How to buy wholesale fabric

From my mail:

I am gearing up to design my fall 2007 line to be shown at various trade shows in January. I love the scheduling sheet that you included in the book. My question has to do with fabric and production. Now I know what a jobber is, but say I make my samples with 50 yards or so of fabric, take it to the trade show and pick up orders for 300 of that shirt. That’s going to be at least 1000 yds of that fabric I need (plus we have a retail shop so lets say another 300 yds). Will the fabric company have 1300 yds in February for me to purchase, and if they don’t what do I tell my retailer, and what is the line going to look like with hole in it?

If it were my line, I would not be willing to risk not being able to get those goods in February. A jobber won’t be able to guarantee it so I wouldn’t source from them unless it’s a stock item, exact color matching is not required and it’s a reputable jobber who has a reputation for following through. As far as what you tell the retailer…I don’t know. If you don’t get the goods, they don’t care what the particular reason is that you won’t be filling the order, they won’t be happy. If you don’t fill the order, you risk losing them as a customer forever. Bummer, huh?

Caveat: Sometimes you can cancel a buyer’s order and it is “okay”. Buyers aren’t happy but they accept it. You can cancel an order if you drop the style. In other words, if you don’t get enough orders to justify cutting it, you can drop it. Buyers won’t like it but canceling an order based on drops is accepted standard practice. All of this is in the book .

This where I am confused. I have called Robert Kaufman and they seem to have anywhere from 1000 yards to 2000 yards of a certain fabric at this time – if this is an industry giant, how can I place my bets on my line 4 months in advance? I don’t want to buy fabric without orders in hand.

First you need to order these goods as samples. Not swatches, but samples (swatches is step one, samples is step 2). This way a rep automatically knows you’re not sourcing for immediate production. If you don’t ask to buy sample goods, they’ll think you’re sourcing for immediate production so they won’t be concerned about your needs in February. You are correct in that you should not buy those goods now but according to the time line of your anticipated production purchase (all of this is explained in the book starting on pg 50). They won’t sell you samples of something if they don’t intend to be able to supply you in four months. Now, that’s not to say that it is guaranteed they’ll have the goods because it may be that they didn’t get enough orders for that fabric to justify producing it. Just like with your products, they can drop styles too. If they drop the style, you can also drop the style (as in the second paragraph) with less stigma to your buyers.

I am in Boston, and was thinking of taking a train ride down to the fabric district in New York. In your opinion, is it better to source swatches at a trade show, New York, or cold calling on the internet. I’d like to get my swatches by sept 1 to start the schedule..

Personally, I’d shop the shows or make appointments to meet with textile reps in NY. It’s mostly jobbers on the internet. Not that jobbers are bad; they’re great depending on your needs. I just don’t think they can reliably meet your needs. Be sure to see the entry on jobbers for more information.

Readers: what’s your take on this? Please advise. Thanks.

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