In today’s world, you need to understand what can be sourced at a level that will sustain commercial use. You need to understand that highly customized fabrics and trims will either have enormous minimums, enormous prices or both.
– Jay Arbetman, The Sourcing District.
As part of EDGE’s EDGE-ucation series, we bring you insight on fabric and materials sourcing from Jay Arbetman, owner of The Sourcing District. This industry professional tells it like it is for those on the early path of building a fashion design business and what you need to know in sourcing materials. Jay, a veteran in the business, goes on to say the independent designer is in demand. In his words. . .” Fashion customers want what you are creating and they are rejecting the fast fashion (fashion homogenization) that is in every “box store” in America.”
An interview with Jay Arbetman.
Jay, tell us about how and why you got started in this business?
I was born into the business. My family was in the coat business in the Chicagoland area. I picked orders as a teen (50 years ago) and started working full time in 1971. In the 1980’s I moved to NYC and worked on Seventh Ave. and went to FIT at night.
I was involved in some aspect of the manufacturing side of the business for the better part of 30 years. I transitioned into selling fabric about 15 years ago. I just did it on the side of about 10 years and transitioned into “The Sourcing District” a couple of years ago.
What is it about your business that sets you apart from others?
My sales agency represents the best suppliers in the business. Every supplier has continuity. A designer can sample, perfect samples, create demand and then buy the same fabric for production. In addition, I have a vast network of contacts. I know all of the best contractors, tech designers, pattern makers and more. We have absolutely unmatched experience.
E D G E is a network to connect emerging designers and brands to the industry. Those new to the business have a huge learning curve in all facets of the business. Designers I have talked to say “the business of fashion” is a big hurdle. Your part of the business, sourcing materials, is a key component in the development process.
From your experience and what you see, what are some of the challenges and how can the newcomers and established brands overcome these challenges? What do they need to know and do to best facilitate and leverage the sourcing of materials?
That is an enormous question with a broad range of answers. First, I am not a fan of most design schools. Most are glorified art schools. The first lesson that they do not teach is that being a designer is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Their job is wrapped around selling student loans for a highly questionable level of education. They prepare students for jobs that have not existed in 15 years. I know this sounds harsh. At the end of the day, we end up with way too many “5 year experts”. Some of them go back and teach at the very schools that mis-educated them.
In today’s world, you need to understand what can be sourced at a level that will sustain commercial use. You need to understand that highly customized fabrics and trims will either have enormous minimums, enormous prices or both. You need to NEVER walk into a fabric store for wholesale fabric with continuity. If it has a front door and an inventory then it is likely to be a retailer. LA Textile might be helpful and DG Expo might be helpful but for an indie designer, these shows have flaws. Your best bet is to error on the side of high quality. Start VERY small. The devil is in the details. You will need to learn as you go and not go broke!!
There’s always a minimum issue with fabric and garment production – another hurdle for the startup fashion businesses. Do you work with suppliers with low minimums?
My fabric suppliers have minimums ranging from 1 to 100 yds. Most minimums are in the 10 to 20 yard area. Less expensive fabric generally has higher minimums. I represent almost 20 lines. There is plenty of world class product out there.
What’s new on the horizon with piece goods – feel free to elaborate on technology, sustainable fabrics, trends, etc.
For the indie designer, there are finally some decent prints with continuity. In outerwear, there are great technical fabrics with style and function. Much more is always coming down the pipe in the area of sustainable fabrics, though this is a tricky area. Many sustainable fabrics are second rate, particularly in knits. There are companies doing great work but this is not completely universal. We LOVE bamboo, modal, tencel, and other rayon type fibers. We really like the creativity that is available in cotton that is particularly applicable to children’s wear.
The really good news is that over the last two or three years, quality and selection of fabrics available to indie designers has greatly improved. More suppliers are interested in working with startups and designers who are early on in their process. Why? Because they can make money on you. Why? Because there is a demand for the sewn products that are being produced by indie designers. Fashion customers want what you are creating and they are rejecting the fast fashion (fashion homogenization) that is in every “box store” in America.
Oh, I so agree! The consumers are hungry for the emerging and independent designer. Well said, Jay [The Sourcing District], and thank you for sharing your perspective and expertise!
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All Images Courtesy of The Sourcing District except feature image.