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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  1. AmberStar says:

    Just jumping in because we’ve run into this a lot. We’ve pretty much come to the conclusion we have to do limited edition for our items. Luckily, we’ve been able to test market these items and know they will sell, otherwise, buying the fabric before going to market could sink you. And yes, it’s still a gamble for us.

    I have a couple of points:

    Yes, it sucks to have to drop a design because the fabric isn’t available – recommend having a couple of colorway options as a back up, you’ll have an alternative to offer your client – but it’s better to cut the style from your line as soon as you know it can’t happen; best to be up front with your clients.

    I’ve run into the fabric supplier being out of the fabric at production time a few times now. They don’t really care if you ordered samples or not, this has nothing to do with them telling you whether it will still be available or not (they largely are unable to determine demand 4 months from now too).

    On their side, they are dealing with a lot of new small companies that might never follow-through and place a production order. You need to get a sample and TEST IT and then order the fabric if you’re happy with it. Goes against the standard, but when you’re small you just don’t have a lot of options. This has been my experience and solution.

    With Robert Kaufman, that particular print may have sold out, but they have so many you should be able to replace the color-way (as long as you stay with the same type of fabric; a different print from the same line, so it doesn’t affect your pattern).

    I’m also learning to try to stick with supplier’s “always-in-stock” items, learning the cool, trendy ones that I love are loved by everybody and sell out before I can blink. This means designs have to pick up the trendy slack instead of the fabric, but it’s helped my sanity a lot.

    Hope this helps a little.

  2. victoria kathrein says:

    OK. Let’s say you are just starting out and you have a list of hundreds of fabric suppliers to choose from, how and where do you start? It seems like an isane waste of time to go through all of them. This may be a stupid questions but I am used to doing custom work and buying from jobbers.

  3. av says:

    My experience with buying has been to try to buy as much from one supplier as you can. They want the volume and you will earn more clout with them based on the volume. If you are buying $1500 from one co., $1500 from another and so on, each co. is not going to take you seriously. I try to buy as much as I can from one supplier and then fill the holes with the other suppliers.

    FYI, I attended my first textile show this year and the busiest booths were 3 jobbers I buy from.

  4. Kathleen says:

    When I produce a line, I plan on using one or two staple fabrics (in one color even) at most, silk and maybe bamboo. Part of that is because the line can work like that (a fill-in line of women’s blouses) but also, I didn’t want to have to go through hoops to source it. Not at the outset anyway. There’s enough to worry about without having to deal with that too. By that I mean I plan on doing everything in house and I have no industrial experience (just personal) working with slippery goods and I don’t even know how to cut that stuff much less anything else.

  5. Amanda Rodriguez says:

    Kaufman continuously carries certain basics.. They will do special prints for you if youmeet their minimums (ie, if they “run out” of a print, they will do a run of that print for you.)
    There are other companies out there who work similarly- i.e. they may carry linen in stock colors and change prints each season, but keep an archive of prints that they will run for you at certain minimums (sometimes only 500 yards).. We have found the best way to deal is eye to eye with the rep at the shows..and ASK THEM exactly what you are asking here.
    They are quite helpful.. and will often surprise you with problem solving issues..some will piggyback you with other orders if you need a special run, etc.
    If you are just starting out, try to limit yourself to basic fabrics that you can possibly find a backup for (ie modal,denim, linen, t knits, etc.) so you will have a couple of sources on hand “just in case”)..or you can do patchwork and in house printing (what we do) and supplement it with the basics..

  6. chris says:

    These were my questions to Kathleen this morning and I want to thank her and all of you for posting here. I am doing mens basics at this time, so I really like the suggestion of sticking to the basics from the get go. I also like the suggestions of offering colorways. At a show, colorways can just be in the form of a swatch card, correct? The dilema there is just having too many options, and getting 20 orders here and 30 orders there, but I think this is a viable option.

    For anyone that uses kaufman – I talked to the rep and they told me that they have much more fabric than what is presented on the website – have you found this to be true? I think a meeting with the rep is in order to see what they have and learn a little more about sourcing in production.

    Is kaufman a good bet for someone just starting out a small line, or is it worth the extra investment in time to search out the elusive fabric?

  7. another wish says:

    we use robert kaufman. they have nothing for our spring line, but their corduroy is the softest we have found for fall. we also ordered cord from spechler vogel but their prices are a bit higher since their cord is from japan. we found that that they are similar in feel as well as in quality/performance.

    we have found a few, less common, fabrics that we really love. we are prepared to purchase yardage to cover projected orders in order to prevent dropping the style.

    my personal experience is this: securing fabric is a nightmare!!!!! any help in this area would be appreciated. if anyone has a great source for fabric that they’ve found reliable, please share!!!!!

  8. Esther says:

    Kaufmann does have a large selection of fabrics. If you can, try to see them at a fabric sourcing show, they have a ton of swatches to look through. They are good to work with if you need small quantities (say 25 yard bolts) and their quality is excellent. Season to season their staple colors are consistent. Problem with ordering small quantities is that you will pay more per yard than in larger quantities.

    When dealing with prints, I find it is best to place your fabric production order within a few days of coming back from market. It often takes 4-6 weeks (sometimes 8-12) to have minimum quantities run if they sell out.

  9. Amanda Rodriguez says:

    Kaufman is one of the best for smaller companies (they deal large too.)..and keep in mind that New York isn’t the only show in town.. there are many good textile shows.. we hit Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas (smaller show, but one of our favorites- and yes, Kaufman is there- at all of them)-as well as New York.
    Kaufman even has a rep at the tiny Phoenix textile look for a textile/fabric show in your local area as well.. although they might cater to a lot of “quilting shops”, you will find a few sources that could be right for you.
    We use Kaufman’s denim…they have a few different washes and weights. We also use their stretch cord.
    I love them.
    They are easy to deal with and reliable.

  10. graham says:

    I’m a bit different than most everybody else because my fabrics are so specialized. Since I make high end backpacks, there is a really limited pool of manufacturers.

    In my experience, I have to echo AmberStars comments: I have to suck it up and buy it. If there is a deal or a special on, I buy it. This means I’ve got quite a bit of fabric around at times, but it’s all I can do.

    Dyelots for cordura tend to be in the range of 1500 to 2000 yards. Unfortunately, the cheapest fabric I use is $6 a yard. The rest of them are more like $20 a yard…I don’t have the financial resources to do dyelots, especially when I use at most .45 yards of fabric per pack.

  11. Judith says:

    Thank you so much for adressing this Kathleen. I had been thinking about writing you about this exact subject. This is great info for me.
    I did receive some beautiful swatches form the The Fabric Stock Exchange. Here is the contact info: Sheryl Sapriel 1-888-5792766 or fax 215-579-2813.

  12. B Davies says:

    Does anyone have any NY textile reps/ showroom recommendations? I am starting a line of high-end children’s apparel and am looking for denim, corduroy and wool flannel. Staple fabrics but in sophisticated colors. Would love to also find a source for unusual cotton prints that won’t be seen in retail fabric stores. I have an fabric apparel sourcebook, but don’t even know where to begin!

  13. Jodi says:

    Purchasing fabric… beginner DE
    I have been reading your book. Thank you!
    On your website, you replied to someone in regards to buying fabric (starting out) and you suggested contacting textile reps in NYC (vs. going to fabric stores).
    1.—-Is there a book that lists all textile reps in NYC? I am looking for wool fabric (houndstooth, tweed, etc.).

    2.—–If I found fabric from B and J Fabrics in NYC, would they sell fabric to me, for WHOLESALE for the samples and the future production of garments? What type of credentials would they ask for to confirm I was in business? A “Sales Tax number”?

    3.—–If I was going to textile shows in the U.S., who are the big shows for wools?

    4.—-Isn’t there one large company in the U.S. that produces wool textiles? My objective is to keep all purchases and production in the U.S..

    Thank you for all your help.

    Best regards,

  14. Jonathan says:

    Good Day,
    After reading your deliemma, it is sorta the same problem, that I’ am running into; HOWEVER if you design by the staples of the season and plan on what STAPLE fabrics [ i.e. summer, linen, cotton, poly blends, jersey, ) that helps for a more realiable way to build your collection.

    Also, you have to also think of your line in VARYING fabrics as well. One thing I HAVE learned, never set on trying to get modal; or angora, switch it up.

    If you stick to the basics first, you’ll run further with your company.

  15. Gabe Eissakharian says:

    What are the most popular fabric to sell wholesale in this season. It’s kind of hard to find the best. Give me a few pointers please. I really appreciate.

  16. Jay Arbetman says:

    Just a bit about those of us in the Midwest (the great unwashed). There is a show in Chicago. It is a small show however, there are a handful of us that carry quite a few lines so there is a bit to choose from. No doubt, for much of our local crowd, jobbers present a good alternative to shopping with the big boys where you will be at the bottom of the heap. Robt. Kaufman shows at our market as do California and New York jobbers and of course other mills and converters. I carry a couple of jobbers and my customers are high on both of them. The show is a small two day show in one medium size meeting room. There are about a dozen exhibitors. Last May, over 200 attendees came and most were pretty satisfied with what was offered.

    Unquestionably, if and when your business advances, this show will NOT offer you the selection that L.A. will (for example). However, most of us local types are good at follow up, friendly and actually halfway know what we are doing for the most part.

    The Chicago Fabric and Trim Show features five button companies, about 25 or so fabric lines, three or four of us that sell zippers, tags and labels and more. This is a VERY useful show if you are a start up and based anywhere in the middle of the country. The show can be great to go to cost wise which is not a bad thing to consider.

    See for details

  17. juel maxwell-white says:

    we my partner danielle and i are just starting a business that supplies dance and yoga wear in canada, british columbia. we have no idea where to get a whole sale supplier for the spandex lycra material and no one in our city will give the name of their supplier or wholesaler, is this a trade secret or will it cost them their business, we are not going to steal their source, cant we share the wholesaler? i would tell someone else why wont anyone tell us? i am going to buy the book by kathleen fasannella but is it only for the US, bcuz that wont me in canada. i am looking forward to your reply. thank you in advance. juel

  18. bee says:

    Hi everyone, Can anyone advice me as to where to buy wholesale novelty and sequined (haute couture) fabrics in NYC? i see similar things on the bandj fabrics website, but they are quite pricey and im not sure if they deal in wholesale..

    suggestions on the best countries to source these fabrics will also be great.

    Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  19. Michelle says:

    I am in the process of starting a swimwear line. My desired goal is to have it debuted in May of this year. All along I thought the most major task was to find a manufacturer with low MQO. However from reading some of the blogs I am under the impression I need to find a Wholesale fabric company ? What is the best strategy in finding a Wholesale fabric company ? Any advice on finding a manufacturer? Also, I am in the process of making my sample of my design with store brought fabric. I took this route so I can model it on social network and get feedback from people. Is this method wise ?

    I am currently located in Florida. Any advice will greatly appreciated !

  20. Sasha says:

    Really sound advice. I am in Australia and we have some great suppliers here. For me it’s all about relationships and building them with your suppliers to work together to get the best result for all parties.

  21. Mike says:

    I am with a wholesale fabric company based in Los Angeles California. Just to make a few remarks on this issue
    it is always better to ask your vendor if they carry the item you are interested on consistent bases which in this case you would know that at any given time they have that fabric in stock
    better yet if they carry that fabric in more variety of color it would generates more sale for your business.
    I will be more than happy to answer any question in this field
    to the best of my knowledge

    • Taylor Mills says:

      Hi Mike,

      What sort of fabric do you source? I’m in women’s formal wear and am looking for stretch poly/satins. Would love to know if you carry fabrics like that consistently. I have swatches I’m trying to source close to.



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