What are jobbers?

[This is an entry for the glossary category. I really need to work on the glossary. Submit your glossary related questions, I don’t know what you don’t know.]

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.

Mill ends are the leftover goods that a fabric mill produces for which they don’t have any orders or the buyer ended up not taking delivery of the goods for whatever reason. In other words, mill ends are excess fabric inventory over and above that for which they had orders. Jobbers buy mill ends from the mill.

Odd lots are similar except jobbers usually buy these goods from clothing manufacturers. These can be fabrics that a manufacturer bought but ended up not needing either because they don’t know how to buy (in anticipation of orders), the order fell through between fabric delivery and cutting or they miscalculated their yardage needs. Similarly, sometimes there are large pieces of cut goods that remain from the ends of bolts on the tail end of a cutting run. Also, sometimes a manufacturer will buy excess goods thinking they’ll have reorders on certain styles (that then fall through) or the manufacturer had to buy more than they really needed to make the quantity for minimum purchasing.

Seconds are just what they sound like. There is some reason the goods have been categorized as seconds. The type of defects are myriad and beyond the scope of this entry.

Should you buy from jobbers?

Yes and no. It depends, doesn’t it always?

  • If you’re buying seconds, you can’t return them.
  • Jobbers have low minimums. Usually just one yard.
  • If you’re buying goods for immediate production and won’t need any more than that, jobbers can be a good deal.
  • If you’re buying for future production, be advised that you may not be able to get any more. You need to ask about continuity. Some jobbers do enough business with small companies that they will routinely stock certain fabrics but you won’t know which those are unless you ask. Likewise, even if the jobber does carry the goods in stock, their ordering schedule may not be congruent with your needs. In such case that they have run out, they won’t necessarily reorder them like a grocery does with milk; you may need to have a minimum order before they will reorder those goods. A word to the wise: many jobbers will say they stock certain goods -but not have them in stock- and are just waiting for somebody to come along who is willing to make a minimum buy which finances the jobber’s lot purchase of the goods.
  • If a jobber does guarantee continuity, a reputable jobber will never guarantee color matching.
  • In general, you should not use a jobber if you must have continuity. In other words, if you’re planning your line and ordering sample goods to sew prototypes and samples in preparation to show the line to buyers or at market, you shouldn’t use a jobber unless they can guarantee continuity. Again, a reputable jobber will not guarantee dye lots (exact color matching). It is a nightmare to produce samples for your line and then not be able to get the goods for production*. Ask around to see what others say about a given jobber. Some of them are less than ethical and will say they have continuity but they don’t. Ideally, you want to buy goods from a mill representative rather than a jobber.

*By the way, under no circumstances should you buy production quantities of yardage if you don’t have orders. Just don’t do it. Sure, you can get lucky sometimes but it’s like playing Russian roulette with your lifelong dream. If you don’t get any orders and you’re sitting on lots of yardage, you’ll end up selling the goods back to the jobber (assuming they’ll take them) at an incredible discount.

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  1. Esther says:

    Aren’t most jobbers also converters. I have dealt with a few companies that call themselves jobbers, but they buy greige goods and then dye, print, embroider or flock a print or pattern.

  2. Kathleen says:

    It’s funny that you ask that. I don’t know that *most* jobbers these days are converters but you’re right in that most certainly used to be. The term “jobber” has been co-opted from original usage. Originally, it meant anyone who undertook the jobbing out of various design functions from fabrication to whatever. These days, for production functions we use the term “contractor” rather than the term jobber. Jobber got co-opted to mean a reseller of odd and ends fabrics. A supplier rather than a service provider. Jobbers were originally service providers, not suppliers.

  3. graham says:

    I just had a meeting with YKK about this.

    YKK and a few other companies I work with make you buy through a jobber if you’re doing less than a certain amount of business a year–usually at least $5k, more like $25k for the companies I deal with.

    So I have to buy from a jobber or distributor.

  4. BayGrrl says:

    how do you go about finding jobbers? (or any supplier of mill ends, whatever they might be calling themselves.) thanks!

  5. Judy says:

    I would like to open a fabric store with 90% mill ends. I see this as a place that would move fabric very fast if I can get the right stuff. Does anyone know where they could send me? I am wanting fine quality mill ends, some upholstery, mostly apparel, with some basics. No patterns, no extensive trims, etc. Judy

  6. Naomi R. says:

    I realize that I buy most of my fabric for school from jobbers. Do jobbers appreciate being referred to as such? Or could it somehow be taken as insulting? :/ I ask because I am really new to this “asking around” business and I don’t want to offend anyone.

  7. Ashley says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    Thank you so much for your wise words and detailed information. I have a question in regards to sourcing fabric – what do you advise in a situation with novelty and/or limited run speciality fabric? I certainly do understand the importance of ensuring the availability of fabrics before production, what would you do if you needed to use fabric that you knew what available now but perhaps not in 6 months? Is that too risky? I am manufacturing a children’s clothing line and found some excellent printed Japanese fabric to use for a few pieces and collars in the collection but of course it won’t be available later on. A terrible idea to buy some now?


  8. I’m not understanding what is unique about your situation that I could give you a blank check for. It mirrors the complexities and tough choices of nearly every start up I know. The better question is, do you have a large pot of money and can afford to hold this inventory if nothing comes of it? If so, have at it. Some people have incredible fabric stashes (I have a huge leather stash). But holding the inventory isn’t going to undo my enterprise. Only you know your situation.

  9. A Ramirez says:

    I’ve worked in the automotive industry for over 25 years. The supply chain, for us, goes manufacturer, distributor, and then jobber. As a retail store, we buy at jobber prices then sell at either retail to “over the counter” customers or wholesale to repair shops. We have factory reps we meet with often and even have a trade shows we attend to review the latest products and place orders.

    I’ve been sewing for about 30 years and have collected fabrics from the remnant section at fabric stores (I have quite a collection of denim, prints, leather, etc.) with no intention of ever finding that material again. Last year I used some of that material and made some handbags to give away as gifts to family and was not prepared for the response! Once their friends and coworkers saw the bags, they wanted to buy one for themselves. My daughter took one to ComicCon and had many inquiries on where she bought hers. When she told them that her dad made it, they wanted to know how to order one. I even received a request from a store for samples and a line card (although I didn’t know what that was at the time).

    My wife, family, and friend were all saying, “You should sell these!” My thought was, “Sure! But where am I going to get the material?” I knew what I was buying were seconds, odd lots, etc. and are not an option for a sustainable product. That was fine when I just wanted to have fun making something, but I want to make quality products and I cannot do that with fabric purchased with coupons I received in the mail. I figured that, like the automotive industry, there must be industry manufactures and I just need to find out who they are and what they have to offer.

    This year I’ve decided to do my research and write a business plan and determine if I really have something to pursue. I am familiar with Robert Kaufman, but who are some other fabric manufacturers? How does one know when and where the trade shows are? Is it okay to collect samples now to become familiar with a manufacture although I may not have a product for a while, if any?

    I have found your website incredibly insightful and encouraging. I feel like I’m in school again! (Just need to buy the textbook.)

  10. Alison says:

    Is going through a ‘jobber’ generally cheaper and faster than going though a a full service manufacturer?

    I was wanting to start an athleticwear line with leggings of specific color that would require a custom dye buy I know of more jobbers in my area and I’m considering going another route just to get something started.

    I’m wanting to sell them online at first and to some independent yoga studios in my area

    Any advice?

    • I guess my first suggestion is to read this blog post. Jobbers sell fabric; they don’t do contract sewing. In any event, I don’t think a jobber will work out even for sourcing because they sell leftovers; they don’t custom print fabrics. There are plenty of businesses that do custom printing tho, they just aren’t jobbers.

  11. Todd says:

    How much do jobbers typically pay for the fabric that they buy before they mark it up? I have a large lot of fabric that I am looking to sell and want to be sure to charge correctly. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

  12. Pingback: How And Where To Find Cheap Fabric | We Love Prof - IN

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