Sourcing Specialist Materials and Fabrics
Once you've established contact with a few good fabric wholesalers, getting the bulk of what you need for your fashion business is easy. Certain types of fabric, however, can be harder to obtain. This is a particular problem for businesses operating in niche markets where less common fabrics may be essential to successful designs. Even in the mainstream market, finding more unusual fabrics may be an effective way of attracting customers.
The internet means that it's now possible to look up specific fabrics and track down sellers much more easily, but smaller traders may be less well regulated so it's important to be careful about the trading process. Always ask for samples of specialist materials as they may differ from your expectations.
One problem with searching for unusual fabrics is that it's difficult to know what's out there. Specialist sellers may not have a wide range of products for you to browse. One solution is to pay careful attention to niche markets which you're not attempting to target yourself. Often striking garments can be produced using 'crossover' materials originally intended for a different market.
Dealing with Traders AbroadOne way to source fabrics which nobody else in the UK is using is to step outside it. India is particularly good for cotton and silk products and velvets can often be purchased from there at a fraction of the usual price. South Korea is always developing new PVC products. When you can't track down what you want online, embassies can often direct you to useful national resources.
When dealing with traders abroad you should be aware that you may not be protected by all the same regulations as usual, so take extra care. Make sure that, where relevant, fabrics you purchase meet UK safety standards. You should also make sure that you're paying the appropriate amount of tax on materials you ship into the country. The customs service (www.hmrc.gov.uk) can advise on this.
Don't Forget the DetailsWhen assessing the viability of new fashion designs, it's very easy to think in terms of the fabrics which make up the bulk of the garments. Equally important, however, is taking account of finishing's, trims and detail work. General fabric wholesalers usually supply basic thread, buttons and zips, but for anything more unusual you'll have to look further afield. To save you time, here are a few recommended web order sites:-
- The Button Lady - genuinely unusual buttons and charms including one-offs - practically any design you can think of.
- Cute as a Button - an enormous range of different buttons, making it very easy for you to find the right thing for any design.
- Just Beads - friendly and with an easy to use website, a good source of supplies for beading work.
- Yours Truly - a useful place to find ribbons and trimmings of all kinds. A (more expensive) small order retail service is also provided.
Online auctions can be a great place to get discount fabric and trims, and you may find yourself tempted to snap up attractive items whilst they're cheap, but bear in mind that it may be difficult to use them up unless you have a large enough quantity to use on a reasonably sized run of garments. Be careful not to spend all your money on appealing curiosities which cannot be turned back into profit.
Think Outside the BoxIf you want to do something really innovative, bear in mind that you don't have to work only with those materials normally sold for dressmaking. Cutting edge designers often incorporate other items like metals, plastics and even electronics into their work. Technology resources like Mutr are a great place to find the latest materials to fire your imagination, but you can always start with a visit to your local hardware store. Just remember that the market for items like this is unpredictable, so it's best to start with small runs or to test the public mood by exhibiting them at fashion shows.
Using unusual fabrics can be a great way to get your business noticed, but by their very nature these materials are harder to get hold of and supplies can run out unexpectedly. If possible, once you have tested the market, buy all you need in one go. Even if you can't keep on making a popular garment you can cash in on its success by making something similar. Specialist fabrics may be hard work to track down but they can really boost your business.