Please note that this applies to fabric for production. I realize that not everyone has the option to buy full bolts wholesale when they're first starting out or even know how to buy wholesale fabric . This post is intended to help you understand that the fabric store is not a long term strategy. For many, it's not even a short term option. Read on to see where you fit in.
You have no guarantee that fabric you buy at the store (or from a jobber) will be available if you need to reorder. If you want to guarantee supply, you'll be forced to tie up money to buy fabric for a product that may not sell through. Experienced practitioners design based on sample fabrics and then order for production if sales interest is sufficient (the process is explained in my book). It's hard enough to make a go of this without tying up your capital in aging fabric inventory. Seen eBay lately? That's where everyone who went broke are offloading their inventory.
Apologies for the title that a lot of people won't like either. Titles aren't my strong suit. But no mind, someone I'll call Art writes:
I am trying to start up a small to medium sized clothing line and have been looking into manufacturers and sewing factories for men's shirts. I am looking for the factory/supplier list for XXX, YYY and ZZZ. I was able to find the worldwide factory list for Levi's but have been unsuccessful with other brands. Is there a way to find the supply chain or factory list for commercial brands and high end designer labels?
I told him that attempting to source from factories used by the biggest brands is like a puppy chasing a bus. Assuming you could catch one, what ever would you do with it? I also said that if one were prepared to enter into a relationship with prominent contractors, it would not be so difficult to locate them (when the student is ready, the teacher appears). The matter of being able to get their attention based on the small quantities a new brand is likely to want is another (situation-untenable) story altogether. Then Art responded, his comments evolve the conversation in ways that are useful to us. He said:
Rather late in the game, I've discovered flow charts. A recent post to the F-I Facebook page inspired this one on how to search for clothing manufacturers. Said one visitor (in response to my news that domestic apparel production continues to increase for the third quarter in a row and is now at 20%!)
It sure would be nice if there was a list of manufacturers in the USA. It's pretty difficult to figure it out. Have any recommendations for women's wear?
I'll give the redux of my response to her below but back to the cheat sheet I made on how to search for clothing manufacturers:
You're hearing it here first, the first public announcement of a new wholesale fabric trade show designed specifically for independent designers who need to source low minimum fabrics, leathers, trims, guts etc. The show is so new that it doesn't have a name, a website or way to register for it. Considering everything it took to organize and pay for it, those are very minor details. Trust me. For now, all you need to know is this:
New York City
February 6-7, 2012
Hours: 9:30 to 6:00
I strongly suggest posting a comment (even if it is lame) or these vendors might get the idea this is not such a good thing to do. More importantly, it is critical that this go viral -promote this show to all of your friends, colleagues and contacts because not sharing the details can kill a show like this faster than anything. If you don't make an effort to tell -oh let's just say ten other people- don't be dismayed if this is the first and last year this show is held. If you don't tell ten other people, I never want to hear you complain there aren't any shows for small designers.
You should promote this show even if you don't live in NY or plan to attend! If this show doesn't succeed, the vendors will not be convinced to do it anywhere else. Meaning, if you want a show like this to open in a location more convenient to you, the best way to make it happen is to do what you can to make a show you're not even going to, a rousing success. Make sense?
A new trend has emerged in that start ups and very small companies are using intermediaries like interns or consultants to make recommendations for pattern makers, technical designers, production etc. I understand that an owner may be using an intermediary to save themselves time or because they don't feel qualified to assess candidates -but it is likewise a mistake to presume an intern or consultant is qualified to do it. At worst, it is likely that one is sending an unintended message. Using someone other than the owner to source in this stage is a problem for at least six reasons I can think of:
- Leaves the impression that the owner has more "important" things to do.
- The assumption that interns (and often consultants) are qualified to assess skills.
- A failure in understanding the product development process.
- Leaves the impression the owner thinks service providers are an interchangeable commodity.
- Miscommunication in work assignment.
- And to service providers I direct the last -getting paid can be a problem.
1. That the owner has more "important" things to do:
As the Wall Street Journal said (paraphrased) once management decisions are made, the pattern maker is the single most important person in the factory with the greatest impact on costs and quality outcome. The matter of product development is so pivotal that the owner of a start up should make the time to do the research even if they're not qualified to assess the skills of those they'd hire. It is in the search process that one learns to discriminate and acquire critical lessons that will affect every facet of their profitability. Books and internet searches are useful to learn assessment skills. Better yet, you could just read this and this. There is nothing wrong with getting help in locating services but the person who does the hiring should make the first approach.
I've received several emails from readers who plan to travel to New York this July to attend one of the wholesale fabric shows. If you're local, it's not a tough decision because you can walk both of them. For people flying in, that the shows are held a week apart makes choosing a bit more difficult. The two shows are Premiere Vision (July 13-14) and Texworld (July 19-21). One show isn't better than the other, each represents different value. Here's what I can tell you.
I went to the Premiere Vision show in Paris (two years ago) but have never been to the PV New York show. I would imagine the NY show isn't quite as good as the Paris show (you'd be surprised how many people can't get visas or don't want a piece of the US market) but few would argue that PV NY is not the top tier designer fabric show in the US. Let me qualify that. Premiere Vision is a better choice if you have a fashion forward bridge or contemporary line with high price points, and have or aspire to have a presence in the EU or Asia. I liked the Paris show very much. See the review I wrote of it (do that enough times and you'd never need to buy a sourcing directory). The ambiance is professional and muted, very conducive to business (as is Texworld)
If you've been intimidated by the prospect of attending a wholesale fabric show, you won't find a better introduction than the Chicago Fabric & Trim Show which takes place next week, May 26 & 27th.
Mostly targeted at independent designers, most vendors offer low or no minimums! This is an excellent opportunity for folks in the Midwest to shop for fabrics, trims and guts. A partial listing of the 100+ vendors can be found on the AIBI site.
If you're a member of the F-I forum, check this thread to meet other members who are going and to get the details of Jay's open house the day before. If you can't make the open house on the 25th, there will be a meet up on the 26th. Jay is a wonderful host; rumor has it that he buys the first round.
Last November, I proposed a new series (Things you must know if you have a clothing line) but didn't know what to call it. I think I will call it "Designers must know:...". Theresa and Sarah suggested names similar to it so they get the credit. There are earlier entries in this series that I can't rename but I will retag them and include those links at close.
Today's entry is about understanding textile performance. If there were ever an area for which meta-cognition were invaluable, it would be in textiles which is why I wrote that pre-entry last Friday. As I said then
...specifications, protos and sketches are useful devices to create understanding. However, there are some situations in which it is nearly impossible to have meta-cognition no matter what you do. More specifically, it is almost impossible to have meta-cognition about textile performance... The worst part about it is that the other party doesn’t know you don’t know and since they can’t know you don’t know, they can’t help you with it. That is why designers are expected to know textile performance.
Textiles are tricky on several levels. First is design and then is performance. There are costs and risks associated for each. Because misunderstandings are inevitable, I will tell you some things to watch out for as well as how to try to get around the lack of meta-cognition between you and another party.
I'm publishing this PSA because five weeks from now, I'm going to hear a lot of complaints from people who went to Magic to source fabric. It is the same every year. It doesn't seem to matter how many times I say this, do not go to Magic for the purpose of buying fabric.
Don't get me wrong, Magic is a great show. I think everyone should go to Mecca at least once in their lives but you don't go to Magic to buy fabric. The primary intent of Magic and its satellite shows is for retail buyers. Designers and manufacturers lease space there to have the opportunity to sell wholesale clothes, accessories etc to stores. Any designer who thinks that Magic is like a Super-Store that should serve their needs from soup to nuts is missing the point. Yes, Magic is a soup to nuts solution but it is soup to nuts for wholesale buyers of clothes not wholesale sellers of clothes.
As I imagined, my previous entry was a topic of great debate. Before we can sort through it, it is important to separate commissions generated via recognized sales functions from relationship referrals. For example, any agent is clearly off the table. Of course agents get referral fees or commissions, how else could one presume they are paid? Indirectly, this most clearly indicates that transparency is central to the debate.
For his research in The Market for Lemons, George Akerlof won a Nobel Prize in Economics for describing how in the used car market, lemons reduce the price of good used cars because a seller is strongly motivated to sell all cars as good ones to make the most money. As a buyer of a used car, you want to pay as little as possible because the car could be a lemon (there is no transparency). For this reason, high quality used cars are difficult to sell at fair value because there is no way to prove they are worth the money (some dealers now offer warranties on used cars as a strategy to reduce uncertainty). This indirectly explains why you should offer warranties on your sewn products because consumers have no way of knowing whether your stuff is any better than anyone else's in the marketplace.
That the bad stuff can push out the good (Gresham's law) is due to the mechanisms of asymmetrical information. Asymmetrical information refers to a power imbalance in a transaction because one party has more or better information (power) than the other. How is that partnering? Returning to the issue of secretive referral fees, the party generating the referral has information the receiver does not because there is no transparency. If the party seeking a referral were to know the first party is accepting fees, the receiver should weigh the risks of being party to the arrangement because there is the likelihood of their buying a lemon.
If transparency is the key then there is no problem whatsoever if one party refers another to a preferred partner as long as the first party has disclosed their arrangement prior to making a referral. The second party is then free to take it or leave it. There is nothing wrong with this. However, if the first party does not routinely disclose their financial interests in the matter, they've said more than words ever could that their business arrangements aren't above board. If they truly believe there is nothing wrong with it, then why would they need to keep it a secret?