Welcome to the third installment of our Designer 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 Designer Services are Right For You.
This post is going to give you a comprehensive overview of how & where we source our fabrics. We select the best of the best fabric vendors from across India, seeking to align fair trade, ethical, and sustainable values with the wide variety of fabric needs of our customers. 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— that can be a great fit for small and large production runs alike.
There are some specialty fabrics that are best sourced internationally. If you already have a source outside of India you like, we are able to help import your fabrics. However, it is typically more affordable and straightforward to work with our Indian producers.
At WORK+SHELTER, we have 5 main avenues when it comes to our fabric sourcing capabilities.
- 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 minimus, but the piece minimums for your order may actually be dependent on reaching fabric order minimums.
WORK+SHELTER is a full service production facility. We’re here to assist with anything that you may need within the development and sourcing processes, and to set the stage for a successful production partnership in the long run.
W+S regularly hold inventory of many basic fabrics in-house including:
- Organic cotton woven 5 oz and 12 oz canvas in natural
- Organic cotton knit jersey in black, white, grey, and other select colors
- RPET (recycled polyester) in select colors
We are oftentimes able to provide lower MOQs on your order if you are able to 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.
SMALL SCALE SUSTAINABLE
We have fostered many connections over time with small scale sustainable/ethical producers to provide beautiful handwoven silks, handwoven recycled fibers, and a variety of other woven fabrics to our clients.
First, our sourcing team is able to buy “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.
Second, we are able to source custom hand-woven fabrics through artisan groups in India. It’s important to note that this process takes more time (4-6 weeks in fabric production time alone). Because of the small scale and handmade nature of this production, minimums can be as low as 50 to 100 meters.
An important note, the fabrics mentioned above are generally woven. This is because knits are almost always produced on a machine versus hand-loomed, making them more difficult to purchase on a smaller scale.
Both options listed above have a higher price point than machine woven fabric, as the fabric is produced by hand. But you get what you pay for— an amazing artisanal heritage and a special hand-made quality outcome.
INDUSTRIAL SCALE SUSTAINABLE
For larger scale production, we can provide fabric options in both knits & 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 infrastructural improvements that may be out of reach for smaller producers, so they can be a great solution for scaled, but still ethical, 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 a couple colorways).
A smaller sampling size fabric run is more expensive, but it may make sense to go this route if you want to test the waters with a scalable supply chain before investing in too much product.
We recently produced an order of jersey double knit longline blazers for our client partner Lev Apparel. Due to the doubled weight of the knit and the increased fabric consumption from the design, they were able to more quickly reach the piece minimums than if they were ordering fabric for a lightweight t-shirt.
- 500 kgs jersey double knit = 500 blazers
- 500 kg jersey standard knit = 1,500 t-shirts
To sum it up, heavier knits will have lower piece minimums and lighter knits will have higher piece minimums.
COOPERATIVE BUYING SUSTAINABLE
WORK+SHELTER works with clients big and small. We have 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 work with our client partners to bundle fabric orders.
For example, if we are purchasing a large amount of specialty fabric, such as organic brushed fleece or a color of cotton jersey or RPET 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 would like to add on to the order.
If you are looking for ethical fibers but having a hard time meeting fabric production volume minimums, let us know and we will keep you in mind when there are other client partners seeking similar fabrics. If there is enough of a demand, we can arrange a group order and buy in bulk so each brand can achieve their smaller scale minimums.
Over 95% of the fabrics we source at WORK+SHELTER have an environmental qualifier, meaning that they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. That being said, we are able to purchase conventional fabrics if you are not able to find exactly what you’re looking for from our sustainable/ethical producers, if the minimums for more sustainable fibers are too high, or if the sustainable supply chain timeline is too long for your deadline. Please note, conventional sourcing must be a short term solution, with the goal of transitioning into sustainable sourcing practices over time.
Finally, we have the ability to send our in-house merchandising team, including Bhawana, pictured here, to the local markets to source conventional materials for small scale production. This option is more of a “backup option,” as there is a lack of information available on the supply chain, usually available in very small batches, and the fabrics are only in stock while supplies last. It can, however, be a good solution for clients who are looking for ready made prints in smaller volumes.
As you can see, the WORK+SHELTER team has a wide variety of fabric supply chain solutions that can be a good fit for your order. We are willing to be flexible and work directly with our suppliers to meet your needs.
If you have something specific in mind 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.