Sourcing from jobbers, advantages and disadvantages.

In writing the sourcing segment of my Boot Camp F2016 round up, I discover I should have written about using jobber fabric well before now. If you’re not sure what a jobber is, cribbing from this entry:

A jobber is a fabric supplier who sells mill ends (also called over runs), odd lots and seconds. Jobbers buy fabrics from textile mills and sometimes clothing manufacturers. Jobbers sell goods to individuals, one-off designers, small manufacturers and fabric stores. Jobbers typically have very small minimums.

Buying from a jobber is advantageous because you can get fabric in low quantities although some jobbers might have a one roll minimum if they have a lot of a particular item. In my opinion, using jobber fabric is best suited for items for which you will not need replenishment. This is because jobbers cannot ensure continuity (if I had a magic wand, I’d make you read the jobber post so I don’t have to repeat myself). The cost of yardage is actually higher than what the wholesale price is from a mill but it is affordable in that you don’t have to purchase 1000 yards if you only need 100. When we made the coats for Fall 2016, we bought quilted lining fabric and pocket lining fabric from a jobber (Big Z). The goods weren’t perfect but they were a good value and exactly what we needed for the project.

Buying from jobbers is a problem for many reasons. Read this carefully so you’re prepared for the possibility of cost over runs or even, missing production deadlines altogether.

Now that I own a factory and have had to deal with the jobber fabrics that my customer send me, I’m becoming less favorable toward using some jobbers for most production runs. It is not that jobber fabrics are wholly unsuitable, only that purchasers aren’t aware of the variables and condition of fabric we receive which then increase our costs of operation. It has become so problematic with certain jobbers that we will not give a per piece quote on production but must charge separately for cutting. Some reasons for unsuitability are:

Seconds: the easiest problem to define is that the fabrics are not excess production but fabrics that failed to meet quality specifications. If the fabric comes in with the face rolled on the outside, we are instantly wary.

Misrepresentation: some jobbers take advantage of newcomers and won’t even mention that they’re jobbers (the customer wouldn’t know what that meant anyway). They will extol the virtues of their fabrics, imbuing them with magical properties (some so oversold that I describe them as farted out by fair trade fairies in Italy). When we get the fabrics and find them unsuitable -for example, extreme bowing in an otherwise gorgeous plaid- the customer often assumes that we are the problem rather than their supplier with whom they’ve established rapport. If someone will routinely sell you 10-20 yards of purported exemplary high end goods, you are not dealing with the mill or the mill’s representative.

Flaws are a given in all fabrics, even high end mill goods. Expecting perfect goods is akin to expecting to find identically sized and shaped tomatoes in the grocery -without flaws- and having identical taste. It just isn’t possible. Still, better goods have fewer flaws and any flaws on a roll are marked along the selvedge with a silver foil tape or colored price tag fasteners (the plastic stem that is applied with a tagging gun) . If a roll of fabric comes in from a jobber and there are no markings (evident by examining the roll end), I am thinking that the roll is either very good or very bad, but usually the latter. If there are too many flaws in the roll, it is often not marked at all. When calculating the yardage needed for a production run, we add a small percentage to cover splicing for flaws (and lay ends). Fabric from a good mill need less than 5% over. For jobber goods (and why your factory may want to know who you are buying from), I add 10%, sometimes more. Some jobbers are so bad that I won’t accept the order because we have spent more time spreading and splicing, than we have in sewing.

fabric-roll-core-problemRoll cores are another issue; some of these are so beat up that we can’t get the spreader bar into the core. Roll cores are damaged if they’re knocked around too many times and also, if they’ve been soaked in liquid -that happens more than one would imagine.

Labeling is a legal matter; by law you have to indicate the nation of origin for your goods and sewing. Often, jobber goods are not labeled with content or nation of origin so there is no way to comply with FTC care label laws. To be sure, one could do a burn test to determine fiber content and to be safe, indicate “imported” for nation of origin but failing to identify goods is but one indication of shoddy practices. We recently got one roll that was labeled “Made in USA” but the roll had an internal label indicating Pakistan as the nation of origin. It was first run goods tho.

Chemical usage by the jobber or their supplier, is also a problem. Aging inventory fabric rolls are often sprayed with nasty stuff to keep bugs away from the goods. I have no way of knowing what has been sprayed or how often so if it smells funny, we don’t want to touch it. We usually wear masks when spreading and cutting but rarely, hand protection. I was dismayed to see one colleague using a fabric we had returned but there was nothing to be done about it by the time we saw it. That fabric was a disaster even before the chemicals.

Variations in cuttable widths are another common defect. For this reason, I do not like to make the markers until the goods have arrived because the widths often vary between the point of sale and delivery of the goods. We have to make the marker for the narrowest width but we often won’t know that when the latter is concealed on the interior of a roll. If the segment is short, we often cut it out and hope we have enough left to make the customer’s full order.

Summary: Okay, this is but a short list of issues that a contractor will have in using the goods you send and I know that many of you have no other option than to use goods from a jobber. If this describes you, make sure that you can return the goods if they cannot be used for any of the above reasons. Be advised that no one, not even mills, will permit the return of goods that have already been cut into product. They will accept returns for spliced sections if they are inordinately large or numerous. You will need assistance from your contractor to document the problems so this is part of what it means to have a good contractor -they’re looking for ways to lower your costs at all times.

If you are uncertain as to the reputation of your jobber, be sure to tell your contractor and whoever makes your marker (hopefully that person is experienced enough to know what this means although many providers I see these days, have no idea) so that an appropriate allowance can be added to your fabric yardage requirements. I have one last thing to say about any jobbers I’ve dealt with; they are, for the most part, honorable business people. I have never had a problem returning defective yardage although in one case, I had to wait longer for a refund than I should have.



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  1. Apryl Wynona Hall says:

    Ok, I’ll admit I’m a stickler for reading and listening to the lesson. These items are not concepts that a DE would consider when sourcing from jobbers. Certainly if like me the experience has been in the home seeing world! Thanks again for watching out for the DE. And again, Kathleen if any other posts you have or are considering come to mind; please don’t hesitate to suggest reading this. Its all good.

  2. Annie Rose says:

    Thank you for this interesting post! I have a quick question. What is the best way for fabric rolls to be shipped to you? I order fabric in small quantities (1-2 rolls at a time, 3-4 times per year) and every time I order the fabric roll is wrapped up in plastic and delivered via UPS. The roll core ends up getting cracked and damaged every single time and it makes the roll very difficult to handle, since it bends around so much. I always assumed that this is just something I have to deal with since I order such a small amount of fabric but if there is a better way I would love to know.

    • Generally, there is no problem for us to receive fabric in plastic sleeves. We also get cracked cores, with ends mauled but we have no problem with that as long as we can get the spreader bar through it -and we usually can. It is only a problem if the core is shorter than the fabric width that is wound around it. You’ve got to figure; if a company is cutting costs to the extent of short cores, it’s likely a product you don’t want.

      When you are spreading, do you have the rolls on a spreader or are you rolling the fabric roll on the table to unwind the fabric? If you’re unwinding it on the table (without a spreader), I can see how damaged and bent cores cause you grief. You might consider getting a set of uprights and a bar, upon which to seat a roll and then unwind it from there. It is not a substitute for a spreader but works just fine for smaller operations. I bought one from SouthStar Supply many years ago. I just looked it up; they call the arrangement “Cloth Stand (pull off)“. Maybe this would help you?

  3. supi says:

    copyright is a topic that does not usually appear on the articles but i always wonder: when buying printed fabrics from jobbers or even to the textile mill directly how can you cover your back so that no 3rd party can claim copyright infringement once your product is circulating? if the design/print is not yours, then it’s from someone else. it can be obvious in printed fabrics with disney cartoons, selling them without license is a no-no, but what happens with other prints, how do you know if it’s registered somewhere and someone else owns the copyright or has strict licensing rules?

    • I recently was told from the company Spoonflower, that fabric has a copyright
      of 200 years.

      I wanted Spoonflower to make up certain fabrics for me.
      Megan at Spoonflower told me she could not do this. I have a skirt that is over 100 yrs
      old I wanted the fabric copied she said no for this reason.

      • Alison Cummins says:

        The information from Spoonflower is not quite right.

        If it was published in the US after 1978, copyright protection is 120 years.

        If it was published in the US before 1925, it’s public domain. So you are free to legally copy your grandmother’s skirt.

        Spoonflower may have a blanket policy against copying existing fabric designs because they can’t confirm how old they are, which is totally fair. But it would still be *legal* for them to copy old designs.

        (I know this is a very old comment, but for future readers.)

  4. Good question. There really isn’t any way to know the truth of it unless you had a legal team to research it. But if you had that, you wouldn’t be buying anything from jobbers.

    Assuming the worst, that a jobber was selling copyright infringed upon goods, it is highly unlikely that somebody would go after you because you’re too small (if you’re buying from jobbers).

  5. Jay Arbetman says:

    I think that jobbers come in all shapes and sizes. Some do have low prices on pretty darn good quality. Others, as you describe, charge a bit more than mills or converters. Some first tier converters have high quality, low minimums and continuity. 5 and 10 yd minimums are not rare.

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