wears over time. If your fabric isn't washed before production, it may be prone to shrinking when your customer washes it.

A common problem new designers face is how to make their brand stand out. To achieve this, do plenty of market research and find your niche. Focus on how you can make a difference, emphasise your values and how you want your customers to look and feel.

Step 2: Prepare the right questions  

Once you've established your brand goal and creative direction, it's time to build a tech pack. This is a document that communicates how your garment should be made. It contains important information such as the type of fabric, trims, dimensions, constructions, and components. These technical specifications and design details are vital for your garment production.

When sourcing fabric, you need to confirm all these important details beforehand to save time and money. It'll ultimately help you choose which supplier to work with based on your timeline, quantities, sizing and other requirements.

Here's a checklist of nine key criteria that should always be addressed before you select your supplier:

Fabric construction

The functionality of your garment will affect the ideal fabric you source. Here are the most common fabric structures with examples of how they're used:

Understanding how fabric is constructed and what fabric type is best for the product you're designing is a crucial factor of the design process.

  • Woven - This is one of the most common types of fabric and is made from interlacing two or more sets of yarn at right angles to create a checkered pattern. Woven fabrics are commonly used for jeans, suits and collared shirts.  
  • Knitted - Knits are another popular fabric choice particularly for lightweight garments. They are made by inter-looping yarns and are a perfect fabric for anything versatile and comfortable such as t-shirts, leggings and sweaters.
  • Non-woven - Made by bonding fibres mechanically, chemically or thermally such as laminating and felting. You will find this fabric choice used in sportswear and swimwear for its moisture wicking ability.

Source quality fabrics with the most suitable composition based on the purpose of the garment. You should also pay attention to the content and composition of your fabric, and mention any special finishing treatments you require such as waterproofing and washing. If you're feeling unsure, your supplier will be happy to offer their suggestions.

Minimum order quantity (MOQ)

Simply said, the MOQ is the smallest quantity that can be purchased from a supplier per order. When considering MOQ, there are two factors that often come to play: price and fabric measurement. You will most likely experience this when sourcing from fabric mills, jobbers and trade shows and will vary depending on who you approach. Each supplier will have different MOQ requirements based on materials, manufacturing costs and location.

As a designer with a start up, you may not want to immediately order large quantities. You should note that sometimes there are factors that can affect the MOQ which may result in room for negotiation. For example:

  • Alternatives (e.g. colour, size, and material)
  • Lower minimum at a higher price
  • Combined orders with another buyer
  • Sourcing closer to home  

Alternatively, you may simply request for a smaller MOQ. Sometimes you will find a supplier willing to accept your offer based on their eagerness to accept your order. Typically smaller orders will cost more than bulk orders.

Payment terms and conditions

Always establish the payment terms and conditions before confirming your order. This includes for sampling and production.

For custom fabrics, you should pay a 50% deposit and settle the remaining 50% once the fabric is ready to be shipped. Any in-stock fabric can be paid for upfront.

Price per metre/yard

Fabric pricing per metre/yard will depend on the market and cost to make the fabric.

The price you pay per metre/yard of fabric will depend on your budget after taking into account any trims and fastenings, fabric yield (number of garments you get from a yard/metre) and the total retail price of your final product.

Fabric width

There are two measurements: the total width and the cuttable width. You should only take the cuttable width from your supplier as this is the side-to-side measurement minus selvedge (outer border which shouldn't be used as it's woven to protect the rest of the fabric from damage).

Create a lay plan of your pattern pieces to estimate how much fabric you need to order.

Fabric weight

How heavy or light your fabric is, is calculated by grams per square metre (GSM). However, this most commonly refers to the thickness of your fabric where the higher the GMS, the higher the density. The GSM of your fabric will depend on the design, functionality/durability and fit.

Here are some examples of different fabric weights:

  • Light weight: mesh, chiffon, lace, lightweight cotton
  • Medium weight: Satin, velvet, linen, polyester, cashmere
  • Heavy weight: Denim, canvas, wool, tweed, flannel

Stock levels

Just like clothing, some fabrics may be limited edition or face being discontinued while other options will stay around for several years. Therefore it's important to always check the availability of the fabrics you're interested in. If you're a new designer, we recommend sourcing fabrics with guaranteed availability for any reorders.

Lead time

The lead time of fabric development can range from a month for sampling and up to several months for bulk production of custom orders. Always determine the lead time pre production and keep in touch with the supplier along to way to ensure the delivery date can be met.

Another thing to keep in mind here is continuity and the lead time for any reorder. This can ensure you continue to order fabrics in a timely manner for any restocking.

Origins and sustainability

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of global wastewater. With pollution mainly taking place in production, you should always check the origins of the fabric you're sourcing and how it's made.

If you want to become an environmentally friendly fashion brand, start by being conscious about the choices you make and their impact. Look into the supply chain and request transparency from suppliers to understand the origins of the raw materials used in their fabrics. Choose sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton or piña fabric and source from factories that treat their workers ethically. Seek to shift towards circular fashion design where the materials eliminate waste and pollution and can be safely reused and recycled. By understanding the implications to the environment, your clothing line can create a positive impact.  

To learn more about sustainable fabrics, check out Five innovative fabrics made from sustainable materials

Step 3: Explore different types of fabric suppliers

Your fabric choice is essential not just for your collection, but also your fashion brand. Ultimately the fabric you choose will affect your garment's appearance, comfort, fit and function. To find high-quality fashion fabric at the right price, you should consider all your sourcing options before deciding on your fabric supplier.

Fabric mills

Fabric mills (also known as textile mills) are where raw materials are processed into thread to make fabric. Most popularly done by weaving and knitting, followed by printing and dyeing for the fabric to be converted into garments such as t-shirts, jackets, leggings and more at a factory. Fabric mills are usually wholesale suppliers specialising in certain textiles such as cashmere, silk and leather, and so we advise you to do plenty of research before approaching one. Fabric mills are great for purchasing customised fabric. However, because of this, they often involve high minimum order quantity (MOQ) with longer lead time.


Some fabric mills do not take care of the complete process of manufacturing raw materials into a finished fabric. This is where a converter will come in to process this unfinished fabric by dyeing, bleaching, printing before selling it to you.

Fabric agents and reps

If you're looking to buy wholesale fabric or place bulk orders, you can order fabrics from agents and reps. These suppliers represent mills or manufacturers by acting as a middle person to understand what you're looking for and streamline the order process. Some agents and reps work with multiple fabric mills and specialise in sourcing across the world which will save you time and maximise efficiency. Bear in mind they often work on commission so prices may be above market rate.  

Jobbers and fabric stores

Jobbers buy leftovers from fabric mills, clothing manufacturers, and fashion designers. They stock fabric to sell to entrepreneurs, start ups, new designers, and other manufacturers with the advantage of a low minimum. Fabric stores operate in a similar way where you can browse hundreds of fabric swatches to purchase a small quantity that meets your budget or find inspiration for your fashion design. Jobbers and stores are most suitable for one-off projects as a reorder of the same fabric may not be possible.

Trade shows and Expos

These are annual events that take place across the world. With plenty of fabric suppliers, trade shows and expos are ideal for sourcing all types of fabrics including embellishments and trims. Eager for new business, exhibitors will have more time dedicated towards small businesses within the vast fashion industry so we recommend trade shows and expos for new designers.

Our recommendations:

Downtown Design (United Arab Emirates)

Future Fabrics Expo (London)

Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics (Shanghai)

Premiere Vision (Paris, New York , Shenzhen)  

Texworld (Paris, New York)

Sourcing at Magic (Las Vegas, online)

Yarn, Fabrics & Accessories Trade Show (India)

If you find that you can't attend a trade show or expo, you can contact the exhibitors. A rep will usually be happy to send you a catalog of fabric swatches or headers to review at your convenience.

Digital sourcing platforms

As the world becomes more digital, we see a rise in virtual fabric sourcing. B2B apparel sourcing platforms such as Serai B2B Network, connects brands, manufacturers and suppliers of all sizes across the world to each other. Free to join and easy-to-use, online platforms empower businesses with an ecosystem of tools to showcase their business and facilitate trade. As a buyer, you can search and access supplier profiles to view information, certifications and catalogue including product photos and swatches. Create a Request for Quotation to post your sourcing details for suppliers to find and reach out to you with proposals. This is also a great way to start a conversation with suppliers and start building a relationship with them. To make the process more efficient, we recommend attaching and references and a tech pack.

Join for free

If you're looking to source fabrics, check out Serai B2B Network. Join for free to instantly connect with thousands of suppliers across the world.

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