One of the most common questions I get asked is, "Where do you get your fabric?"
The quick answer: Trade shows and salespeople.
This answer almost always disappoints.
Brands are reluctant to share their sources. We've worked to find the vendors and textiles we use in our clothing. This hard-earned knowledge becomes, literally, the fabric of our livelihood. Time-tested, hand-picked inputs create our secret sauce, and it's worth protecting.
This is in direct conflict with the transparency consumers deserve, I get this. I can share some things, however, from my latest buying trip, here goes:
My favorite show is DG Expo. It's a show showcasing suppliers that are willing to work with small businesses like mine—I owe my business to this particular trade show. Other trade shows exist to serve companies that can order massive amounts of inputs. How can I buy organic fabric from a supplier if they only work with vendors that can place 2000 yard orders? Organic, sure. Slow fashion, heck no.
This time around, I was specifically hunting for more of these in particular: Tencel, organic prints, and industry surplus.
Above L to R: Tencel swatch cards (for ordering fabric on the other 363 days I'm not at the trade show). Organic cotton prints.
Tencel: I'm already using some Tencel and it's finally catching on. I actually tried Tencel years ago, but didn't gain traction (for several reasons worth analyzing at another time). Tencel is a premium trademarked rayon getting a surge in praise for its sustainability. It's a product of Lenzing, an Austrian company actively innovating more sustainable textiles. I was told by a vendor I can seek to be recognized by Lenzing as a brand that uses fabrics with Tencel. This is in development. You'll hear it when I do.
An aside, in my Tencel search I discovered my USA-milled knit rayon supplier uses Lenzing yarns. Bonus! I feel better about the fabrics I'm using for Perennial Favorites and my premium tees.
Organic Prints: It's much easier to find continuous sources of organic solids. Prints are very limited, and a season's offerings may not be in sync visually with my brand. National Picnic loves novelty, but many organic prints lean too juvenile. I'm happy to report finding a delightful group of organic prints for those who thrive when dressed with surface decoration.
A recent healthy change: I'm careful not to overbuy any one print this time around. My goal now is to only buy what I should realistically offer to my current email list size, and local foot traffic to my shop.
Industry Surplus. Some call industry surplus left over from other manufacturers "dead stock". I reject this phrase because it is far from dead if it can be put to use. Due to the limited nature of the yardage, things made with it often become the most conversation-provoking limited edition pieces in my shop, and working with it is very creatively satisfying. There is no sneak peek for these fabrics, I forgot to take a picture! However, I can drop a hint that they are from one of my favorite suppliers. Not simply because their European fabrics are EXQUISITE—but also because they have respectfully served me since startup.
Me with my very tall colleague Marguerite. We see each other twice a year at the show.
My business, however tiny, is worth doing business with. The number of independent fashion brands like mine is growing, and we need a sourcing haven we know will serve us. Thanks, DG Expo!
Organic vs. OEKO: Read about them here. Do you know the difference? These certs are showing up more across the board, that's a good thing. I like seeing either on the selvedges, better than none at all, but not seeing something on a selvedge doesn't mean the fabric doesn't have some favorable property. Here, the organic is a one way design (foxes shouldn't run upside down on a sleeve), generating more waste than the OEKO two-way floral. How far is each shipping from? Does the country of origin have probable better treatment of its workers, should fair trade of an item get equal weight vs. sustainability? What is "better": Natural (silk)? Rayon (vegan)? Is it economically possible, or accurate, for a small business to calculate which fabrics are more sustainable? Is it something everyone can ever agree on? Looking forward to any comments below.
Topics: Sourcing, Small business, Sustainability, Contradictions, Slow Fashion, Ethical Production