Welcome to the third installment of our development services blog series! If you haven’t checked out the first two posts, we encourage you to do so: How W+S Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life and When W+S Development Services are Right For You.
This post will give you an overview of how and where we source our fabrics. We always seek to align our customers’ fabric needs with fair trade, ethical, and sustainable values. Lucky for us, India has a rich history of producing some of the world’s best fibers, ranging from hand-woven silks to rain-grown, drought-resistant cotton.
At WORK+SHELTER, we have five main avenues when it comes to fabric sourcing.
- In-Stock Sustainable: readily available in-house
- Small-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase
- Industrial-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase
- Cooperative-Buying Sustainable: made to order upon group client purchase
- Industrial: made to order upon client purchase
- Market Ready: readily available
Minimum order quantities (MOQs) vary based on fabric choice. Woven fabric MOQs are measured in length (meters), while knit fabric MOQs are measured in weight (kilograms). WORK+SHELTER has flexible sewing minimums, but the piece minimums for your order are often dependent on reaching fabric order minimums.
A note: because knit MOQs are measured in weight, heavier knits will have lower piece minimums and lighter knits will have higher piece minimums. For example:
- 500 kgs jersey double knit = 500 doubleknit ponte blazers
- 500 kg jersey standard knit = 1,500 lightweight jersey t-shirts
W+S holds inventory of many basic fabrics, including:
- Organic cotton 5 oz and 12 oz canvas, in natural
- Organic cotton knit jersey in black, white, grey, and other select colors
- Woven 80 GSM rPET (recycled polyester) in select colors
We can usually provide lower MOQs on your order if you use our stock fabrics. We have done the legwork for you to ensure that these fabrics are sustainable and ethically produced.
Generally our in-house fabrics are best suited for promotional items and basic apparel, such as totes, t-shirts, and accessories. Exact minimums will be determined by your product. Typically, a 50-piece minimum would be our smallest order.
WORK+SHELTER director of client services, Amanda Dye, visiting a sustainable cellulose-fiber studio in Noida.
We’ve fostered many connections over time with small-scale producers of beautiful handwoven silks, handwoven recycled fibers, and a variety of other handmade fabrics.
These artisan groups are able to supply custom handwoven fabrics in small quantities. It’s important to note that this process takes time; fabric production can take 4-6 weeks or more. But because of the small scale and handmade nature of this fabric, minimums can be as low as 50 to 100 meters.
Our sourcing team is also able to buy in-stock “leftovers” from large West Elm orders at a handwoven silk producer in Delhi. This allows us to provide top-of-the-line quality on a smaller scale, and makes these fabrics accessible to our client partners when they otherwise wouldn’t have been. These materials are available in limited stock and may sell out quickly.
Both options above have a higher price point than machine-woven fabric. But you get what you pay for: fabrics that are unique and special, and support an amazing artisanal heritage.
An important note: artisanal fabrics available at small scale are generally woven. This is because they are hand-loomed. Knits, in contrast, are almost always produced on a machine, making them difficult to purchase on a smaller scale.
For larger-scale production, we can provide fabric options in both knits and wovens that are GOTS, Fair Trade, BCI, or OEKO-TEX certified. Big mills are often able to make investments in water purification, solar panels, or other infrastructure improvements that may be out of reach for smaller producers, so they can be a great solution for scaled production.
To access certified fabrics, it’s generally necessary to place larger orders. When it comes to knits, sampling minimums start at 100 kgs, and production starts around 500 kgs (though this can usually be split into more than one colorway).
A smaller, sampling-size fabric run is more expensive, but it may make sense if you want to test the waters with a scalable supply chain before investing in too much product.
One of our vendors, KG Denim, made this video to provide insight into their sustainable production process.
WORK+SHELTER has a special spot in our heart for small businesses, and understand it can be difficult to reach the large mill minimums for certified fibers. This is why we often work with our client partners to bundle fabric orders.
For example, if we’re purchasing a large amount of organic French terry, or a color of cotton jersey that we don’t regularly hold in our inventory, we may reach out to our client partners that use similar fibers to see if they’d like to add on to the order.
If you’re looking for ethical fibers but having a hard time meeting fabric production volume minimums, let us know, and we’ll keep you in mind. With enough demand, we can arrange a group order and buy in bulk.
Over 95% of the fabrics we source at WORK+SHELTER have an environmental qualifier, meaning they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. That said, we are able to purchase conventional fabrics if we’re not able to find the right fabric with the right MOQ and timeline for your order. Please note, conventional sourcing must be a short term solution, with the goal of transitioning into sustainable sourcing practices over time.
For some orders, we can send our in-house merchandising team, (including Bhawana, pictured here) to the local markets to source conventional materials for small-scale production. Because there is a lack of information available on the supply chain, fabrics are usually available only in small quantities, and fabrics are only in stock while supplies last, this option is best as a backup plan.
If you have something a design that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.