This topic is actually something I have a lot to learn about. I still operate on a very small scale, and limit myself significantly to fabrics I know will always be readily available.
For the past 2 years I have pretty much kept to basic silks and chiffons, and black bamboo jersey. This has meant that if a customer wants an older style, its very easy for me to get the fabric and make it up for them. I do have a couple of wholesalers, but at short notice I can also run to pretty much any fabric store and pick up what I need. Unfortunately this method is quite expensive. The cost of fabric per metre is much more than per roll, but you save yourself the initial outlay if you don’t have a lot to start with. Obviously the more you grow, it is much wiser to buy fabrics by the roll, but at the beginning I think its much smarter to keep it small. You don't know what will sell yet.
I try and operate in a similar way with trimmings and findings such as elastic and bra clasps – I do buy elastics by the roll, but I always limit my colour choices. As I said previously, you don't know what will sell. For the moment I have limited myself mostly to black trimmings – it is much more cost effective for me right now.
I also try and use as few findings and trimmings as possible. By limiting yourself that way, there is less to organise and less you need to get rush orders together. Also, the fewer components a garment has the simpler it is to produce (usually but not always!) As much as I do like complexity and ‘frou frou’ in design, I also appreciate the simpler things. And when you are starting a business you want to make things simpler, and not more difficult for yourself. This is obviously something you need to keep in mind when designing, and being a problem solver is very important. Try and keep the same trimmings throughout your range, believe me, it makes a big difference to your everyday operations if you keep it as minimal as possible.
A plus side to this is that it forces you to be more creative. I have no idea where this quote comes from but I think about it often ‘Creativity comes from a lack of things’. Try and limit yourself in certain areas, and see where it takes you.
So where to find these suppliers? Talk to people. I’m not going to give up my suppliers here mainly because I know my readers come from all over the world, but also because they are specific to my needs, so they would be kind of useless for a lot of other people. I found mine through word of mouth and google. You can find out pretty much anything you need to know on the internet, so just get searching!
The way I work is not standard, by making to order I do keep things low-risk, but there are other downfalls – mainly that my cost per garment is high.
Personally I would love to know more about sourcing fabrics from overseas. Is it worth a trip visiting the Hong Kong markets? Or Vietnam for silks? Tell me about your sourcing experience.
Pictures: Top left - Fifi Chachnil, Others - Tumblr