FASHION FRIDAYS: FABRIC SOURCING FOR STARTUP DESIGNERS AND HANDICRAFT ARTISANS

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        My goal as an attorney is to help small business startups. I have a special place in my heart for startup fashion designers and handicraft artisans so many of my Friday Blog Posts will be uniquely geared toward issues that those small business owners face. So while this is not a purely law related post, I believe it will be helpful.

          I went to a gathering of Etsians last week. They are all based in the Inland Empire and each shared a common struggle—Fabric Sourcing! Most, if not all, of the ladies that were there produce their items from home. So their fabric struggles are likely only issues that small home manufacturers face. Here is some wisdom these ladies were willing to share with me and I am passing it on to you.

1. DO NOT SIT ON LARGE AMOUNTS OF FABRIC

Oh, I know it is tempting to go the Los Angeles Garment District and buy 10 yards of the first wildly beautiful print that catches your eye. You get it home and make a sample that takes about 2 yards. You add it to your online retail shop and then your customers don’t quite see the fabric the way that you did. Now you are stuck with 8 yards of fabric that you slowly are beginning to hate!  OR…

You buy 10 yards of fabric with no plan at all! You get it home and put it with your fabric stash. There the fabric sits.

Friendly Advice: If you are producing small runs, consider buying smaller amounts of fabric. Go fabric shopping with a plan! Yes, fabric can sometime inspire design, but it can also inspire some bad business decisions.

2. BUY WHOLESALE FOR FABRIC AND MATERIALS THAT YOU NEED IN LARGE AMOUNTS

You may respond, “But, Judith isn’t it better to buy wholesale to decrease the costs of my items?” Yes, you should buy wholesale. Yes, you should buy in bulk. But, you should also buy smart!

I understand the desire to buy wholesale so that you can decrease costs per item. I also understand the desire to have the certainty that if your items sell through you have enough fabric on hand to reproduce more. The problem is when you make bold fabric choices and have a ton of fabric on hand that you will never use.

Friendly Advice: Buy materials wholesale that you know you will need no matter what you are making. If you make handbags, then yeah it probably is smart to buy feet for your bags en masse. If you make jeans, then yeah it probably is a smart idea to buy your zippers and serger threads in bulk. If you have had success selling a beautiful wool jacket, then yeah you probably want to buy that fabric wholesale.

Caution: If you can only afford to buy a small amount of fabric at a time and even a wholesale order is cost-prohibitive, make sure you know where you can get more of the fabric once your supply runs out. This is a common problem if you are buying fabric retail in downtown L.A. What is there today may not be there tomorrow. If you are in love with a fabric, ask for wholesale information!

3. ONLY BUY FROM A CHAIN FABRIC RETAILER WHEN YOU ARE IN A PINCH

Sometimes you have to suck it up and go to JoAnns, Michaels, Walmart, or Hancock for fabric because you just ran out! But that may mean you will not profit on an item or the item may end up costing you money. So when you are pricing your items, consider what profit that late night run to Walmart will cost you in the long run. Coupons are always helpful, but that makes your pricing inconsistent.

I know it is so easy to go to JoAnns and pick out that cute apple print because you know if you need more it will be there next week at a reliable price. The problem is that 100,000 other handicrafters or designers thought the same thing and your unique items become homogenized.

Friendly Advice: Try not to buy your fabric at retail prices from chain stores when possible. Keep those purchases to times where you already have a pending order with a due date that you will not be able to meet unless you make that retail store run. See if your buyer is willing to delay delivery (possibly for a small discount), while you obtain fabric at the price you used in generating your cost sheet. If they are unwilling to accept a later delivery date, you may just have to eat the increased costs.

To all the fashion designers and handicraft artisans out there, what fabric/material sourcing advice would you give to those who are just starting out?

Disclaimer: The contents on this blog are informational only and not meant, intended, nor should be considered legal advice, advertisement, or solicitation for business. The material posted on this blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship, and readers should not act upon it without seeking professional counsel.

Furthermore, the information contained on this blog is not specific to any particular set of circumstances. All links to outside information are meant to provide further information on the topic addressed, I make no warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information contained herein or in the attached links.

Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/roboppy/3024443886/”>roboppy</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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