Are you someone who’s ready to jump into the fashion industry? Are you an aspiring creative? Maybe you have a business that is linked to the industry, or you create gorgeous designs. You know you’ve got style, the eye for detail and the ambition that is needed to drive success. But there’s still so much within the industry that eludes you. Maybe you are already in the design stage and ready to choose the gorgeous fabrics that you’ve imagined for your designs. Maybe you don’t know how to approach a fabric supplier.
There is a bit more to seeing a fabric supplier than you might imagine. Let me explain. A fabric agent is a trendsetter the same as a designer is. They are ‘designing’ their range in the same way a top design house does. They look to future trends in colour pallets and fabrication from the leading authorities and design the range of base fabrics and colours so that when you, the designer, come to see them they have what you have been inspired by. They understand what fabrics they need to have on hand so that you can design the look you are after.
There are also 2 major different ranges they hold. One is stock fabric and one is seasonal. Did you know about the seasonal aspect behind fabric selection? If you are looking for the latest in fabrics and colours you will be looking for seasonal stock. This stock is limited and will not repeat so the fabric agent can bring the latest and greatest to their range each season. You will need to be quick from initial sampling to purchasing bulk as this fabric sells out and does not repeat. You can put a hold on the amount of fabric you need, but only for a short time. I can tell that some of you might be nodding your head because you have experienced this, but believe me when I tell you that there are plenty of people out there who aren’t aware. I feel that seasonal fabric buying is best left to the experts who understand the pace of the fashion industry and their customer requirements.
There is also forecasting of fabrics. For example, when Melbourne is in the heart of winter and you look out the window of the tram in the city, you see the teeming rain and bleak greyness. You also glimpse people moving around – under umbrellas or running for cover – dressed in the chic style of winter: scarves, boots, hats and coats. Understand that designers are way past that season. The colours you are looking at today were selected a year ago and have come and gone from the fabric agents. Designers are beginning to sell summer stock to buyers and retailers for a full year ahead and they are delivering summer stock into retail stores that they first saw 9 months ago. Which means that fabric manufacturers have summer fabrics, with all their light, cottony breeziness and vibrant colours, in their showrooms in the middle of winter. If you approach a fabric manufacturer in winter and ask for a luxurious velvet, you are likely to leave unhappy and empty-handed.
And the reverse is true in summer. When you’re at St Kilda Beach eating fish and chips at dusk on a blistering hot summer’s day, that’s the time when you need to be buying your gorgeous velvet and merino wool fabrics. Designers are, during summer, selling their winter coats, tunics and jumpers to buyers and fit models are wearing the skimpiest bikinis in the middle of winter and but bulkiest of jackets on the sweltering summer days.
Of course, there is an exception to this rule, as there is with most rules. The flip side is the range of fabrics which are referred to as a stock fabric. This means that fabric manufacturers and wholesalers will always have these on hand. These fabrics are often the tried and true old favourites that just keep going. They come in a range of base colours which are great to compliment that 1 special print you have picked up. Please don’t think that these are boring or out of style. There are many well-known labels who stick to a base range of fabrics year after year. They truly understand these fabrics and what they can do with them.
When you are starting out your label you will be learning so much about the development process and what you need to do to launch that the added pressure of ordering fabrics that may runout can add unnecessary stress. My top tip is to find 1 fashion print, digital print or fabric and round out your range stock fabrics to take the pressure off. When you start getting the swing of the pace and understand our market you can inch yourself towards more fashion fabrics.
Get to know your fabric agent and the range they hold. Every agent has a different angle as every designer does. Ask them questions but also understand that they are not a retail store so being efficient and knowing what you need in important as they are often a 1 person show these days so time is limited. Ask them if a stock fabric is being discontinued and what the date of changeover for bulk fabrics is. Ask them what sort of fabrics are usually available all year round and what the delivery timelines are like for bulk fabric. This also means that you, as the designer need to be aware of trends well ahead of fabric selection and production. Make sure that you sign up to receive emails from trend forecasting websites, influencers and designers who resonate with you and your designs. Keep your eye on Instagram so that you know the look that is approaching. Also keep in mind if you are looking for that retro unique fabric that you have not seen anywhere, there might be a reason why it is a little harder to find.