Last Friday I made the trip from Seattle to Salt Lake City to attend Outdoor Retailer: Winter Market. The expo really serves dual purpose. For most brands, its an opportunity to sell into retail, hopefully striking multi-million dollar deals for products expected to hit the market in Spring 2014. For retailers, it’s an opportunity to preview the latest and greatest from some of the world’s leading outdoor brands. For me, it was a chance to take the next step in the process: sourcing fabric.
For a small brand like Pettet, this is easily the most difficult part of the product development process. The reason? Minimums.
When ordering fabric, textile producers generally require that you order a minimum number of yards to make it worth their time- a number usually between 500 and 1,000 yards. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you assume that one yard is roughly 60 inches wide and is enough to make 2.5 T-shirts, the numbers add up quickly. For context, Pettet is aiming to produce about 300 items per style, and we need roughly 125 yards of fabric to make each style work. Both numbers are clearly short of the minimums required by most mills.
This significantly impacts the product design process. Most big brands are able to build a product from the ground up, custom developing fabrics to suit the needs of their ideas (color, stretch, texture, etc). We actually have to do something much more difficult, design the product in parallel with finding the fabric.
There are a few practical ways to get around the problem. The most obvious is to use stock programs- standard fabrics that are continuously run by the factory and are available by the roll (75-100 yards). A second option is buying overruns, which are basically custom fabrics that the factory produced too much of.
Here’s the problem, stock programs are inefficient and not many mills have them as a result. And quality overruns are few and far between, so they are hard to find.
So we had our work cutout for us, and spent the entire day in meetings with reps from across the world. We are trying to source everything from within the United States, but it is proving to be extremely difficult (more in a later post). But we did find some solid stretch wovens that are made in the US (think short material), some uber soft heathers, and a set of merino wool fabrics that will be awesome!
Things continue to slowly come together. Onward!