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How to Source Sustainable Fabrics for Small Ethical Brands

by Polina K
source sustainable fabrics blog post

Most people around here know me as Polina, founder of Good Fabric and lover of sustainable fabrics. But, although that’s definitely who I am now, it isn’t the whole story. Before starting Good Fabric, I actually had an entirely different career as a product development manager within the fashion and jewellery industry. Okay, so it’s still in the world of fashion, but the work I was doing was nothing like running Good Fabric!

Polina, owner of Good Fabric store

Instead, I was sourcing new products, packaging them up, and working hands-on in factories. Over twelve years, I worked for a number of big-name brands like Anya Hindmarch, Ted Baker, Galvan, and Missoma, which you can learn more about on my LinkedIn. The point is, I know first-hand the very specific difficulties you can come across when sourcing for companies. I’ve sourced for huge brands with big budgets, start-ups with no budgets at all, and everything in between!

So, when it comes to sourcing fabric for ethical businesses, I can help. 

How to Source Sustainable Fabrics for Small Ethical Brand

There’s so much advice out there on how, where, and when to source fabrics in the ethical business world. From what you hear at trade fairs to what you can find on Google, it can all be pretty overwhelming. A lot of what is taught only applies to larger brands with hefty budgets, too. Those of us running (or creating) small, sustainable businesses are left out of the loop, with little to no advice on how to source materials on a budget.

So, what are you meant to do? Well, I know exactly how you feel, so I wanted to give you some advice I’ve learnt over the years that’ll make things easier. This is geared towards small, ethical businesses, helping you source sustainable fabrics you need to build a thriving brand.

4 Things to Know Before You Start Sourcing

1. Your Budget

good fabric product costing sheet 2 1

Unfortunately, your budget has to come first. Even if you find the perfect fabric, if it’s too expensive, it’s too expensive!

Sorting your budget is a bit like assembling a puzzle. First, you need to map out all of the components you need for production. For example:

  • 3 buttons
  • 1.5 metres of fabric
  • 1 metre of lining
  • 1 sew-in label

Work out how much these will cost you per product and remember to factor in the labour costs. For example, if it takes one person 3 hours to create the product and the minimum wage is £11.05, labour costs will be a minimum of £33.15.

In addition to product cost, you need to take into account your business overheads and factor those into the cost of product. For example your accountant fees, website maintenance, any software you might use, it all adds up. Easiest way to do it, is to take your monthly overhead costs and divide by an average number of products you are able to produce per month.

This is not scientific but it will ensure that at the end of the day, you dont lose money when selling your handmade products.

 If this is a bit confusing and you need some help getting started, download our FREE product costings cheat sheet! This includes margin calculations, shipping fees, import charges and more. Once you have everything mapped out, you can play around with different price points for components to work out potential RRPs and margins.

This cheat sheet has been created for UK handmade goods industry and all the formulas are based on the industry standard:

  • Product cost: materials + labour + business overheads
  • Wholesale price: product cost + 10%
  • Retail price: wholesale price * 2

2. Know What You’re Looking For

fabric swatch being held

Knowing what sort of eco friendly fabric you need is vital before you start your search. Cotton, for example, can come in a huge range of weights, textures, and weaves. When you say cotton, you could be asking for a thick knit or a thin, floaty sateen – they’re both technically the same material. So, get specific. 

If you’re not sure exactly what you need, don’t panic – we can help! Our Good Fabric team are always on hand to chat, exploring the best materials for your plans and matching you with the right choices based on your requirements. Or, if you’ve seen anything on our website that you love and want to use for your brand, get in touch, and we can send you a sample.

3. What ECO Credentials You’re Looking For

A lot of the brands who contact us looking for sustainable fabric often don’t know much about eco credentials. That’s fair enough – if you’re not in the eco fabrics industry, why would you? But, it is very useful to have a bit of knowledge about these things.

That’s why we created our eco credentials glossary, making it easier to understand what’s what in the world sustainable fabric acronyms. We’re also always happy to go through them with you, too, so that you can get to grips with the credentials your brand should be shouting about.

4. How Much Fabric Do You Need?

good fabric wholesale sourcing rolls

Some brands know how much fabric they need when they start sourcing, whilst others don’t have a clue. We recommend at least keeping a rough estimate in mind. If you really don’t know where to start, here’s a rule of thumb guide:

  • Start-ups: 5m-20m – For samples and small batches
  • Established: 20m-80m – If you have a larger audience opt for larger quantities and cash in on great wholesale deals

Our trade discounts start at 10m. This can be split between two fabrics that are 5 metres each if you wish.

When you get in touch with us, we’ll send you a bespoke quote based on your quantities. We’ll also be able to tell you more about stock levels, lead times, and everything else that we think’s relevant or that you want to know.

How Good Fabric Makes Sourcing Sustainable Fabric Easier

As someone who’s very used to sourcing and knows the pain it can be, I wanted to make Good Fabric easy for brands to work with. Not only can I help you find the right eco friendly and sustainable fabrics, but I also have an in-depth knowledge of the world of sourcing, so it should be a breeze to work together! Here’s a closer look at some of the ways we’ve made it simpler to team up.

No Brexit, No Problem

good fabric wholesale sourcing brexit

You don’t have to worry about Brexit when sourcing from us. We know that the dreaded “B” word is a cause of stress in the sourcing world, making the whole process longer, more expensive, and just a massive hassle in general. Fortunately, we deal with all of that, so you don’t have to.

From filling out paperwork (which includes dealing with pesky errors) to sorting out claims and costs, we’re used to the process of importing fabric. The majority of our suppliers are from Europe – and the odd amazing company from the Far East – but we’ll take the headache away from you and deal with all the paperwork and transportation ourselves. No Brexit, no problem!

MOQ Issues

Minimum order quantity (MOQ) is always an issue. Small ethical brands are looking for low MOQs so that they can be flexible in how much they order and not have all of their cash tied up in raw materials, whilst fabric mills want large orders to drive bigger sales. For start-ups and tiny companies, this is a nightmare.

Fortunately, we know what it’s like to source sustainable fabrics, so we won’t be pushing you to commit to large orders. Our MOQ is exceptionally low at just 5m per fabric choice. This is applied across the board, so you won’t ever be faced with the problem of finding that your dream fabric has an MOQ of 50m! We work with small, ethical brands in mind and have no plans on changing that. 

Our Top Tips For Eco-Friendly Fabric Sourcing

We’ve made sourcing as simple as possible at Good Fabric, but the rest of the world doesn’t always follow suit. If you’re out there trying to source sustainable fabrics and finding it a nightmare, we’ve put together some top tips to help.

Create a Mood Board

good fabric wholesale sourcing wall

Having a mood board prepped and ready to go is a great idea to speed up the sourcing process. It gives you a clearer idea of what you’re looking for, and can also be a big help to the brand you’re looking to buy from. At Good Fabric, we love to see clients come to us with mood boards and often recommend fabric choices based on their inspiration. These might not be eco friendly fabrics they had in mind, but end up being just what they need!

Check Out Trade Fairs

Trade fairs are a goldmine of inspiration. Although the brands here tend to have high MOQs, don’t be put off. You can come along even if you’re not looking to buy. Bring a camera and a notebook, jotting down all of your favourite colours and materials to look back on later.

Some of our favourite trade shows in London include:

  • London Textile Fair – Find fabrics as well as plenty of trims (zips, fringe, patches, labels and more!)
  • Lineapelle – This trade show is more specific to leather, but there are usually fabric stands too, and the location itself (Ham Yard) is enough reason to attend.
  • Future Fabric Expo – It doesn’t get better for inspiration than FFE, which often shines a light on the next big thing in sustainable fashion and has plenty of seminars and keynote speakers.
  • Textile Forum – This is quite luxurious and better suited to higher budgets if you’re looking to buy, but it’s so worth going just to see what inspires you! A must-see, trust us on that.

Head to the Shops

good fabric wholesale sourcing fabric shop

Go shopping – literally! Browse through your competitor’s stock and buy something from them. Look at what you like, what you don’t like, and what you can improve on. Are their fabrics too sheer, too heavy, or feel cheap? Or perhaps you love the use of thick cotton or the wash of their denim. Take notes to use as a reference when you’re sourcing, and keep anything you like to show suppliers.

Take Advantage of Our Little Black Book

good fabric wholesale sourcing book

Over the 12 years I worked in sourcing, I built up quite a collection of eco friendly fabric suppliers. When you come to us to source sustainable fabrics for your small, ethical business, we’ll be more than happy to help you out with anything else you need.

Anyone I suggest is someone who I’ve tried, tested, and trust, so they come with a solid recommendation. From manufacturing suppliers to packaging companies, I’ll always be happy to give you a hand finding the right match. 

Get in Touch With Our Team

Ready to start sourcing? Get in touch with our team! You won’t have to worry about pesky import issues, customs duties, or high MOQs when you work with us. As I’ve said a few times throughout this guide, the team is always happy to go the extra mile to help with your sourcing needs, too. 

If you’re sourcing fabric for ethical businesses, we’re the guys and gals ready to work with you!

by Polina K

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