Fashion 101: How do Designers Get Fabrics?

I’ve been asked this question several times so I thought it was time to write a Fashion 101 about it.

fashion 101, fabrics, designer, fashion design

Burberry's woven raffia and cotton coat.

First of all, designers don’t go to fabric stores to get their fabrics, they buy it from manufacturers, wholesalers, or agents. In fact, fabric is usually the first thing they will work with when designing a new collection, as fabrics are usually chosen before the collection is designed or they’ve even begun research. Like fashion companies, fabric companies will create collections, but they work a season ahead of the designers (as the designers need a season to work with the fabrics to create the clothing.) I think it is interesting that fashion design is actually quite limiting, because designers can only work with fabrics that exist and are available. Very few fashion brands actually create their own fabrics, usually this is only done by large sportswear companies that need specialist fabrics (ex. Nike.) Luxury brands will be able to request special prints, colour combinations, or dyes, but they will rarely get a fabric specifically create and woven for them. Here are the steps involved in getting the fabrics for a fashion collection.

fashion industry, fashion designers, fabrics, fashion 101

J Crew's printed cotton pants.

Step 1: Look at fabric collections.

Major fabric tradeshows usually take place around the same time as the fashion weeks (except they are showing fabrics for the following fashion week.) This means that right smack in the middle of the shows, designers are already doing research for the fabrics for their next collections! The tradeshows feature most of the large fabric suppliers, they each build a stand and designers can visit them and go through the collections, which will be large swatches of fabrics. The designers will choose the fabrics they are interested in, and make a sample order.

Some brands will work with fabric manufacturers every season, so instead of seeing them at a tradeshow (which is a busy, dusty hellhole), their agent or representative will come to their offices. This is the same deal as the tradeshow, they will bring samples of their new collections, and the design team will choose which ones they are interested in. Samples will follow.

fashion industry, fashion designers, fabrics, fashion 101

Lanvin's sequin-printed silk satin top.

Step 2: Narrow the selection.

Designers will receive the samples (sometimes called hangers) and will start to narrow down their selection of fabrics. Say for example, a company needs 15 tailoring fabrics in their collection, they might choose twenty, and do a feasibility test to see which ones work the best. They will order some sample metres of the fabrics (this will be in whatever colour the manufacturer has available) and make up a few garments to test the fabric. The garments will most likely be shapes from a previous season, as they haven’t started to design the new season yet. Let’s say they are looking at a wool tweed, they may choose to make a blazer from last season, to see if they like the drape, feel, and look of this tweed. In doing this, the designers will get a chance to see several of the fabrics in “action.” They will then make a final selection of fabrics for the collection.

fashion industry, fashion designers, fabrics, fashion 101

By Malene Birger's lace trimmed silk chiffon top.

Step 3: Order the collection fabrics.
Once they have decided on the fabrics, they need to place an order for the collection fabrics. The collection is the series of garments that the brand will use on their catwalk, to show to buyers, for display in their selling showrooms, and eventually as press samples. A small brand will make one of each garment, whereas a larger brand could make up to 10 or 20 of each garment (ex. At Sonia Rykiel, we made four collections, and had them all in Paris for the catwalk show and during the sales straight afterwards. Then, we kept one collection in Paris, one collection went to NYC, one collection went to Germany, and one was traveling, so would go to Japan and a few other countries.)

Ordering the collection fabrics is where things begin to get expensive. Let’s say the company decides to use the wool tweed, but they want it in black, grey, and pink, because those are the main colours in their collection. But the fabric manufacturer only offers it in black, navy and red. This means they need to do a special dye lot for only a few meters of fabrics, so the company can make the small number of garments needed for their collection, in black, grey, and pink. Dyeing 20m of fabric is almost the same amount of work as dyeing 200m of fabric, so it costs a LOT more per meter to dye small quantities. We are talking 2-5 times the production price. If that wool tweed was going to cost $10/m, it would cost $20-$50/m for collections. There could be a similar situation if they chose a silk satin, but wanted their own print design on the fabric. It it always more expensive to order smaller quantities of materials.

fashion industry, fashion designers, fabrics, fashion 101

Michael Michael Kors silk blend tweed jacket.

Step 4: Order the production fabrics.
So the company orders the collection fabrics, makes the collection, hosts a fashion show, and then sells the collection to stores. Once they have gotten all their orders in, they need to buy the fabrics for production, these are the clothes that are going to end up in stores. These orders are very big, usually thousands of meters of each fabric. The rolls get sent straight to the manufacturer, who then make the clothing.

And that’s the story of how designers get fabric! By the way, this is the same process people use for zippers, buttons, ribbons, and other trims.

If you have any other questions about how the fashion industry works, send them over using my Ask Alexandra form. All images from Net A Porter.

Read other Fashion 101’s:
Fashion 101: What Does a Stylist Do?
Fashion 101: Where do Fashion Trends Come From?

  • Grace Kelly

    Awesome !!  All  fabrics collection i really like it .

  • Allie

    Question: How does one get added to these buying list or where should I go?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    You need to research the trade fairs and then apply to be a guest or buyer.

  • Ejoy

    Now which trade fair is the most popular?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Premiere Vision in Paris.

  • Fashion Designer :)

    I heard that a fashion designer does (almost) the same job like the tailor or seamstress( if that`s true ) why than is necessary studying fashion design ( I think that could be better if the fashion designer make designs (in paper) and tailor or seamstress cut and sew them ) .That could be an deserved and achieved job.(I THINK SO ,IT`S ONLY MY OPINION…)

    P.S.: I am sorry for my english :(

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Um, no. The designer designs, whereas the tailor or seamstress makes. The designer must know the basics of “making” but also needs to know
    how to design clothes, which is a skill a tailor or seamstress does not often have. Also, you can be a designer without knowing the making skills (although most of them do.)

  • Nelfy

    how about two brands buy for 1 fabric?

  • Tiara Mou

    Hey. I happen to be a tailoress. And I’ve come bearing important news
    for you: dressmakers and tailors do not just sew garments. That’s what a seamstress does. Most tailors/dressmakers have all the skills a
    designer does (or rather, skills a designer should have). They know how to make original patterns, grade patterns, drape, reinvent, and conceptualize. To succeed you need extraordinary spacial ability, historical fashion knowledge, and technical skill. It takes years of hardwork to become an adept tailor or dressmaker. Many of the great fashion designers identified as tailors/dressmakers first and designers last. That’s because they had integrity in their work and knew design was more than drawing pictures and getting famous.
    A designer should not have, as you say, basic knowlege of clothing construction. They should have extensive knowledge of clothing construction. Any designer worth their salt is basically an advanced tailor/dressmaker. These important distinctions became blurred when Art Schools instead Trade Schools began teaching fashion design and techniques. What has the result been? Massive amounts of extremely poor clothing. People like to blame this phenomena on the fact that we now use seamstresses in China and Bangladesh. But the truth is, all of this mess started right at home. It began with self-described fashion designers who are poorly educated and unduly arrogant. For anyone wanting to succeed in this field my advice is: Integrity in your craft is everything. You are a tailor/dressmaker first, designer second.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I totally disagree, and as someone who has worked as a designer at Sonia Rykiel and Burberry, I think I know what I am talking about when I write about what a designer does. I do agree that a designer should have a strong understanding of pattern making and construction, but to expect a designer to have extensive skills of both of these things, AND to be able to design and understand the whole sales and marketing aspects of the design trade, is asking for the impossible. Back in the day of Dior and Balenciaga, designers were doing two collections a year. Now they do a minimum of six. They need to learn the business side of things, as well as the making side, and to expect a designer to also be a master tailor and a skilled pattern maker is frankly impossible. Tailoring, high quality dressmaking, and patternmaking are all extremely skilled roles and no big company expects one person to do all of these things to a high level. At all of the companies I have worked at, there were separate roles for all of these jobs because they wanted the BEST person for each role. Also, at St. Martins, you don’t actually make your own collections. You learn these skills, but when it comes to final collections, the school hires professionals to make the patterns and sew the garments for you. Why? Because as a designer, you need to be able to communicate your ideas to a team.

    So contrary to your belief, my blog posts DO have substance. I have experience in the luxury world, and I do know what I am talking about. A designer producing collections that include hundreds of garments a year cannot be expected to make them all – instead, the designer needs the skills to understand how the clothing is made, but also needs to have the skills to communicate his/her ideas, build collections, and work with sales, production, and marketing teams. You can’t expect them to be master tailors as well.

  • Di?na Potocka

    Loved this post, thank you! Looking forwards for a trade in London.

  • David Gatdula

    Can you tell me the specific date month where they start buying and designing fabrics? Lets say, for Fall 2014.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    July – October 2013.

  • notbeautifulenough

    I totally agree with you! A designer should have all the knowledge of tailoring and dressmaking FIRST.

    Ummm, Balenciaga???

    Do some research, people…

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Have you worked in fashion? I have, and I’ve seen how the industry works first hand. Of course designers have knowledge of tailoring and dressmaking. BUT, they hire people to do that, because they can’t do everything AND they can’t be the best at everything.

  • Churpina

    Thank youuuu!!!

  • Nathan Cole Garments

    Is it possible to order fabrics from outside the manufacturers country,let’s say Africa for example?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Yes, of course. We order fabrics from all over the world and have them shipped to our manufacturers.

  • Rolanda

    Hello. Can you please provide info for trade shows in NY?

  • SGD

    Hi, I’m a fabric designer based in the UK and have lovely fabric designs for sale. Get in touch if interested. (

  • dave

    so annoying these waste of time articles giving no useful information at all just to get views

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I guess you’d prefer if I just gave a list of fabric companies that just happened to be exactly the ones you are looking for? #lazy

  • Mike Khashaiar Kojoori

    Out of curiosity, does the average consumer have access to premium fabrics. Specifically, shirting material. If one goes to a tailor to have a shirt made, will one have a greater or lesser selection of weaves/textures and patterns?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    The fabric the custom shirt makers get is the same as what major fashion companies get.

  • Anon

    Coming from a family of tailors, and being a high end textile designer myself, the distinctions between tailoring/seamstressing/designer/craftsperson etc are not mutually exclusive at all in their tasks, and never have been. They are essential roles in the ‘process’ of bringing creations to market, and although I agree that a designer should ideally have some understanding of how garments are constructed, and equally a person involved in tailoring or pattern creation should ideally have a design understanding, the roles in todays ‘production’ are dictated simply by the market in which you operate.

    A high street brand operates on large scale. In house they do not employ tailors etc, they employ pattern cutters and fit models. Then the basic shapes are finalised with the fashion designers and sent out to factories for sampling. At the high street level, the process is ‘design’ led, and it is the designer who dictates fit. Pattern cutters will obviously work closely with a designer, but ultimately the driving force is from the designer.

    A couture designer however, being highly skilled or trained in tailoring as it may be, has the luxury of working with construction technique and fabric that is way beyond what a high street brand is capable of doing and so their time and dedication to the detail/finery is very different. Most, if not all couture designers will have a dedicated team of seamstresses and tailors in-house (and some will employ the very best in the world to work alongside with) and the designer will work in-tandem with the team concepting and trying out techniques that best bring the idea to life. It’s a far more in depth process designing and making at this level, hence the prices.

    On the point of it being necessary that designers and tailors etc should have the same skill set, this simply is not the case.

    Designers are conductors of the symphony and conduits to creating a vision. Much time for a designer is spent understanding trends and developing colour palettes, silhouettes and unifying collections of product. It is the role of the pattern cutters, tailors and seamstresses to then bring these ideas into reality, with the designer supporting them when there are issues of construction (based on cost feasibility or how a fabric is able to be worked). The designer may have to adapt their idea based on the advice of the people constructing the garment, its all a process but ultimately each label and brand operates within a hierarchy, it’s either purely design led or a mixture of both. There are no set rules.

    If you are a tailor working on Saville Row, people will most likely buy your garments based on the quality of construction, fit and fabric – people working in this sector are revered for their ability to engineer cloth. If you are Primark, people will buy your garments because they are ridiculously cheap (i.e you don’t expect good quality) and they reflect current trends/designs – it’s throw away fashion.

    On that final point, the reason we have a barrage of very poor design and low quality goods out there, is not because of design education or ambition of designers/makers to produce high quality goods, it’s because the market dictates demand and unfortunately people would rather buy rubbish that is cheap than invest in good quality clothing that will far outlast the junk. Quite often its a question of affordability, I understand this. But until there is a paradigm shift in the way we wastefully buy things without thinking, then there will always be poor quality product flooding into the market.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Great comment! Thanks for your insight.

  • chispitacarreras

    Thank you for the article. I have always being very artistic and just recently I was entertaining the idea of starting a line of stylish, modest, casual dresses. I have become a little frustrated with the lack of modest dresses that come to the knee and have sleeves at department stores. I know what I am looking for but I cannot find it, and it just ocurred to me that maybe other women are feeling the same way. My idea is to design two or three dresses, have them manufactured, and try to have the local boutiques in my hometown carry my line. Now, do I go straight to a clothing manufacturer with my sample dress and they will then show me their fabric choices? or do I come to the manufacturer with the fabric and sample? This article was so informative, but it was also quite overwhelming. Thank you for your response!

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    You can do it either way, although usually you source your own fabrics and bring them to the manufacturer. Good luck!

  • chaitanya arora


    I am a wholesaler and stockist of all kinds of organic cotton/wool,organic linen and organic peace silk fabrics and made ups. My MOQs are low and provide all back end support from paypal payments, warehousing,courier deliveries sourcing etc I am one of the largest suppliers of organic fabrics to most fabrics stores around New zealand,Australia US etc.In case you are not using eco fabrics my request to please add a few garments as only when the design community begins working to sustainable fabrics will the industry and consumer mind set change. It is important.

    All my goods are certified organic and fair trade supported through Max Havelaar.

    I work from a small farm/nursery where i also do some Natural dyeing . I am a designer myself so understand designer worries thus work more like a partner.If interested please do drop in an email with requirements and i can forward line sheets and if required send swatches.


    Chaitanya Arora

  • waredashah

    Hey u got website where i can see ur fabric collection.

  • chaitanya arora

    Hey, Sure our organic made ups are on for fabrics pls email me on and i can send line sheets for review thanks CA

  • Yamini

    Hi can u contact me. I want to source some fabrics 91 9860686427

  • chaitanya arora

    Hey Yamini

    Please email me your requirements on



  • adamota

    Great article Alexandra, I also worte one article myself to help out
    fashionpreneurs to find the best fabrics possible I hope you and your
    readers find it useful

  • Katrina

    There are no textile trade shows in Canada. Can you provide a list of fabric suppliers I could contact ?

  • Jamie

    How can I find custom designed fabric to make short sleeve shirts custom?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    You can find tons on Google!

  • shaga

    hey, when you go to premiere vision for example, and want to get samples of the fabric you like, sometimes they will ask a courier account ( for the shippment) how do i get it?
    and also how do u suggest a young designer who cant afford himself to buy 500 meters and want to buy only 50 meters ; lots of factory will not worked with them because of the minimum order quantity , then it doesnt look serious to them?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    You need to contact a courier company and get an account… And with regards to buying small quantities, lots of companies will sell smaller quantities, you just need to work with people who carry stock. It is limiting, yes, but you can find them.

  • Cindy Anderson

    May I receive some nice feedback on where an average person who sews for herself would like to buy better fabric than what is offered at the fabric store can buy from. Whether online or where to go if I would need to travel. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota and would really appreciate your help! Also I am starting to do Flowered Millinery work making fabric flowers and wondering if there are any good stores for this? Thank you!

  • T Patriz


    I am hoping you can help me understand the fabric design part of the fashion world. I’m an artist, and I want to design the fabrics that designers are choosing from, but have no idea where to begin. Would you happen to know how the art and patterns are chosen for the fabrics we see on the runways? Can you tell me where to start to find out?

  • Sofia Kontorovich

    I find it super helpful to find small mom and pop shops where you can find amazing pieces for so cheap (and get inspired in process). An awesome place is a hole in the wall shop in Boro Park, Gold thread. the owner is super knowledgeable and her prices are unbeatable; its on 46th and New Utrecht. The D train goes there, i believe.

  • Mathieu L

    Hello Alexandra. This is an amazing post and being a textile professional it is really important to get the fabrics of high quality and from trusted manufacturers.

  • Amita

    Is there any popular & demanding fabric trade show happening in India.?

  • tarang shrivastav

    would require fabrics for my new startup…kindly drop in your contact-

    Tarang Shrivastava

  • Womens Fashion Designer

    I am happy with your blog. As a designer this blog really helps for more information about getting the best fabrics.

  • Deandra Garcia

    UFN Textile Group started in the textile business in Los Angeles in 1988, building a sizable knitting mill/converter supplying fabric to clients in Los Angeles and New York. We have joined 2 large vertical Activewear and Tricot fabric mills in Asia, with the ability to create first grade quality weft and warp knits, and finished garments.

    We bypass the importers and distributors by supplying direct to clients both direct import and drop shipments, which allows us to pass on a steep price reduction, provide better service and a much larger array of products. We offer and supply fabric and finished garments (private label only) from the mills to world-renowned brands, smaller brands, distributors and large chains with low MOQ’s, if necessary.

    Please visit our website at and contact us at to get a further understanding of our products, services, and capabilities. We look forward to contributing to your further success, and call or email us to schedule an appointment with one of our associates.

    Exceptional service is the UFN commitment to you. Your satisfaction is always guaranteed. Your creative brand is the star. Your success is one click away, so email us today.

  • Okoroji Chisom

    I am a new fashion designer based in Nigeria. I need more info on how i can get quality fabrics for my lines. Please help

  • Chandler Hawks

    Hello my name is Chandler Hawks I’m 20 years old and I’m thinking about starting a clothing line but I’m having trouble finding out what I need to do to make the first step in doing so

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Here are some articles that will help you get started.

  • jihee pyo

    At what point are the prints, if used, are they sourced and who does the sourcing of designs for the fabric?

  • Ankita Ashish Bansal

    I wud require some fabrics so drop ur contact details

  • Okoroji Chisom

    I would need some fabrics. Please email