Lots of people get in touch with me about fabric sourcing. I can understand why people find this difficult at first, but I’m happy to say that in general, fabric sourcing can be one of the easier parts of the process and, in my opinion, much easier than finding a manufacture.
I often get asked if I recommend travelling to find fabrics, lots of people are keen to go to China. So far, I’m yet to recommend that anyone goes to China, it’s just not been right for them. In general, if you’re starting a fashion business there’s not a real need to travel. Certainly not long distance, when there’s lots of expenses - I feel the money can be put to much better use elsewhere in the business.
If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll know that I travel a lot and do supplier visits, so you might be surprised to see that I don’t view it as essential. Why is it different for me? Really, for 2 reasons. First off, I’ve been in this industry a long time and know what to look out for. Because of this I can make decisions much faster and I tend to know if I’m going to make a purchase somewhere before I’ve arrived. A lot of startups want to go to fabric suppliers and browse, most are not set up for this at all and don’t appreciate browsing - it takes time out of their busy day and in many cases suppliers don’t have a shop, you visit them on location where production takes place. Second, I have lots of clients with different needs. Most startups keep fabrics to a minimum (as this keeps costs low and profits higher), so many will only need to source a couple of fabrics. Travelling half way around the world for 2 fabrics doesn’t feel worth it. But for me, as I might shop for say 10 clients in one visit, it becomes more worthwhile.
If, after all that, you’re still keen to head to Vietnam for fabric sourcing, here’s a few things I found out. Just to let you know, I mostly visited smaller scale suppliers on this trip, I didn’t go directly to fabric mills due to the distance (many were located hours drive away from where I was and for me at this time, I didn’t need to go there).
Don’t expect good service
The suppliers I went to had some great fabrics, but if you’re expecting a nice air conditioned shop nicely laid out for you, think again. Many of the suppliers I came across had their ‘stores’ in tiny spaces directly on a main road, the heat and the fumes from the motorbikes could get intense! If you don’t know much about fabrics, you won’t get the answers here. For one, it’s just not that kind of place and second, English is often very limited. I had several suppliers negotiate on pricing with a calculator as the only means of communicating!
As well as ‘shops’ in Hanoi and Hoi An, I also visited the fabric market in Hanoi. This was great and had a large area dedicated to all sorts of fabric, trims and findings. As with anything in Vietnam, negotiating is key! Start at 50% of the asking price and settle somewhere in the middle.
Don’t look for swim or active fabrics
During the whole trip, I only came across one supplier selling swimwear fabrics (which I suspect were imported) and none for activewear, so I wouldn’t recommend Vietnam for this market. Instead, I’d say their strength was in woven cottons and linens, they had some lovely stripes and patterns woven in.
Sampling here might be beneficial
If you’re looking to have samples made, it might be worth considering a stay in Hoi An, to work 1-on-1 with a sample maker here. There was so many tailors and sewing businesses here that made custom clothing for tourists, it gave me the idea of spending some time here and getting a collection sampled. This is only an idea at the moment and something I need to look in to further, so at the moment I can say if it works or not. But watch this space for the future.
In general, because of the language barrier I think it would be easier to have a reference item to show the sewer (perhaps for fit and/or construction) along with your tech pack.
Museums can be great for learning about techniques
I visited a number of exhibitions all of which had some great insight into the traditional processes of weaving and dying fabrics. Many of the villages still use the ancient traditions and weave their own clothes by hand, which is very inspiring. I’d love to learn more about this next time and ideally partner with suppliers who can work in this way. The fabrics themselves were fantastic and it would be great to help local people get them out into the rest of the world.
If you do go to Vietnam, enjoy it! The food is some of the best I’ve ever had and the culture is so rich and diverse, it makes it a great place to visit. As I said at the start, I don’t believe travel is nessarsay for a small business, but if you do go I’m sure you’ll have a great experience and see some nice fabrics, particularly if you’re looking for wovens.
If you don’t fancy the expense or culture shock and would rather get some help sourcing your fabrics, I’d love to help you. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to get in touch for more information.
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